Friday, March 31, 2006

Two commentaries...

The following two commentaries ran in last Sunday's LA Times. They hit so close to home that I wanted to share them.

By Lynell George
Lynell George is a senior writer at The Times' West magazine.

March 26, 2006

LONG BEFORE AMOEBA MUSIC opened its landscape-altering Hollywood flagship, and nearly a decade before "High Fidelity" immortalized that singular breed of retail animal — the completist record store clerk — there was a holy strip of scuffed-up, indie new-and-used record shops lining Melrose Avenue. Vinyl Fetish, Bleeker Bob's, 2nd Time Around and my two favorites: Rene's All Ears and Aron's Records.

When vinyl still reigned (in various versions — 78, 45 and 33 1/3 ; import or domestic; picture discs and colored vinyl; sexy little EPs), these shops and a few others scattered across Los Angeles played host to all manner of yearnings, discovery and invention in my life. They felt as essential as the ampersand in R&B.

On any given weekend a couple of decades ago, I could be found lurking among the bins in my painter's overalls and my once-white, low-top Jack Purcell's, flipping one-handed through "Jazz," bending over this or that artist until my neck went numb, carrying a hefty stack of LPs, a load heavy enough to leave red creases on my arm. I wouldn't set them down for fear that someone would swipe that long-out-of-print Cannonball Adderley LP that I'd spent not hours but years hunting for. I couldn't take that risk.

I invested in these places — not just money, but time. And then, like the changer arm lifting and the stereo switching off, my habits changed. I somehow slipped out of my routine. I eased up on my record store fetish; I invested elsewhere.

And maybe that's why I didn't shed a tear or show up to mourn when Rhino Records and now Aron's (both long relocated from former addresses) began shutting their doors for good in the last few months. I'd already said my goodbyes — to old locations, to overpowering memories, to bins that had long since been picked over. I'd seen the shift coming, the back-stock thinning, all manner of new media — DVDs and DATs — taking up shelf space. I couldn't stomach the emptying bins, the death of an era.

It wasn't me that changed, it was the business model: a general slump in record sales (down 7% last year, according to SoundScan), a great big uptick in digital downloading, a rush to shop online. Statistics underscore what our eyes already tell us: The Amoebas stay in business, but there are only about half as many independent record stores as there were 10 years ago countrywide.

Last year, downloaded tracks from online retailers soared to 332.7 million, compared with 134.2 million in 2004 — an increase of 148%. And when former customers weren't downloading music, they were burning friends' CDs. The landscape for bricks-and-mortar storeowners has been nothing less than a disaster zone.

Yet I can't imagine what my life, my worldview, would have been like without record stores — particularly the independents with their idiosyncratic rooms plastered with posters, speakers booming, smelling alternately of patchouli or herb and always crammed with persnickety customers arguing with even more persnickety clerks.

Through junior high school and high school, I saved my lunch money and once a week made my way to the various neighborhood record stores not only to update my collection but to augment my sense of the world — its tongues, its rhythms, its stories, its very vastness. Not to sound too much like some old-school crank, but I can't imagine that watching a bar load on-screen equals the awe of opening a double-album set with both your hands.

When I first learned to drive, getting up the hill without rolling backward on La Cienega, just so I could get to Tower Records on the Sunset Strip, became an important rite of passage. The clerks there steered me toward the essential Sonny Rollins; the "forget about all others, this is the best" Bill Evans. But I soon discovered that Rene's and Aron's were where the most unique treasures could be found.

Emblazoned with the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, Rene's All Ears stood at the corner of Melrose and Spaulding, near what I was told was Rene's other passion: an auto/motorcycle repair shop. It was smallish, but size, I learned quickly, didn't matter.

I bought a lot of imports there — blues and early roots music, R&B, regional voices — the Honey Drippers and blues shouters Chicago Carl Davis and Big Joe Turner. But it was also where I dipped into the Washington go-go scene (Chuck Brown and EU) and wandered into my first King Crimson, New Orleans guitarist Danny Barker and Automatic Man's elastic blend of space rock and funk. For a buck a disc you could take a chance on anything. I bought my first Rahsaan Roland Kirk at Rene's, from a man with a huge smile and a mohawk the color of cotton candy.

Aron's, back then, carried me through eras and genres and styles — Brazilian samba and Cuban son and Portuguese fado. Before artists' out-of-print catalogs were mercifully reissued on CD, Aron's provided a way to fill in so many holes — used but pristine copies of Thelonious Monk's "Brilliant Corners," Stan Getz's "Didn't We," Charles Mingus' "Shoes of the Fisherman's Wife." And for less than 10 bucks, I got my hands on a collector's pressing of Billie Holiday's "I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone," recorded at the old Fox Million Dollar Theater in Los Angeles one June evening in 1949.

