Later On

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Archive for the ‘Movies & TV’ Category

I just watched “Chef” again

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It’s on Netflix. I really enjoy that movie. Chef was written and directed by Jon Favreau, released in 2014. Starring Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguziamo, Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr. , Bobby Cannavale, Oliver Platt. A feel-good movie for foodies. Good soundtrack, too.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2021 at 10:15 pm

Posted in Business, Food, Movies & TV

Raymond Scott’s bizarre but intriguing ideas

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Being ahead of one’s time is a serious curse. Ted Gioia has a most interesting column that begins:

Background: Below is the latest in my series of profiles of individuals I call visionaries of sound—innovators who are more than just composers or performers, but futurists beyond category. Their work aims at nothing less than altering our entire relationship with the music ecosystem and day-to-day soundscapes.

In many instances, their names are barely known, even within the music world. In some cases—as with Charles Kellogg, recently profiled here—they have been entirely left out of music history and musicology books.

In this installment, I focus on the remarkable legacy of Raymond Scott. During the coming months, I will be publishing more of these profiles. Perhaps I will collect them in a book at some point.

The Secret Music Technology of Raymond Scott

Unfortunately, I need to start this article by talking about Porky Pig.

Raymond Scott deserves better. He never intended for his legacy in music to depend on cartoon animals. But his largest audience, as it turned out, would be children who laugh at Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and the other animated protagonists of the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons released by Warner Bros.

Scott didn’t write cartoon music—at least, not intentionally—but his music appears on more than 100 animated films. For that give credit (or blame) to Carl Stallings, who needed to churn out a cartoon soundtrack every week, more or less, while under contract to Warner Bros. Stallings found a goldmine in the compositions of Raymond Scott, whose music had been licensed to the studio. These works, which straddle jazz and classical stylings, possess a manic energy that made them the perfect accompaniment to a chase scene or action sequence or some random cartoon-ish act of violence.

Scott called his music “descriptive jazz”—his name for a novel chamber music style that drew on the propulsive drive of swing, with all the riffs and syncopation of that dance style, but with less improvisation and proclaiming a taste for extravagant, quasi-industrial sounds. It was like techno before there was techno, but with a jitterbug sensibility.

When I first learned about Scott, I was taught to view him as a music novelty act, akin perhaps to Zez Confrey or Spike Jones, and the most frequently cited examples of his work (to the extent, they were mentioned at all) were these cartoon soundtracks. But Scott had higher ambitions. He was, after all, a Juilliard graduate, with a taste for experimental music, and worldview more aligned with Dali and Dada than Daffy Duck. But Scott also wanted to be a technologist—his early aim had been to study engineering. He dreamed of combining these two pursuits, and gaining renown as one of the trailblazers in electronic music.

Under slightly different circumstances, he might have become even more famous for music tech than for his cartoon music, as well-known as Robert Moog or Ray Dolby or Les Paul or Leon Theremin. But those dreams were all in the future, when he picked the name “Raymond Scott” out of a phone book—because he thought it “had good rhythm.” . . .

Continue reading. It gets stranger and stranger. He invented a music synthesizer, for example, hiring Bob Moog to design circuits for him. (Moog later made his own synthesizer, of course.) Amazing story.

There’s an old country song called “Pictures from Life’s Other Side.” This whole piece reminded me of that.

Written by Leisureguy

21 July 2021 at 3:03 pm

A clip from “Yes, Minister”

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I very much like two series with the same characters (and actors): “Yes, Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister.” Wonderfully literate writing and witty dialogue. (You can stream both on BritBox.) Here’s a clip from “Yes, Minister,” Season 3, Episode 6 in which the Minister has just learned that the UK is selling arms that end up in the hands of Italian terrorists. He’s speaking with Sir Humphrey, his chief of staff (a civil-service position, so it serves various administrations) while his assistant Bernard listens.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2021 at 12:11 pm

The Quiet Skill of Mass-Market Novels

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I like the thrust of this article: to read thoughtfully the novel in front of you as though it’s a blind audition. Orchestras at one time comprised almost entirely white men, chosen from open auditions (where the musician performed in person before the judging panel). Orchestras some time back moved to blind auditions, in which musicians performed out of sight, behind a screen. The same panels found that they were suddenly selecting quite a few muscians who were women and/or minorities. No one was acting in bad faith, but the unconscious shapes our perceptions, including of what we hear.

So read a novel iitially without seeing the cover or knowing the author’s name, and see what you make of it. After forming your judgment, see who wrote it. That can often add depth, if you’ve read other novels by the same writer (though in that case you probably will have figured out who wrote it).

Katfe Cray writes in the Atlantic:

In dozens of novels written over a decades-long career, the romance writer Jackie Collins sharply observed the role of sex and power in Hollywood. She wrote incisively about abuse in the industry and empowered female characters who found liberation in a male-dominated world. She was brilliant and prescient—and overlooked in literary circles by those who wrote off her work as trashy airport smut.

