Listening to Marlon Brando

DATELINE:  Method Man

Marlon Brando Fires Point Blank.

With its odd title, you may have trouble discerning what exactly is being told to whom.  Yet, Listen to Me Marlon is an affecting and striking documentary Showtime documentary about the legendary star of The Godfather, Streetcar Named Desire, and Reflections in a Golden Eye.

We wrote extensively about Brandon in Troubles in a Golden Eye, our movie biography, done with Hollywood master, Jan Merlin.

Intensely private and hostile to the press in the second half of his life, Brando made dozens and dozens of audio tapes of his philosophy, problems, and feelings. He clearly wanted to be remembered.

At the last he even had a digital map of his talking head so that it could be used sometime in futuristic movies.

In the meantime, we find many unusual photos and recreations of his unpleasant childhood in Omaha that he idealized. Though you see photos of associates and workmates, there is no gossip talk of colleagues. He speaks most admirably of Stella Adler, his acting teacher.

He does discuss his tortured children:  one committed suicide after her half-brother murdered her boyfriend. Christian died of pneumonia a few years after his father died.

He is thoughtful and sensitive, clearly appalled more and more by the money, profits, and legalities of movie-making. He worked three months a year for enormous salaries—and grew increasingly difficult to work with (ask Francis Ford Coppola).

A mutual friend of ours once told that Marlon was not like his public image: he was much, much softer. And that clearly comes across in his tapes.

Brando even rehearses how to die, which is chilling. He calls life the real improvisation and acting merely a deception of truth.

If you are a fan of Brando, or ever wondered about him, there may never be a more accurate depiction of his life—if only through his own distorted vision of self.

Jan Merlin & William Russo wrote Troubles in a Golden Eye, nonfiction about making the John Huston movie version of Carson McCullers’ novella Reflections in a Golden Eye. Brando and Elizabeth Taylor starred.

 

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Curse of Oak Island: One Big Sink Hole

DATELINE: Indefinite Suspension

fashionplateOak Island Fashionplate

Oak Island’s unsafe ground has voids and tunnels that have been compromised by diggers and flooding over at least two centuries. It seems a surprise that no one figured that a sink hole might send the entire treasure hunt and hunters down to a watery grave made by Captain Kidd.

Oak Island is one big hole in the ground, except when it comes to History Channel ratings. Then, it becomes Mt. Everest.

If the latest gaffe is unforeseen and inevitable, we might well agree with Rick Lagina that the hunt for whatever is there may be nearing completion yet again, without success.

Every generation’s technology fails until another era makes people feel that they are the champions to find the answers.

The 14th episode of season six is the “Voyage to the Bottom…” and they have not yet hit rock bottom.

Perhaps the most ridiculous moment was a nighttime visit by Rick, tethered, as he crawls into the sink hole, causing even more caving earth. They yell for him to get out: it’s not easy to move fast when you are beyond a certain age. The Chappel Vault might become Rick Lagina’s mausoleum, as he faced the prospect of becoming the seventh curse victim.

We had suggested last season that Rick throw himself down one of the shafts, and he nearly did it this time.

Other bad news was that what they thought was a piece of bone turned out to be slag (buried 170 feet where no smelting operation ever was done). Other leather parchment turned out to be tree bark. It’s pure Oak Island.

The good news for the week had to do with finding parchment or rag paper with red pigment on it: it seemed to be as early as 1300 in origin.

Also, lidar and sonar searches of the bay water around the island showed some anomalies and an anchor. Another tunnel entrance or drain system could be 100 feet off-shore. Intriguing.

Yet, we were most impressed when Alex Lagina showed up in an $800 Arc’teryx wilderness jacket. He has taste and good looks.

Demise of TV Satire?

DATELINE:  Trump’s Attack on Humor

trumpet the New Archie Bunker?

President Trump wants to shut down Saturday Night Live because it is an “Enemy of the People.”

In his view, no views should be expressed on TV unless they are kind, balanced, and fair to him.

Of course, television has a long history of unpopular, brutal satire. The shows include That Was the Week That Was. TWTWTW, as it was known, or TW3 in some circles, was half-an hour of unremitting political jokes that skewed Republican Barry Goldwater during 1964. It was on in prime-time and was pre-empted every week, almost, by paid TV commercials from the GOP. They eventually saw it canceled.

