Tuesday, June 24, 2014

ANNOUNCING THE FIRST EVER DONATION DRIVE

Yes, loyal readers, it is time to bump this bad boy up to the top! Another donation drive for Random Thoughts Of A Random Guy From A Random Place Up In The Sky! no donation button this time around, please use the handy link for donations:

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_donations&business=CT68F55488X4Y&lc=US&item_name=Random%20Thoughts%20Of%20A%20Random%20Guy%20From%20A%20Random%20Place%20Up%20In%20The%20Sky&currency_code=USD&bn=PP%2dDonationsBF%3abtn_donateCC_LG%2egif%3aNonHosted

Why a donation drive you may ask? Your humble scribe needs a little breathing room as he continues not only his writing but also his acting pursuits. This breathing room involves a rather unexpectedly large power bill (due soon) and other incidentals that can keep this page (and myself) going. Please continue to read the eclectic material available on this blog post and check out the easy to access pages located right below the wonderfully odd title of this site.

The goal is a mere $400 and when it is met, watch the donations link magically disappear. Thanks everybody!

UPDATE #1
Now a video with Joe!

video




(photo credit: Tammy Harrel-Fraley)



 

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Cigarettes Of 'The Maltese Falcon'

("The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of." All photos under Fair Use.)

Released in 1941 by Warner Bros. pictures, "The Maltese Falcon" has been hailed by audiences and critics alike as an early example of film noir, a great private detective story, the fantastic debut of director John Huston, a cast of world class low-lifes and a break out role for Humphrey Bogart. Countless words have been written about the film, the stars and the production people, yet in all those words, to my knowledge, no one has ever mentioned the cigarettes of "The Maltese Falcon".

Filmed twice before, Huston's version is simply the most faithful to the novel by Dashiell Hammett, often using entire scenes of dialogue lifted directly from the book. By all accounts, the cast had a wonderful time working on the film and the aspect of a "closed set" sort of added to the mystery of what this new director was up to with a B-Grade movie star, an ex-starlet, a known drug addict, a semi-recluse character actor and a 62 year old Broadway actor making his film debut. While there are a multitude of themes, motifs and careful compositions and juxtapositions (camera work by the great Arthur Edeson), one of the most obvious (once you are made aware of it) and fun aspects of the film, never written about, that the actors must have relished in doing, are the cigarettes. Or more accurately, the process of rolling loose tobacco into a paper.

Due to the complexities of moviemaking, rolling cigarettes, especially the perfectly rolled ones appearing in "Falcon", would not only be nearly impossible, but time consuming as well. Time consuming means spending more money, something which studio head Jack Warner tried to avoid at all costs, pun intended. So, someone unknown to us today, whether it was Huston, Bogart, a combination of the two or someone else altogether came up with a running gag of perfectly rolled cigarettes using either on camera slight of hand or editing tricks! It is simply wonderful to behold as the film unwinds. So, join me now in a trip through "The Cigarettes Of The Maltese Falcon" and please note that the film timings mentioned are from the DVD copy of the film.

(Spade [Humphrey Bogart] is confronted by two policemen [Ward Bond, left, and Barton MacLane, right] about the murder of his partner.)

The first such occurrence comes very early in the film starting at the 1 minute and 39 seconds mark during the sequence where Samuel Spade, detective, is told by his secretary, Effie (Lee Patrick), that a Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor) is in the outer office and wishes to see him. Bogart pours the tobacco into a paper and this first instance of a perfectly rolled cigarette is achieved through subtle editing. 15 minutes and 25 seconds into the film comes cigarette roll #2 and this one is handled by Effie after she grabs the pouch of tobacco from Spade's hands. It's one of two instances using slight of hand right in front of the camera without an edit. Effie pretends to roll a cigarette and when she sets the pouch of tobacco down on the desk with her right hand (foreground), she quickly reaches behind herself and with her left hand deftly picks up the pre-rolled smoke and holds it up to Spade's lips and he pretends to lick it with his tongue.

Cigarette roll #3 appears 22 minutes and 54 seconds in as Spade is about to meet Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and like #1, the perfect cigarette arrives via more subtle editing and movement by Bogart with his back to the camera. The fourth one starts at 41 minutes 43 seconds and takes place in Spade's apartment. He is awaiting a good explanation from Miss Wonderly, now going by the name of Miss O'Shaughnessy. Spade rolls the cigarette and after "finishing" it, drops his right hand behind two books on the table. There he does a slight of hand by dropping the fake cigarette he was holding between his index and middle fingers and raises his hand to his mouth with the perfectly rolled cigarette between his third finger and pinky!

