I've just read a bittersweet piece of reportage on the state of Roger Ebert, who is, in my opinion, the greatest film critic I have ever had the pleasure to agree or disagree with.
The piece is titled "Roger Ebert: The Essential Man," and it was written by Chris Jones for Esquire. It chronicles a short amount of time in the life of Ebert, who was operated on for thyroid cancer in 2002, whose jaw is no more, who can't eat, except through a tube, and can't speak, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have a voice. He has his fingers and his laptop and through a considered ballet his digits play out, he continues to review movies and write a blog about his life. He still has a voice, and it is loud and clear.
Jones's considered yet approachable prose details every movement that Ebert makes, sometimes so exactingly so that I felt afraid to keep reading. Yes, I felt sad as I made my way through the piece, but I was struck many times by how alive Ebert feels, and how active he remains, even though a large part of his physical self is gone.
The piece is accompanied by a photo of Ebert, almost completely unrecognizable, his upper face intact until just below his cheekbones, at which point his architecture sinks, gets sucked in, frozen in a sort of permanent smile. It is initially an image that horrifies, but you get used to it; you imagine that a sculptor's vision has been realized, for better or worse, and in many ways that guy is kind of cute.
He's also all kinds of talented, this Pulitzer Prize winner for movie criticism, and although cancer may have taken away his original, visual form and his speech, he has not been silenced.
I was a big fan of Siskel and Ebert's television programs. I just loved to hear Ebert, and Siskel, talk about the movies they'd seen. When they dressed in tuxedos for their annual Academy Awards shows, I wanted to match them, cumberbund and shiny shoes.
I didn't always agree with Ebert, or Siskel, but even when I thought they were both out of their skulls liking a movie I hated, I respected their opinions because their knowledge and common sense dictated that their opinions mattered.
Siskel is dead 11 years, dearly departed, and he is missed as one of America's greatest critical voices of the arts. Ebert continues on, and will as long as he has breath, because there are movies to see and reviews to write. Ebert is driven, more than ever, to communicate.
I urge you to read Chris Jones's sensational piece of reportage by clicking here. After you read it, watch a movie--any movie of your choice, and then go read Ebert's review. And pat him on the virtual back if you agree with him; argue with him if you disagree. Either way, you'll be doing the right thing: honoring a man of letters with words, with ideas...with your heart.
March 28, 2010
The Knack's frontman and chief songwriter, Doug Fieger, passed away yesterday, Valentine's Day, from cancer. All at buhdge send our good wishes to Doug's family.
As music fans, we are saddened that a giant of the power pop community has passed. We can find solace in our memories and in the Knack's recordings, all of which are highly recommended to those who are new to the band and to those who may need a refresher.
Doug appeared on my Pure Pop radio show about 12 years ago, on November 28, 1998. He was a great guest, generous with anecdotes and information that any fan would treasure.
If you'd like to hear the interview with the music that was played, you can do so by tuning in to Pure Pop 24/7 on the following days and times:
Tuesday, February 16, 8 pm EST
Wednesday, February 17, 12 pm EST
Thursday, February 18, 6 pm EST
To tune in to Pure Pop 24/7, click here. (Note that all broadcasts have already taken place; this is an archived post.)
I hope you enjoy the interview. Our memories of Doug and his music will live on forever, which is a collective gift that we all should, and will, treasure.
February 15, 2010
So it came to pass that NBC suits decided, in their infinite wisdom, to wipe clean their 10 p.m. slate of scripted programming and replace it with The Tonight Show (aka The Tonight Show in Primetime). This so-called "experiment" garnered ratings (and cost savings) acceptable to the suits, but the natives, or network affiliates, came to be restless and bellow foul.
So it came to pass that NBC decided to pull the plug on the "experiment," or cost-savings befuddlement, to quell the restless affiliates who complained that the ratings for their 11 p.m. newscasts and their early-morning news shows were suffering and, in turn, affecting their bottom lines.
So it came to pass that the NBC suits announced that The Tonight Show in Primetime would be no more, pleasing the affiliates. But it also came to pass that the apple cart known as late night programming became suddenly unsteady, knocking its hosts for a loop de loop.
So it came to pass that the host of The Tonight Show in Primetime began muttering publicly about how he would have preferred being on after the local news rather than at 10 p.m. So it came to pass that the NBC suits came up with a plan to put the host of The Tonight Show in Primetime on at 11:35 for a half-hour and slide the host of the actual Tonight Show to five minutes past 12. The host of the actual Tonight Show rightly noted that the actual Tonight Show has always aired after the local news and should not begin at five minutes past 12. Standing his ground, the host of the actual Tonight Show would rather leave NBC's air than participate in such shenanigans.