The other shocker was The Smothers Brothers Hour, on Sunday nights that was sixty minutes of unremitting anti-Nixon, anti-Watergate cronies in the Roger Stone archetype.

It was so virulently anti-Nixon and his dirty-tricks-team that Nixon put it on the Enemies List and had his influential friends at the network cancel the show.

All in the Family started out as a brutal satire of crypto-Nazi bigotry in the Queens suburbs of New York. It was enormously popular during the 1970s, but its satiric bite was lessened sharply when Archie Bunker, the bigot, became a lovable American hero. Embraced as a delightful example of American parochialism, he flourished, a fan favorite of conservative America.

During the same years came SNL.  It was out of prime time, even reveling in the idea with the Not Ready for Prime Time players, a group of future movie stars who did satiric barbs.

SNL still lives, over forty years later, and has become nastier in its attacks on Trump, which incenses the President. He wants it investigated and stopped.

If there had been a radio show in Germany in the 1930s, Hitler would have had it raided and had its comedians sent to a concentration camp. Indeed, Jack Benny made a comedy movie about such an idea in his greatest film called To Be or Not To Be. ICE may yet raid SNL.

So Trump is in fine company as he awaits impeachment and prison for his dubious unconstitutional, uneducated, and anti-satire demands to close down freedom of speech.

David: Overexposed Masterpiece

DATELINE: For All the Marbles

David

 Michelangelo’s Boy!

The Private Life of a Masterpiece is a documentary narrated by the late Tim Piggott-Smith a decade ago.

You might not realize what a controversial and interesting history and life that block of marble chiseled by Michelangelo has had over centuries.

Years before the great Renaissance upstart put his talent to the statue, a couple of artists tried and failed to carve out an iconic image. They failed, mainly because the superior marble was only two feet thick in places. It was meant to be one piece, a marvel in itself, and nearly impossible.

David is the height of three men and weighs about the poundage of two dozen. Indeed, David is the real Goliath. He was originally meant to be posed atop a church in Florence, but he was hijacked for political reasons to face the threat of the Medici family, looking southward on palazzo level. After all, he was a killer.

As a result, David has suffered, and his face seems to mirror that. He has been stoned, broken, allowed to be covered in mold, and has lost some detail.

Yet, he remains more than ever the commercial icon of the 20th century, more popular today than ever before: he is the epitome of modern man. From the get-go, he has been a role model and object of love; nearly half of Florentines in the 16th century were likely bisexual men. They adored him.

Like any great work of art, he is subject to interpretation on many levels with each passing era. Surprisingly, he was not appreciated by Victorians unless he was covered with a fig leaf. Yep, they had one ready-made for coverups when required.

Entertaining and educational, this is a one-hour history that you may watch with never-averted eyes.

 

Andy Warhol at the Super Bowl, 2019

 DATELINE: Great Art Restoration!

Warhol & Whopper

Warhol Takes on Whopper.

We know that iconic artist Andy Warhol enjoyed pop culture, and perhaps he’d be intrigued with the Super Bowl antics every year.

He might be as surprised as we were to find him in a commercial, a highly expensive proposition, endorsing Burger King.

You might think the little scene was filmed by Andy himself at his Factory, but it was merely an appearance he made in 1984 for another director. Here is Andy in 2019, thirty years after he died, now on the big stage of Super Bowl party night.

At first we thought it was a body double—something Warhol was fond of using. He looked thin, but in good shape, making it a little difficult to discern when this was made. He had done all kinds of things—like a Love Boat episode and a cameo in an Elizabeth Taylor movie back in the 1970s.

This filmed scene was after the Studio 54 craze, and he sits quietly, well-dressed as always, his messy wig appropriately placed, and crinkling, opens a bag for Burger King.

We heard he was disappointed to find it was not going to be a Big Mac, but he was always game for product accessibility.

Perhaps the most curious part of his eating the burger, as that is the total action, is that he lifts the top of the bun off the sandwich as if he will pour some of the Heinz ketchup on it. Instead, he has difficulty pouring it onto the wrapper.