(The underrated Elisha Cook, Jr. as the gunsel, Wilmer.)
After spotting the gunsel who has been tailing him, Wilmer (Elisha Cook, Jr.), in the lobby of a hotel, at 44 minutes and 43 seconds, cigarette roll #5 happens when Spade takes out his handy tobacco pouch and sits down next to the cool Wilmer. After much fussing with pouring out the tobacco into the paper and a double lick(!), the miraculously perfect cigarette comes about through editing. The sixth, and last, instance of rolling a cigarette comes in Spade's apartment as the nefarious Caspar Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet in his film debut) tells Spade the sequence of previous events starting at the 80 minutes and 29 seconds mark. This perfect cigarette is once again produced through editing.

As can be seen, cigarette smoking in "The Maltese Falcon", and indeed, in any well thought out movie, is not done in a haphazardly manner. Like instances of blocking, picture composition and character development, smoking in the movies is being done for a particular reason in any given particular scene. In this case, it was nice to see some Hollywood favorites having fun and to also noticed they only did it a half-a-dozen times. Sometimes you miss subtlety.
 

Critical Thinking Is Becoming Passe In The 21st Century

Any one (and as I look about me it appears to be an increasing few) with two critical thinking brain cells to rub together can see that critical thinking is becoming passé in the 21st century. But, there's the rub, I think one needs to have more than two to actually achieve a critical mass to engage in any sort of critical thought. What is more, is that the incredible cause for this bizarre dichotomy may be no more further away than the nearest internet capable device. It's fucking destroying any real discourse.

As this century devolves, it no longer comes as any surprise that when you go to sleep one night knowing that Native Americans are called Native Americans and when you wake up the next morning with news sites blaring headlines that exclaim, "Obama Visits Indian Country". "What the fuck?" no longer is standard operating procedure. No one seems to be questioning the change and you feel like changing your name to Winston Smith just so you can fall on the right side of whatever it is you're suppose to be allowed to be. You read history that the people of the United States were "war weary" after World War II only to discover that there have been almost 300 wars since then and the United States, war weary though it may be, strapped for cash though it may be, has started more than three-fourths of those wars. Then your head may start to have a slight but oddly persistence throbbing when realizing the last time the U.S. Congress declared war was for World War II! If you're lucky, though, your Winston Smith kicks in and you forget that because of that fact, every war since World War II has been illegal under the Constitution.

Because it takes some critical thought and at least a passing knowledge of history to realize that the United States is nothing more than a two party dictatorship, that doesn't prevent most folks from slipping and sliding down the same muddy hillside into the same muddy pig pen of the usual suspects to argue over. Incessant, pointless non-critical thinking "discussions" about the same issues that haven't really changed for decades. Abortion. Guns. Illegal Aliens. Racial divisiveness. And the new kid on the block, man-made climate change. The internet and its chat forums, instant messaging and so forth, have turned this devolving century's concept of a critical thinking "discussion" into a putrid cesspool of ad hominem, straw men fallacy, hasty generalization, begging the question, false cause, false dichotomy, ad ignorantum, burden of proof reversal, non sequitur, and/or bandwagon fallacy. This devolution allows for the impersonal aspect of any internet "chat" and for the "winner" of any argument to be self-proclaimed and to take their ball and go home, in a virtual sort of way.

Yet, there are even more "tools" to be used over the internet, thanks to the continued use and popularization by the Mainstream Media (MSM), politicians and progressive/regressive websites of two Orwellian words; Orwellian because their meanings have been changed into pejoratives. "Truthers", as if the truth is now a bad thing, and "haters", as if pointing out negatives is now a, well, hateful idea. The use of these pejoratives allows the so-called critical thinker to deliver an imaginary and devastating blow to the other person and allows themselves to be awash in the false knowledge of smug superiority over mere human peons.

It's not that the MSM is completely negligent in their reporting. We know that our computers and televisions, which are equipped with microphones and cameras are routinely used to spy on us, whether by governmental agencies or perverted hackers (which one might say could be one in the same). We find ourselves completely unalarmed by this apparently (there have been no riots in the streets over these facts) and when chatting with someone about the latest cool car or game, we do not blink an eye when ads start popping up on our devices exhorting us to purchase the very thing we had just been talking about!


You are devolving now into a bunch of Winston Smiths and soon you'll be arguing with me that 2+2 = 5 and will have been programmed enough to send whatever people you feel compelled to, and have them start snapping my finger bones when I say 2+2 = 4 just once too often.

And don't get me started about auto-correct!
 

Friday, June 13, 2014

John Lennon's Last Live Performance At "The Salute For Sir Lew Grade"

John Lennon's last public music performance was taped April 18th, 1975 (I know! Almost 40 years ago) at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The occasion was a televised tribute (shown in the United States in June of that year) for entertainment impresario, Sir Lew Grade, which was called "A Salute For Lew Grade". Many other performers were involved in the tribute but the inclusion of John Lennon certainly must have raised some stuff-shirt eyebrows.

(John Lennon during his last live performance. All photos under Fair Use.)

