Thursday, September 17, 2020

Throwback Thursday: Red Carpet for Red Interactive

IN SEPTEMBER 2011, as part of the Phantom Galleries Project, John Heino and I curated a joint show in the New York Building of Superior called Red Interactive. Here's a glimpse, with additional links at the end.


This is it. The days are flying off the calendar like autumn leaves during a late season Nor'easter. The Red Interactive roll-out is rumbling into town this week. For those unfamiliar with the show, Red Interactive is an experimental art initiative conceived by Ed Newman and John Heino.

The open house, billed as a "must" event on the Twin Ports arts calendar, will be the evening of Thursday, September 22, but tomorrow we're slated to begin claiming the space at 1410 Tower Avenue with a full-scale setup scheduled for Tuesday the 6th.

There are still plenty of unknowns. For example, this week a surprise package of artwork arrived from China, each piece featuring a tribute to the color red. We have no idea where the next package of red art will come from, or what it will be.

Another component of the open house will be the 3-D Red Collaborative Sculpture. We're asking everyone who comes to the opening to bring something red that they can add to the "public sculpture." Whether it's a red key to a red door or a lock of red hair, we'll find a place for it... or ask you to.

The red-themed objects d'art will become a backdrop for red-themed performance -- music, dance, poetry. What's more, opening night will be catered by The Red Mug... and there may even be some red wine.

Parallel to this physical show, space and performances, Red Interactive will continue to maintain its virtual space on Facebook, which is serving to catalog the thread of interactions from our various artists, participants and friends. Some elements will move back and forth between physical and virtual Red Interactive spaces. This is open architecture. We welcome all artists, creative thinkers and people who simply enjoy art--particularly experimental projects. The only boundary is that this is a public arts project, so we ask that all physical and virtual contributions are appropriate for public display.

Are you reddy?
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Related Link

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Memes from the Past Several Months


A few items I ran across this year,
many of which you'd have never dreamed of before 2020.
Download and share
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Disclaimer at bottom of page.
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The quote here is discussed at Metabunk.com and the 
current status is uncertain as to whether these were his words.
You can see the discussion here. Even if not attributed to him,
it does have a certain ring of veracity to it. 
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What I like about this one is how much the artwork here reminds me
of Dylan's new album, Rough & Rowdy Ways.
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Disclaimer: I do not know if the Bill Gates tweet is real or faked. Just sharing the kinds of things that have been showing up on social media in this most unusual period in our history.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Beatles First U.S. Visit Documentary Will Make You Smile

This week I have been watching a 1991 documentary about The Beatles first U.S. tour, aptly titled, The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit. It begins with the Fab Four getting off a plane in New York and includes all the usual "moments" that we've seen briefly in other places, such as their Ed Sullivan Show appearances, screaming fans, traveling by train to DC and the performance there, press conferences and more.

The film was produced by Al and David Maysles, who produced 30 films including Gimme Shelter (1969 Rolling Stones tour that ended in tragedy at Altamont) and Grey Gardens, about the decay and decline of a once-wealthy mother and daughter in the Hamptons. There's nothing fancy about the films which almost seem like home movies, thus their effectiveness

A lot of the Beatles' success had to do with timing and serendipity. Events preceding the U.S. tour certainly helped set up their stunning reception. Did you know that on November 22, 1963 a young Mike Wallace did a news story on Beatlemania. It aired that morning and was scrapped for the evening news because of the much larger story that cast a dark shadow on everything, the assassination of JFK. 18 days later Walter Cromkite was looking for a positive story to add a lift to the evening's news and found this Mike Wallace bit. This and several other concurrent events helped put The Beatles in play.

When The Beatles finally arrived in early February, the Top 100 list peppered with Beatles hits. The film here shows Brian Epstein receiving a phone call that The Beatles owned the top three slots of the Top 10. It doesn't get much better than that. The Ed Sullivan shows were just icing on the cake, certifying their legendary stature.

In the first Ed Sullivan show they did three songs in their opening set: All My Loving, Till There Was You and She Loves You. The screaming girls in the audience were as important to the cameramen as the performers themselves.