I shopped among the safety-pin-pierced, the men in fishnets, eccentrics in bathrobes and Buddy Holly glasses. That's what I liked most about the indies, particularly the tight spaces at Rene's. You were thrown together with people you might never have been shoulder-to-shoulder with in your other life. Motörhead fans up next to B-Boys, punkers in their oxblood Doc Martens, neo-mods in parkas all listening to a wash of ear-pricking sounds — Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Frank Zappa, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, Big Daddy Kane, Nina Hagen, Charlie Christian, Machito — the hither-and-yon soundtrack dreamed up by whoever was on shift at the moment. It was like a dorm at a particularly tolerant college. But with a better stereo. And because of it, I took home things that would have never otherwise fallen into my hands.

I don't have an iPod, though many have tried to nudge me in that direction. "It's time," they say. They talk up the ease of downloading. Of acquiring songs just when you think about it, in the middle of the night. Of the portability; the idea that your collection is both "virtual" and "infinite." Most of all, they tell me, I'll never look back.

But I do. And always hope to. My record collection is a life mosaic so vivid, so touching, I can't chuck any of it — can't even thin it out. I remember the clerks — imperious or exultant — who passed the sleeves across the counter to me. I remember the time and the place. An iPod, yes, would be convenient, but the decades spent exploring music in real stores with real people are my bricks and mortar. These records built me. They are me.

By Peter Bogdanovich

Peter Bogdanovich directed "The Last Picture Show," "Paper Moon," and "Mask," among other movies. His most recent book, "Who the Hell's in It," is just out in paperback.

March 26, 2006

GOING TO THE MOVIES with my parents is one of the great memories of my childhood. I remember getting strong anticipatory butterflies in my stomach long before we'd even leave the apartment. In the late 1940s, early '50s, we lived on Manhattan's West 67th Street, three blocks from two huge "neighborhood" picture palaces: the RKO Colonial and the Loew's Lincoln. Both were spacious, elaborately decorated, very comfortable stand-alone theaters with huge screens and giant, red velvet curtains that parted before the show. Each seated more than 1,000 (with smoking in the balcony).

A typical evening or afternoon at the "nabes" meant a double feature — two recent films, usually an A-budget movie paired with a B-picture. We never checked for starting times (no one did); we went when we could or when we felt like it.

Normally, therefore, we would enter in the middle of one of the two features. Part of the fun was trying to figure out what was going on. After it ended, there would be a newsreel, a travelogue, a live-action comedy short, a cartoon and coming attractions. Then the next feature, followed by the first half of the other film until that once-proverbial moment: "This is where we came in." (All this, by the way, for 25 or 50 cents a head, often less for kids.) On Saturdays, there was the children's matinee, complete with a white-uniformed matron who chaperoned us and made sure kids didn't put their feet on the seats in front of them.

Both of my old neighborhood theaters have long since been demolished. But recently I've been thinking about them again as I've read about the decline in theater attendance — down from 90 million tickets sold per week in the late 1940s to about a quarter of that number today — as people rent movies and watch them at home on increasingly elaborate home entertainment systems. Now, some of the big studios are talking about closing the months-long window that has traditionally separated a movie's theatrical debut from its availability on video or DVD — a change that some say could lead to the end of the movie-theater experience altogether.

When I was a growing up, there were no ratings — all pictures being suitable for the whole family. Parents could, if they chose, take the family to serious films such as "How Green Was My Valley," "Citizen Kane" or "From Here to Eternity" without worrying that it might not be "appropriate" for the children. If a couple on screen were going to bed together, vintage movie shorthand took over and the camera panned to the fireplace or to the waterfall, or, during a passionate kiss, there'd be a discreet fade to black. I would turn to my mother and ask what was happening, and she'd say something ambiguous, such as "they like each other" or "they're talking now," which completely satisfied my curiosity.

Movies, when you used to see them on the big screen, had a mystery that they no longer have. For one thing, they were irretrievable: Once the first and second runs were past, most films were not easy to see again. They were much, much larger than life and therefore instantly mythic (screens and theaters were a lot bigger before the multiplex arrived). And they were inexorable; once a film had started, there was no pausing it or in any way stopping its relentless forward motion.

Also, the communal experience of seeing a picture with a large crowd of strangers was a great and irreplaceable happening — all of us, young or old (if the picture worked) palpably sharing the same emotions of sorrow or happiness. The bigger the crowd around us, the greater the impact.

