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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Reruns

In the movie Back to the Future, Marty McFly (who travelled back in time from the Eighties to the Fifties) remarks to his mother's family that he must have seen a then brand new episode of The Honeymooners "on a rerun." His mother's father (and future grandfather) replies, "What's a rerun?" In reality this is a bit of an anachronism. Even in 1955, almost everyone would know what a rerun was.

That is not to say that reruns had been around for a long time in 1955. On radio, the reruns were not unknown, but they were very, very uncommon. Much of this was due to limitations in the technology of the time. Until the development of magnetic tape, radios shows would have to be recorded on expensive and fragile 16 inch discs. When magnetic tape was introduced in the late Forties, television was just starting to take away radio's audience. Reruns were then a rarity in the Golden Age of Radio.

This certainly would not be the case with television, although it took some time before the practice of repeating shows would become commonplace. In its infancy, most programming on television was aired live. The reasons for this were purely economic. Filming was more expensive than simply airing shows live (videotape would not be available until later). It must be added that film would have also meant that the networks would have had to dealt with Hollywood, who at that time regarded television as a bitter rival. Before reruns could become common, filmed TV series would have to become the dominant source of programming on television.

The move towards filmed TV series would happen gradually, over many years. Among the pioneers in the field was Frederick Ziv. Ziv had seen some success in radio syndication, and in 1949 decided to expand into television. Naturally, to be syndicated to various local stations across the country, the shows produced by Ziv would have to be filmed. Since the shows were filmed, they could easily be rerun. And Ziv Television Productions reaped nearly all of its profits from reruns.

This is not to say that Frederick Ziv was the only television producer aware of the advantages of film. The first filmed network series was Fireside Theatre, which debuted in 1949 (a full two years before I Love Lucy). A year later saw the debut of You Bet Your Life, the legendary game show hosted by Groucho Marx. The series was filmed, allowing for two things. The first was the ability of the producers to edit out any of Groucho's more risque comments. The second was that the show could be rerun. Indeed, You Bet Your Life is one of the earliest, if not possibly the earliest, American network TV show to be repeated during the summer months. In the early days of television, when TV shows went off the air for the summer, their time slots would be taken by summer replacement shows. As the Fifties passed and more series were shot on film, summers would increasingly become dominated by summer reruns. By 1956, summer repeats outnumbered original programming by a large margin.

As much as some people might complain about summer reruns, there have actually been shows that have been saved by them. When it debuted mid-season on CBS, All in the Family initially did poorly in the ratings. It would not become a hit until it was rerun in the summer. During its first season, the ratings for Cheers were so low that NBC nearly cancelled the show. Fortunately, its ratings rose dramatically during the summer rerun season. As much as many might dislike summer reruns, they can save shows that sometimes deserve to be saved.

Regardless, the dominance of filmed series would be assured with the success of Amos and Andy and I Love Lucy. Debuting a few months before I Love Lucy, the television adaptation of the notorious radio show actually predates I Love Lucy in using the multicamera setup. Protests from the NAACP would force CBS to cancel the series, still enormously popular, two years into its run. The NAACP would not keep the series off the air, however, as in 1953 CBS would make its 78 episodes available to local stations (it would remain in syndication until 1966, when CBS finally bowed to public pressure and withdrew it). In other words, Amos and Andy became the first syndicated, network rerun in the history of American television. It would not be the last. My Little Margie and other filmed sitcoms would soon enter the syndication market. These shows, like the majority of syndicated, network reruns to follow, would be "stripped" on local stations--that is, scheduled to air five days a week (Monday through Friday).

The advent of syndicated network reruns would have a profound effect on television. Indeed, it put a serious dent in the market for original syndicated programming. In 1955 Ziv Television Productions was the biggest independent producer of programming in the United States. By 1959 the company was in such dire straits that Frederick Ziv sold the company to United Artists. Syndicated reruns would also prove to be a boon to the independent stations which sprang up in the Sixties and Seventies. I remember the programing of both KPLR in St. Louis and KMBA in Kansas City consisted largely of network reruns--everything from Gilligan's Island to The Beverly Hillbillies to The Wild Wild West to Star Trek.

With filmed series coming to dominate television and the success of reruns syndicated to local stations, it would not be long before the networks would begin using reruns not simply as filler during the summer months, but as programming during the day time as well. NBC was the first network to do so, debuting an umbrella title they called Comedy Time, under which they reran various sitcoms which had gone off the air. It debuted May 14, 1956, with I Married Joan as its first series. Running until 1958, such shows as Topper, Private Secretary, and It's a Great Life aired under the title. In 1957, CBS started rerunning I Love Lucyh on its daytime schedule, where it stayed for eight years. From the Sixties into the Nineties, the networks would fill blank spots in their schedules with reruns of sitcoms (some of them still on the air). Over the years I can remember watching reruns of The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched, M*A*S*H, and several other sitcoms on daytime network television. As the networks cut back on their daytime programming, such reruns disappeared.

Of course, as time has passed the number of reruns on television has increased dramatically. In the Fifties, a full season of a filmed series might consist of as many as 39 episodes, with 13 weeks in the summer devoted to reruns. By the Sixties this number had dropped considerably. In their first seasons Bewitched and Gilligan's Island had only 36 episodes each. In its first season Star Trek only had 29. The number of episodes produced for a given series would decrease even more in the Seventies and Eighties. Now it is not unusual for a show to have as few as 22 episodes produced per season. As a result of fewer new episodes being made each season, there are naturally more reruns to fill the gaps. In the Sixties it was rare to see reruns of an ongoing series prior to the summer. By the Seventies it was not uncommon to see them in December and January. Now it sometimes seems as if there are more reruns aired in a season than original episodes.

It must also be pointed out that the market for reruns has changed dramatically. Independent stations were slowly shoved out by the rise of new networks (Fox, UPN, the WB), but their place has largely been taken by cable channels. Since their inception, such cable channels as the USA Network, TBS, and TNT largely depended on reruns for much of their programming. There is even still a market for older TV series. Nickelodeon started showing reruns of classic TV shows at night under the heading "Nick at Nite" in 1985. It has been around ever since. Indeed, it was so successful that it spun off another cable channel dedicated entirely to reruns of classic shows. Started in 1996, TV Land is among the most successful cable channels around. And it is not alone. The AmericanLife TV Network (originally The Nostalgia Channel, and later GoodLife TV) consists of reruns of such shows as The Man From U.N.C.L.E., F Troop, Harry O, and Kung Fu.