Like a cookie in coffee, he dunks the burger in the tomato paste which he even painted in one of his inspired moments.

Though the commercial was only a few seconds, the actual film was a tad longer. It showed him discarding the top of the burger and folding it over for another swipe at the Heinz. All his actions are fastidious. It’s on Youtube for those interested.

We hope his estate and museum was well-paid for this appearance. We doubt he would have been a Patriot fan. In all likelihood, only a fraction of viewers even understood the identity of the slight man in the burger commercial.

The Twonky: 1st Artificial-Intelligence Movie

DATELINE:  Non-conformist Weirdo Stuff !

twonky To Twonk or Not to Twonk?

When the protagonist of your movie is a pedantic philosophy professor (the ubiquitous Hans Conreid) in 1952, you likely had a bomb of a movie on your hands. When star Conreid said this to director Arch Oboler, the temperamental auteur noted he needed a tax write-off for the year anyhow.

The Twonky was based on a Lewis Padgett short story, one of the earliest visionaries to see computers and AI as the controlling force of the future.

Robbie the Robot and Gort were the mechanical men of the age (though a primitive slave robot was at work in Gene Autry’s Phantom Empire in 1935). It was the Twonky, a creature from the future who took up life in a modern TV set.

As eggheads decried television as a wasteland back in the 1950s, it is all the more ironic that the future visitor and time traveler would end up as an animated TV set.

Though Professor Conreid finds it distasteful to be at the mercy of a trained computer that tries to fulfill every wish, it would today make for a great weekly series on TV. The Twonky is there to make life easier for humans—and to monitor them, depriving privacy and free choice.

Its comedic elements are frightful, and the man who sees it all to clearly is the college football coach, an old geyser played by Billy Lynn. He drops pearls of insight and knocks the hero for not knowing his science fiction.

Arch Oboler’s weird film is decades ahead of its time, criticized for its humor and poor technical effects, the movie is actually on the marvelous side. We enjoyed watching the Twonky climb stairs, throttle a TV repairman, and strip a bill collector down to the birthday suit.

The best moment for us, as former college professor, was when the doctor offered Professor Conreid a sedative. He demurred as he had to write his college class lecture that night—to which the doctor noted, “Oh, well, then you don’t need a sedative.”

Do You Trust This Computer?

DATELINE: Person of Interest?

Nolan Auteur Jonathan Nolan!

It’s a loaded question, perhaps more nefarious than asking whether you still belittle women in the ERA of #Metooism! (jk omitted in earlier version).

A documentary on the doomsday likelihood that artificial intelligence is already here may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It does not stop the filmmaker from stacking the deck.

Do You Trust This Computer features a couple of the brainiest culture commentators—and a gaggle of AI experts from Sanford and MIT.

Elon Musk (of Mars colonization fame) and Jonathan Nolan (creator of Person of Interest and Westworld, two of the most intelligent computers on the tube) offer extraordinary insights.

Nolan is so handsome that it almost seems unfair that he is brilliant too.

If you need villains, you can find them on your devices: Facebook and Google, both of whom are working on super intelligent computers that may endanger humankind.

As one observer notes, psychometrics means that computer are already able to tell your intelligence, religion, sexual orientation, and politics, from facial recognition. In the hands of dictators, or even a Trump, this could prove frightful.

An expert notes that artificial intelligence is the true psychopath: no conscience or morality to stop it from fulfilling every mission.

Autonomous robots are already out there in killer drones. If you are the target, you are dead meat. War will make AI public enemy #1. Medical robots may decide who lives and dies, as humans begin to lose all skills that have been usurped by artificially intelligent creatures.

As people come to rely on these monsters, they will have fewer skills to combat the AI abuses. They are already winning at Jeopardy, chess, and other games, years ahead of schedule.

Androids will soon look like us and have no foibles.

Do you trust your computer? It’s already too late to be suspicious if we are to believe this documentary.

That’s Dah-veed to You, David!

DATELINE:  Bloody Marat!

David & Death of Maratmarat

 

Jacques-Louis David may be at the top of a short list of great French painters of an ilk.

Alas, this documentary pegs him all too accurately for the slime-ball he was, despite his fabulous technique. Be warned: this documentary is in French—which makes the sleaze sound all the more elegant.