On special occasions, my parents took me to the greatest movie theater in the country, Radio City Music Hall, which, for $2, would show a first-rate new film exclusively (such as "An American in Paris" or "North by Northwest") plus a live, 40-minute stage show featuring the Rockettes. That's why it meant so much to me in 1972 when my first comedy, "What's Up, Doc?" was booked to open in New York at the Music Hall.

I was so excited I called to tell Cary Grant (a friend of 10 years). "That's nice," he said casually. "I've had 28 pictures play the Hall.

"I tell you what you must do," he went on. "When it's playing, you go down there and stand in the back — and you listen and you watch while 6,500 people laugh at something you did. It will do your heart good!"

I went, of course, and it remains the single most memorable showing of any of my pictures: The sheer size of the reaction in that enormous theater was like a mainliner of joy. The fact is, it takes at least 100 people to get a decent laugh in a movie — smaller audiences are just not given to letting go.

On the other hand, a Michigan university student told me recently that one of the few classic Hollywood movies he'd seen was John Ford's version of John Steinbeck's novel "The Grapes of Wrath." He said he'd been looking at a "video of it" and couldn't get his "eyelids to stop drooping."

Well, of course. Not only was he alone in his living room, but he was seeing on a small screen a work that had not been created ever to be reduced so radically in size. The especially dark photography (by the legendary Gregg Toland, who the following year shot Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane") needs the large screen to convey its effect, not to mention that darkness and TV have never produced easy-to-watch results.

What's more, Ford was very much the master of the long shot. Twenty years before that famous fly-speck-on-the-desert entrance in "Lawrence of Arabia," Ford had introduced Henry Fonda in "Grapes" as a tiny figure on the horizon coming toward us. But tiny on a giant screen is not the same as tiny on a TV set. The first makes a poetic impression, the second leaves you wondering what you're looking at and causes yet more eye strain. No wonder the student's eyelids drooped.

One of my favorite movies is Howard Hawks' "Bringing Up Baby" with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn — probably the fastest and at the same time most darkly photographed comedy of all time. When I watch it on TV, I find myself getting tired and running out of steam before the film ends.

Most young people have never even seen older films (before 1962, let's say — the end of the movies' golden age, when the original studio system finally collapsed) on the large screen for which they were solely created. So it's easy to understand why they're not interested in them. That they don't know what they're missing is a sad fact, increasingly more common, therefore sadder.

What is there to say about seeing movies of quality on an iPod? Chilling.

I was first taken at age 5 or 6 by my father to see silent movies on the big screen at the Museum of Modern Art, and it inculcated in me a lifelong interest and reverence for older films. Starting my daughters at a young age looking at classics from the '20s, '30s and '40s did the same thing for them. Wouldn't it be a great thing if all the studios pooled their resources and opened large-scale revival theaters in every major city as a way of promoting DVDs of older films, which remain difficult to move in the kind of bulk everyone would like?

It's hard for me to imagine that the movie-theater experience will ever completely disappear, no matter how reduced it may become. After all, the legitimate theater still exists in the age of TV and film, though of course there is nowhere near as much of it as there was even as late as the 1950s. (Remember summer stock?) In some places you can even still see opera, a very popular medium a couple of hundred years ago.

But Larry McMurtry's novel, "The Last Picture Show," and the movie version of it which I directed were both at least partly about the loss to a small Texas town of its single movie theater, a great diminishment in community and sharing. We all now live in a more insular, distanced society. And though our communication capability has never been faster or more inclusive, it does not have the ability to let us experience the silent interrelating that happens in a live theater, at church or at a movie house.

Over the years I've noticed that audiences, just before the show starts, radiate a kind of innocence. Considered person by person, that may not be the case, but as a group they share the ability to be taken wherever the film chooses to take them, either to the stars or the gutter, and their communal experience will alter them for better or worse. Let's not let all that possibility fade away further than it already has.

Better movies would help.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fighting a cold and demons

It's been tiring, fighting this cold I've had for almost a week. There have been a couple of times I wanted to get on here.

First of all, "In Her Shoes" is a wonderful movie. Better than "Crash", "Brokeback" and "Capote", in my book. I thought it was going to be a chick flick and had my reservations, despite the marketing attempts to sell it as a universal themed picture. For once, the marketing people were right , though, they still did a shitty job of getting people to notice this film. Every single actor in this movie was stellar. In a year when critics were lamenting the lack of outstanding performances by actresses, there were three (Toni Collette, Cameron Diaz and Shirley Maclaine) that were all worthy of awards and were all better than Reese Witherspoon. That none of them received any attention during award seasons was a shortcoming on the critics, the industry, and the studio for not promoting the movie properly. And it was so superbly cast. There were characters actors I had never seen before who were so top notch.... Man, Curtis Hanson is at the top of his game. He is one of the best directors working right now.

