“Duel In The Sun” (1946) comes on in prime time on TCM tonight. Whether or not you consider it a good or bad movie may depend on your own personal preferences, but it’s famous as a disappointment.
You see, it’s the first epic-scale movie David O. Selznick produced after World War II, which means it was considered his followup to a movie he’d made in 1939, right before the war. You may have heard of it: “Gone With The Wind.” Obviously, anything would pale in comparison to “Gone With The Wind.”
The movie also takes some criticism for the performance of Jennifer Jones. Selznick was enamored of Jones – in fact, they were married. She was a popular classic-era star, and has her fans even today, but she doesn’t really have the charisma to carry this movie the way Vivien Leigh carried … well, you know. This movie, like GWTW, has some cheesy, over-the-top melodramatic elements. GWTW was strong enough to make you overlook those; “Duel” … isn’t, really.
The movie has a western setting as contrasted with the Civil War setting of GWTW. Jones, a mixed-race foster child, is at the center of a love triangle between two men – idealistic Joseph Cotten and nasty, self-centered criminal Gregory Peck. In a plot reminiscent of “King Lear,” father Lionel Barrymore disowns Cotten while continuing to forgive and enable Peck’s bad behavior.
Definitely worth seeing if you’ve never done so, if only for the curiosity / film history aspect of it.
I was one of the estimated 3-5 people who watched “The Ben Stiller Show” in its original run on the FOX network. Although it won an Emmy, it was the lowest-rated show on network TV at the time. I thought it was brilliant, and looked forward to it every week. It was a sketch comedy show, in which Stiller (who’d had an even lesser-known show on MTV) was joined by Janeane Garofalo, Bob Odenkirk and Andy Dick. Here are the opening credits:
All four of the stars went on to bigger and better. Stiller, of course, became a movie star. Garofalo has found fame in a number of different areas, from movie star to political pundit, and was great on “The Larry Sanders Show” on HBO. Odenkirk and one of “The Ben Stiller Show”’s other writers, David Cross, created what may be the second-greatest sketch comedy show of all time (behind “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”), “Mr. Show with Bob and David,” which also aired on HBO. Dick was on a hit sitcom, “Newsradio,” but even before the death of co-star Phil Hartman sent that show on a sad march to cancellation, Dick was already starting to get into legal trouble for substance abuse and for other charges, including indecent exposure and sexual abuse.
Dick’s troubles have been comic fodder. Chris Kattan used to impersonate Dick occasionally on “Saturday Night Live,” having the comedian say outrageous and embarassing things as if he were high or drunk. As recently as this Monday, David Letterman’s Top Ten list was “Top Ten Things You Don’t Want To See In An Online Dating Profile,” and number one was “Twice, with Andy Dick.”
I’m an occasional follower of “Dancing With The Stars,” although I don’t claim to be able to appreciate the nuances of dance and often just have the program on as background noise while doing something on the computer. When I first heard that Andy Dick was going to be in this season’s cast, I was skeptical.
But as soon as the very first episode, I was impressed. You can’t fool yourself about your ability to judge people through a TV screen, especially on a reality show where the producers are skilled at portraying people as angels or demons. But I’ve really been won over by Andy Dick. He really does seem to have a sense of what he was, why it was wrong, and what the stakes are for his family as he tries to make his way in the sober world. I immediately started rooting for him.
As admitted, I’m not necessarily one to be able to judge the nuances of dance. I don’t usually vote, and I have to admit that when I do vote it’s sometimes because I like the contestant. A few seasons back, a disfigured Army veteran named J.R. Martinez – an authentic American hero, who serves as a motivational speaker and advocate for other disabled veterans – was in the finals against one of the Kardashians and the former host of one of the sleazier and more voyeuristic daytime talk shows. According to the judges, J.R. was a worthy finalist – but even if he hadn’t been, he could have sat in a folding chair for three minutes and called it a dance routine and I would still have voted for him. (Happily, I was not alone – he won.)
Each season on “Dancing With The Stars,” there’s a sympathy contestant – someone who, based solely on the judges’ scores, would have been eliminated in the first or second week, but who sticks on for a while based on audience goodwill. One year it was Cloris Leachman, for example. You couldn’t help but root for her. Eventually, as the field narrows and the serious dance followers have fewer options among which to choose, the serious vote overcomes the goodwill vote and the axe finally falls.