Like Collins, many authors who write mass-market novels—especially those whose readers are predominantly women, and even more so those whose readers are Black women—are discounted despite their wide appeal. Take Sister Souljah’s influential book The Coldest Winter Ever, which sold over 1 million copies and was beloved by a generation for its nuanced depiction of its protagonist’s community. Today, the work is relegated to the realm of “street lit” and rarely discussed as a classic of American literature. Or, look at the work of Jennifer Weiner, a masterful storyteller, whose books are often dismissed as lacking artistic value. Critics have even attacked the literary merit of Donna Tartt, who has won a Pulitzer Prize, on the basis of her popularity. A few crowd-pleasing authors do escape this trap. Elena Ferrante is perhaps the most notable example, drawing intense loyalty from fans, who sought to defend her name several years ago after her publisher released ironic “chick lit”–style book covers for her works. But many more popular writers are derided than defended.

To take a genre or mass-market work seriously means recognizing the quiet skill in its pages. Books by Collins and Sister Souljah, for instance, slyly analyze the very institutions that aim to undercut them. The romance author Eric Jerome Dickey took a lighter approach. His novels craft vivid portraits of Black women experiencing love and desire and joy.

“To read a [Jackie] Collins novel, as roughly half a billion of us humans have, is to know that sex and power are inextricable. No one mined the dynamics of both as astutely in the late 20th century as she did.”

📚 Hollywood Kids, by Jackie Collins
📚 The World Is Full of Married Men, by Collins
📚 Lucky, by Collins
🎥 Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story, directed by Laura Fairrie

Literature’s original bad bitch is back
“Sister Souljah’s books pose a challenge to readers and critics invested in a specific vision of literary ‘Black excellence.’ Some Black authors and booksellers have bristled, at times infamously, at the mass-market appeal of novels like hers.”

📚 The Coldest Winter Ever, by Sister Souljah
📚 Life After Death, by Sister Souljah

When women’s literary tastes are deemed less worthy
“Many novels that do sell well are mass-market genre reads—romance, mystery, and the like—that travelers pick up in airports or shoppers grab off of discount tables at Walmart. Many novels that don’t sell well, meanwhile, are the kind argued over in highbrow publications.”

📚 The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

The subtle genius of Elena Ferrante’s bad book covers
“While Ferrante’s covers are definitely trite, there’s little about them that’s actually patronizing. There are no flowers or martini glasses or shopping bags on Ferrante’s covers, no high-heeled condescension. There are just images of women doing things that women, in fact, occasionally do: standing still, holding children, being on the beach. And yet, the very image of women doing things now strikes even women readers as unliterary.”

📚 My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante
📚 The Story of the Lost Child, by Ferrante
📚 The Days of Abandonment, by Ferrante
📚 Fly Away Home, by Jennifer Weiner
📚 The Mare, by Mary Gaitskill

Eric Jerome Dickey made Black women feel seen
“Dickey’s characters—bold, smart women oozing sexuality and vulnerability—navigate interpersonal conflicts using dialogue that crackles with authenticity … In casting the struggles of his characters as valid, he affirmed that the struggles of the mostly Black women reading him were also valid.”

📚 The Son of Mr. Suleman, by Eric Jerome Dickey
📚 Sister, Sister, by Dickey
📚 Friends and Lovers, by Dickey
📚 Cheaters, by Dickey

When I was in the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa, I took one class from R.V. Cassill, a good novelist and a good teacher. He told of writing some potboilers, so called because they provided food money along the way. He wrote one about love relationships among college students, and he titled it Wound of Love, a phrase that he thought would be racy enough for the bus-station crowd but with a literary appeal as well. (This sort of novel was published as a mass-market paperback, often found in spinner racks in bus stations at the time.)

He was rather proud of that title, but the publisher already had a list of titles, and the novel came out with the title Dormitory Women. 🙂

Written by Leisureguy

2 July 2021 at 8:13 pm

The making of “Independence Day,” now 25 years old

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Still an enjoyable movie, though now streamed only through Disney+. But a good article.

Written by Leisureguy

2 July 2021 at 7:40 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

I just had a new insight re: “Groundhog Day”

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I just watched a clip of Groundhog Day and saw something I had not realized. What triggered the transformation of Phil (the Bill Murray character) was that he got to know — really got to know — the people around him, the sort of knowledge and understanding that implies he spent hours of talking with them and listening — really listening — to them. Those people were to him no longer ciphers or strangers or simple transactional relationship, but rather people he now understood: they have depth and experiences and lives and dreams and regrets of their own. He obviously had stopped thinking only of himself and looking at others only as they affected him, but had grown in understanding and compassion. The connections he made with them are what transformed him. I had not seen that before.

Here’s the clip:

Just yesterday I read that the single most important factor in a long and happy life is having a variety of close and strong relationships — more important than genetics, more important than money, more important than any other single thing.