Syndicated network reruns have not only given shows that were successful in their initial runs a second life, but even shows that were not so successful. Some have even had more success in off-network syndicated reruns than they ever had in their initial runs. I Dream of Jeannie was only moderately successful in its first run on NBC, but became one of the most successful sitcoms in syndication of all time. Although now considered a classic, The Odd Couple suffered from low ratings throughout its five year run, but it went onto a very successful syndication run. Perhaps the perfect example of a show given new life through off network reruns is Star Trek. The series suffered from low ratings throughout its three year run (during its most successful season, its first, it only ranked #52 out of all the shows on the air for the year) and was nearly cancelled more than once. Once its reruns were in syndication, however, Star Trek became an outright phenomenon.

Reruns have existed for over fifty years. And there can be little doubt that they will continue to exist as long as there is television. And while many might complain about the reruns that air on the networks throughout the television season, it must be pointed out that modern American pop culture is largely indebted to them. Without reruns, Gilligan's Island would not still be airing today. We could not tune in to TV Land to watch The Addams Family. And Star Trek may well have been forgotten.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Some Good News For Geeks

Given how depressing my past few days have been, I thought it might be a good idea to talk about two bits of good news for all the geeks out there. The first is that Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson (who play Harry, Ron, and Hermione, respectively) have signed on to have signed on to play their roles in the final Harry Potter films, clear up through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which will be published July 21 of this year. While I realise that there are some who migh believe the three could be too old for their roles, personally I couldn't see anyone else in the parts. For more on this story, you can go to "Potter" stars set for more wizardry.

In other news, a new novel by J. R. R. Tolkien will be published next month, on April 17. The Children of Hurin was begun in 1918. And while Tolkien revised it several time, he left it unfinished at the time of his death. Christopher Tolkien, son of J. R. R. Tolkien, completed the book using the various draughts his father had written over the years. The book will feature illustrations by Alan Lee, who had also illustrated The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. He was also one of the concept artists on Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films. It is the first new Tolkien work to be published since The Silmarillion in 1977. The basic story of The Children of Hurin was briefly related in that book. Anyhow, you can read the story here: New Tolkien book to be published next month: report.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Monster 2001-2007



I feel like I have to apologise for yet another obituary in this blog. And I feel as if I have to apologise as I am sure that the vast majority of you have never heard of the individual who died and he had nothing in particular to do with pop culture (the central theme of this blog). But he was very important to me and has been central to my life the past few years. To wit, my cat Monster died last night at the age of six. Given the fact that heart disease tends to run in Maine Coons and his symptoms fit that of a heart attack, I believe that he died of cardiac arrest. Unfortunately, no veterinarians were open last night, not that I am sure he could have been saved anyhow.

I adopted Monster when he was all of six weeks old from a family friend. Her cat, a pure breed Maine Coon, had given birth to a small litter of kittens and she was giving them away. We chose the only male out of the litter (which was only three kittens), a cute, little bundle of yellow fluff. We believe that Monster's father may have been a pure breed Maine Coon as well. I remember when we took him home. I had to hold him all the way in the car; he was meowing loudly, no doubt distressed at being separated from his mother and sisters. He was a very loving kitten from the beginning. In fact, he wanted to sleep me that very night, but my old cat Patches wouldn't let him.

Monster was a rambunctious kitten, always getting into everything. That was the reason for his name--he behaved like a "little Monster." I remember that he tormented old Patches to no end, although I think she really didn't mind the attention. I also remember that as a very young kitten he had fleas so bad that for awhile we worried that we might lose him. Fortunately, we found a flea and worm treatment that restored him to health.

And Monster was a fairly healthy cat. He grew up to be about 20 to 25 pounds. He loved to play to the very end. He would play with our other cats. Oddly enough, he did not care much for expensive toys--his favourite thing to play with was the strip from old milk jugs. He was also fairly intelligent. He house broke himself, although he preferred to use the great outdoors to the litter pan. We had to do his business, he would scratch at the door like a dog.

Monster was also a very loving cat, perhaps the most loving cat we have ever had. He liked to curl up on us and be petted. And oddly enough for a cat his size, he liked to be picked up and carried around. He would sleep with us frequently. The entire neighbourhood loved Monster. He would visit them and let them pet him and play with him. In fact, the neighbourhood is taking his passing as badly as if he had been a human being, perhaps more so.

Even as he got older, Monster remained a very loving cat and a cat who enjoyed playing. In fact, it is hard to believe he was gone. Just last week he was playing with the younger cats. Yesterday morning he played with my youngest niece. Age did not seem to slow him down much.

At any rate, I cannot describe the pain I feel right now. It might seem silly to some of you, but I fear I am mourning Monster's death more than many human beings I have known. I feel in many ways like someone has just taken a part of me and ripped it from me. Right now I would give anything to hold him and pet him and hear him purr once more. I know I will always miss Monster.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

James Bond Theme Songs

"The coldest blood runs through my veins.
You know my name."
(Chris Cornell and David Arnold, "You Know My Name," the theme to 2006's Casino Royale)

With Casino Royale having recently come out on DVD, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss the various theme songs that have been featured in the James Bond movies over the years. Curiously, even though it is today unthinkable that a 007 movie would come out without a theme song, they weren't part of the franchise from the beginning. Dr. No featured no theme song, only the classic instrumental "James Bond Theme," credited to Monty Norman, although claims had been made for John Barry. On Her Majesty's Secret Service also featured no theme song, only the instrumental "On Her Majesty Secret Service" written by John Barry ("We Have All the Time in the World," sung by Louis Armstrong, appears in the film, not over the opening or closing credits).

The first theme song to appear in a Bond movie was "From Russia with Love" from the movie of the same name, released in 1963. The song was a ballad sung by English crooner Matt Monro. It must be pointed out, however, that the song does not appear during the opening credits. It only appears within the film itself and later during the closing credits. As to the first 007 theme song that would be played over the opening credits, that honour would go to "Goldfinger," sung by Dame Shirley Bassey, from the movie of the same name. Written by Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley, and John Barry, the song itself was produced by Sir George Martin (most famous as the producer of The Beatles). Anthony Newley initially recorded a version of the song, although it was ultimately decided that Shirley Bassey should perform the theme. In some respects, it could be argued that Goldfinger set the pace for all Bond movies to come. While From Russia With Love featured an opening title sequence designed by Robert Brownjohn in which footage was photographed against the bodies of models, it did not feature an opening theme song. Goldfinger was the first to do both.

