Mother Whistler’s Son

DATELINE: Butterfly on Social Media

Mother Whistler

Whistler’s mother worried about her son. James McNeill Whistler was not your average 19th century artist.

James McNeill Whistler and the Case for Beauty, an unwieldy title, makes an interesting little documentary on his life and work by director Karen Thomas who offers the viewer more than a few surprises.

For openers, though he was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, he spent most of his childhood in St. Petersburg, Russia, where his father worked for the czar!  Whistler was not your average boy in the 1840s. After he tried West Point as a cadet and failed, he moved to France and England, taking up a brush and a pot of paint for the rest of his life.

He was, however, the epitome of an American Oscar Wilde. He cultivated being dandy.

Yes, with a bleached streak of white hair in his massive curly locks, often tied with a red ribbon bow, he predated outrageous art for art’s sake by decades.

He was wild before Oscar.

Witty, snippy, and living the life of a bon vivant ahead of his time by a 100-years, he held Sunday morning salons that were the delight of London. He had collector rivalries with Dante Gabriel Rossetti over blue and white porcelain. And, he painted his mother for instant fame. Whistler would have loved social media.

He was a young man still when the old lady showed up in London, forcing him to clean up his act for a time. If you ever wondered why that mundane painting caused a stir, you likely will learn from this film.

Whistler knew how to stay in the public’s eye and attract the attention of rich patrons. After all, that was the name of the game. He clashed with critics frequently, extolling the virtues of art and the lack of knowledge of critics.

He took famous British art critic John Ruskin to court for libel when he claimed Whistler was overcharging for his art.

Those were the days when civilized men learned the powers of litigation. Whistler was ahead of his time that way too.

Off the Wardenclyffe: Tesla Files 1.3

 DATELINE: Bell Tolls for Tesla

Stapleton Stapleton 

The Tesla Files continued to impress with the latest episode in the series.

Several investigations followed the pattern Tesla took after he returned from Colorado in 1900. At this point he went to the New Yorker Hotel as his new headquarters. An interesting trip three floors below street level revealed a major tunnel system.

The hotel also had its own power source, which likely convinced Tesla that his experiments might be better served by the proximity to a major city. Around this time, he also made a deal with J.P. Morgan that floundered and caused the tycoon to lead a movement to discredit Tesla and his inventions.

It was out on Long Island that he used much of the funding from Morgan before it ran out. Here he built a tower for communications or power, no one knows which, and perhaps too an elaborate tunnel system, over 100 feet below the surface and extending out to the ocean.

The show cannot investigate the shut-down lab because of deadly mold, but they can send in a drone, giving insights into the workplace of Tesla.

Also intriguing is the parallel to the German World War II “Bell,” which might have been a time machine or anti-gravity device. The footprint of Tesla’s tower on Long Island matches exactly the footprint shape of the Nazi experiments in Poland.

Our journalistic investigator, Jayson Stapleton, with tattoos and a down-payment/goatee (known as an imperial in some circles) has become a man quite sure of himself. Having both a goatee and down-payment is sort of like wearing a belt with suspenders.

Who said TV wasn’t educational?

 

 

 

 

 

Re-fighting the Battle of the Sexes

DATELINE: Gay Lib, Not Gay Lob

Bobby & Billie Truly a Doubles Match!

Many viewers may not know the story of Bille Jean King and Bobby Riggs and their ridiculously hyped tennis match of the early 1970s.

The earlier TV movie was called When Billie Beat Bobby. This new version is the Battle of the Sexes, but it’s more of a coming-out story.

Many may not know that an earlier cable movie effectively told the story with all the limitations of small screen propriety. If you wonder about the differences, there was no hint of gayness in Billie or her marriage. She had no bedroom scenes with a female hairdresser.

She did not have a gay best friend (marvelous Alan Cumming as Ted). She did not have a cantankerous relationship with Margaret Court in the first movie who is always holding a baby in the remake.

You did not see Bobby Riggs’ nude layout. You did not see his marital problems, or his hilarious attendance at a Gamblers Anonymous meeting.

You had a greater sense that Bobby and Billie were, above all else, “good sports” and actually remained lifelong friends.