Andy Dick was more serious about the competition than most such “sympathy contestants,” and did get some occasional respect from the judges, but this week his luck ran out. Last night he and his dance partner, Sharna Burgess, tried to recreate a dance routine so familiar and classic even I recognized it. As soon as Andy came out wearing that yellow vest, I thought, “He looks like Gene Kelly in the ‘Broadway Melody Ballet’ from ‘Singin’ In The Rain.’” Sure enough, there was Sharna, posed with her leg up and Andy’s straw hat teetering on her shoe just like Kelly’s hat teetered on the toe of Cyd Charisse. Whoever had the idea that Andy would look good trying to imitate Gene Kelly was really, really mistaken. That was a huge miscalculation and resulted in abysmal scores from the judges. It may very well have been responsible for sending Andy home tonight. I’d been watching a repeat of “The Dust Bowl” on PBS tonight, but I turned over just in time to hear them call Andy’s name as the contestant going home.
All of the eliminated DWTS contestants seem to be good sports, and Andy Dick was no exception. I really felt for him, though. I’ve never struggled with substance abuse (except food), but I have friends who have, and I’m in awe of the way they have to face each new day. Andy really seemed to want to do well in this competition. Host Tom Bergeron mentioned in Andy’s exit interview that Tom’s been peppered with questions about, and support for, Andy wherever he goes. I hope that’s what Andy will take with him, and I hope he uses this experience, and the new connection he’s made with the public, to go on to something productive, and funny. He’s got the talent to be a great entertainer.
Turner Classic Movies aired “Reefer Madness” the other day, and I’d never seen it, so I DVRed it. I went to watch it today, and I had gotten as far as the opening credits when, looking something up online, I discovered that the RiffTrax live version of it is available for free on Hulu. That sounded like much more fun than just watching the movie.
To backtrack: You may remember one of the funniest TV shows of all time, “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” which aired for seven seasons on Comedy Central and then three on Sci-Fi (now SyFy). It made fun of really bad movies; three characters silhouetted in the lower-right corner of the screen would deliver a non-stop stream of jokes and commentary over the top of the movie.
MST3K, as the fans called it, was eventually cancelled, but two different groups of its alumni produce MST3K-like projects, online, for DVD and for live shows. Series creator and original host Joel Hodgson (his character name was Joel Robinson) and several MST3K creators who moved away from the show’s home base of Minneapolis have Cinematic Titanic, while second host Mike Nelson and his co-stars from the last few years of the show have RiffTrax.
Cinematic Titanic produces its mocked movies direct to DVD. RiffTrax also puts out some DVDs, but they primarily produce audio tracks of commentary which you can download from their web site and synch up with the target movie as you play it from your own DVD (or a rental, or Netflix). This means that Mike, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy don’t have to get the rights to the movies, since the movie itself isn’t part of what they’re selling. They can make fun of even recent, big-budget movies which wouldn’t have been accessible to MST3K (and which aren’t accessible to Cinematic Titanic). They even make fun of a few *good* movies, just for the heck of it.
Both groups do live shows, where a movie is screened for a theater audience while the cast members deliver their commentary live and in person. The live shows are simulcast to other theaters across the country and then turned into DVDs as well. RiffTrax actually does some of its live shows from the Belcourt Theater in Nashville, although I’ve not had the chance to go to one yet.
“Reefer Madness” was one of those RiffTrax live shows. It starts, as did some of the best episodes of MST3K, with short subjects before they get to the actual movie.
Now that I know some of the RiffTrax stuff is on free Hulu (as opposed to the paid Hulu Plus), I’ll be checking some more of it out. Meanwhile, if you want to check it out … here you go!
I got my first-ever passport in August 2002, while preparing for my first-ever foreign mission trip, to Nicaragua in January 2003. Passports are good for 10 years, and mine expired last August. Fortunately, you don’t have to renew right away; as long as your passport is less than five years out of date, you can use the renewal-by-mail form. If it’s more than five years out of date, you have to apply in person and use the same form as new passport applicants, which requires a $25 payment to the local office that accepts your application over and above the $110 passport fee.
Now that I’m planning a mission trip to Sierra Leone in November, I had to bite the bullet and renew. A couple of mission trip contributions made directly to me (instead of to LEAMIS, which is where people would normally contribute) paid for the $110 renewal fee plus the cost of new passport photos.
The application, along with my old passport, is now in the hands of the State Department, and it may be weeks before I get my new passport. They also return the old passport, with a hole punched through it to indicate that it’s no longer valid. That’s a good thing, because the visa stamps in the booklet are like little reminders of all your previous trips. It’s also great for showing off when you make mission trip presentations.
As I said, my old passport was from 2002. I’ve been reading up on the new passport design introduced in 2007, about the same time they started implanting RFID chips with your passport number and information into the passports. The new design was, I discover, almost universally reviled:
“It is like being given a coloring book that your brother already colored in,” said Michael Bierut, of the design firm Pentagram in New York City.