Indeed, the song "Goldfinger" would set the pace for many Bond themes to come. It was literally epic in its orchestration. "Thunderball," sung by Welsh performer Tom Jones, was similarly epic in proportions, with Jones hitting the highest notes of his career. Curiously, "Thunderball" as sung by Tom Jones was not the first choice for the movie's theme. Initially a song entitled "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (a nickname given Bond by an Italian journalist)" was considered for the film and it was even recorded by both Shirley Bassey and Dionne Warwick. Producers s Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were concerned about how well a theme song which not only did not share the film's title, but did not even feature the title in its lyrics, would work out. Folk legend Johnny Cash also submitted a theme for Thunderball, but it was not accepted. The theme song to You Only Live Twice would follow in the footsteps of both "Goldfinger" and "Thunderball," albeit with a greater emphasis on the string section. It was historic in one respect, however, as it was the first time the theme song was sung by an American, in this case Nancy Sinatra. While I generally like the song, I must admit Sinatra always seemed an odd choice to sing a Bond theme to me.

Perhaps because On Her Majesty's Secret Service had no theme song, Shirley Bassey (who has sung more Bond themes than anyone--a record three) returned to the Bond films with the theme to Diamonds Are Forever. Written by Don Black and John Barry (the same team who wrote the song "Thunderball"), the song is reminiscent of "Goldfinger" in more than just the fact that both were sung by Bassey.

The Bond films would shift dramatically away from songs that sometimes seemed derivative of "Goldfinger" with the next Bond film, which would also be the first to feature Roger Moore as 007. "Live and Let Die" was written and performed by "Sir Paul McCartney and produced by Sir George Martin. "Live and Let Die" is historic as the first outright rock song to be used as a Bond theme. And it seems to me that it could also be the most popular Bond theme song of all time, even more so than "Goldfinger." George Martin apparently realised that he had a winner with the song, as he incorporated elements of its instrumental in the movie's score at nearly every opportunity.

Unfortunately, the theme to The Man With the Golden Gun would be a far cry from "Let Live and Die." Another theme written by Don Black and John Barry, it is one of the weakest Bond theme songs ever. And while I love Lulu, I don't think she was a good choice for the song. Strangely enough, Alice Cooper also submitted his own song "The Man With the Golden Gun" for the producers' consideration. They rejected the song, but it appeared on Alice's album Muscle of Love. Personally, I think it would have been a much better choice as a theme song than the theme that was used.

Fortunately, they would be back on track with the theme song to The Spy Who Loved Me, "Nobody Does It Better" written by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, and performed by Carly Simon. It is historic as the first 007 theme song that does not share its title with the movie, although it does mention the title in its lyrics. Along with "Goldfinger" and "Live and Let Die," it may be one of the most popular Bond themes of all time. "Nobody does it better" was used as a tagline in some movie posters for Octopussy and in some trailers for 2006's Casino Royale. The song also played over the montage of clips that served as a memorial for the late, great Desmond Lewellyn in the VHS and DVD releases of The World is Not Enough. I have to say, it is among my favourite Bond themes.

Sadly, I cannot say the same thing about the theme to Moonraker. Written by Hal David and John Barry and sung by Shirley Bassey, it is one of the weakest Bond theme songs of all time. Fitting perhaps, as the movie is one of the worst 007 movies of all time, but I would have still hoped for something better.

Unfortunately, the theme song to For Your Eyes Only was not much of an improvement. Written by Bill Conti and Michael Leeson and sung by Sheena Easton at the height of her success, it seems a bit too schmaltzy for a Bond theme to me. The sad thing is that they could have chosen another song for the theme. Written by Deborah Harry and Chris Stein, and performed by their band Blondie, "For Your Eyes Only was a far superior song that was rejected by the producers. It appeared on Blondie's album The Hunter. Sadly, the next theme song for a Bond movie, "All Time High" from Octopussy, could well be the most forgettable Bond theme song of all time. Written by Tim Rice and John Barry and performed by Rita Coolidge, I have a hard time even remembering what it sounds like.

Fortunately, the next two Bond movies would see a step in the right direction with regards to theme songs, using more contemporary artists and songs that were pretty much rock. "A View to a Kill" was written by Duran Duran and John Barry, and performed by Duran Duran. It was the last track the original members of Duran Duran recorded together, and the only Bond theme song to reach #1 on the Billboard chart. It is still one of my favourite Bond themes, from a movie that was otherwise pretty bad. "The Living Daylights" is perhaps historic as the only Bond theme song performed by what would otherwise be a two hit wonder. Norwegian band a-ha performed the theme song, written by Paul Waaktaar-Savoy of a-ha and John Barry. While a-ha is sometimes thought of as something of a joke these days, "The Living Daylights" actually numbers among the best Bond themes in my opinion.

While the theme songs to A View to a Kill and The Living Daylights were steps in the right direction, the next two Bond movies would see serious missteps where the theme songs are concerned. As much as I love Gladys Knight, "Licence to Kill" is as old fashioned as "A View to a Kill" and "The Living Daylights" were up to date. Ultimately, it seemed to me a rather smarmy, overwrought ballad. Getting Bono and The Edge of U2 to write the theme to GoldenEye was wise. It is too bad that it was decided that Tina Turner would perform the song. I cannot help but think it would have been a good song if only U2 had performed it.

Luckily, Tomorrow Never Dies featured a far better theme song. Sung by Sheryl Crow, and written by Sheryl Crow and Mitchell Froom, "Tomorrow Never Dies" is a modern day torch song. Curiously, several other songs were submitted as the theme song to Tomorrow Never Dies, among them songs by Pulp ("Tomorrow Never Lies") and Saint Etienne (which shared the same title as the movie). Regardless, Crow's "Tomorrow Never Dies" is perhaps better than the theme song to The World Is Not Enough. I think Garbage was a wise choice to perform the song, but I can't help but think that it would have been better had they written rather than the composer of the film's score, David Arnold. While I like the song, it does not exactly hold up to repeat listening.

Of course, "The World is Not Enough" sounded like "Live and Let Die" when compared to "Die Another Day," performed by Madonna and written by her with Mirwais Ahmadzaï. It is perhaps the worst Bond theme song of all time. While it is the second most successful Bond theme after "A View to a Kill (it went to #3 on the Billboard chart). Despite the song's success, however, it was widely derided and was even nominated for the Golden Raspberry for "Worst Original Song." It is probably my least favourite Bond theme song and, quite frankly, I think the low point of Madonna's career (which is really saying something).