The big screen smash has magnificent performances from Emma Stone and Steve Carell, looking more like their real counterparts. Carell is making an industry out of playing peripheral sports characters (Dupont in Foxcatcher). There are some marvelous effects too, bringing Howard Cosell back to life to play himself.

This is a big budget film with a great music score, pictures of celebs of the times, and the Houston Astrodome itself.

We recall the match was a grand joke, only taken seriously by those who’d be willing to buy the Brooklyn Bridge from Bobby Riggs. How could anyone think that old man could beat a young athletic woman?

Well, as we recall, yes, there were men crushed by the defeat. This movie brings it all back to us.

Boston Hits a Low Spot: Trolley Cars Underground

DATELINE: Boston’s First Big Dig

dig down No-park Street Station

American Experience presents some interesting little films that collect amazing movie clips and photos. They then intersperse them into literate narratives.

This one is narrated by Michael Murphy and tells the fascinating history of how Boston became the first major subway system in the United States. The documentary is oddly titled The Race Underground, which is misleading and has unfortunate connotations outside the point.

Explaining how people associated the underground with dead bodies six feet under, there was a general belief that travel beneath the Earth was unnatural, if not demonic. The electric trolley ended man’s inhumanity to horse.

When big dig excavations down Commonwealth Avenue uncovered Revolutionary War graves, you might find the point being made as a warning.

Tracing the electrification of motors to Frank Sprague, an independent inventor who tried to shy away from that behemoth of American technology, Thomas Edison, he sold his electrified trolley systems. It didn’t matter much because Edison inevitably bought him out and took his name off the product.

Without Sprague, the underground subway would be a dark and dirty trip, filled with soot and fright.

We enjoyed seeing the old trolleys in turn of the century film with destinations to North Cambridge and Roxbury Crossing. And, the information was new to us: how Boston was in the 1890s one of the most congested cities in America, worse even than New York—a rivalry Bean Towne would prefer to lose.

You don’t have to be a local Bostonian to enjoy this little film, but having traveled on the rapid transit when Scollay Square was a stop, we found it a delightful trip back in time.

Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille Found & Lost

DATELINE:  Sphinx Knows

 Sphinx nose

It may sound like something from John Waters, but this documentary marks a failed 30-year attempt to find the buried Egyptian city built by DeMille for his 1923 version of The Ten Commandments.

In 1982 young Peter Branson was inspired to go out into the desert, like some prophet without honor to locate the giant city with its dozens of sphinxes. No one told him it was a foolhardy endeavor.

Intermixed with the story of how Cecil B. DeMille single-handedly made the genre of the Hollywood epic, the film shows how little Hollywood knows of its own history. Its title is The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille.

Time and again, over three failed archeological digs, the studios would not fund this project to dig up what is under ten feet of sand in Guadalupe, California.

When done with his expensive movie, DeMille buried the city to prevent rival studios from using it for knock-off movies.

DeMille nearly broke Paramount and Adolph Zukor with his silent version with a cast of thousands, endlessly wrecked chariots, and technicolor scenes.

When he tried to remake the Charlton Heston-Yul Brynner version in 1955, he met nearly as much resistance as the documentary filmmakers who think they wasted time and money spinning their wheels in the sand.

Of course, the importance of the film is how it collects the memories and images of those silent film extras and production crew as they slowly went on to a production of their own deaths.

In that way, Peter Branson may have lost his fellow producer, his original archeologist to the terrible political idiocy of the Santa Barbara County bureaucrats, but he saved a special part of Hollywood history.

This film is a testament and a gospel for movie aficionados.

 

The Gut: Our Second Brain

DATELINE: Pass the Probiotic

 the Gut- Our Second Brain Twins!

You might think an hour-long documentary on the bowels, guts, and inners of humans would give us more laughs per line than you’d find in a stewed prune.

The Gut: Our Second Brain shows that there are twin controls on our lives.

After watching this French documentary, we weren’t laughing, or even busting a gut. We fell headlong into a pot-bellied bowl of microbes.

Scientists have discovered that the stomach area contains more neurons and sensitivity than the brain of a dog or cat. Yikes, no wonder our stomachs growl.

The brain developed after the intestines in our progenitors who climbed out of the primordial soup. Indeed, scientists will now tell you that your stomach contains thousands of billions of bacteria that are not exactly without their own willpower or way of life.