Before introducing them later in the show Sullivan read part of a telegram to The Beatles from Elvis Presley and Colonel Tom Parker "wishing them tremendous success in our country." With a wave of the arm he turns as the curtain opens to I Want To Hold Your Hand. Screams erupt even before the arm gesture is complete and if you look close you can see the usually serious face is breaking into a grin. "This is just too over-the-top" one can imagine him thinking, all the while thinking of the ratings coup.

Once more we see the familiar camera closeups of girls ecstasy. Big smiles all around. Ed Sullivan can't contain himself. And even I couldn't remain indifferent.

Cigarets seem ubiquitous in this film. George smoking while the Beatles were being interviewed in a New York press conference. All of them smoking on the train. "Marlboro," John says, grinning.

Their easy-going charm, hamming it up in NY, hamming it up everywhere they go, certainly contributed to their fame.

I remember some of this footage from the Washington DC show. Despite the poor sound quality you could feel their energy, which no doubt was amplified by the fan energy. Look how small their sound equipment was. A few amps, speakers, drum kit and three guitars, skinny boys with tight slacks and Ringo on his pedestal. What a contrast to the McCartney shows several decades later with 25 million dollar laser light shows and SFX, or any Super Bowl Halftime Show for the last thirty years.

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Notes from the Washington DC show:
I Saw Her Standing There
Energy
Big bow after each song.
Ringo takes his turn singing I Wanna Be Your Man

Re-Arrange themselves on the stage.... "Thanks for buying this record."
She Loves You... More screams.
Compelling.
Four boys having a blast ......

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It was certainly a time of innocence. I borrowed it from the Duluth Public Library. If you can't find it elsewhere, you can read the reviews here, which will motivate you to try a little harder.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Odious Characters: Paul Newman as Hud

This past week I watched Hud again for the first time in ages. I was a Paul Newman fan, as were many other movie-goers over the course of his career. Blue eyes, charm, acting skills and good roles certainly contributed. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Hustler, Hombre, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Sting--just a few of the early favorites of mine. Oh, and of course, Cool Hand Luke.

The movie Hud is not a favorite of mine, though it is superbly crafted, well acted, well-defined characters and beautiful cinematography. The film is rated 7.8 at imdb.com, and for sure it is well done. My problem is that Hud Bannon, the Paul Newman role, is such an ugly character. He's a bitter, heartless narcissist who cares about no one.

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SPOILER ALERT

The story takes place on the Texas panhandle. Base on an early novel by Larry McMurtry, it's the story of a cattleman, his sons and misfortune. Homer Bannon is the family patriarch. He lives on his ranch with his son Hud, grandson Lonnie and their cook/housekeeper Alma. There was also another son--Hud's brother and Lonnie's dad--but he was killed in an auto accident, the drunken Hud at the wheel. This tragedy can be construed to have been a catalyst or excuse for Hud's bad behavior.

Hud's blatant disrespect for his father is grating after awhile. Homer is resigned to it, Alma puts up with it and Lonnie doesn't fully understand it but accepts it. Hud has a charming side that he. can turn on at will, and Lonnie is indeed charmed by his uncle.

Hud, however, is not a charming man. He has a rotten core. He hurts people repeatedly and, most significantly, the people who do care about him. In the end, his father dies, Lonnie and Alma leave and Hud, alone with himself and the Bannon ranch, goes on being who he is.

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Storytelling is an art. People go through life one day at a time, from birth to death, with no real break other than sunsets and sunrises, night and day. On and on and on it goes, and incrementally we become who we are.

Paul Newman as Hud with Melvyn Douglas, the family patriarch.
Writers learn that to tell a person's story you don't need to go through every detail from start to finish. Rather, you zero in on a key moment. If you make a timeline and draw three points--A, B and C--the middle point is the pivot. Put a point D above the C point by a few inches and draw a line from B to D. What you see is that point B is the focal point, the moment in time during which things happen that alter the course of this character's life.

Nearly all good stories are about that point B. Most, though, are about the change that occurs in the central character. In Hud, the other characters are the ones who change as a result of these events. Hud remains impervious. Or at least appears to be. If there's a shred of humanity there, one hopes that there's a wake up call for this ugly soul after the closing credits.