The complaints seem to be that the passport design is too garish and/or busy, and that it’s a little over-the-top in patriotic imagery. After all, say the critics, its primary function is to be shown to immigration officials from other countries, who are likely to be less-than-impressed by the Preamble to the Constitution, quotes from U.S. presidents, or imagery of bison on the Great Plains.
What little I’ve seen of the new design online doesn’t bother me that much. I do sort of understand some of the complaints – when you travel internationally, you’re proud of and grateful for your home country, but you try to avoid being the Ugly American who tries to shove the red, white and blue down everyone else’s throats. But I think immigration officials are probably too busy to take in, much less be offended by, the graphic design of any country’s passport. Their impressions of foreign countries are probably much more influenced by the behavior of frazzled and irritable travelers as they go through line.
The old passport book had the blank pages divided into quarters. I used to be a little annoyed that Kenya’s visa stamp was large enough to fill a whole page, which I considered wasteful and arrogant. My old passport wasn’t quite full, but it was getting there – and having the State Department add extra passport pages, which used to be free, now costs $82. $82! For blank pages! You can, if you think you’re going to be traveling heavily, order a fatter passport in the first place, and that is actually free.
Sorry, I was starting to ramble. At some point between my first three Kenya trips and my last two Kenya trips, the full-page rubber stamp was replaced by a full-page label, which features images of the “big five” – the five animals that give you bragging rights in terms of a safari. (I have seen all of the big five, but not all on the same trip.) The Kenyan visa label is not unlike the new U.S. passport – a celebration of the country’s heritage. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I still don’t think they should be taking up a whole page, but I have to admit the new label is more of a conversation piece.
Another thing that took up space in my old passport has now been eliminated. For a while, U.S. immigration was stamping your passport when you returned to the country. I don’t think they did so on my last couple of trips, and I’m not sure why they ever did. I’m not sure exactly what that stamp was supposed to document which isn’t already documented elsewhere.
Anyway, the new passport pages are not specifically divided into quarters, because of the artistic background imagery. I can understand the people who find the new imagery a bit over-the-top, but I don’t think I agree with them, at least not from the photos I’ve seen online.
A week ago, during the second half-hour of my normal Monday visit to Learning Way Elementary, I was asked to take a small group of kids into the computer room around the corner from Ms. Hester’s classroom and work on a little storybook with them. I had a very small class-clown problem. It was so small it really wouldn’t have been a problem except that I only had half an hour and I wanted to keep things moving so we could get through the entire storybook. I really, honestly, think it was more my problem, being an amateur, than the kid’s problem. I tried not to react too much – that only encourages the behavior – but that meant it was hard for me to get control of the situation. When I brought the kids back into Ms. Hester’s room, I indicated a little frustration at how things had gone.
Today, when I got to Ms. Hester’s room, the first thing she did was bring the young man to me and have him apologize, which caused me to be both appreciative and deeply mortified. She said he’s actually a really bright kid, which I absolutely recognize. I sort of wanted to apologize to him for getting him in trouble.
I am continuing to enjoy this experience, and I look forward to it every week. The kids seem to like having a visitor in the classroom, and they’re familiar with me and used to me showing up. I was scared I’d have to miss this week due to testing, but they don’t test on Mondays and Ms. Aymett told me last week to come on ahead as usual.
I went out for a walk this afternoon. At some point – and I wish I had noticed where, because it might have made things easier – a grey mutt, without a collar that I could see (although he had long enough hair that a collar might have been hiding) began walking with me. He wasn’t right on my heels; sometimes he’d go out ahead of me, sometimes lag behind me.
I picked him up on one of the side streets, but at some point I got out onto Highway 82. There’s no sidewalk, and only a narrow strip to try to walk on between the pavement and the ditch. The dog ran back and forth across the highway, nearly getting hit a couple of times, and I know the drivers were looking at me and thinking, “Why doesn’t that idiot have his dog under control?” I kept trying to studiously ignore the dog in hopes he’d get distracted and move on elsewhere.
At one point on my regular route, there’s a little weiner dog that always barks at me. This time, he actually came out to the street to chase me, as if chasing me away was a higher priority now that I was associated with a competing dog.
As I got back off the highway and made the final walk up the hill to the apartments, he was ahead of me. When we got to the apartments, he was a little ways ahead of me, but he looked back to see if I was still there. After he turned back around, I broke into a sprint and ran around behind the back of the apartments. I knew he’d figure out which way I’d gone but, I hoped, not in time to see which door I went into. Does that make me a bad person? I can’t have a dog at the apartments; I’m not really a pet person, but if I were I’d probably be more of a cat person than a dog person.