Yes, the gut can control your feelings, emotions, and provide more pain than your brain wants. We belong not only to three blood groups, but to three bowel groups. Bacteria are not only inside, but outside—and we are reacting to their preferences.

Experimenters have fed mice microbiotic diets that gave them bacteria to make their behavior fearless: in fact, they fell in love with cats who promptly ate them. It seems the bacteria grow even more efficiently inside cats–and know which way the diet falls.

You are what you eat or won’t eat. Probiotics like antibiotics can have a big influence on the ecosystem of our bodies. Yes, there are more bacteria inside us than stars in the galaxy, dear Cassius.

If you feel a little queasy, your bacteria may be acting up for a reason.

A little knowledge is always appreciated. But cognitive overload in the gut drives us mad. What an extraordinary documentary.

 

 

Tesla Files: 1.2 in Colorado Springs

DATELINE: Tireless Wireless

 camera shy Eby    Camera Shy Drew Eby

The Tesla Files continue with a second episode trying to locate dozens of lost trunks of experiments and notes. One expert has already questioned the show’s veracity, as the stuff was supposedly taken from Nikola Tesla’s storage facility upon his death in 1943 by agents unknown.

Dr. Travis Taylor, beau hunk of academia, and star of other cable adventure shows, including Ancient Aliens, exerts his formidable ginger presence and scholarly credentials to dominate this series.

Few of us with doctorates have a website with adoring fans, effusing over a ten-year old photo. Indeed, we are noted for posting a picture with our head in a bag with an eye hole. We won’t be hosting any History Channel documentaries. Our former students are loath to watch or to listen to our pontifications.

Taylor surrounds his investigation with fellow boyish assistants who look like former students. At least one, Drew Eby, will likely give Alex Lagina a run for hot supporting character in a limited series. As the show’s Vanna White, he pushes electrical buttons and lets the charge rip.

A secondary journalist/investigator goes to a local museum to learn that Tesla’s possessions went up for auction in 1906 for failure to pay his electric bill. Talk about poetic justice.

Upon locating a copper ball that allegedly sent out vibrations to ancient aliens, he discovers it likely is not genuine. It’s the stock-in-trade of shows like this: whet your appetite and feed you to the critics.

Meanwhile, we are intrigued with leaked material from unnamed sources, and name-dropping of Trump connections.

There are many colorized pictures of young Tesla, which may be worth the price of historical History Channel viewing.

We will continue to watch the series and wireless experiments on our wireless smartphone, to keep in the spirit of Tesla.

Not Exactly Winchester Cathedral

DATELINE:  Helen Mirren, Ghost Buster

Eamon Farren  Eamon Ferren

Nearly every role in Hollywood movies for women over 50 will go to Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, and/or Helen Mirren.

The so-called “inspired” true story of Mrs. Winchester, widow of the gun manufacturer is one such script from that the tandem of aging stars. Helen Mirren should have passed this ghostly horror into the slush pile of scripts.

Mirren accepted, and now has her first ghost/horror movie under her bonnet and on her resume. The actor whose resume should be enhanced is Eamon Ferren, playing a creepy footman (so to speak). He has a bright career ahead as the next Vincent Price.

What’s next? playing a doting granny on a TV series?

Winchester is about as faithful as Johnny Depp’s movie about the Headless Horseman. Docudrama never had it so bad as Mirren taking on bereft Mrs.Winchester in her haunted house. Ghosts patiently wait to shoot up the joint.

The widow lives in abject horror that all those people killed by her late husband’s guns will haunt her. Indeed, she was so terrified she built a house to close off the endless parade of spirits who showed up for a seance some dark and stormy night.

The story goes ballistic on paranormal. You’d find more truth in the Blair Witch Story, or Poltergeist. As someone with first-hand haunting in our own home, we are indignant over nice spirits being given a bad rap by the Psychic Hotline.

We must deal with the hand we have been dealt in this film.

Promise is an ephemeral gift when ghosts deal you the Dead Man’s Hand. We first noticed that white-haired Mirren in widow’s weeds looks Grand Guignol. She does a turn as victim of an Exorcist.