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As I thought about the film afterwards, it brought to mind other movies with ugly characters, most notably Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, both of these with Elizabeth Taylor, the latter with Paul Newman as well.

If I remember correctly, Henry Fonda and Kathryn Hepburn get pretty detestable in On Golden Pond. Meryl Streep becomes rather loathsome in The Devil Wears Pravda, and quite malevolent in August: Osage County.

Although Newman plays a repugnant character, his easy-going manner and Paul Newman charm make him deceptively likeable for many people. I myself can't stomach it after awhile, though.

The movie description explains that "Hud represents the perfect embodiment of alienated youth, out for kicks with no regard for the consequences." I think this is a bad summing up of the problem of "alienated youth" in the 60s. The alienation I saw in that period reflected a conflict of values. I saw earnestness as young people wrestled with consumerism, the bad behavior of its government (Vietnam the most visible) and our personal quests for authenticity.

Hud's philosophy can be summed up in this line from the film: "You don't look out for yourself, the only helping hand you'll ever get is when they lower the box." Very different from "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Of all these things much more can be said.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

My Dinner With Andre, Revisited

I can't recall how long it's been since I saw this 1981 film about two men who meet for dinner to talk about Andre's long, strange trip of the previous two years. What I do recall is that I enjoyed the movie so much that I bought the book, something I did with another thought-provoking film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. (In this case the book is simply the screenplay.)

Before writing this I checked to see if I'd already written something about the film and found that I had not,  though twice I referenced it when writing about other things. The play Red, about Mark Rothko, and The End of the Tour--about David Foster Wallace--each had scenes that reminded me of the dialogue in Andre, stories with virtually no action, designed to bring the dialogue and its cerebral epiphanies to the forefront.

The two characters in this movie are Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory. Wally is a playwright who has been struggling financially as of late. Andre is a theater director. Wally is frumpy and ordinary, Andre eccentric, thoughtful and wise. He evidently has money, since the restaurant he's selected for the meeting is posh and upscale.

The manner in which Andre reels off stories of his increasingly bizarre experiences, and Wally's reactions to them, is what keeps us from getting bored to death. Perhaps, too, the camera angles along with the whole process of eating a multi-course meal also contribute to maintaining the viewer's interest.

The film is directed by French film director Louis Malle. With the exception of Wally's subway ride and walking through the streets of New York on his way to meet Andre, the entire film is shot inside the restaurant, with most of it taking place in a cramped little space near a window. During this first three minute sequence we hear Wally's anxious thoughts. He's heard that someone saw Andre sobbing in the street. There were other signals of Andre being in a very different place mentally. As it turns out, he really is.

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Wally (left) and Adnre explore the meaning of life.
There are so many interesting ideas dished out in this film. None of the storytelling seems forced. It's delivered matter of fact, but righ with zingers that make you want to pause and ponder. Here's one that struck home:

"We can't be direct, so we end up saying the weirdest things."

That line struck me because I'd just finished reading, then watching Never Let Me Go, which very much corresponds to this notion. That is, so much of what we want to share is locked up inside. We hint at it, but for one reason or another never say it, perhaps for fear of being so naked and vulnerable.

A friend of mine shared a book with me earlier this year titled Things I Wish I'd Said, which also goes along with this theme. And since the author of Never Let Me Go was Kazuo Ishiguro, I can see this pattern in his other books, of characters who have things going on inside them, aching to get out. (Remains of the Day and The Unconsoled come to mind.)

There were other places where I stopped the film to write down scraps of dialogue.

"If you're just operating by habit then you're not really living."

That seems to be an underlying theme in the dialogue. Whatever Andre has gone through has increased his awareness of himself, his world and the world around him.

A little further on, while talking about the routines people get into, one of them observes,:

"Things don't affect people the way they used to. I mean it may very well be that 10 years from now people will pay $10,000 in cash to be castrated just in order to be affected by *something*."

The exchange isn't all one sided. Together they get to a place where they talk about what it means to be human. Andre then shared this bit which, if you think about it, sums up the way we live a lot of our lives.