And in thinking more about it,  I realized that the things Phil knew about those people, from previous conversations, could come only from listening to them and not judging them, just getting to know them. And once you know and understand other people (as individuals), you generally will have good feelings toward them because you understand why they do what they do — that takes the judgment out of the equation, in a way. To understand is to forgive, because when you understand you see the mechanisms that drive the behavior.

Written by Leisureguy

2 July 2021 at 3:42 pm

An Oral History of ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’

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Read this terrific article in Ringer about the making of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Totally fascinating for anyone who likes movies, and particularly those who have seen the movie (and their number is legion). In the article there’s a mention of ADR that’s a link. By all means click the link and watch that video — also fascinating. And some of the video clips used in the article end with “also watch” links. Here’s one:

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2021 at 2:09 pm

‘We Are Lady Parts’ Is Brash, Brilliant, and Revolutionary

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Chelsea Steiner writes at The Mary Sue:

As film and television slowly becomes more inclusive, there continues to be massive cultural blind spots in representation. And few marginalized groups have been as ignored in popular culture as Muslim women. Too often Muslim women are cast in the same patronizing archetype: the meek, submissive woman oppressed by her religion, her culture, and her family.

And when these women are the focus, their stories tend to fit the traditional child of immigrants narrative, i.e. a young person desperately fighting against the rigid mores of their culture (Think Bend it Like BeckhamDouble Happiness).

It’s a story well worth telling, and its been told many times. But there are SO many more compelling and innovative stories to tell. Stories like Nida Manzoor’s We Are Lady Parts, a brilliant new six-episode comedy series about a five-woman Muslim punk rock band in London. The series centers on Amina Hussain (Anjana Vasan) a nerdy microbiology PhD student who is desperate to find a husband. Amina teaches guitar to children, and remains haunted by a middle school talent show performance that ended with her vomiting on the front row. According to her best friend Noor (Aiysha Hart), Amina must suppress her more independent traits to nab a husband.

Across town, punk rock band Lady Parts is realizing that their sound needs something extra: a lead guitarist. If you’ve ever seen a movie about bands, you probably know where this is going. But We Are Lady Parts brilliantly subverts its traditional story structure with rapid-fire dialogue and wonderfully developed characters.

The band is made up of hot-tempered lead singer and guitarist Saira (Sarah Kameela Impey), who works in a butcher shop and struggles to commit to her boyfriend. There’s confident and badass drummer Ayesha (Juliette Motamed), who uses her handsome brother Ashan (Zaqi Ismail) to lure in Amina. Bassist Bisma (Faith Omole) is an earth mother and actual mother, who draws hilariously violent feminist comics. And finally, there’s mysterious band manager and lingerie saleswoman Momtaz (Lucie Shorthouse), who vapes thick clouds of smoke from underneath her niqab.

All five women have distinct personalities that are brought to life by authentic, lived-in performances. They are united in their feminism, love of music, and their complex relationship to faith and family. It’s a radically nuanced (and frankly long overdue) portrait of the dichotomy facing many modern Muslim women.

The wickedly funny series delves into the surreal, thanks to Amina’s elaborate fantasies and day dreams. The five women share an easy, warm chemistry, which comes through in their music. Songs like . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The Younger Daughter told me that one can view the first episode free and then binge the remaining ones during a 7-day free trial.

Written by Leisureguy

20 June 2021 at 11:56 am

Posted in Movies & TV

The Pulp and Pleasure of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ 40 Years Later

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In The Ringer Brian Phillips has a nice look back at Raiders of the Lost Ark and its ancestral works in pulp fiction — and how tropes were adapted. He writes:

For me, it’s not the boulder, it’s the book. Anyone who loves Raiders of the Lost Ark can probably name the moment early in the movie when they realized what they were watching. Maybe it’s the hand darting through the crack to grab the fedora. Maybe it’s the smirk on Indy’s face when he thinks his sandbag trick worked, right before the temple—whoops!—starts to cave in. Maybe it’s Belloq waiting outside to relieve Indy of his hard-won treasure, the twist that teaches you the crucial early lesson about what this adventure is going to be like—that the hero is smart and resourceful, but not invincible. He can take hits. He can lose.

Whatever your moment is, it’s the one when you first start to notice the low-key inner glow that tells you this is not just another action movie. It’s the moment you know you’re in for something special, a story where every scene, every set piece, every throwaway line, every happy accident of filmmaking, are going to conspire together in the interest of sheer delight. Consider: Raiders features the greatest movie star of his generation working with the greatest blockbuster director of his generation working with the greatest pop world-builder of his generation; all of them, in their own way, supreme and uncompromising weirdos. It would have been so easy for their quirks and temperaments to blow each other up, like the scenery in one of the movie’s Rube Goldberg action sequences. Instead, the lit match of Harrison Ford’s jadedness somehow did not ignite the spilled gasoline of Steven Spielberg’s ego just as the runaway fighter plane of George Lucas’s imperiousness rolled into it. Raiders is not a perfect movie—more on that later—but if you’re on its wavelength, there’s very little that can rival it as a pleasure-delivery device. Everything just works.