From there it is all downhill and down the creepy hallway. When special effects hit you over the head, you are on the Gong Show, less frightened and more in shell shock.

There was a good movie in here somewhere, lost among the special effects monsters that demand big audiences and bigger profits. Mirren should have called Ghost Busters.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

DATELINE: Movies Imitate Life

Film Stars Film Stars!

The tragic and sensitive final days of Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame make for an ironic version of Sunset Boulevard, without the cynicism and cruel take on Hollywood.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is the antidote to all those anti-Hollywood movies. Yet, its story is the pathetic truth about an aging film star who spent her last days with a younger man. Gloria is no deluded Norma Desmond, and Jamie Bell’s Peter is no reluctant William Holden.

With Anette Bening in form as the pouty Grahame in her failing days, the film has at its core a rather pathetic love story.  Peter Turner was a young British actor who was Gloria’s last companion. Bening certainly eschews vanity playing a woman with cancer and fighting the clock.

Jamie Bell returns to his roots as a British working-class boy with a show biz heart as Peter. He dances too like Billy Elliott, and Bell’s charm remains in full blossom. Their love story may strain credulity among many but has the world of actors all over it.

As an aging ingenue with a scandalous past, Gloria still wants to play Juliet for the Royal Shakespeare Company, however improbable. Bell and Bening have definite chemistry, even as they attend the movies on a date to see Alien.

Your Hollywood gossip reference level will be satisfied with enough detail to titillate.

Supporting Bening and Bell, you cannot do better than Julie Walters as the Liverpool mother and Vanessa Redgrave as Gloria’s mother.

With clips of the young luminous Gloria in her heyday, the film plays on echoes on the past.  Gloria won her Oscar as support to Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner in The Bad and the Beautiful, another classic Hollywood tale.

Elegiac movies often sink into sentiment and nostalgia, but this film keeps its head up throughout. Forget about happy endings. They only happened in the old movies.

Tesla Files: Missing in Action

DATELINE:  Death Rays & Shocking Details

Tesla & sparks Tesla Enjoys a Good Book!

Brought to you by the producers of Ancient Aliens, History Channel has jumped onto the hot topic of Nikola Tesla, soon to be subject of a docudrama with Nicholas Hoult and Benedict Cumberbatch (Current Wars), and endless stand-alone documentaries.

The series Tesla Files uses a formula near and dear to fans of History adventures: they team up some mesomorphic men who like to go hop-scotching across the globe on quests that would delight your average ten-year old boy.

Indeed, never a girl is seen among the researchers, hangers-on, or production forces. So be it here.

The series starts off with a bang: Tesla claimed to have 80 trunks of research material in storage at the time of his death. The US government catalogued only 30, and the Tesla Museum in Serbia claims to have 60 (nearly everything by their tabulation). Jumping to conclusions, they ask: “Who stole the trunks?”

Indeed, the American researchers are indignant at the cavalier treatment of the Serbian museum director who dismisses them as amateurs and refuses to show them even signatures for verification. It couldn’t be more delightful to deepen their suspicions and mystery.

As you might expect, the Freedom of Information Act has allowed the American government to lie over the years, The researchers believe in a particle beam or death ray invented by Tesla, but serious scholars dismiss it as legend.

One of the highlights of the first episode is the revelation that President Trump’s uncle John Trump was the main investigator at the death of Tesla—and catalogued the files in his safe to reveal there was “nothing of…value.” So much for the purported Death Ray or Particle Beam he claimed to invent.

The show’s hosts want to fall all over themselves to announce that mendacity seems to be a family trait of the Trumps.

Tesla, a naturalized American citizen, was treated as an alien whose property was seized in 1943 by the government; an illegal action.

The series whets enough appetite for cover-ups, crimes against humanity, experimenting with Tesla’s inventions, and top secrets, that future episodes can run on the “electrifying” and “shocking” fumes of the inventor’s life.

You have to love a show that can use the word “electrifying” both literally and figuratively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leonardo’s Musical Interlude on Ancient Aliens

DATELINE: Revelations 13.2

Salvator mundi  The Latest Ancient Aliens Gospel!

You may be cynical and note that it took Ancient Aliens thirteen seasons to come around to Leonardo da Vinci (with one regular host mispronouncing the name a dozen times during the episode).