This week, the script for my episode of "Squirrel boy" is going to be submitted. "Squirrel Boy", for you newcomers, is the animated series I am working on right now. I wrote my first draft and submitted it to the story editor. He said he really liked it. I am so relieved. For sure I thought I had done a shitty job and the whole thing would have to be rewritten. But after I read his polish this evening, I was pleasantly surprised. He added some material, but didn't really cut anything I'd written. I am very excited to hear what the network has to say.

Elliott called tonight and we spoke for about an hour. Toward the end, I feel like I rushed him off. Shitty of me. I was getting anxious about working on a new script. I hope to send him a copy of King's Highway this weekend.

That's all for now.


Friday, March 24, 2006

It's been a long week. Trying to find time to write on the blog is something I'm going to have to schedule and not try to do when I feel "inspired". There are three writing projects I'm involved with right now. Just saying that tightens my chest a little. People are actually coming to me to write with me. What if I let them down? Just have to keep reminding myself of that Springsteen concert. Did I talk about this already?

Springsteen told a tale about visiting the great Roy Orbison before he died. Roy was working on a song about a wind surfer girl. Bruce smiled and said "Cool." but in his head he was thinking, "Wind surfing? I don't think so." Well, the song came out posthumously on Roy's "Mystery Girl" album and it's a really great song. And Bruce admitted that he was wrong. Then he said, "Just goes to show you that you have to have faith in your abilities."

Amen, brother.

I have to keep reminding myself that I know what I'm doing. It's easy to forget. You work so long at something and seem to fail at it (i.e. getting people to take you seriously) that when you finally achieve your goal, you have to fight through those feelings of self doubt and loathing. Plus, getting through the first draft is brutal. You don't want to judge yourself, but you can't help but think that with every words you write, you're a hack and it's all crap that you're putting down on paper. At least, that's the kind of shit I have to work through.

Oh, we found out that our good friends the Cruz' and Julie's sister, Sue< are having their third children. It's been weird digesting this news. I now that Jules has struggled with it a little, maybe more than she'll admit to me. The fact that we're not going to have a nother baby is sad. We decided that we didn't want to risk having another child with CF. Maybe for me, it's a little easier because I'll never know the awesome feeling of having another life grow inside of me. But for Jules... she loved being pregnant.

Anyway, I'm rambling. It's getting a little late and I need to get back to work. I hope anyone who reads this finds a little peace tonight.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

WHMP 3-16-06

From: Scott
Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2006
To: Steve

Yes, I know I didn't complete my Rock Hall edition, but I just couldn't bring myself to pick a Skynyrd song. I mean, Skynyrd? Come on! They're right up there with Bob Seger and ZZ Top as far as I'm concerned. So, I skipped it. That's right, I just bypassed over old "Free Bird", hoping you wouldn't notice. And look, you didn't!

This week we return to the 90's. That decade from so long ago. I can't believe that this song and it's awesome video are 10 years old. More than that. 12 freakin' years my friend!

I've been married that long. 12 YEARS!

My parents are in town again and I look at them and a) marvel at the longevity of their relationship b) hope that I am as good as a parent as they were and c) hope I don't turn out anything like them when I'm their age.

We've been over this before. I love my folks. But what is it about our elders driving us crazy? And the guilt in feeling that, huh? I mean, just writing what I just did has my stomach tightening up. How did they get such a grip on our lives. And am I doing that to my own kids? Sometimes I catch myself doing it.

Shame on you, Malchus!

Anyway, somehow this song ties in with my parents... Oh, right. Buddy Holly was popular in their day and that's the title of today's great song by Weezer.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Since my last post, I have had the chance to see both CRASH and CAPOTE, and having seen that first hour of GOOD NIGHT, GOOD LUCK, I feel I can offer my honest opinion that CRASH was not the best picture of the four I have seen (I have yet to see anything of MUNICH). There are some wonderful, dramatic moments in CRASH. The scene in which Matt Dillon's character must rescue Thadie Newton's character (after having previously sexually violated her earlier in the movie) was intense. Perhaps the most moving moment in the film comes when Michael Pena's character finds his daughter under her bed, afraid to sleep in the bed because a stray bullet had flown through the house one time. He has this very tender scene in which he convinces her that a fairy came into his room one night when he was five and the fairy gave him an invisible cloak that would protect him. The father then proceeds to remove this invisible cloak and place it around his daughter. That scene had more power than anything else in the movie and I feel that Pena's performance outshined the heavy handedness of almost every other actor on screen. That he was not nominated and Dillon was is a shame. My biggest problem with the movie is that there was so much emphasis on racism. EVERY character was a racists in one way or another. There was no escaping it. And it was so black and white. There were no gray areas in the movie. Besides that, there were two major plot holes that took me so far out of the moment that I was angry. I wanted to like this movie more than I did.