David & the Death of Marat deals with the most famous painting of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. You know, the period where they chopped off heads with aplomb.

David was one of the ring-leaders, voting to kill King Louis and his wife Marie Antoinette. He was a political advocate of assassination—unless it hit too close to home.

It seems Jean Marat, the journalist agitator, was a friend of David. He was upset when a monarchist defender, Charlotte Corday, knifed the writer in his bath (he was soaking his rotting skin).

She was, of course, another historical victim to be handed her head.

David took a while for his propaganda to coalesce. Most painters wanted to depict the rotting corpse of the martyr Marat. David was smarter, and portrayed a man serene in his death, writing for the masses.

It was a brilliant work, leaving out the more sympathetic Corday and putting focus on dead Marat with his carotid artery spliced with a dagger.

Simplicity ruled, and the picture became famous, but David’s hypocrisy for the little people seemed misplaced. He became Napoleon’s court painter—and later hid his works among his aristocratic friends (the ones he did not vote to behead).

This extraordinary documentary shows contemporary French art experts delighted with the guillotine even today. Illuminating little hour.

Yes, It’s Over, Over There!

DATELINE: Do You See What We See?

Laird Cregar

For those who have trouble understanding the definitive moments of history, science, and world politics, you witnessed on a hot afternoon in Miami in December the Fall of the Roman Empire.

Lest our metaphors shock you with their doomsday scenario, we will say it more simply: the New England Patriots have met catastrophe. Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the great wall and the Patriots cannot put him together again. Atlantis just sank into the ocean.

There will be those who say it is merely one loss on a long road of successes.

The cognoscenti will recognize that Tom Brady’s career will never recover. The team on which he plays has imploded. Its vaunted brain-trust has just been eaten by viral amoebas. You have just seen someone cough up his lung and his guts. King Kong has fallen off the Empire State Building. Satan has been cast out of Heaven.

A game that might have been won anytime in the past 20 years by the Patriots, was lost.

It is the end of the story when Cinderella loses her glass slipper, and the clock strikes midnight. It is the time you see a small, insignificant man behind the curtain who resembles Belichick in whom all New England fans trust, and he says he is not the Wizard of Oz and to ignore him.

Robert Oppenheimer said it best when the bomb when off and the clock ticked away: “I am the Bringer of Death.” Bring on a new generation of football stars and dynasties.

You cannot exaggerate too much what has happened in the world. Sometimes matters are puzzling and frightful. Here they are as clear as you can ever hope to see. Donald Trump stole the election and now you know.

Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead. The New England Patriots just sang the Swan Song of Football.

Outside the Lines: Fake or Fortune

DATELINE: Art for Art’s Sake

fake or fortune gang Culprit Among Art Gang!

Though it sounds like a bad game show, the Netflix series from the BBC about art detectives is quite intelligent and fascinating too.

The show’s misleading title Fake or Fortune does not do justice to the subjects or the experts. Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould work as a marvelous team. They are joined by historian Dr. Bendor Grovesnor who always seems to find key clues.

In essence, someone has a problem painting, without provenance or paperwork, and they cannot prove its true value, or actual artist. In comes the sharp and smart team of experts to track down the truth.

Inventive and dogged, the three detectives manage to find all kinds of evidence to show that Winston Churchill painted a scene in France, or that L.S. Lowry did a couple of small primitive works using unusual pigments.

What is most maddening about the series are the forces or powerhouses in the art world. As you might expect, these snobs are never satisfied with proof, tangible and common sense, if it undercuts their privilege and power.

As a result, many of the brilliant logical discoveries of truth are rejected by those who are threatened in their smugness as owners of definitive art houses.

Heaven forbid that you learn these pompous egos who run the art world are threatened by upstarts and those who are not rich collectors. This is a closed world of dilettantes and snobs.

The combo of scientific and technology with the historical legwork in libraries and archives makes for a pleasant and happy hour in this short series (only four episodes). You may be tempted to send a nasty email to David Coombs, Winston Churchill expert, but it won’t do any good with these inveterate know-it-alls.

 

Five, Actually Six, but Who’s Counting?

