Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Traveller's Haven


After a very uncomfortable trip which left me
feeling very uncomfortable, I found myself in
Pittsburgh hours early for my appointment.  It
turns out the meeting is taking place in a part of
town with no restaurants, no coffee shops, just
auto glass repair places and poor fellows wandering
the grey-day street with no place to be.

I guess I was one of them.  I headed toward Oakland.
All through the walk, my bag got heavier and heavier.
Nature made her demands, gradually more insistently,
but I was SOL until I hit Oakland and saw Starbucks.

People complain about Starbucks, but where else
in any American city can you be sure of a clean rest
room, a place to sit for several hours, inexpensive  food 
and a decent cup of coffee, not to mention WI FI.

Starbucks is also one of the most democratic institutions
in the country.  People can sit without buying, and I'd
be hard pressed to name any other institution where
the races and classes voluntarily mix so easily or so much.
I should also mention the generations, because the young
use it as a study hall but put up graciously with the old
who know coffee is really about conviviality.

----------------------------------------------------- <-/?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Holding Onto A Dream

An Impromptu Fiction

"It's Jane London," said the voice coming through
my cell, "I don't quite know why I'm calling, but I've
been getting some calls from you which sound

-Jane London, I thought, the name was familiar.  I
knew I had called her about a film project.  Who
was she again?  I began to tell her I was a director,
best known for ... but then my voice trailed off.
I just couldn't remember who she was, and I was
dreaming anyway, right?  She wasn't really on the
other end of the phone.

Luckily or unluckily I woke up.  The presence on
the other end waited a second or two more and then
hung up.  Suddenly I remembered who London was -
the producer who could get The Return, my dream
project, made.  I would never get through to her
again though I tried many times.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Television's New Star - the Producer

In an earlier post I spoke of Dean Martin as the greatest
television performer of all time.  Partly I ascribed this to
the passing of the live television in which the performer
was in control of the moment.  No one else would ever
have the opportunity, across the spectrum of acting and
hosting that Martin had,  to excel again.

So it's no surprise that the greatest actor in television's
post-live era - or the great majority of its life - also
produced the show he was on.  The producer rules in
recorded television, and only actors who produce  - or
with the celebrity to make them virtual producers -
have much voice in television.

The greatest actor in the actor-producer combo is Jack
Webb.  Many find his political beliefs abhorrent, but
his absolute belief in them give his acting an authority
that needs no acting to make him real.   In the words
of the greatest film director of all time (Robert Bresson),
he is not so much natural as nature itself.

It's impossible to watch the following short clip with
an open eye, ear and mind and not realize Jack Webb's
overwhelming truthfulness to his own nature.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Two of Us

I'm surprised the song Two of Us hasn't
become a bigger part in the Beatles'
myth as Paul's & John's goodbye to
each other.   It seems to communicate
a residue of affection and esteem that
all accounts otherwise indicate were
sorely strained.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Greatest Television Performer of All Time

Theater is often thought of as a writer's medium,
but from the standpoint of the director and the actor,
the weight definitely falls with the actor who can
do whatever he wants while up on the stage.

Even the incomparable William Shakespeare can
do nothing if some actor decides to add his own
lines to Hamlet's soliloquy.

Film belongs to the director.  The actor can do what
he or she likes, but the editing can change everything.
The look of sorrow can be cut after his friend dies
and cut in when she realizes that despite her husband's
death, his money is still out of reach.  The director
controls the performance.

Today television is thought of as a producer's medium.
It is the producer who sets an esthetic for the show
which both the actors and the director must follow.
A director does not come in and change the producer's
way of covering a scene.  A new director lets the DP
show him how scenes are covered on the show and
works with the guest actors a little.

But in the early days of television - when it was
usually broadcast live - it was the performer's medium
par excellence.  Not only were you as live as in theater
but you had an audience in the millions - larger in one
night than a hit film would have in its whole run.

And in those exciting, heady days of television, the
show belonged to the performer who could take
control of the moment and make it his or her own.
And no one grabbed the attention of the camera
and those both in the studio audience and on
the other side of the lens and then held it like
Dean Martin.

Don't get me wrong:  Martin was a very good film
actor too.  The Matt Helm films and his films with
Lewis at their best often have the feel of the actors
writing the movie as it unfolds; but it's in his live
television performances, where his own good humor
overcomes any need for taking the proceedings too
seriously and in which his charm seems equal to any
darkness - and just imagine the shadow of fear hanging
over duck and cover America - that his full genius really
comes into his own.

No performer since the days of live television has really
had a chance to develop as Martin did, therefore his status as
the greatest television performer of all time is probably
as safe as Joe Dimaggio's 56 game hitting streak. 

This clip is a perfectly ordinary one, nothing special
by the standards of his show, yet Dean puts his guest
completely at ease, because he's in complete control
and uses that to his guests advantage; and the comraderie
that flows between him and the other performer is irresistible:

Dean Martin Show Clip