The second episode of the season tells us at the onset that Da Vinci used his art to tell us about higher intelligence in the universe. Yeah, him. The show proceeds to tell us that one theory is that the fifteen surviving Da Vinci paintings are presenting us with the solution to a puzzle.

Believers in alien contact think Da Vinci was in direct contact with creatures from another plane. We are told that the two-year gap in his life may have meant he was communing with other life forms. More mundane experts say he was under house arrest for sexual peccadilloes (but AA will never mention that).

If any intriguing notion comes forth, it is the one in which a researcher has discovered musical notes painted into “The Last Supper.” It has been recorded—and comes out as a forty-second dirge. Shades of Close Encounters of Steven Spielberg.

This leads to the conclusion that Jesus was here to spread his alien DNA into the real Grail, Mary Magdalene. Leonardo, according to ancient alien theorists, embedded secret messages into his artwork.

The centerpiece of the show is the $400m Salvator Mundi painting of Jesus, recently sold at auction. It seems Jesus is holding a crystal ball with the constellation Orion within—shades of the layout of the Giza pyramids.

We are fascinated that Leonardo would depict Jesus with a Buddhist orb/or heretical crystal ball of a witch. It’s all there in just another wild episode of Ancient Aliens.

Trump Phones Belichick This Week!

DATELINE: Inquiries about Tom Brady

 candidates2

President Trump is a busy man, according to his newest lawyer and occasional dragster, Rudi Guiliani.

Trump does not have time to consider Stormy Daniels and how his lawyer paid $130,000 for a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). However, Trump made a long duration phone call to Bill Belichick of the Patriots this week on matters of national security.

There is no evidence that Belichick asked Mr. Trump to work as a scout for possible hotel sites for road trips. The Patriots are not scheduled to play in Moscow during the upcoming season, but a trip to North Korea has not been ruled out.

Since the NFL draft is done, Belichick has time on his hands. So, the two high-powered patriots could ruminate about the situation of Tom Brady, according to reports of those in the room as Belichick’s smartphone proved especially stupid.

It is not known whether Trump’s phone was secure. Belichick’s private lines are under tight security.

Trump asked the Patriots coach about the status of Tom Brady, and likely the seventh-round draft pick who is deemed talented enough to replace Brady. Pundits deduce that Mr. Brady has not taken any calls from Mr. Trump lately, but was in Qatar on business last week.

We suspect that Trump is also incensed that Patriot owner Robert Kraft, a frequent flyer on Air Force One, as guest to the President, has reported criticized Trump about his stance on kneeling players. Kraft believes the three-point stance does not qualify as taking a knee.

At the least, Trump was not satisfied with the answers from the Patriots—and reportedly held Belichick on the phone for close to an hour. Belichick admitted next to nothing in regard to this phone call, but we are assured that there is no collusion between Belichick and Trump.

Belichick has signed an NDA and may not reveal his intimate chitchat with President Trump. Belichick will likely tell news media that he is “on to 2018” and not dwelling on players who are meeting with Russians unless it has a bearing on why Malcolm Butler was benched during the Super Bowl.

 

 

 

 

Bombshell Shocker: Hedy Lamarr

 DATELINE: Inventor & Movie Star

 Hedy Beauty & Brains

You might as well start with Mel Brooks making a joke of Headley Lamarr in Blazing Saddles. It gave actress Hedy Lamarr notorious fame forever.

She didn’t need it. She needed recognition for being one of the foremost immigrant inventors in American history: giving us frequency hopping, used in wi-fi, Bluetooth, rocket science, and myriad other technology. Move over, Einstein.

Yes, the most beautiful Austrian actress in Hollywood history was a genius. Hedy Lamar found tabloid scandal easier to condemn her life than history to exonerate her achievement.

She paid a dear price in those decades for overstepping the bounds of glamour and wanting intellectual equality. Hedy Lamar had a half-dozen husbands, and probably lovers galore, but one of those men—Howard Hughes—was more intrigued with her brain. He put his raft of scientists at her disposal.

What actress movie star came home from playing Tondelayo in White Cargo and sat down at her chemists’ table to do inventing? She wanted to create a weapon to help in World War II torpedo technology. The US Navy just laughed at her creation. She never made a dime off it.