DATELINE: First Post-Apocalyptic Nuclear Movie

real star of Five Wright’s Eaglefeather

The 1951 unknown classic by Arch Oboler is called Five, about five survivors of a nuclear holocaust. It was way ahead of its time, but lost count somewhere in the post-apocalyptic shuffle. There are actually six survivors, including a black man, a baby, and a crypto-Nazi.

Director Arch Oboler was a radio writer and producer who went into movies. He was thought to be the poor man’s Orson Welles, and his movie productions were sporadic.

He used his Malibu estate to film the 1951 movie about a handful of people who come together to figure out what happened to the world. They actually surmise that it is genetic that they are immune to radiation, like those who were immune to the Black Death.

Director Oboler was a bit of a character, temperamental and an auteur who did what he wanted. His list of films is intriguing, but the real star of this low-budget film is Frank Lloyd Wright.

Yes, you got that Wright. Oboler had FLW build a mountain top aerie called Cliff House on his estate in 1941. Well, actually, they fought about it—and Eaglefeather became a truncated Wright home. Oboler filmed it from the backside to make it look smaller and more rustic.

The characters note that a rich man’s house is further down the Malibu coast: take that, Frank Lloyd Wright.

As you might expect, the film features Oboler’s particular political perspective. The villain of sorts climbed Mount Everest as a point of monumental ego, and the hero is a graduate of Harvard who specialized in literature. William Phipps has a recognizable face.

Susan Douglas is the innocent girl who goes back to the neutron bomb city to find her husband. She too is remarkable. But, the film has the feel of an early Twilight Zone episode. And, not surprisingly, Rod Serling loved Oboler’s films and used them for inspiration.

Called science fiction, the film is a character drama and low key with its racial angle and Transcendental approach. Fascinating movie.

Return to Oak Island for Sixth Season

DATELINE: Bobby Dazzler Dayton

Drayton Bobby Dazzler Himself!

Drawn back to a sixth season of The Curse of Oak Island, we start with a big two-hour opening show. There is surprisingly little of the usual repetition featured in previous seasons. The episode tells us that, at long last with the Lagina Brothers, money is no object.

Like Sherlock Holmes adventures, the latest series is just like the previous seasons. It’s a formula for History Channel Success, and they aren’t messing with it. However, they have gone BIG.

Expense is the bottom line: new headquarters, new transportation around the island, and a cast of technicians that could find a pyramid, if not build one.

There are grandiose plans, making this the biggest season and making the series the new Money Pit.

Draining swamps is merely a bagatelle.

The star is again Australian Gary Drayton with his ability to hone in on treasure with his metal detectors—and then his impressive knowledge to instantly identify in detail something the so-called expert archaeologists can only confirm with less insight.

Within a day, the treasure hunters find a large two-penny from 1797. Gold is promised, but we fear it may be a gold filling from Marty Lagina’s tooth. They are actually now looking in areas never before explored on the small island.

The slow-arriving results remain part of the show’s ponderous slow-poke approach. There may be many of these episodes, dragging out the scientific findings. Lead isotopes may reveal a cross found last season is ages old from Europe.

On the downside, heart-throb Alex Lagina only makes a small cameo in the two-hour start, and Dan Blankenship, the 90-something explorer, looks younger than ever.

 

We’re back for every episode.

American Pie and Racism

DATELINE: Stopping Black Candidates at Any Cost?

imbeciles at work Go Suck on a Georgia Peach!

Like many deluded Americans, we thought racism, like smallpox, had been eradicated. Well, smallpox is back—and so is racism, thanks to a president who encourages it.

Racism, a sign at Fenway Park said, last year is “as American as baseball.”  The sign was quickly removed, but its sentiment remains. No World Series victory deodorizes this stink.

Trump has encouraged white nationalists to arm themselves and travel to the border of Mexico to shoot unarmed women and children if they dare to cross the line in the dirt.

Your president (well, someone’s president Trump) has insulted every black woman he can find: latest is Michelle Obama whom he contends writes a book for money and must put in controversy. Those are his values all right. You only act for money. In most morality, that’s called bribery.

Trump has called every black female journalist he meets stupid, which goes with his view of black Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Gee, do we see a pattern here? Not if you live in Florida.