You feel it, when you’re watching a movie like that. It’s like watching someone on an incredible run at a casino; everything that’s supposed to be hard and unpredictable suddenly feels easy and assured. It’s a kind of magic you can settle into, one that elicits a feeling of lucky surrender: Ahh. In all of film history, Raiders may be the one in which the audience is most completely, and in every sense, along for the ride.

Anyway: There’s a moment for everyone when that ahh hits them, and for me, as I said, it’s the book. Indy is back on campus, in his wire-rimmed glasses and his tweed suit. He’s explaining to the Army intelligence men about the Ark of the Covenant, that maybe this is what the Nazis are looking for in the desert; this is what Abner Ravenwood was researching before he disappeared. If you love the movie, this stuff is as familiar to you as your childhood phone number. Lost City of Tanis: check. Staff of Ra: check. The Well of Souls: check. Then one of the Army intelligence guys goes, “What does this Ark look like?” and Indy replies, “There’s a picture of it right here.”

And he puts down this book. It’s a huge, old-fashioned, leather-bound volume, the sort you need a key to open, just the tome you picture a professor-adventurer consulting in front of a roaring fire, in a tufted leather chair, while sipping a glass of port. The book, in other words, is a shameless pulp artifact, and it’s because of that—because we’re happily ensconced in pulpland already—that we don’t even blink when Indy opens right to the page and says, “That’s it.”

Again: He has the book right there. It’s, conservatively, 1 million pages long. He opens to the picture of the Ark in less than two seconds. This is a tiny, almost unmentionably trivial detail; at the same time, I’m positive that nothing more delightful has ever happened in a movie. As delightful? Maybe. But more? The book tells us several things, quietly, all at once. First, it tells us that even more than the worlds in most movies, this is a world in which reality will always furnish whatever is the most atmospheric thing for any circumstance. Need to chase a train through the desert? Here are some beautiful horses. Need to steal a plane from the Luftwaffe? Oops, there’s a 7-foot Nazi beefcake shirtlessly guarding it. Are you in a North African bazaar? Have an adorable, mischievous, superintelligent monkey. I’m convinced that this, the ready availability of the coolest thing for any moment, is what makes the famous scene where Indy pulls his gun and shoots the sword-twirling assassin, so indelible. It extends a logic that’s been part of the movie’s ground rules from the beginning. You expected something good? Here’s something better.

The second thing the book tells us is . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

16 June 2021 at 1:33 pm

The value of imitation in the arts

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Interesting quotation from David Perell’s newsletter:

I once met a painting coach who tells students to copy their favorite artists.

At first, students resist.

In response, the coach tells them to listen for friction. “Do you hear that resistance? It’s the whisper of your unique style.”

Through imitation, we discover our voice.

Written by Leisureguy

15 June 2021 at 7:28 pm

Tuning in to a TV/streaming series, with “Ragnarok” as an example.

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I’ve been watching on Netflix a Norwegian series titled “Ragnarok,” which explores Norse mythology in a modern context. Last night I watched Season 2 Episode 5, and by now I’m thorough transfixed. The initial episodes were interesting enough to keep me watching, but now I’m gripped by the drama.

I’ve noticed before how some series get significantly better as they progress, and I wonder whether that’s because the writers and actors better understand the characters and their possibilities (thus the series really does get better), or whether it’s that we the audience are learning the series pace and meaning of the series (“meaning” in the sense of our understanding what the director thought important and what the actors convey). That is, the series had its qualities from the start, but we only gradually become attuned to them and start to get it.

It’s probably a bit of both, plus as the series goes on we by watching know some of the history and backstory and understand the characters’ histories and motivations, so that after a few seasons, a very small incident — say a character refusing a cigarette offered by another character, carries layers of meaning to those who see the incident in the context of all that has come before.

In the case of “Ragnarok,” another factor might be in play for audiences outside Norway. The series is in Norwegian (with English subtitles, thank Odin), and the writer, director, and actors are all Norwegian, so I imagine that they were steeped in Norse mythology from childhood simply as a component of cultural tradition. The gods and giants and heroes and incidents are for them a familiar terrain and easily carry mean and evoke emotional responses. Those memes for them have immediate meaning.

But that US/Canadian audiences are not so immersed in that knowledge, so initially it is more remote. However, as we watch the series, we gradually tune in and start to see and understand the patterns, background, motivations and interplay, and the story becomes deeper and more meaningful.

Some series develop a gripping and coherent story world through the sort of development I describe. “West Wing,” was one, and certainly “The Wire” is like this in spades, as characters develop, move to new jobs, and relationships develop and change. The French series “Spiral” (“Engrenages“) is another example.