"I haven't been a human being. I've been a performer. I haven't been living. I've been acting. I've acted the role of a father. I've acted the role of a husband. I've acted the role of a writer."

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The screenplay was written by Wally and Andre, the movie's central characters. The first half is primarily about Andre's experiences after dropping out of the theater scene. The second half features the two men dissecting the features of one another's world views, which are clearly in conflict. Can we really be fulfilled if we are just part of a bigger system that manipulates us into acting in various ways, wanting things that have been prescribed for us by the system that shapes even our desires? How do we even know who we are? Are all our actions just something we do to stave off boredom and a sense of meaninglessness?

Thomas Mann liked to minimize the action so as to amplify the philosophical issues his characters wrestled with. The Magic Mountain and Death In Venice are examples of this form of storytelling, each in their own way. My Dinner stands as quite a contrast with our modern action hero SFX thrill rides, both in the storyline and the budget. Less than a half million to produce.

I watched the film again because I wondered if it would hold up after four decades. It certainly has something at its center that is worth talking about. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Important Dates in Major League Baseball from September and October

This is a continuation of the Robert Lookup Baseball Trivia Series.


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IMPORTANT DATES
in Major League Baseball
September / October 
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September 1, 1906
Joe Harris of the Boston Red Sox pitches 24 innings in one game, an American League record.

Pitcher Walter Johnson was one of the great ones.
September 4, 1908
Walter Johnson shuts out the Yankees/Highlanders 3-0, the first of three shutouts against the Yankees in four days. Saturday's September 5 game was 6-0 and Monday's 4-0.

September 5, 2001
Roger Clemens bests the Jays 4-3 for his 19th win out of 20 decisions, tying Rube Marquanrd of the 1912 New York Giants. Clemens also passed Jack Chesbro and Whitey Ford for the longest winning streak in Yankee history. Chesbro won 14 straight in 1904 and Ford 14 in 1961.

September 6, 1990
Cal Ripken plays in his 2,131st consecutive game to surpass Lou Gehrig's 56-year-old record. Baltimore beat Anaheim 4-3.

September 7, 1993
Mark Whiten of the Cards hits four home runs. He had 12 RBIs in the first game and 1 RBI in the second of a double header.

September 10, 2000
Randy Johnson becomes the 12th player in Major League history to reach 3,000 strikeouts, fanning a season high 14 i seven innings as Arizona lost 4-3 to Florida in 12 innings.

Sept 16, 1997
Curt Schilling strikes out 9 in Phillies win over the Mets to become the 13th pitcher since 1900 to achieve 300 strikeouts in a season.

September 22, 1904
Jim O'Rourke plays one game for the New York Giants and singles in four at bats. He plays catcher that day. 54 years old, he also played for the original Boston Nationals, the only National League player to play both in 1876 and the 20th Century.

September 22, 1911
Cy Young, 44, beats Pittsburgh 1-0 for his 511th and last victory.

September 25, 1995
Seattle uses 11 pitchers in a game, the most ever.

October 3, 1951
The historic homer by Bobby Thompson.
The shot heard round the world. Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants hits a 3-run homer in the ninth inning of the third game to beat the Dodgers 5-4 and win the National League pennant. (EdNote: When I was a bus boy at Fiddler's Elbow Country Club in 1969-70, Bobby Thomson was a member there. On one occasion, another employee took me downstairs where the lockers were and pointed to him, saying, "There's Bobby Thomson" as I peaked round the corner. He was putting on his cleats to head out for a round of golf.)

October 3, 1993
The Blue Jays become the first team in American League history to have teammates finish 1-2-3 in the batting race. John Olerud led the league in hitting, .363; Paul Molitor hit .322; Roberto Alomar hit .326.

October 8, 1959
Mike Morgan is born in Tulare, California

October 20, 1931
Mickey Mantle is born in Spavinaw, Oklahoma.

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Related Links
A-List of all MLB pitchers with 300 strikeouts or more in a single season.
The shot heard round the world.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

September Is Hunger Action Month. Second Harvest Food Bank Has Been Extra Busy This Year

Did you know that the Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank has served over 3 million meals in the last six month since mid-March? With a small staff and a team of volunteers they have done a remarkable job of filling in an important gap... and a lot of empty stomachs.