In Georgia, another Georgia Peach is running for governor and hates black women like his opponent Abrams. We note only that the original Georgia Peach was a virulent racist, so Kemp is in a grand old party tradition.

In the Citrus state where Anita Bryant used to spew hate, you now have resident Trump furious that his boy Rick Scott is having the election stolen. Trump’s other stooge, DeSantis, is forming a transition team to take over. It used to be called a coup d’etat, now it’s called a recount.

Racism is as American as the grandiose old party that kicked out Lincoln years ago.

It’s rather unusual for American history to have a robber baron and grand wizard rolled into one orange-hair orangutan in the “Whiter than White House.”

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead!

DATELINE: New Orson Welles Documentary

 3 amigos Three Amigos, More or Less!

If Orson Welles spoke this epitaph, then he was prescient. However, when Peter Bogdanovich reports this at the documentary’s start, his long-time girlfriend Oja Kodar refutes it. They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead is so on target. Alan Cumming narrates among the powerful voices.

Who knows? It is a juicy start to the recent Netflix restoration and premiere of Orson’s last film:  The Other Side of the Wind.

Since the final masterpiece of the Master is a mockumentary, years ahead of its time, it seems only fair that this documentary on the making of the film over 15 years is different than most.

You may be surprised at how many illustrious people, now aged, are still with us with fond and not-so-fond memories of Welles, who was bossy and a tyrant as well as an auteur genius.

He shot what he pictured in his mind. His philosophy in the end was one of “divine accidents” during filming as sources of inspiration that makes a monumental motion picture.

Welles suffered for his art. Money was the bugaboo and taking it from the Shah of Iran’s brother-in-law was a desperately bad move. He lost all control of the movie when the country went Islamic extremist. And, the French courts also tried to keep him from the one movie that kept him alive and creative.

Is it autobiographical? Perhaps, but Welles cast his friend director John Huston as Jack Hannaford—who could be John Ford or Ernest Hemingway or even Welles himself. It could be Huston was playing Huston. It is likely another famous director of their era: Nick Ray.

Scenes were filmed in fragments, often years between takes. Yet, it flows like some insane chorus of dissonant singers.

Netflix produced the documentary and has completed the last film of Welles (reviewed separately). If you need your appetite whet, this documentary will prime your pump.

 

 

 

 

 

Who Murdered Whitey?

 DATELINE:  Inside Scoop You Won’t See Elsewhere!

Itt

Based on information leaked to us anonymously, we have learned who and how the Federal Bureau of Prisons arranged to have James ‘Whitey’ Bulger murdered.

There are 3 “drop out” US Penitentiaries in the US federal prison system. The rest of the UPS’s or “Pens”, which are the high security prisons, are called “active yards”. This is because the prison authorities know about ACTIVE and CONDONED gang activity.

The BOP likes the gangs because they divide the prison population and work with the “shot callers” (aka the gang leaders).

Gangs fall into two categories. First category includes well- known gangs, like the Aryan Brotherhood, Mexican Mafia, Tango Blast, Bloods, Latin Kings, etc. Then, there are “cars”. These are really gangs of undeclared gang members who “gang up” by State of Region of the County.

The “car” that most wanted Whitey was the “Northeast car “which Boston is obviously part of. These gang members had a hit on WB which is and was known to the BOP officials. Within this system “rats” are “crushed” which means sneak attacks by at least two or more attackers and beaten until the guards get there.

A favorite weapon is a lock in a sock or a lock on a belt along with others things like homemade knives “shanks” or “bangers”.

The active yard BOP system wide prisoners live by the “fact” that anyone coming from a “drop-out yard” (such as Terre Haute, Tucson AZ, or Coleman II, in FL), as soon as they arrive at any other USP, shall and must be crushed.

This is known to all BOP officials.

No prisoner from a drop-out yard can be allowed to enter an active prison, especially with a KNOWN CONTRACT on his head like James Bulger.

Whitey came from Coleman II, then was in Tucson with a contract on him and then wheeled in his wheelchair on to Hazelton’s active yard.

The inmates who work at the Receiving and Discharge always know in advance who is arriving because they are told. It was all planned from the beginning and despite the BOP’s obligation to “protect” those in custody, they fed him to exactly who wanted to get him…all premeditated.