Fortunately, Casino Royale (2006) would see a vast improvement, not only in the quality of the films themselves, but in the theme songs. "You Know My Name" was written by Chris Cornell and David Arnold, and performed by Chris Cornell (founding member and lead vocalist of Soundgarden). It was the first Bond theme song performed by an male American (Michael Munro and Duran Duran are English, Tom Jones is Welsh, Paul McCartney is Liverpool Irish, and a-ha are Norwegian), as well as the first Bond theme song that did not share the film's title since Octopussy. Indeed, the song does not even use the movie's title in its lyrics, although it uses a good deal of casino imagery. It also stands out as one of the few Bond themes which seem to be sung from Bond's point of view. It is also my favourite Bond theme song of all time, beating out even "Live and Let Die."

Right now I am hoping that the producers of the Bond franchise stay with the course they seem to have taken in having Chris Cornell write and perform the theme to Casino Royale. Historically, it seems to me that one of the problems with many of the Bond theme songs is that they were hopelessly behind the times. In some cases, it seems to me that they were either content to imitate "Goldfinger" or that they were hopelessly stuck in the Sixties. If the Bond franchise is to continue to be up to date, it seems to me that the Bond themes should be as well. Indeed, my own thought is that as the Bond movies originated in the same milieu as the British Invasion, perhaps the next movie should feature a song by one of the newer, British power pop groups (whose influence from the British invasion bands is pretty obvious). At any rate, they should stick with current artists (as much as I like Aretha Franklin, I don't want to see her perform a Bond theme) and avoid Madonna at all costs (I like a lot of her music, but "Die Another Day" was just too awful)...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Larry "Bud" Melman Requiescat In Pace

Calvert DeForest, who played the character Larry "Bud" Melman on Late Night with David Letterman for many years and continued to appear on The Late Show with David Letterman using his given name for many more, has died at age 85 after a prolonged illness.

Calvert DeForest was born in Brooklyn, New York on July 23, 1921. DeForest's uncle on his father's side was Lee DeForrest, inventor of the Audion (a vacuum tube which amplifies electrical signals, greatly improving radio reception and making radio broadcasting possible). His mother was an actress. Because she discouraged him from a career in show business, he never pursued one for most of his life. Following her death when he was 40, DeForest volunteered to work backstage on various smaller production in New York City. Eventually, he found his way onto the stage. He also appeared in a student film, King of the Z's, made at New York University. The makers of the film would find themselves on the staff of David Letterman's new show (Late Night with David Letterman) and screen the film for them. That is how David Letterman discovered Calvert DeForrest. Working at a Social Services office, DeForest received a call from Letterman to appear on his new show. It was then Calvert DeForrest's face first seen on Late Night with David Letterman on NBC. Parodying the prologue to the 1931 Universal classic Frankenstein, DeForrest introduced the new series. He soon found himself as a regular on the show, appearing in many, many skits. He also received a new name--David Letterman dubbed him "Larry 'Bud' Melman."

Calvert DeForest's popularity led him to make other appearances beyond Late Night with David Letterman. He appeared in small parts in several movies, including Waitress, Heaven Help Us, My Demon Lover, Heaven Help Us, and Mr. Write. He also appeared on other TV shows beyond Late Night with David Letterman. He made appearances on Saturday Night Live, Pee Wee's Playhouse, and Wings. He also did numerous commercials, for everything from AT&T to Pizza Hut.

When David Letterman moved to CBS to host The Late Show, Calvert DeForest went with him. Unfortunately, due to a dispute between NBC and Letterman over "intellectual properties," DeForest would no longer be called "Larry 'Bud' Melman." Regardless, the character he played was still the same. Over the years, whether under the name "Melman" or his own name, DeForest engaged in a number of different skits and antics. There was the regular segment on Late Night called "Ask Mr. Melman," in which he would dispense lousy advice to audience members. There were the many celebrities he impersonated, everyone from Neil Diamond to Barbara Streisand to Madonna. He also appeared in such odd places as New York City's primary bus terminal. And just as DeForest introduced Late Night with David Letterman on NBC, so too did he introduce The Late Show with David Letterman on CBS. As the years went by his advancing age forced DeForest to appear less and less frequently on The Late Show. He made his last appearance in 2002.

As a long time fan of David Letterman, I have also always been a fan of Calvert DeForest. I honestly believe he was one of the funniest men on late night television. It was funny to see him stumbling over cue cards or portraying some celebrity whom he looked nothing like (which was, well, just about all of them). In his thick glasses and suits, he even looked funny. The fact is that I don't think there has really been any other character on late night television that appealed to me as much as Calvert DeForest. I have to say I am very saddened by his death.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Stuart Rosenberg Passes On

Stuart Rosenberg, most famous for directing the classic Cool Hand Luke, died March 15, 2007 at the age of 79 from a heart attack.

Rosenberg was born August 11, 1927 in Brooklyn, New York. He studied Irish literature at New York University. While in graduate school he got a job as an apprentice film editor in television. He later became a full fledged editor before he finally took up directing. Rosenberg began his career in television, with his first directorial credit being on the short lived TV series Decoy. He went onto direct episodes of Naked City (15 episodes), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (5 episodes), The Twilight Zone (3 episodes), The Untouchables (15 episodes), and The Defenders (19 episodes). He would win an Emmy for his work on The Defenders in 1963.

Rosenberg made his feature film directorial debut with Murder Inc. in 1960. It featured Stuart Whitman and future Columbo Peter Falk. It was in 1967 that his most famous film was released, Cool Hand Luke. Rosenberg received a nomination from the Director's Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures. Star Paul Newman would be nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for the film, while George Kennedy would take the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Dragline. Rosenberg never quite matched the artistic success of Cool Hand Luke again.

Rosenberg would go onto direct WUSA, The Drowning Pool, Voyage of the Damned, The Pope of Greenwich Village, and My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys. Although hardly his best film, The Amityville Horror was probably his biggest financial success. It was a hit at the box office and produced several sequels.

While Rosenberg's work could be inconsistent, at his best he could be an absolutely great director. While the quality of Cool Hand Luke is largely due to its stellar cast, the movie would not have been nearly good were it not for Rosenberg's direction. And Rosenberg was hardly a one trick pony. Although not quite the classic that Cool Hand Luke is, Voyage of the Damned and The Pope of Greenwich Village were quality films with remarkable direction. Although he may not rank with such legends as Hitchcock and Kubrick, Rosenberg was a talented director.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Stardust Bites the Dust

The Stardust Resort and Casino, one of the most famous casinos in Las Vegas, was no more as of March 13, 2007. On that date the building was imploded in a ceremony which included a fireworks display, as if it was reason to celebrate. It was cleared to make way for Echelon Place, a resort which will feature 5000 rooms, a shopping mall, a production theatre, and 1 million square feet of meeting space.