According to director Shaye Morris's most recent update: Of all the states in the U.S. with the highest projected increase in food insecurity, Minnesota and Wisconsin rank in the top five. A recent report from Feeding America estimates that Minnesota could see as much as a 60% increase in food insecurity, and Wisconsin a 57% increase.*

 For this reason Hunger Action Month is more important than ever.

And you can help. You can be a Volunteer. They’re following recommended guidelines for all of their opportunities to keep everyone safe. As many of their volunteers have returned to work and their elderly have remained at home, the Food Bank needs your support. Find an opportunity that could feed our neighbors in need.

Today Is Hunger Action Day  

This week also marks six months of our COVID-19 response efforts. Community support has ensured more than 3 million meals since mid-March.

Today you can show your support by wearing orange today. Share a photo on social media, and tag Second Harvest at @northernlakesfb using hashtag #HungerActionMonth.

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If you find all this social media stuff complicated, there's always a need for volunteers. Here is web page with details: https://northernlakesfoodbank.org/get-involved/volunteer/

*Food insecurity is the disruption of food intake due to lack of money or other resources.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Almost Wordless Wednesday: A Preview of Gary Firstenberg's Oaxaca Gallery

Review Gary Firstenberg's photos here and you can see how easy it is to fall in love with Mexico. Ever since my year in Mexico there's a part of that country still alive in my heart. In spite of the politics and drug cartels, the common people are vibrant and full of warmth. There's plenty I still miss from that year South o' the border.


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Gary Firstenberg loved the people in Mexico. When he returned to the States, he sought
ought a psychiatrist to help him deal with the culture shock.  
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Thank you, Gary, for the photos and the memories they have stirred.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Authentic Wins The Kentucky Derby

Photo courtesy Gary Firstenberg.
Late Saturday afternoon I received a surprising text from my brother. "The Kentucky Derby is about to run and Gary's horse is in the race."

The "Gary" in question is my cousin, who lives in Southern Ohio and has been investing small amounts of money in race horses in the same way that investors can own a stake in Apple or Google. The name of the horse he "owned"--along with 1400 others--was Authentic.

Now I'm as big a fan of Run for the Roses as the next person, but I'd not even been aware the race was even being run this year. It usually takes place the first week of May. I noticed at the time that it had been postponed, but missed the announcement of when it was re-scheduled.

So the text came as a surprise. The horses were leaving the stables when I finally got to a television set. During their parade lap I saw that Tiz the Law was a 4-5 favorite, but whoa! Authentic had quite excellent chances at 9-1, which was better than most of the field. In 2009, Mine That Bird won with 50-1 odds.

I used to have horse racing game when I was a kid. It was a wooden "track" with six lanes and six different colored horses. You had a die with 6 numbers on it and when you rolled, the horse in that lane would move forward the way pieces move on a cribbage board.

Racing in all forms is fun, but especially so when you have a horse in the race. We had Authentic.

What a great name for a horse. Authenticity is something we could use more of. I just finished reading Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and one of the underlying themes has to do with authenticity, what is real and what is not. The word "authentic" means, "Of undisputed origin, genuine." I like the word genuine. It was one of the mottos of the Sixties, to be real, genuine, not fake, like plastic or television. Sitcom laugh tracks and game show MCs became odious symbols of television's fakeness. (Alex Trebek being the exception.)

All that being said, Authentic ran a great race, barreling into the lead as soon at the gates were opened, and never looking back. Leading from the start is often not the best strategy because many horses use of their reserves by the end, but Authentic seemed to be restrained and wasn't out to set a world record here. I liked that she stayed just ahead of the pack, avoiding getting jostled or distracted. When Tiz The Law made its move rounding the fourth turn, the bay colt showed what he's made of, digging deep for the final kick.

A quick plug for the jockey. When I was growing up any horse being ridden by Eddie Arcaro was a force to be reckoned with. John Velasquez, the jockey for Authentic, won his 200th victory Saturday and 3rd Kentucky Derby race. Jockey's make a difference. So do trainers, and this was trainer Chris Baffert's 6th Kentucky Derby win.