For all I know, the dog already has an owner and was just following me for the heck of it. I’m not sure what I should have or might have done. I just went into passive-aggressive mode and left the dog to be someone else’s problem.
As I posted a few months back, I have become a big fan of a bread recipe that lets you make up a big batch of wet and sticky dough, without kneading. You let it stand at room temperature for a couple of hours then store it in the fridge for up to two weeks. Whenever you want to make a loaf of bread, you guesstimate and take out about a pound of dough, shape it with floured hands into a ball, let it sit on the counter for 40 minutes up to an hour, and then slash a few vents in the top and bake it on a pizza stone. It yields a nice round lens-shaped loaf.
When the Times-Gazette’s “Press Power” Relay For Life team held a bake sale a couple of weeks back, I made two loaves of bread – but neither sold to the general public. My fellow RFL committee member Judi Burton told me to hold one for her before the sale even started, and my T-G co-worker Mary Cook bought the other.
Well, Judi and Mary, I didn’t say this at the time, but I was kind of disappointed in the way those loaves turned out. All three of the loaves from my next batch after that were much better – they rose more and looked more attractive.
The T-G is having another bake sale this Friday, and I made up a fresh batch of the dough tonight. (You don’t want to let the dough go longer than two weeks, but the yeasty flavor and aroma improves over the first week, week-and-a-half.) The dough is going through its initial rise right now; I’ll put it in the fridge at 10 tonight and leave it there until Thursday night. Last time, I had somewhere to be Thursday night and had to wait until I got home to make my two loaves (and my pizza stone isn’t big enough to bake both at the same time). So far, I don’t have any commitments Thursday night, and so I think I’ll save all of this batch and make three loaves for the bake sale. Hopefully, they’ll turn out well.
According to the manufacturer, it has half the fat and twice the protein of regular cream cheese, plus live and active yogurt cultures. (I never buy the full fat cream cheese, though – I always buy the Neufchatel cheese, labeled as 1/3 less fat cream cheese.)
It has a slightly tangier, more yogurty flavor than regular cream cheese, but it’s not bad at all on a bagel. In a recipe, I doubt you’d be able to tell much difference. (Although any cooked recipe, like cheesecake, would no doubt take away the live-culture benefit.)
You can, of course, make a cream cheese-like spread, called “yogurt cheese,” by pouring yogurt into a cheesecloth-lined colander and letting it drain in the fridge for a long time. The Green Mountain Farms product is less tangy than that homemade yogurt cheese. Presumably, it’s a mixture of yogurt cheese and traditional cream cheese.
By the way, the lower-fat Neufchatel cream cheese is a rare instance of the lowfat version of a product predating the full-fat version. New York dairyman William Lawrence had tasted some authentic French Neufchatel in the 1870s and was trying to recreate it when he developed cream cheese. I understand the original French cheese isn’t exactly the same as the Neufchatel that’s sold as 1/3-less-fat cream cheese. But, even so, Neufchatel is technically the original product and cream cheese is the adaptation.
We’re getting into Relay For Life season, depending on what part of the country you live in.
Here in Bedford County, the Relay will be held May 31 into June 1. In some warmer parts of the country, Relay events are already being held.
Please, PLEASE, note that we need ANYONE, not just registered participants, to attend and support their local Relay events. It’s not too late to start a team, or to find an existing team and join one, and I’d love you to do that – but even if you don’t do that, find out your local Relay event’s schedule and drop by. Spend some money at the concession stands run by the various teams. Try to be there for the luminaria ceremony, a deeply-moving tribute to those who have been touched by cancer.
A lot of people – and three years ago, I was one of them – don’t really understand what Relay is or how it works.
Relay is both an event and a year-round grass-roots fund-raising campaign funneled into that event.
People form and join Relay teams, often based at a particular employer, church, club or school. They don’t have to be connected to an organization, though; for example, if someone in your family or circle of friends is struggling with cancer, or has been lost to cancer, you can just put together a team based on your friends and family.
Most teams do some sort of fund-raising prior to Relay. You can raise funds as a team and/or individually. Your team members sign up through the Relay For Life web site, and once they’re signed up there are tools to help them send fund-raising e-mails (and “thank you” e-mails after the fact) to friends and family. You can also post Facebook or Twitter messages. Donors can give money online and it gets credited to the proper participant and the proper team. Or if someone wants to hand you cash or a check, you can turn it in and make note of it online.
The Relay organizing committee may also have its own community-wide advance fund-raisers, such as the “Hee Haw & Howdy” revue which was held this weekend.
Then, on Relay night, several different things happen.