I have never been to Las Vegas, so I never had the chance to see the Stardust in person. But like most Americans I have seen it both on television and movies. And like many people I am aware of its history. The Stardust was conceived by Tony Cornero. Cornero was hardly anyone's definition of an honest businessman. In the days of Prohibition he was a bootlegger. And unfortunately for Cornero, he was arrested and convicted for his crimes. After his release he and his brother went to Las Vegas. After several attempts at various casinos (not all of them in Las Vegas), Cornero decided to pursue his dream of creating the largest, plushest casino in the city. Unfortunately, Cornero would die before his dream came true. He had a fatal heart attack on July 31, 1955. Regardless, Moe Dalitz, owner of the Desert Inn and a man with his own shady past, saw the Stardust through to its completion. The Stardust opened in 1958. At the time it was possibly the largest resort hotel in the world. It was also the first casino in Las Vegas to cater to the average person. Its rates and its prices for food and drink were cheaper than any other casino at the time.

In addition to being possibly the most lavish casino for its time, the Stardust also boasted some of Las Vegas's more famous architecture. Its sign featured the solar system, complete with a 16 inch model of Earth, and the name "Stardust" in electric letters. At the time it was the largest sign in the world. Its roadside sign featured the name "Stardust" in a mass of twinkling lights.

Among other things, Stardust was famous for its French themed floor show, Lido de Paris. It ran from the hotel's opening to 1992. It also featured Las Vegas's only first run drive-in theatre. Over the years it featured a number of different performers, including George Carlin, Don Rickles, The Temptations, Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme, Harvey Korman and Tim Conway, Wayne Newton, and Siegfried and Roy.

Like many of the casinos in Las Vegas, the Stardust had a connection to organised crime for many years. Moe Dalitz had more than his share of links to the Mob. For many years the casino was under the control of the Chicago Outfit, the criminal organisation dating back to the days of Al Capone). It was in 1976 that authorities uncovered the fact that gangster Fraank Rosenthal had been secretly running the Stardust for years. Shady business dealing behind the Stardust came to further light when the casino was fined by the Nevada Gambling Comission $3 million for skimming. In March 1985 the Stardust was bought by Boyd Gaming Corporation, bringing to an end any connection the casino had to organised crime.

Unfortunately, the Stardust would eventually find itself behind the times. These days more revenue is generated in Las Vegas through hotel rooms, shows, and food than from gambling. The Stardust, where the casino was the star attraction, had become something of a dinosaur.

Regardless, the Stardust would leave its mark on American pop culture. It has appeared in movies from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to Mars Attacks. In the films Casino, Swingers, and the notoriously awful Showgirls, the Stardust had a starring role.

While Echelon Place might have more rooms and even more amenities than the Stardust, I very seriously doubt that it will have the cultural resonance which the Stardust did. With the destruction of the Stardust, it seems to me that we have seen yet another piece of American gone up in dust. The Sands and the Desert Inn were destroyed years ago. For better or worse, Las Vegas is changing. And while those in charge of the resorts and casinos might feel this is for the better, I can't help but worry the city is losing the character that made it famous. Okay, the city is better off without mobsters operating the casinos, but I don't think it is better off without the old classic casinos. Quite simply, the Echelon will never take the place of the Stardust.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Arnold Drake 1924-2007

Most of this blog's readers have probably never heard of Arnold Drake. I would even be surprised if most of this blog's readers have even heard of his creations. But Arnold Drake was one of the most innovative and influential writers in comic books. Among other things, he created both the Doom Patrol and Deadman. Drake died March 12 at the age of 83 after a bout with pneumonia.

Arnold Drake was born March 1, 1924. As a child he exhibited an interest in comic strips early. When he was 12 he contracted scarlet fever and was confined to his bed. His mother bought him bridge pads to use as drawing paper, and it was while he was sick in bed that he created his first comic strips. He soon realised that he was more interested in writing comic strips than in drawing them. Drake majored in Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia. He later attended New York University.

While at New York University, Drake took on a variety of writing jobs, doing public relations work for AT&T, Blue Cross, IBM, and so on. He sold some text and a few stories for the smaller comic book publishers. It was while Drake was in college that he, future novelist Leslie Waller, and artist Matt Baker more or less invented the graphic novel. They had hit upon the idea of a "picture novel," essentially a novel in comic book form. The plan was that their picture novels would be more sophisticated than the average comic book of the day, written for adults rather than children. They interested publisher Archer St. John in publishing a series of picture novels in mass market paperback form. The first published picture novel (in 1950), It Rhymes with Lust, was a film noir potboiler. A second picture novel, The Case of the Winking Buddha, by writer Manning Lee Stokes and artist Charles Raab, was subsequently published. Unfortunately, neither sold well and the idea of the picture novel died on the vine.

Regardless, Drake would still find a career in the comic book industry. Batman creator Bob Kane was his brother Milton's neighbour. Kane, Drake, and Drake's brother began working together on a project, and Kane introduced Drake to DC Comics' editorial staff. His first work for DC was for House of Mystery. Drake was soon writing for such DC titles and strips as House of Mystery, Batman, Space Ranger, Tommy Tomorrow, and Mark Merlin. Drake created the comic strip Stanley and His Monster for DC's Fox and Crow magazine. He would eventually work on both the Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis comic books, as well as Little Lulu.

It was in 1963 that Arnold Drake would make his biggest mark in comic book history. Editor Murray Boltinoff asked him to create a feature for the ailing My Greatest Adventure magazine. The idea Drake and fellow writer Bob Haney developed was that of a superhero team who were more or less outcasts, led by a man in a wheelchair. If the idea sounds familiar, it is because it is more or less the same concept behind X-Men. The catch is that the Doom Patrol first appeared three months before the first issue of Uncanny X-Men! Th Doom Patrol consisted of Cliff Steele, whose brain was placed in the body of a robot following an accident, turning him into Robotman; test pilot Larry Trainor, whose body became radioactive after exposure to radiation, but who gained the ability to project himself in the form of negative energy; and Elasti-Girl, actress Rita Farr, who after being exposed to unusual volcanic gases gained the ability to shrink or grow at will. The team was led by Dr. Niles Caulder, called the Chief, who was bound to a wheelchair following an accident.