Here's the race itself. Exciting from start to finish.



For a great film about the roles owners, jockeys and trainers play in making a champion horse, find the 2003 film Seabiscuit, starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper and Tobey Maguire. Or read the book! 

Monday, September 7, 2020

A David Ogilvy Anecdote on Hiring

I believe April 13, 1987 may have been the first time Susie and I went to the World Trade Center in New York City. I remember because the date is inscribed inside the front cover of my copy of Ogilvy on Advertising which I purchased at a bookstore underneath the historic skyscraper.

Earlier that year I had been tapped to create an advertising program for the company I worked for and voraciously read every book on advertising that I could find in our library. David Ogilvy's Confessions of an Advertising Man was so direct and practical that he quickly became my go-to resource. This is why when I saw Ogilvy on Advertising at the World Trade Center I had to have it. He quickly became my guru and this volume my "Bible" of sorts.

The reviews on Amazon.com are invaluable for gaining insights on the books (and other products) displayed there, and this one is spot on.

If you want an overview of the core principles that are true for ALL ad-like communications, this is a must-read. The medium might change, but the principles remain the same -- and nobody knew the principles like David Ogilvy. For those wanting a current view of the ad world -- especially involving internet or social media -- read this book FIRST and then buy any of a number of books on current practices. This will teach you the fundamentals.

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Ogilvy gave us more than advice on advertising and ad copy writing. He also devoted pages to instructing leaders on how to manage a creative team. Creatives are a different kind of animal.

In the midst of all this he shared this story, which applies not only to ad agencies but to businesses of all kinds:

When someone is made the head of an office in the Ogilvy & Mather chain, I send him a Matryoshka doll from Gorky. If he has the curiosity to open it, and keep opening it until he comes to the inside of the smallest doll, he finds this message: If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.

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While reading Philip Norman's biography of Paul McCartney I discovered that John Lennon was faced with an important decision when Paul approached John to become part of Lennon's band, The Quarrymen. Paul was likeable, talented, outgoing, effervescent, and might prove to be a challenge to John's leadership.

John could have denied Paul the opportunity and remained the frontman for his team of lesser lights. Or... You can read a brief account of that story here: A Leadership Lesson from John Lennon.

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Sunday, September 6, 2020

Six Powerful Prison Films Compared

Paul Newman is Luke.
I've long been a fan of Cool Hand Luke, the epic prison film starring Paul Newman and George Kennedy. Like all great films, there are memorable scenes and memorable lines, including this one by the prison captain: "What we've got here is... failure to communicate."

Paul Newman is Luke Jackson, who ends up with a two year sentence for a meaningless crime. His story becomes a metaphor for the existential hero who refuses to accept things as they are and is inwardly determined to be free from the constraints of existence. I've watched the film several times over the years and find it to be the perfect expression of existential philosophy, which was very much in vogue in the decades after WW2.

With this film as a gold standard of prison films, here are several more flicks to add to the Prison Films canon.

Cell Block 19 (1954)
I only discovered this movie by accident and what a nice surprise. Unlike the rest of the movies here, it is not centered around movie stars but rather a gritty story about a prison riot. When COVID-19 resulted in lockdowns around the world, there were numerous prison riots that soon followed, hence this 1954 movie caught my attention earlier this year.

Inhumane prison conditions ultimately prompt inmates at a prison to take action. They successfully take over one of the cell blocks and hold a number of guards hostage, hoping to negotiate with the prison warden, who is between a rock and a hard place. To give the prisoners what they want requires the governor's endorsement and he refuses to be bothered with this.

The movie shows how political shenanigans impact the ability of getting a straight answer. It also shows how the media can make a difference, because as a result of the takeover of Cell Block 19, the press gives ear to the prisoners' peeves, which has an influence on public opinion. The appalling circumstances in the prison are no longer hidden and the public can put pressure on the governor.

There are other features of the film of note, one being the manner in which there are differences of opinion on what to do now that the mob rules. Two factions have different ideas about what to do with the hostages, among other things.