Written by Leisureguy

14 June 2021 at 9:55 am

Ragnarok: Absorbing series on Netflix

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Ragnarok is a modern reincarnation of Norse epic myths and is well worth watching. Two seasons now available on Netflix. I watched Season 1, and I’m now rewatching it before watching Season 2. Terrific series.

Written by Leisureguy

2 June 2021 at 5:58 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Backstory of Bob Ross (Inc.): Happy art, ugly business

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In the Daily Beast Alston Ramsay tells a compelling, lengthy, and detailed story of Bob Ross’s art and the betrayals involved in it. Well worth reading. The story begins:

Bob Ross is everywhere these days: bobbleheads, Chia Pets, waffle makers, underwear emblazoned with his shining face, even energy drinks “packed with the joy and positivity of Bob Ross!” Whatever merchandising opportunity is out there, kitsch or otherwise, it’s a safe bet his brand-management company is on it—despite his having shuffled off the mortal coil more than 25 years ago.

He’s also a smash hit on social media, where he feels more like a Gen-Z influencer than a once semi-obscure PBS celebrity who rose to fame in the 1980s on the back of his bouffant hairdo, hypnotic singsong baritone, and a timeless message about the beauty of the world around us. His official YouTube page has logged close to half a billion views. He’s been satirized by the comic-book anti-hero Deadpool, the world-infamous street artist Banksy, and even Jim Carrey as Joe Biden on Saturday Night Live.

If that weren’t enough, he’s hawking Mountain Dew in a new CGI commercial that’s right on the edge of the uncanny valley, and Netflix has a feature-length documentary about him due this summer by the prolific actor-producer Melissa McCarthy.

Yes, Bob Ross is a beacon of light in an ever-darkening world—an endless stream of soothing bon mots perfectly at home in the meme-and-merchandise internet era.

He was also recently in federal court. Or, to be more precise, his eponymous company Bob Ross, Inc., was. Now run by the daughter of Bob’s original business partners—Annette and Walt Kowalski—Bob Ross, Inc., was defending itself against claims that it had made millions of dollars by illegally licensing Bob’s image over the last decade, expanding far beyond the company’s original core business of selling Bob Ross-themed paints and paint supplies.

The broad contours of the case revolved around the nuances of intellectual property law and were nothing new in the world of legal bickering over celebrity estates. The details, on the other hand, resided in the land of the unbelievable—incorporating deathbed marriages, last-minute estate changes, CIA-style tape recordings, and even a real-life former CIA agent.

It was all made even more bizarre by the plaintiff who filed suit: Bob’s very own son Steve Ross, a long-standing superstar in the sub-universe of Bob Ross fandom who had largely dropped off the face of the Earth after his father’s death—and was even rumored to have met his own demise some years earlier.

Stranger still, it wasn’t the company’s first brush with federal and other lawsuits. Although, under the leadership of the Kowalskis, Bob Ross, Inc., was usually on the delivering, rather than receiving, end of said lawsuits.

In fact, in the months immediately following Bob’s death in the summer of 1995, Annette and Walt had launched a series of lawsuits and financial claims against Bob’s estate, his widow, his half-brother, and a dermatologist in Indiana who moonlit as the writer-producer of a short-lived PBS children’s show about a talking tree in which Bob had posthumously appeared.

All in all, the strategy was designed to gain total control of Bob’s afterlife—despite Bob’s clear intent otherwise. One of Bob’s close friends took to calling the effort “Grand Theft Bob,” and for 25 years, until now, the story has been known only to a handful of people who were often too scared to speak lest they, too, be the subject of a well-financed lawsuit courtesy of Bob Ross, Inc.

The following account is based on primary documents and interviews with more than 30 people who knew Bob personally or worked alongside him in the hobby-art industry—including family members, fellow TV artists, business associates, and competitors.

PART I: MAKING BOB ROSS

To fully understand the genesis of the alleged “Grand Theft Bob,” and how it was ironically responsible for Bob’s recent meteoric pop-culture renaissance, one has to first understand the business behind Bob Ross—and the origins of the company that bears his name.

That story begins not in the sleepy pre-Disney town of Orlando, Florida, where Bob was raised. Nor does it begin in the backwaters of Muncie, Indiana, where almost all 403 episodes of his international smash-hit television show The Joy of Painting were filmed. Nor was it in the bustling suburbs of Washington, D.C., where Bob Ross, Inc., was founded and still resides.

Rather, the business of being Bob Ross begins in the quaint lakeside hamlet of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. And it starts with a chance encounter between then-U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant Robert Norman Ross and a former Nazi conscript named Wilhelm “Bill” Alexander.

The year was 1978, and, after a deployment in Thailand at the tail end of the Vietnam War, Bob had spent the last several years at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington, just down the road from Coeur d’Alene. Even though his days were packed with the long hours of a first sergeant—and raising his son Steve as a single father—he still found time to pursue his longstanding passion of painting. A passion that had been turbo-charged when, shortly after returning stateside, he had encountered Bill Alexander just as millions of others had at the time: on PBS, where Bill had pioneered an entirely new style of oil painting in which he could crank out a landscape in less than thirty minutes—the Alexander technique of “wet-on-wet” painting.