CAPOTE, on the other hand, was so well done. Besides Phillip Seymor Hoffman's stellar performance, you had a tight script and a beautifully shot movie that really did deal with the gray areas in life. Capote's actions to get his story was questionable. But what he did really made me look further into myself than CRASH did. What are we capable of to get what we want? In Capote's case, he lied to a man on death row to get the story that would change his life. But by lying to this murderer, a man he had come to care about, he dooms his own conscience and he would never recover. I don't know why, but the message of CAPOTE resonated more with me than CRASH. And the acting was just SO much better. Not just Hoffman, but everyone.

I also saw THE PINK PANTHER this weekend. The remake, not the classic Blake Edwards film. I did not laugh once. I was just so disappointed with this movie. The kids say they liked it, but I know they nearly fell asleep once or twice. And I am a sucker for family films and for Steve Martin and Kevin Kline. I just... it was just so awful.

Right now I am getting ready to begin a new script. The hardest part is writing those first few pages that may not even end up in the final script. But it's just the first draft, right?

Mom and Dad are in town this week. It is nice to have them here. Dad has lost a considerable amount of weight since he was diagnosed with diabetes. This new diet is making him thin.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Academy Awards 2006

Growing up, these awards meant so much to me, especially in college. Winning one of those things is what I aspired to do. I believe most kids growing up in Ohio who wanted to become filmmakers dreamed of the same thing. Now, I'd be happy just to sell another script and to get the opportunity to direct again. Don't get me wrong, the accolades would be great. But I have been through the ringer with "King's Highway" and I understand the BUSINESS aspect a little better than when I was a kid.

As for this year's winners, I couldn't tell you whether they were deserving or not. I loved "Brokeback Mountain" and was able to see the first hour of "Good Night, Good Luck" (which I liked even more). I was happy for George Clooney. He seems like a good guy and everyone knows about the dues he's paid. Same goes for Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I didn't see "
Capote", but I've loved Hoffman ever since he played a slimeball in "Scent of a Woman". And his portrayal of Lester Bangs in "Almost Famous": is one of my favorite performances of the last ten years.

I guess I should take the time to actually see the movies next year. Then again, I still won the Oscar pool in our office, and I only saw four or five of the films nominated in any category this year. Time has been tight, that's for sure. But I'm not complaining. When people are asking you to write for them, damn if that doesn't feel good.


Friday, March 03, 2006

WHMP RRHOF 3.0- Anarchy in the CA

Date: Fri, 03 Mar 2006
To: Steve


Ahh, the Sex Pistols. What more can be said about them that hasn't already been written or spoken or regurgitated in a bathroom toilet. One album, Steve. That's all it took for the band to influence pop culture, piss off just about everyone, fire their old bassist, watch their new bassist spiral into heroin addiction and kill his girlfriend, and self implode 14 days into their first US tour.

The band was in the news last week basically pissing on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Initially, guitarist Steve Jones expressed some excitement about the band playing the gig. But apparently, the $25K ticket price was too much (I agree). And, I believe there was some posturing going on too. After all, it wouldn't be very punk to accept an award from the mainstream, would it?

On a personal level, I recall the first time listening to "Never Mind the Bullocks". I had borrowed a cassette copy from Sally in the Spring of '88. It was soon after the whole Tennessee heartbreak and my emotions were pretty raw, to say the least. As I cruised around our suburban fortress, aimlessly driving to forget, and "Holidays In The Sun" came blasting over the shitty speakers of the RED VAN! It was like ripping a hole in my skin and bleeding to the music. I'll never forget it. I can only liken it to the first time I listened to Zeppelin. Who were these guys? And why were they so loud and angry? But I didn't care. I just wanted to beat on the steering wheel and drive faster. And when the cassette was done, I played it again. By the time I got home, I felt better, at least for a day or two.

As you spoke about your work situation last night, I couldn't think of a better song to let rip over your tiny computer speakers. It's raining here today. Perfect time for some anarchy.