Trivia: Walter Wanger, who produced this film, had just done time in prison (four months) and wanted to make a film that showed what prison conditions are really like. As a result, the film is less slick in production but packs a punch for its eye-opening storyline.

Cool Hand Luke (1967)
 
The only thing I have to add here is this two anecdotes. While driving to Hibbing a number of years ago, I picked up a hitchhiker. As it turns out, he had just gotten out of prison and was in the process of getting a Minnesota residency so he could get a job as a cabby. He had an interesting story, had been framed by the police who claimed he had 5000 hits of LSD and was a dealer. He did have LSD, but never saw 5000 hits of acid in his life.

The second tale is that I spent a year in Puerto Rico in 1979 during which time I visited the Bayamon Prison once a week. I was assisting Bruce Fowler, a prison chaplain who was nicknamed "The Prisoner's Friend." So many stories, so little time.

Papillon (1973)
This is a powerful account of one man's escape from a prison on Devil's Island. Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman are the lead characters, two prisoners whose friendship carries them through a horrendous life experience. Like Luke Jackson, Steve McQueen early on realizes this place is not for him. Either he must escape or die trying.

Runaway Train (1985)
This film stars Jon Voigt, another existential hero type. Voigt is one of those prisoners who refuses to be confined, is determined to break free. He's escaped twice before from other prisons and this one is supposed to be the end of the line. Nevertheless, he finds a way and a younger prisoner (Eric Roberts) who idolizes him tags along. It is the dead of winter and up here in the Northland the weather can be pretty inhospitable.

The two manage to jump on a train that is leaving a railway yard but one that has bad luck written on it. That is, as the train leaves the station the engineer has a heart attack. The train, picking up speed, is heading east and it becomes a very wild ride. The two figure out that something is not quite right, and they work their way forward to try to reach the engine. They soon discover that there's someone else on the train, a female railway worker (Rebecca DeMornay).

The train itself becomes a character in the film, and if you like trains, the film is especially fantastic. Some detractors may have issues with some of the storyline cliches. I overlook that.

Trivia: Djordje Milicevic, who wrote the screenplay for this film, also wrote Iron Will, another Northland winter film. As an extra in two scenes, it was my first "up close and personal" experience with Hollywood.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Andy and Red. A story of friendship, dignity and hope.
This is the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) as told through the eyes of Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman). It is the top-rated movie of all time on imdb.com, based on viewer rankings. As with Papillon, it is a story of two men bonding within a context of oppression and injustice. It's also about what it means to be human.

One reviewer at imdb.com says that renting the movie is a waste of money because you will have to rent it again. "Buy it." He also said it is the best film that never got an Oscar, though it did receive seven nominations.

Morgan Freeman, like all our favorite stars, has an amazing ability to project warmth and that "special something" that makes you want to spend time with him. Was it Driving MIss Daisy that put him on the map? Shawshank sealed the deal that he was a force for good in Hollywood. Writing about all this makes me want to see it again, of course. And so I will look for it.

Papillon (2017)
When I saw that there had been a Papillon remake, I questioned its validity. How could you re-do this classic. Afterwards, I conceded. This is a great remake.

SPOILER ALERT

I'd forgotten that in addition to being a story revealing the horrors of Devil's Island, it was also an injustice that put Henri Charriere (Charlie Hunnam) into this hell-hole, wrongly convicted for murder. Rami Malek plays the Dustin Hoffman character in this version. In addition, it's based on the bok which Charriere wrote after his escape. In other words, the film is based on a true story.

The amount of time Charriere suffered was far longer than I'd remembered, though it's near 50 years since I saw the original. Suffering, in a film, is relatively brief... two to three hours at most. In real life, it's near impossible to imagine what people have gone through. I think here of the POWs who were caged and tortured in the Hanoi Hilton.

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EndNote: I saw first-hand some very bad things inside Bayamon Prison, but Bayamon was actually a good prison compared to what I heard about others, one of which was nicknamed Satan's Synagogue. That is a place you just don't want to go. And then there was my visit to the prison in Monterrey. The old man we brought food to was living in Hell.