“It almost made me angry the first time I saw Alexander on TV,” Bob later explained in the first season of The Joy of Painting. “That he could do in a matter of minutes what took me days to do.”

Luck would have it that Bill was teaching a seminar less than an hour from Bob’s post. That’s how he found himself attending his first workshop on the Alexander technique. Not only was it a chance to learn from the master himself, it was also a job opportunity. Bob was a few years shy of retirement from the military, and he knew exactly what he wanted to do next: apprentice for Bill.

On paper, the two might have seemed like an odd couple. Bob was a tall, lanky, all-American, red-blooded military man who drove fast cars, loved fast women, drank scotch on the rocks, and smoked Salem Greens and Marlboro Reds. He was laser-focused, detail-oriented, and driven to excel.

Bill, on the other hand, was a short, stocky German immigrant with a neck like a linebacker’s, fingers like sausages, and about as much energy as the sun. He was incredibly warm, gave out hugs like candy, and was often generous to a fault. His motto, in life as in painting, was that you can’t have the light without the dark. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2021 at 11:48 am

A feel-good story about a Korean restaurant

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Yesterday I finally made it to a local Korean restaurant, Thunderbird, that specializes in (Korean) fried chicken, and was able to try it. I have wanted to try it since watching the Korean 16-part TV production Crash-Landing on You on Netflix, whose story included a number of product placements for bb.q Chicken, a chain that specializes in Korean fried chicken (though that style of fried chicken is available from many other Korean restaurants). (I’ve commented before that Korean TV seems to like the 16-episode format, and I’ve watched a number of those — in fact, right now I’m watching a good one: Vagabond, on Netflix.)

The chicken was very good — tender, juicy, and flavorful, with a wonderful crust (I think they use Panka for breading) — and I was glad to check that item off my list.

I texted The Eldest to suggest she try it in some Baltimore Korean place, and she responded to say that she was familiar with it and often takes to boys to eat at a Korean restaurant there. She sent a link to this report by Cathy Free in the Washington Post:

The request came in late on a Thursday afternoon to restaurant owner Steve Chu. One of his customers had terminal cancer, and her son-in-law wondered if it would be possible to get the recipe of her favorite broccoli tempura entree so he could make it for her at her home in Vermont.

Chu, 30, specializes in Asian fusion cuisine and is the co-owner of two Ekiben locations in Baltimore. He read the email on March 11 and instantly knew that he could do better, he said.

“Thanks for reaching out,” he wrote. “We’d like to meet you in Vermont and make it fresh for you.”

Brandon Jones, 37, was stunned.

“I emailed back, saying, ‘You do know that this is Vermont we’re talking about, right?’ ” he recalled. “It’s a six-hour drive. But Steve responded, ‘No problem. You tell us the date, time and location and we’ll be there.’”

Jones and his wife, Rina Jones, were preparing to leave from their home in the Canton neighborhood for Vermont that weekend to visit Rina’s mother, who is in the final stages of lung cancer and has stopped treatment since her December diagnosis.

For the past five or six years, every time his mother-in-law visited Baltimore, the first place she wanted to go was Ekiben in Fells Point so she could order the tempura broccoli topped with fresh herbs, diced onion and fermented cucumber vinegar, said Brandon Jones.

“She loves that broccoli, and I really wanted her to have it one more time,” Jones, an engineer, said about his mother-in-law, who asked that her name not be published in a request for privacy at the end of her life.

“She had always told us, ‘When I’m on my death bed, I want to have that broccoli,’ ” recalled Rina Jones, 38, who works in the health-care industry. “In fact, when I was packing on Friday to drive up to Vermont, I called my mom to see if she wanted us to bring anything special and she jokingly said, ‘tempura broccoli!’ ”

When Chu said he’d be happy to make the dish from scratch in Vermont on Saturday afternoon, Rina Jones said she was elated.

“It’s just so above and beyond,” Jones said. “It’s an incredible act of kindness.”

The next day, March 12, Chu loaded his truck after work with a hot plate and a cooler filled with the ingredients for broccoli tempura, then headed for Vermont with his business partner, Ephrem Abebe, and employee Joe Anonuevo. The trio stayed overnight in an Airbnb rental, he said, then stopped for some additional ingredients on their way to the condo where Rina Jones’ mother lives.

. . . As soon as he and his team pulled into the parking lot of the condo building, they texted Rina Jones that they’d arrived, then got to work. They pulled down the gate of the pickup, hooked the hot plate to the truck’s power port and started cooking and deep-frying.

In addition to Ekiben’s broccoli tempura, they made a tofu dish with peanut sauce and fresh herbs and some steamed rice, said Chu. Then after neatly boxing everything up, they knocked on their customer’s front door.

“Go ahead and answer,” Rina Jones said she told her mother.