Hedy was Delilah for Cecil B. DeMille. She was Bob Hope’s foil in My Favorite Spy. How could she be something more? She was fired, replaced by Zsa Zsa Gabor in her last attempt at movie stardom in the 1960s.

The brilliant documentary, Bombshell, may stun you with revelations. It will sadden you about ignored genius and the sensitivity of a mistreated soul.

Hedy Lamarr deserved much, much more, but she was a fighter and would not let the world break her on its yoke of beauty and shallow talents.

This film Bombshell: the Hedy Lamarr Story is heady stuff, one of the most stunning documentaries on Hollywood’s inner secret life of stars.

Trump as Captain Queeg?

 DATELINE:  25th Amendment Mutiny?

 

Queeg Trump Bogart as Trump

If you caught Fox & Friends on this Thursday morning, April 26, you heard the President of the United States call in for a light-hearted conversation.

For over 30 minutes, the hosts humored him until someone told them in their earpieces that he was out of his mind—and shut him down immediately.

Unfortunately for his supportive trio of hosts, the POTUS went slightly off-script. Banter turned into darkly moody ranting.

We haven’t seen such a prolonged, agonizing performance of descent into madness since Humphrey Bogart played Captain Queeg in the notorious scene from Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny, not to be confused with Herman Caine’s run for president.

A paranoid officer, Captain Queeg went on the witness stand to testify against the mutineer officers of his ship. And, he proved their point.

We could not see Trump rolling little steel balls between his fingers, but we certainly heard the deranged rant about the missing strawberries.

Someone stole his favorite dessert from the galley kitchen.

No, wait, that was Queeg.

Trump went on and on about Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen, and admitted to prosecutors listening what they exactly needed to hear. He gave them a full lunatic confession.

It may not be admissible in court of law because the poor, besotted soul in love with himself was clearly an animal in distress. Impeachment may be another kettle of strawberries.

We wonder how many members of Congress heard this and wondered how soon the Cabinet will mutiny against the mad Queeg in the White House.

Humphrey Bogart won accolades for his searing portrait of a man in the throes of madness. Trump lost more credibility, though his supporters may be as mad as he.

We are slip-sliding on steel ball bearings—and Great America is about to have a greater fall.

Indeed, Trump proved that the strawberries were stolen, and it was not fake news after all.

It was a career-ending performance.

Ridley Scott & Earthly Alien Monsters

DATELINE:  Horror:  Cash & Carry

 2 Gettys Spacey v. Plummer?

All the Money in the World will be remembered for several reasons:  first, it is the story of the kidnapping of J. Paul Getty’s grandson in 1973. Second, it is the film that Kevin Spacey’s performance was erased and replaced. Third, it is a Ridley Scott movie about an out-of-control, voracious monster—a billionaire.

As J. Paul Getty, Christopher Plummer, at 88 years, came in for nine days and re-did all Spacey’s scenes. It was more amazing for being notable for having some CGI elements. One scene had to be faked—and Plummer’s head is on Spacey’s body in one scene filmed in Jordan.

Most of the hard work was done at break-neck speed for an elderly actor who rose to the occasion. His key scenes with cast members were re-shot. Scott re-edited the pastiche and eliminated the detrimental performance of Spacey. As box office poison, Spacey would have sunk the movie. Plummer astounds.

As for Plummer, he is brilliant. If you see Spacey’s bad makeup, you realize that Scott made a correct decision by letting Plummer act twenty-five years younger, rather than have Spacey act older.

The story about super-rich people is a form of Aliens. Indeed, the narrator grandson (marvelous young star Charlie Plummer, no relation to Christopher) notes that the rich are from another planet.

Ridley Scott’s provenance as an alien creator stands him in good metaphoric movie history here. Plummer’s Getty is a creature from another world.

Michelle Williams as Getty’s daughter-in-law is a powerhouse surprise in this film, and Mark Wahlberg may seem miscast as a fixer lawyer, but acquits himself quickly and in the climax. Another twist of delight comes from Timothy Hutton’s work.

This year’s bad guys are all billionaires – arrogant, privileged, controlling, megalomaniacs. We even have one as President, and this movie tells us why that’s not good.