The Doom Patrol ran for 41 issues. During the series' run, Drake displayed his originality in the often bizarre villains the team faced. Among the villains the team faced was: Mr. 103, a villain who could turn himself into any of the 103 elements known in 1963; Ultimax, a sentient computer; and the alien invader Garguax. Among the Doom Patrol's deadliest opponents were the Brotherhood of Evil, led by the Brain (who was precisely that--a disembodied brain maintained through artificial life support) and featuring the intelligent and deadly ape Monsieur Mallah and the shapeshifting Madame Rouge. While the Brotherhood of Evil were deadly, they were nothing compared to the Doom Patrol's archnemesis, General Immortus, the immortal leader of a crime syndicate.

Sadly, as the Sixties wound down sales for The Doom Patrol declined. It was with the magazine's final issue that Arnold Drake took the revolutionary step of killing off the team. In final battle against Madame Rogue, the Doom Patrol sacrificed themselves to save a Maine fishing village. It was the first time that a comic magazine ended its run with the deaths of its main characters. Regardless, the Doom Patrol maintains a cult following to this day, allowing for several revivals (most notably one written by Grant Morrison). Much of their mythos (including the Brotherhood of Evil) would later be used in issues of The Teen Titans.

Drake's second most famous creation would also come about because a comic magazine was in need of a boost. Editor Jack Miller approached Drake with the idea of creating a new superhero for the failing Strange Adventures. The idea Drake developed with artist Carmine Infantino was that of Deadman. Deadman was aerialist Boston Brand, Who was murdered while performing on the trapeze. Brand's ghost was given the ability to possess any living creature by the goddess Rama Kushna so he could find his killer. In the meantime, however, Brand often found himself using his powers to aid others. In some respects, it was a precursor to the show Quantum Leap.

Perhaps unfortunately, Arnold Drake did not always get along well with his editors. His various disagreements with editors at DC would result in his dismissal, alongside many of the other longtime writers at the publisher (including Batman co-creator Bob Finger). Ironically, Drake would later go to work for Marvel on, of all things, The Uncanny X-Men, a superhero team with an uncanny resemblance to the Doom Patrol. He would eventually take up residence at Gold Key Comics, where he worked on The Twilight Zone and Star Trek. In addition to writing comic books, Arnold Drake also worked in B-movies. He wrote the screenplays for the low budget horror movie The Flesh Eaters and the low budget crime drama Who Killed Teddy Bear.

Although he was not one of the best known names in the comic book industry, Arnold Drake was undoubtedly an innovator who dared to venture where few others would. His Doom Patrol predated the more popular X-Men and he was the first writer to actually kill of his characters at the end of their run. Deadman was a revolutionary character for his era and, as pointed out earlier, was a forerunner of the same idea as that in the TV show Quantum Leap. It is perhaps a mark of Drake's influence that there are feature films based on both the Doom Patrol and Deadman are in development. And while his idea for "picture novels" never got off the ground, it foreshadowed the rise of graphic novels in the Seventies and Eighties. Growing up Doom Patrol was among my favourite titles--I read as many of the reprints as I could get my hands on. Much of this was because of Drake's sheer creativity as a writer. In the Sixties he was doing things in the pages of Doom Patrol that would make even Stan Lee and the guys at Marvel look tame. I must admit to being very sad upon hearing of his death.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Betty Hutton R.I.P.

Betty Hutton, star of stage and screen, died Sunday at age 86 of complications from colon cancer.

Hutton was born Elizabeth June Thornburg on February 26, 1921 in Battle Creek, Michigan. Her father, a railroad foreman, left the family while Hutton was still young. She entered show business while still young, singing in a speakeasy run by her family at age 3. Hutton was discovered by orchestra leader Vincent Lopez and performed with his band for a few years. She made her film debut in several Warner Brothers shorts. By 1940 she was appearing on Broadway in Two For the Show. That same year she appeared on Broadway in Panama Hattie.

It was in 1942 that she made her feature film debut in The Fleet's In. For the next several years she appeared in such films as The Miracle of Morgan Creek, Incendiary Blonde, and The Stork Club. She played Pearl White in the bio flick The Perils of Pauline in 1947. Perhaps her biggest claim to fame came when she replaced Judy Garland as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun. Hutton made the part all her own and it remains the role for which she is most famous. She appeared in the lead role in the big budget extravaganza The Greatest Show on Earth. Unfortunately for Hutton, after appearing in the film Somebody Loves Me, she insisted that her husband at the time, Charles O'Curran and Paramount refused. As a result, Hutton broke her contract and effectively ended her film career.

Hutton would return to the stage, appearing on Broadway in Betty Hutton and Her All-Star International Show in the early Fifties. In the Sixties she would appear on Broadway in Fade In, Fade Out. She would also play Miss Hannigan in Annie in the Seventies, replacing Dorothy Loudon.

Hutton also made a career for herself in television. She starred in the NBC TV special Satins and Spurs in 1954 and had her own show during the 1959-1960 season. She made guest appearances on Burke's Law, Gunsmoke, and Baretta. Following her acting career, Hutton would get a master's degree from Salve Regina, a Catholic college. She would go on to teach acting and oral interpretation at Emerson College.

I must admit that I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Betty Hutton. Beyond obviously being beautiful and blonde, she was also one of the most vivacious stars of the silver screen. Her voice was an incredible instrument, and I imagine she could be heard across a room even without a microphone. She also a natural gift for comedy, with perfect timing and a face that was very expressive. Although I've always been a fan of Judy Garland, I have to wonder if it wasn't serendipity for Paramount that she was unable to finish Annie Get Your Gun. I can certainly picture no one better in the role than Betty Hutton was. I must say that I am truly saddened by her passing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

American Idol Is Not a Reality Show

The new season of American Idol began not long ago. As it has in the past, the show has dominated the Nielsen ratings. And, as usual, there have been numerous news stories about the talent competition. I am willing to bet in that a majority of those news stories, American Idol is described as a "reality show." It is on this point I must disagree with those news stories.

Granted, the term "reality show" is a rather broad one that has been used of a large number of different sorts of shows in the past. Candid Camera, which used hidden cameras to capture people's reactions to various pranks, was described as a reality show. So too was Art Linkletter's Kids Say the Darndest Things, in which the famous TV host simply interviewed youngster. At the same time, however, the term "reality show" has also been used of the cinema verite of Cops and the competition on Survivor.