Back in 1963, newly popular band The Beatles, were selling records at a phenomenal rate in Great Britain mostly due to the songwriting partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. A limited company, Northern Songs, was founded to publish the music of not only Lennon-McCartney, but George Harrison and Ringo Starr, too. The founders were The Beatles' music publisher, Dick James and his partner, the group's manager Brian Epstein, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In an move to avoid paying high capital gains taxes, Northern Songs went public in 1965. This move also allowed Harrison and Starr to acquire some of their own stock in the publishing company.

There's the short version and now we flash forward to 1969. Less than eighteen months after the death of Epstein, Dick James and his partner sold their shares to Associated Television (ATV), which was run by Lew Grade. They sold without any warning to The Beatles, and Lennon and McCartney's attempts to retrieve a majority interest in the publishing rights to their own songs failed. Under the contractual obligations signed by Lennon and McCartney, any further songs they created whether together or separately would be controlled by ATV until 1973. With their song writing partnership all but dissolved and The Beatles as a band no longer in any real existence, both Lennon and McCartney sold their shares in Northern Songs in late 1969. Although they would continue to receive writer's royalties on their Beatle songs, Lennon and McCartney no longer had any control over the music publishing company they had help co-found.

Although Lennon was understandably bitter toward Dick James' actions in selling out without any notice, he was more upset with Sir Lew Grade and his deep pockets and influence which forced Lennon to relinquish his shares in Northern Songs. Lennon often referred to him as 'Sir Low Grade'. Why then, in 1975, would Lennon agree to appear on a TV special saluting the man? The first answer was the fact that Lennon had a new album on the market, "Rock And Roll Music", that he wanted to promote. This album was his last under his current recording contract, which he chose not to renew, allowing him to retreat from the music business until his return in 1980. The second answer was that appearing he and Grade's company wrapped up any pending litigation between the two. The third, and most important answer, was an opportunity to stick it to the man of which Grade was one who Lennon described as being, "...sick to death of being fucked about by men in suits sitting on their fat arses...!".

Although Lennon and his back-up band recorded three songs, only two made it onto the televised version, "Slippin' And A Slidin'" and "Imagine". Lennon sang live to a mostly pre-recorded music track and it is by far one his best live vocal performances. One line of the lyric to the former song was obviously directed to Grade, "oh big conniver, nothing but a jiver, I done got hip to your jive". More telling, however, was Lennon's choice of his back-up band and the make-up they wore. The band's name was Brothers Of Mother Fuckers which obviously could not be mentioned on television, so they were dubbed Etcetera for this occasion. In the existing video from the show, the kick drum still has the initials B.O.M.F. on it for all to see.

The prosthetic make-up pieces the band wore were designed and paid for by Lennon. As can be seen in the picture below, this gave the impression of two faces. None too subtly, Lennon was making his feelings known about Grade's well-known two-faced behavior.

(A close-up screen grab of the two-faced prosthetics worn by the back-up band and designed by John Lennon.)
Did Sir Low Grade get any of this? Unknown. There are some out there in interweb land that don't even get why Lennon appeared on the show to begin with. Some say he was at a low point in his career and succumbed to appearing on a schmaltzy tribute show as a next step to perhaps playing 40 weeks a year at some Las Vegas lounge. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. John Lennon retired from the music business for nearly five years to raise his son, Sean, recorded countless demos, travel and let Yoko Ono earn millions from shrewd investments. By 1980, he was ready to return to recording music under his terms and not some men in suits.

(John Lennon cavorts backstage with his back-up band, dubbed Etcetera for the television audience, but actually called Brothers Of Mother Fuckers.)


Below is a clip of John Lennon's performance. If you would like to view the entire program, click this link. Lennon makes his appearance at about the 22 minute mark.




 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Children's Deaths By Car Accident Not As "Sexy" As By School Shootings

Forward:
"Sexy" is a term used by news organizations describing something that is:
"3) interesting, exciting or trendy".
"Apples and Oranges" is a phrase that is often used as a crushing blow to an analogy when in fact, "denigrating an analogy by accusing it of comparing apples and oranges is, in and of itself, comparing apples and oranges."

*   *   *   *   *

When it comes to children's (usually defined as 17 years old or younger) deaths in school shootings, almost everybody gets wildly and irrationally emotional. Parents, educators and especially craven politicians' reactions to school shootings, whether they realize it or not, are fodder for both the Mainstream Media (MSM) and countless bloggers because the subject and reactions are just too darn "sexy" to pass up. When it comes to children's deaths in vehicular accidents, the reaction is, well, uh, fairly muted. In fact, children's deaths in vehicular accidents are so "un-sexy" that when one types in a Google search for, "politicians call for stricter laws on children deaths in car crashes", not only does one get over 861 million hits, but most of those hits are about children's deaths by school gun violence! A true "what the hell" if there ever was one. Apparently not only does the search parameters on Google think the shooting deaths are more "sexy", they also show that the "apples and oranges" argument is alive and well as, "comparing apples and oranges is, in and of itself, comparing apples and oranges."