And so it has come to pass that rumours allow that NBC has offered a lot of compensation to the host of the actual Tonight Show to vacate his position, which would likely go to the current host of The Tonight Show in Primetime, who would revert to being the host of the actual Tonight Show, prompting affiliates and NBC suits alike to breathe a collective sigh of relief and get back to entertaining barely-awake consumers of products produced by advertisers of both The Tonight Show in Primetime and the actual Tonight Show.
And so it has seemingly come to pass that everyone, everywhere has forgotten what all of this mishigas was about in the first place: saving lots of money and, oh yes, rendering television's creative community unemployed for five hours a week. The NBC Suit-in-Charge even suggested that he wasn't sure that scripted programming even worked any longer at 10 p.m.
When we come to the point that television programming is just a bunch of acts surrounded by commercials, and what those acts communicate is meaningless, we will have come to the end of the line and it will come to pass that creativity will no longer be needed for five, then maybe five more, television hours a week, and that will be an epiphany that neither NBC or ABC or CBS need to have. If you're going to have an epiphany, it might as well star Martin Sheen and be written by Aaron Sorkin.
I mean, have an epiphany alright, but don't let it be just about saving a buck.
It's not that I haven't been here for the past six months, but I have been elsewhere, and more than that I cannot say, in the grandest Derek Taylor tradition, except to ask "Where was I?" and admit that it's a mystery even to me, but not really, although I know that in these words lies the truth, and if the truth lies, what is to be made of such wordplay designed to both mislead and inquire?
So, sorry I've been absent, but things are looking up, for I see a a bird, a plane, and a flying man with a cape and a curly-wurly. Ah, the temptation to engage in wordplay is always and forevermore.
But here I am, back down on Earth, with the urge to continue as before, your humble servant in servitude to pop culture. To be sure, that usually means writing about melodic pop music of the '60s, '70s and today, providing that at least one or more roads lead from the artist in question to some variant of the Beatlesque, whatever that is.
Well, we do know what that is, don't we? Of course we do, and more than that I will not say, except to say that I'm glad to be back, making a whole lot of noise about the music and the movies and the TV shows and such that constitute what fulfills us, the collective sounds that together make such a beautiful noise.
Hello to you and yours, and away we go.
Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio, if you'll pardon the plug, is this month's winner of the Little Train that Could award for Faith in Technology, in the Against All Odds division. Huffing and puffing up the cyber-tracks the past eight months with a mere shell of a server bringing up the rear, the station has finally found a server that will carry the load, run 24 hours a day and keep bathroom breaks to a minimum.
In other words, Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio, complete with a weekly live show by yours truly, will be back in mere weeks, once again pumping the greatest melodic pop from the '60s, '70s and today out into cyberspace. When, exactly? Mark you calendars, each and every one of them, for January 20th. And be sure to listen, for what is a radio station without ears to broadcast to?
This has become something of a Pink Floydian heading kind of thing, hasn't it? Accordingly, wish you were here and welcome to the machine.
buhdge is looking for writers. If you'd fancy having a go at writing a review or a column or an article, contact me by clicking here. I'll get back to you post-haste, or right away, if that's more your bag.
A plate of hogwash served up with a side of malarkey, Michael Mann's Public Enemies is a short story--mean man robs banks, almost gets caught, mean man robs banks, almost gets caught--composed as a tiring, two-hour-plus loop. It goes south almost from the first frame, when it becomes apparent that this is a period piece shot in contemporary clothing. Shaky, hand-held cameras and colorful yet emotionless cinematography suggest a story taking place today rather than decades ago.
This is a picture which might have come alive if it were shot in black and white or tinted somehow with the dust and romanticism of yesteryear. At least the frames would have looked authentic, although that wouldn't have been enough to save it. Johnny Depp portrays notorious bank robber John Dillinger (see the real mug above) with very little emotion, almost on the level of a cold, careless fish, as if the public enemy accepted his lot in life and cared not a whit how it affected him or others. Billy Crudup makes a caricature out of J. Edgar Hoover, reducing the charismatic FBI director to a laughable, depth-free presence. Christian Bale brings a laconic sheen to Bureau of Investigation agent Melvin Purvis. Only Marion Cotillard, as Dillinger's initially-reluctant girl Billie Frechette, rises to the occasion in her fairly thankless role, revealing her character to be flawed and easily manipulated, a woman with real emotions and feelings.
Director Michael Mann seems oblivious to these problems, counting on the finished product--the ultimate character, perhaps?--to resonate with audiences. Perhaps he thought no one would notice? Mann's last great movie, The Insider, released 10 years ago, showed a mastery of the film form, delivering pleasure upon pleasure, from the most seemingly innocuous bit-parts to the brilliant lead turns from Al Pacino, who exhibited a keen understanding of 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman, and Russell Crowe, who delivered a knowing, electric performance--a master-craft acting class, if you will--as the insider himself.
Public Enemies is a public nuisance.