It seems to me to determine what precisely is a reality show, then, we must look at what these shows have in common. In each case it seems to me that these shows present the relatively unscripted actions, reactions, or interactions of people to various situations, excluding sporting events, game shows, and news shows. For me, then, the emphasis in any reality show should be on the actions, reactions, or interactions of the individuals involved. This is why I do not consider game shows to be "reality shows," because the emphasis is on the game itself, not on the actions, reactions, or interactions of people. Of course, there are going to be cases in which the lines between reality shows and other genres are blurred. Given that it is essentially a competition, Survivor could be considered a game show. That having been said, it has always seemed to me that the emphasis not so much on the competition itself, but in the interactions between the competitors. In other words, Survivor is a reality show with aspects of a game show.

Now, in the case of American Idol, the emphasis of the show is entirely on the competition between the various singers. It is not on the interactions of the singers among themselves, their reactions to various situations, or their actions when they are not singing. American Idol is then not a reality show. As to what it really is, American Idol is simply a talent show. Talents shows have existed since The Original Amateur Hour debuted on radio in 1934. And they have been popular since the earliest days of television. The Original Amateur Hour made the transition to television in 1948 and lasted in some form until 1970. Star Search ran throughout the Eighties and into the Nineties, lasting a good twelve years. While it is not a reality show, American Idol is nothing new. Talent shows have been around for decades.

American Idol is as popular as ever. And I rather suspect, given the history of other talent shows, it will remain on the years for many more years. And, for better or worse, I suspect it will continue to be mislabelled a "reality show."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

300

Of the movies being released this year, 300 may well have been the one I was most looking forward. In my youth one of my favourite films was 300 Spartans. And years ago I read the graphic novel 300 by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. Loving both the 1962 movie and the graphic novel based on the same historical event, 300 was definitely a film I wanted to see. That I got to do so on my birthday was an even bigger treat.

Like the graphic novel upon which it is based, 300 is based on the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BCE), in which a force of 300 men led by King Leonidas of Sparta faced down an army of literally thousands belonging to the Persian Empire (then ruled by Xerxes I). 300 departs a bit from the historical event, but it does capture the spirit of the battle in a way that a more historically accurate movie may not have.

Indeed, 300 is literally an overwhelming movie. Its strongest point is definitely its visuals, taken almost directly from the original graphic novel. The movie was filmed against a blue screen, using CGI to generate the backgrounds and many of the effects. As a result, 300 looks like no other movie before it. The imagery is surrealistic and wonderfully bigger than life, befitting an event which literally changed the course of history. The battle scenes are more violent than any movie I've ever seen, grandiose in the way that a historical epic should be. There is blood to spare in this film, and possibly more beheadings than in any film in recent history. Quite simply, if you are the least squeamish about violence in movies, then I can guarantee you won't like this film.

Grandiose visuals is not the only thing 300 has going for it, however, as it moves at the pace that is almost literally non-stop. Especially once the battle begins, there is almost never a quiet moment. Fortunately, its pace does not sacrifice a good story. This is a compelling tale with strong characters. Indeed, Gerard Butler (who seems to be making a career of playing legendary kings--he played Beowulf in Beowulf and Grendel) plays King Leonidas with honesty and conviction. This is a king who means it when he says that he would die for any one of his men. An equally strong performance is given by Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo, who is convincing as a woman who is as strong in spirit as the mightiest Spartan warriors. Rather than crying over her husband going to what is a certain death, this is a woman who willingly accepts his date with destiny.

In the end 300 is literally an overwhelming film. Forget that it departs a good deal from the historical record. Forget that at times it can be very unrealistic. This is the perfect visual representation of one of the greatest battles in history, overpowering at times but capturing the spirit of the Battle of Thermopylae.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Rap in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?!

Every year I look forward to the list of new inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And most years I find myself somewhat disappointed at the list. This year, however, I think I am more disappointed than I ever have been. While the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is inducting such worthy honourees as The Ronettes, R.E.M. and Patti Smith, they are also inducting Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. My objections to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five are very basic. Quite simply, they are not rock and roll. They are not even close.

For those of you who have never heard of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, they are pioneers of the so called musical genre known as rap. Their single, "The Message," released in 1982, was among rap's earliest hits. Now I will admit that this makes Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five important to the history of rap, the fact remains that rap is an entirely different genre from rock and as a result the importance of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five on the history of rock music is negligible. In my mind, including them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would be like including Guy Lombardo or Merle Haggard. They may be important figures in their own respective genres of music, but they are not rock and roll.

What makes me angrier about this is that there are still many deserving artists who are clearly rock acts that have yet to be inducted into the Hall of the Fame. KISS had an enormous impact on Heavy Metal music and, for better or worse, the hair bands of the Eighties, but they are still not part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Judas Priest sparked the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, yet they have never been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Cheap Trick is perhaps the most famous Power Pop band around, with a history spanning over 25 years and a cult following, but they have never been inducted either. The Moody Blues have had a lasting impact on progressive rock and orchestral rock, but they still are not part of the Hall of Fame. To induct a rap group, which has had no impact on rock music, but not to induct important rock groups that have, is a slap in the face to these groups and their fans alike.

Admittedly, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has inducted individuals that I would not consider rock artists before and whose contributions to rock music were minimal at best, non-existent at worst. While I admit Miles Davis was a great talent, he was hardly a rock musician. And while I have always loved Bob Marley, I am not sure that reggae qualifies as rock and roll any more than rap. Still, I had hoped that this year perhaps the Hall of Fame would clean up their act and stick to purely rock acts. That they didn't cannot help but make me unhappy. I can't help but think that perhaps rock music needs another Hall of Fame, one whose definition of rock and roll isn't quite so broad as to include artists who obviously are not rock. As it is, next year I have to wonder if I can't look forward to Ludwig Von Beethoven and Buck Owens joining the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame...

Thursday, March 8, 2007

John Inman 1935-2007

John Inman, most famous for playing the flamboyant Mr. Humphries on the classic Britcom Are You Being Served died today at the age of 71. He had been suffering from Hepatitis A.

Inman was born in Preston, Lancashire on June 28, 1935. His family moved to Blackpool when he was 12. Even as a child he wanted to be an actor. His family even paid for elocution lessons. He made his stage debut at the age of 13 at Blackpool's South Pier. At age 21 he joined a touring repertory theatre company. He made his debut on the West End in Ann Veronica in the late Sixties.

Inman's greatest claim to fame would come through television. He made his TV debut in 1970 in a guest appearance in the sitcom Two in Clover. It was in 1972 that Inman was cast in the role of Wilberforce Claybourne Humphries on Are You Being Served. The sitcom was set in the aging Grace Brothers Department Store in London, where the menswear department was suddenly forced to share their floor space with the ladies department. Are You Being Served was an immediate success, lasting ten seasons and becoming a cult classic in the United States. It is still rerun to this day on both sides of the Atlantic. Mr. Humphries may well have been the most popular character on the show. Flamboyant and extremely close to his mother, Mr. Humphries' sexual orientation was always under question, even though it was never made explicit whether or not he was gay. The question "Is he or isn't he" was one of the show's long running gags. In 1976 he won the BBC Personality of the Year and was voted Funniest Man of the Year by readers of The Radio Times.