“As soon as she opened the door, she recognized the aroma immediately,” Brandon Jones said. “It smelled amazing.”

Her mother also recognized Chu and his co-workers, said Rina Jones.

“My mom kept saying, ‘I don’t understand — you drove all the way up here to cook for me?’ ” she said. “She was so happy and touched to have that broccoli. She couldn’t believe it.”

Chu said he also immediately recognized the woman he was there to cook for.

“We see a lot of people in the restaurant, but she always stood out,” he said. “She loves the food and always made sure to tell us. She’s an amazing, sweet lady.”

The Joneses invited Chu and his team to join them for dinner, but they needed to get back to Baltimore after they cleaned up, said Rina Jones. Chu also wouldn’t accept any money from the family.

. . . “She’s a lovely lady, who has showered us with love at our restaurant for years,” he said. “It was a powerful experience, and I’m happy that we could make it happen.”

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

12 May 2021 at 11:07 am

A short history of a wrong direction the US embraced

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Heather Cox Richardson reviews some of the decisions and directions that brought the US to its current situation:

America today is caught in a plague of gun violence.

It wasn’t always this way. Americans used to own guns without engaging in daily massacres. Indeed, it always jumps out at me that the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, when members of one Chicago gang set up and killed seven members of a rival gang, was so shocking it led to legislation that prohibits automatic weapons in the U.S.

Eighty-nine years later, though, in 2018, another Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 children and wounded 17 others. In response, then-President Donald Trump called for arming teachers, and the Republican-dominated Florida legislature rejected a bill that would have limited some high-capacity guns.

Our acceptance of violence today stands in striking contrast to Americans’ horror at the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Today’s promotion of a certain kind of gun ownership has roots in the politics of the country since the Supreme Court handed down the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision, which declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. Since Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted a government that actively shaped the economy, businessmen who hated government regulation tried to rally opposition to get rid of that government. But Americans of the post-World War II years actually liked regulation of the runaway capitalism they blamed for the Great Depression.

The Brown v. Board decision changed the equation. It enabled those who opposed business regulation to reach back to a racist trope from the nation’s Reconstruction years after the Civil War. They argued that the active government after World War II was not simply regulating business. More important, they said, it was using tax dollars levied on hardworking white men to promote civil rights for undeserving Black people. The troops President Dwight Eisenhower sent to Little Rock Central High School in 1957, for example, didn’t come cheap. Civil Rights, then, promoted by the newly active federal government, were virtually socialism.

This argument had sharp teeth in the 1950s, as Americans recoiled from the growing influence of the U.S.S.R., but it came originally from the Reconstruction era. Then, white supremacist southerners who were determined to stop the federal government from enforcing Black rights argued that they were upset about Black participation in society not because of race—although of course they were—but rather because poor Black voters were electing lawmakers who were using white people’s tax dollars to lay roads, for example, or build schools.

In contrast to this apparent socialism, southern Democrats after the Civil War lionized the American cowboy, whom they mythologized as a white man (in fact, a third of the cowboys were men of color) who wanted nothing of the government but to be left alone (in reality, the cattle industry depended on the government). Out there on the western plains, the mythological cowboy worked hard for a day’s pay for moving cattle to a railhead, all the while fighting off Indigenous Americans, Mexicans, and rustlers who were trying to stop him.

That same mythological cowboy appeared in the 1950s to stand against what those opposed to business regulation and civil rights saw as the creeping socialism of their era. By 1959, there were 26 Westerns on TV, and in March 1959, eight of one week’s top shows were Westerns. They showed hardworking cowboys protecting their land from evildoers. The cowboys didn’t need help from their government; they made their own law with a gun.

In 1958, Republican Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona rocketed to prominence after he accused the president from his own party, Dwight Eisenhower, of embracing “the siren song of socialism.” Goldwater had come from a wealthy background after his family cashed in on the boom of federal money flowing to Arizona dam construction, but he presented himself to the media as a cowboy, telling stories of how his family had come to Arizona when “[t]here was no federal welfare system, no federally mandated employment insurance, no federal agency to monitor the purity of the air, the food we ate, or the water we drank,” and that “[e]verything that was done, we did it ourselves.” Goldwater opposed the Brown v. Board decision and Eisenhower’s decision to use troops to desegregate Little Rock Central High School.

Increasingly, those determined to destroy the postwar government emphasized the hardworking individual under siege by a large, grasping government that redistributed wealth to the undeserving, usually people of color. A big fan of Goldwater, Ronald Reagan famously developed a cowboy image even as he repeatedly warned of the “welfare queen” who lived large on government benefits she stole.

As late as 1968, the National Rifle Association supported some forms of gun control, but that changed in the 1980s as the organization affiliated itself with Reagan’s Republican Party. In 1981, an assassin attempted to kill the president and succeeded in badly wounding him, as well as injuring the president’s press secretary, James Brady, and two others. Despite pressure to limit gun ownership, in 1986, under pressure from the NRA, the Republican Congress did the opposite: it passed the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act, which erased many of the earlier controls on gun ownership, making it easier to buy, sell, and transport guns across state lines.