Why is this so significant? Let us look at the numbers. Between 1980 and 2012, the number of people killed in shootings at school is 297, which includes mostly children, but also adults. The number of children killed in vehicular accidents is estimated at more than 51,000 for the same period. The numbers are so drastically different that the free-for-all reactions that happen in the MSM and in political houses across the country over school shootings show that the topic is not only "sexy" but "damn sexy" as well. Looking at the numbers alone, one would think that the reactions should be diametrically opposite, but, of course, they are not. Why?


I mean, look, even when typing a Google search for, "number of children deaths by accident in home per year", and one still gets trafficked to sites about children dying in school shootings by the multitude, one is forced to admit that something is wrong in how we are dealing with the deaths of children. As school shootings over the years have resulted in schools resembling prisons more and more, despite the fact that the odds of one's child being killed is so extremely rare, and the improvements to car safety lag so woefully behind in comparison, one is again forced to ask: why?


While after a school shooting it is now de rigueur for a parent (more often than not the father) to begin a media blitzkrieg condemning lax gun control laws before their child's body is even cold; there is no corresponding reaction to the daily toll of over three child deaths in vehicular accidents. Are there mass condemnations or protests in front of General Motors headquarters? No one suggests or even wants to put the head of Ford Motor Company's head on a pike and parade it down the street to the jeering cries of a multitude of people. Although that reaction would certainly be a "sexy" news item in the eyes of the MSM, it just never happens. In fact, the gap between reality and Americans' perception of horrible, out of control gun violence prompted the Pew Research Center to publish a reality check entitled, "Gun Homicide Rate Down 49% Since 1993 Peak; Public Unaware".

When it comes to gun control, there are extremists on both sides of the issue and they both can outdo the other when it comes to outrageous behaviors, which are, of course, imminently "sexy" to both the MSM and the craven politicians. However, when it comes to somehow really curbing the death toll of children in vehicular accidents, there are no corresponding extremist positions and not really even a middle one. The best we have is Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), with no such opposing group such as Fathers For Soused Driving existing or even contemplated. MADD is a good group to have around, obviously, because a lot of the deaths of children in vehicular accidents are caused by drunk drivers.

Among the many things about the United States of America, love it or leave it, that make it so damn interesting, yes even "sexy", are the many inconsistencies and incongruities. From religion to mass entertainment or political discourse to sexual mores, the USA is a blooming basketful of apples and oranges. If one stops to think about it, one might wonder how the country has survived for as long as it has. Yet, while the continued overreaction to the woefully few children's deaths at school because of guns is undermining the education process itself and turning schools into prisons, any meaningful change in vehicular safety for the sake of "our children" is condemned to the "non-sexy" well of sickening silence.
 

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Tale Of Two Transvestites

I had a successful day at an audition in West Hollywood. For the purposes of this story, I need to jump ahead and say I didn't get the gig. Regardless, I felt so good after the audition that I decided to indulge my inner child with a quick bite to eat at a local fast food chain.

It was rather hot that day, but no matter, this place was air-cooled and I placed my rather small order of food. As I waited for my order to be completed, standing there several paces back from the counter, I heard a male voice ask, "Are you standing in line?" I turned and had to look up as I saw two men tall men in their sixties standing slightly behind me and they were wearing dresses. Not just any kind of dresses, but opulent dresses. Opulent dresses that had perhaps seen better days.

The man who asked me the question was white, with long hair that used to be blonde. The other was an Asian man who darkened his hair and was slightly teetering on a tall cane. I noticed that the tall white man had white chalky residue at the corners of his mouth. I said, "No, I'm only standing for my order." He thanked me and they slowly made their way to the counter and placed their order. I couldn't help but notice that they literally counted their pennies to buy their food. Soon, I had my order, and sat a table that allowed me to watch the baseball highlights on a large screen television.

It wasn't long before I saw the couple again. They tottered over and sat at a table next to mine. It was the man with the cane who sat down and was presented with the meal that their meager savings had purchased. The tall former blonde was standing up and making sure the meal was properly served. It was very touching. I began to wonder what trials and/or tribulations had brought them to this point in life. They obviously loved each other, had seen more than their fair share of sorrow, but through it all, both good and bad, they had remained together.

I, perhaps, let my imagination loose a bit, for I thought that in happier days, before the rise in rental property in the area, before the second great depression, that they were once, one of the toasts of West Hollywood. Judging by the dresses they wore alone, they may have been, indeed, trend setters. Here they were now, one feeding the other the only meal that they could afford at this time. If nothing else, by damn, they were making the effort to dress up and go out for an evening meal.