Inman also appeared on the sitcoms Odd Man Out, Take a Letter Mr. Jones, and Grace and Favour (the sequel to Are You Being Served). Following Are You Being Served, Inman became well known for his pantomimes, appearing in over 40 such productions across Britain.

Are You Being Served has always been one of my favourite sitcoms to come out of Britain. I must also admit that Mr. Humphries was always my favourite character on the show. The reason for this was quite simply Inman's comic talents. As Humphries he could be wonderfully over the top, yet at the same time the character possessed a gift for understatement. Indeed, as Mr. Humphries, Inman could get a laugh with a simple look. I must say that I am truly saddened by his passing.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Captain America is Dead

Today Captain America #25 (Volume 4) hit newstands. That event would not be remarkable save for two things. First, it is the final issue of the series. Second, it ends with Captain America being fatally shot by a sniper as he leaves a courthouse. That's right, Captain America is dead.

It has been a long run for Captain America, albeit with some interruptions. The character made his debut in Captain America Comics #1, March 1941. Created by comic book legends Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, Captain America was 90 pound weakling Steve Rogers, classed "4-F" by the military because of his poor health. Fortunately, Rogers received a reprieve in the form of a "Super Soldier" serum, which gave the young man superhuman strength. Rogers donned a costume and the name "Captain America" to combat America's enemies.

Although not the first patriotic superhero (that would be The Shield, published by MLJ Comics, now Archie Comics), Captain America was arguably the most popular. Following World War II, however, the popularity of superheroes declines sharply and the last issue of Captain America Comics was published in February 1950. He was revived briefly in 1954, but the revival did not last. Finally, when Stan Lee revitalised the Marvel Comics line in the Sixties, Captain America was revived once again, in the pages of The Avengers in 1964. He soon became the leader of The Avengers and also received his own title once more.

Despite Captain America's death, plans for a feature film to be released in 2009 are still underway. And Marvel Comics has not ruled out the possibility that Captain America will return. Indeed, in a medium where death is rarely permanent, I rather suspect it is very likely. Many will remember years ago when DC Comics "killed off" Superman. DC Comics always had plans to revive the Man of the Steel and did so after several months. I have to wonder if Marvel Comics could not be doing the same thing. They generate new interest in the character by killing him off, with plans of reviving him at a later date. I cannot say that is what they are doing, but it at least seems possible.

At any rate, I cannot say I would be happy if Captain America was dead once and for all. While I cannot say that Captain America was necessarily one of my favourite superheroes, I have always been partial to the Golden Age characters. Sadly, beyond the Sub-Mariner, Captain America was one of the few characters from Marvel Comics' Golden Age to see publication on a somewhat regular basis. To me then, in killing Captain America off, Marvel Comics is disposing of an important part of its history. At any rate, Marvel Comics won't be the same without him.

Monday, March 5, 2007

The Lost Tomb of Jesus

Generally, when I think of a movie director stirring things up, Oliver Stone comes to mind. Let's face it, his theories on the John F. Kennedy assassination have never failed to start arguments. This time around, however, it is not Oliver Stone who is stirring up trouble, but James Cameron, of all people. Cameron was executive producer on the documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus, which aired on the Discovery Channel last night.

The Lost Tomb of Jesus centres on the alleged discovery of the tomb of the family of Jesus below Jersualem. As a documentary I can't deny that it is very well done. Director Simcha Jacobovici allows everything to unfold like a good novel, rather than throwing everything at the viewer at once. And the information is entertainingly delivered. The documentary is indeed very engaging.

As to the evidence that this is indeed the lost tomb of Jesus, that is somewhat less compelling. While the coincidence of the various names (Yeshua/Jesus, Maria/Mary, and so on) makes it seem possible that this is the tomb of the family of Jesus, I am not so sure that is very likely. Indeed, what no one on the documentary seems to have pointed out is that while the names do indeed fit with those of Jesus's family, there are many names from his family that are conspicuously absent--his father Joseph and his brothers James, Jude, and Simon. While I am not going to say that this is definitely not the tomb of Jesus, I have to admit that it seems unlikely to me that it is (keep in mind that as I am not Christian, I don't believe Jesus bodily ascended into heaven, so finding a tomb belong to him is at least possible in my mind).

I don't think The Lost Tomb of Jesus is going to challenge the faith of any Christians. Nor do I think it is going to convince anyone that this is indeed the tomb of Jesus. That having been said, I do think it is an entertaining two hours covering what is at least an interesting possibility.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Soundies on PBS

I've long been a student of music video history, so I must say that I was very happy to hear that there will be a two hour special on PBS in March entitled The Soundies: A Musical History.

For those of you who have never heard of them, Soundies were short, black and white, 16mm films based around songs. Essentially, they were the music videos of their day. They were created to be played on a Panoram, a rear projection machine that was essentially a film jukebox. Located in bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and so on, one could place a dime in a Panoram and watch a Soundie.

The Panoram was introduced in January 1941 by the Mills Novelty Company of Chicago. The machines then cost about $600 apiece. New reels of Soundies were released each week, with each reel consisting of about eight Soundies. The Soundies covered a wide range of genres, from pop to big band to country (well, then, it was called hillbilly music...), and so on. Several major artists made Soundies, including The Ink Spots, Jimmy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Doris Day and so on. Some Soundies would even be shown as theatrical shorts in cinemas

Unfortunately, the advent of World War II would mean the beginning of the end of the Panoram and Soundies. The war curtailed civilian manufacturing, so that while new Soundies were constantly being produced, no new Panorams were being made. By 1947 the novelty of Soundies and the Panoram had pretty much run its course. That summer was when the last Soundies were made.

Anyhow, The Soundies: A Musical History will cover the history of the Soundies, complete with interviews (with such folks as Les Paul and Leonard Maltin). and some Soundies themselves. I rather suspect anyone who enjoys music, movies, or music videos, should probably not miss this one.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Sick

I have to apologise for the sparsity of posts this weeks. I've had a fairly serious cold, complete with the usual head congestion and sore throat. At any rate, I haven't felt like doing much more than sleep. With any luck, I'll get back to making entries tomorrow.