* The Relay venue is built around some sort of track. Each team must have at least one walker on the track at any given time during the entire Relay. (Different communities have Relay events of different lengths, usually 12, 18 or 24 hours. Bedford County is 18.) Teams may be of any size and can divide up the responsibility of walking any way they wish. No one individual, especially at 18-hour or 24-hour relays, is expected or required to be on site the entire time. But the teams must have someone on the track at all times. This is a walking event, and it’s not a race. If it’s your turn on the track and you want to run or jog, you can do so, as long as there’s room to do so safely, without running into walkers or people standing in line to get sno-cones.
* Each team has a “camp site” or base of operations, with the team members bringing some sort of small party tent or canopy for this purpose. The camp site serves two functions. It is a hangout for walkers when they aren’t on the track, but it also serves as a concession stand. Teams raise money during the Relay event by selling food, or souvenirs, or operating a bouncy house, or karaoke, or a carnival game, or what have you. The organizers of the Relay may have a theme and ask that the camp sites be decorated to match it. For example, in Bedford County, this year’s theme is “Dreaming In Color,” and each team has the signature color of a particular form of cancer and has been asked to decorate its camp site using that color. Last year, we had a board game theme, and so on.
The concession aspect of the camp sites is one reason why we want members of the general public – not just registered walkers – to attend, at least during “prime time” hours. (We don’t expect the general public to be there at two or three in the morning, although if you want to come and cheer people on, that’s great.)
* There are often special fun activities, geared at increasing public attendance, such as live entertainment, an auction, or what have you. We hold our Relay events at the county fairgrounds, and one of our teams holds a tractor pull to coincide with Relay night, giving the tractor pull audience the chance to wander over and get their concessions from the Relay.
* There are traditional ceremonies and moments observed at every Relay, and these can be tremendously moving for registered participants and the public alike. The Relay begins with a “survivors lap.” Before the team walkers take the track, all of the cancer survivors who are present are asked to take a lap of the track so that we can honor them for their perseverance and celebrate their survival. After the survivor lap comes the caregiver lap, where anyone who has taken care of a cancer patient is honored. Then, at least at our Relay, the teams are introduced one by one, not unlike the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, and march around carrying an identifying sign or banner.
At some time after dark, as I mentioned earlier, comes the luminaria ceremony. The luminary – a candle in a paper bag – has become the symbol of Relay. Donors purchase luminaria, on which are written messages of tribute (“In memory of Carrie Carney”), support (“Keep up the fight, Don”) or what have you. When it’s time for the luminaria ceremony, all of the normal lights are turned off and the track is lit only by the luminaria (and related items, such as torches, LED balloons or sky lanterns, which some Relay events may use). There’s a special recitation or ceremony in honor of cancer victims. Balloons or sky lanterns may be released in tribute.
Another Relay tradition, held at different times depending on a Relay’s schedule, is the “fight back” ceremony, in which participants pledge to make lifestyle changes, support cancer research, and so on.
A Relay, even the 12-hour kind, is always held overnight, for symbolic reasons – it symbolizes the dark night of a cancer patient’s experience, and the procession from darkness into light (hopefully remission, or at least an end to pain).
In practical terms, the wee hours of the morning are often punctuated with fun activities to try to keep walkers’ spirits and energy up. In Bedford County, one such activity is an enormous game of musical chairs, all around the perimeter of the track.
At the end of the Relay, there may be awards given, for the team that raised the most money, or had the best camp site decorations, or the most team spirit or what have you. Our Relay gives each team a pedometer, which is to be worn by whomever is the team’s official on-track walker at any given moment. We give an award for the team that records the most steps on their pedometer. Sometimes, overall fund-raising awards may wait until the fall, because technically the Relay For Life year runs from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31 regardless of when a community’s Relay event is held, and some teams hold fund-raisers even after the Relay event.
I know that you’ve been touched by cancer. Someone in your family, your church, your circle of friends, or your workplace – and maybe someone from each of those places – has either survives or been lost to cancer. The American Cancer Society helps fund life-saving research, and provides or supports programs like Hope Lodge and Look Good, Feel Better to address the needs of cancer patients. It’s a worthy cause, deserving of your support. And it’s a heck of a lot of fun, as you can see here:
Towards the end of each night of the “Hee Haw & Howdy” show, Pete Carter – who’s been playing and singing in Bedford County for decades – did a medley of George Jones tunes, including an abbreviated version of “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
“He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones is the ultimate and best country song, in the same way that “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band is the ultimate and best rock and roll song. You would think that these would be subjective matters of personal opinion, but they are not. If you disagree with me on either point, you are simply wrong.