In 1987, Congress began to consider the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, otherwise known as the Brady Bill, to require background checks before gun purchases and to prevent certain transfer of guns across state lines. As soon as the measure was proposed, the NRA shifted into high gear to prevent its passage. The bill did not pass until 1993, under President Bill Clinton’s administration. The NRA set out to challenge the law in the courts.

While the challenges wound their way upward, the idea of individuals standing against a dangerous government became central to the Republican Party. . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing. It’s good to be reminded that choices have long-lasting impact.

Written by Leisureguy

20 April 2021 at 10:23 am

Example of a bad (micro)cultural meme: Scott-Rudinesque behavior

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Peter Marks has an interesting report in the Washington Post, and mentions in passing how a cultural meme is created and then reinforced generation by generation, because “this is how we do it.” The underlying problem is that it’s difficult to do A-B tests of memes, though some do arise.

At any rate, from his report (and read it with an eye out for memes):

. . . The story, in which several people described allegations that have circulated in the entertainment industry for years about Rudin’s bullying and rages, rocked the theater world. In one anecdote, he allegedly smashed a computer monitor on an assistant’s hand over an unsuccessful flight booking, sending the employee to the emergency room. He’s also accused of throwing objects at workers, including a stapler and a baked potato.

Rudin declined to elaborate on the statement, or on what exactly retreating from “active participation” entails. He has spoken to confidants about beginning a program of anger management or some manner of coaching. Whether his actions will in some way quell the calls for punitive action to be taken against him is unclear. Producers who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the allegations have spoken of some sanction by the Broadway League, whose members are Broadway producers and theater owners. But the league exists primarily as a trade organization and overseer of the Tony Awards with the American Theatre Wing. Every commercial Broadway production is, in essence, its own private enterprise.

“All change is theoretical,” said Olivo, in response to Rudin’s statement, “Action and time are needed before we can name it transformation. . . . Rudin is but one dragon to slay. There are more.”

Some members of the Broadway community say Rudin is just one of many abusive people — directors, choreographers, actors, business executives — whose behavior has been tolerated. His stepping back from “active participation” will probably not change the environment, they say.

“It’s a first step. Is it enough? No,” said one Broadway producer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of negative consequences. “There are people at every point in the business that have been taught that this is how you get the results you need. So the behavior gets replicated.”

“We have been taught that we have to sacrifice for our art,” this producer said about why bad behavior remains prevalent. “But you can do great work without creating a toxic environment.”

Actors’ Equity, the national labor union, called for Rudin to release his staff from any nondisclosure agreements that they may have had to sign, saying it would be “an important first step in creating truly safe and harassment-free theatrical workplaces on Broadway and beyond.”

“Since news reports emerged about Scott Rudin, we have had many private conversations with our sibling unions and the Broadway League. We have heard from hundreds of members that these allegations are inexcusable, and everyone deserves a safe workplace whether they are a union member or not,” president Kate Shindle and executive director Mary McColl said in a joint statement.

An exit by Rudin has potentially immense consequences for an industry that is short on visionary leaders. The Internet Broadway Database lists 77 plays and musicals produced by Rudin since the early 1990s. They run the gamut from . . .

Written by Leisureguy

17 April 2021 at 5:29 pm

Why Do Wes Anderson Movies Look Like That?

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The above video explores — and makes me want to rewatch — a variety of Wes Anderson films. Ted Mills wrote an interesting post in Open Culture (which includes the above video). The post includes some links to interesting references.

Written by Leisureguy

3 April 2021 at 11:48 am

Posted in Movies & TV, Video

40 answers to a Reddit question: ““What’s The Greatest Movie ‘Behind-The-Scenes’ Fact You Know?”

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Very entertaining for movie buffs. Here’s just one:

In Apollo 13, they filmed in NASA’s “vomit comet”, a plane that flew at high altitudes and would create parabola movements to simulate a short period of low gravity. They built the Apollo spacecraft set inside the plane and almost every scene featuring zero gravity was filmed in the plane. They flew over 500 times in the parabola. From the time that low gravity simulation would start, they would only have 23 seconds to unstrap from restraints, set up a shot, roll, and then strap back in. They completed all of these flights in 13 days. THE MOST UNDERRATED MOVIE FACT OF ALL TIME! The only movie ever to film in actual Zero Gravity.

Written by Leisureguy

26 March 2021 at 6:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

Watching “Treadstone” and spotted a DE razor

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Season 1 Episode 8 at 34:28. I can’t identify the make and model of the razor, though the handle did seem along the lines of the RazoRock Halo handle —but not quite.

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2021 at 7:22 pm

Hellzapoppin (colorized)

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Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2021 at 4:35 pm

Posted in Jazz, Movies & TV

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