Alas, Poor Yorick and Poor Shakespeare

DATELINE:  Heads, You Lose!

cursed

Shakespeare’s Tomb is a marvelous documentary that deals with the case of the headless Bard of Avon.

Back in the 18th and 19th century, they were graverobbers who wanted the heads of famous people and in Yorick fashion, they took the skulls from older graves. Phrenologists were also collectors who were interested in having a genius skull in their study. You could so easily read the bumps in the cranium.

You may be surprised to learn that Shakespeare put a curse on his own grave, which is located in the holy Trinity Church in Avon—not the more protected Westminster Abbey.

You may also be surprised to learn that Shakespeare put a curse on his own grave, which is located in the holy Trinity Church in Avon, as if he had an inkling that someone would want his head on a silver tray.

One of the most fascinating documentaries in a long time takes the opportunity of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death to examine his strange burial—and possible vandalism of his resting place in the late 1790s.

It may well be they took the graverobbers took a wrong turn, and grasped the head of Ann Hathaway, in a shroud only three feet deep, next to Shakespeare.

For unknown reasons, this purloined skull was dumped at another church where it has rested without a body in a charnel spot.

Forensic experts studied the discovery and concluded that it belonged to a woman. The documentary makes little of that wrong head, but she was the right age to be Shakespeare’s late wife who is buried next to him next to him in a shallow grave.

Apparently, Holy Trinity Church tried to cover up the problem by putting a new stone over Shakespeare’s dug  up grave and not telling anyone. Ground penetrating radar allows the film crew to examine Shakespeare’s grave without opening it.

Good detective work and charming hosts of the show make this little hour-long documentary is brilliant and worthy of your attention.

 

Perfectly Human Diet, Not a Fad

Perfect Diet, Not a Fad

diet

Though we have been taken with recent scientific study of human health through diet, we were unprepared for the superbly thorough documentary by C.J. Hunt.

A media journalist who suffered from debilitating heart conditions at a young age, the director and writer of this expert examination of paleodietic information may be dropping the final word on fad diets.

In short, the film is a history of diets after a 19th century fat man decided he needed to find out why he was morbidly obese (5’5” and 300 pounds). Blame it on the Industrial Revolution.

It appears that changes in the human diet began fairly recently in the epoch of evolution. One scientist uses the football field analogy to great impact. Homo Erectus was at the end of the field and working one’s way up to today, you find that in the inch before the goal, we humans began to eat grains.

Hmm. Meat eating appears to have, by all agreement, caused brainpower. That caveman diet of bone marrow and sweetbread was far removed from Wheaties.

It seems the modern diet is shrinking the brain pan. You can hardly call a return to paleo-eating as the latest fad. Blame your misinformed government on telling you to avoid fats and eat more carbs.

Nearly every health-conscious scientist agrees that vegetarianism is too exclusive. You need only avoid sugar, carbs, processed food, and salt. Nobody under 2 needs a glass of milk every day. We are victims of economic diet plans—marketing for money-makers.

A walk through the supermarket with a dietary scientist and doctor is an argument against browsing.

C.J. Hunt has provided one of the most illuminating and intriguing of insights into health and food. He puts politics, religion, and nutrition, on the list of hopeless argument. He already knows he is preaching to an empty choir.

 

 

 

 

 

The Business of an American Home

 DATELINE:  Wright House, Wrong Address

American home

Let’s face it: the city of Kankakee, Illinois, needs all the help its Chamber of Commerce can provide.

Enter director/writer Thomas Desch.  He has put together a fascinating centerpiece for reviving the city: its greatest single tourist and artistic point is the house that Frank Lloyd Wright designed at the turn of the 20th century.

An American Home has an unwieldy and ridiculous subtitle Frank Lloyd Wright’s B. Harley Bradley House, but don’t be daunted. You have here architectural history and how it is personally tied to the fates of real people who try to live and work within a building’s architecture.

Wright was a genius and his first example of the Prairie Home was in Illinois where the well-to-do young Bradley’s commissioned a house, stable, and accompanying residence for their family. Perhaps some places are benighted and cursed.

As amazing and beautiful as the house was—and now is again—it had a hard journey over 100 years. And, so did the cursed owners.

With its stunning stained glass, lead-lined windows, largely sold at auction, and its furniture and tables bought for exorbitant prices by celebs like Barbra Streisand over the years, the Wright house has been decimated.

The owners have variously committed suicide and been kidnapped and murdered (one during renovation of the structure).

Yet,generous patrons have thrown millions of bucks into refurbishing the Yesteryear Restaurant of 50 years (bankrupt in the 1980s) and fallen into disrepair, to save it from demolishing.

Its stable was an afterthought that was saved only by large protests. You may be shocked to learn 20% of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs have been destroyed.

So, we have no issue with the Kankakee people who are proud of the most impressive building and home of their city. Interesting history and biography.

 

 

 

Devilish Fun with Sooke

 DATELINE:  Porno, not Inferno

 sooke Sooke, not Cooke

How the Devil Got His Horns is hosted by a new media sensation from England named Alastair Sooke.

He is an expert is ancient art and classic art work. If you are expecting Alistair Cooke, you will discover the new generation is decidedly Alastair Sooke. And, the differences go way beyond white hair of Alistair Cooke to the lithe Sooke.

This young art critic has all the smarts and sexy appeal too.

Looking like an Oxford undergraduate, but the smartest kid in the class, the expressive expert from England is made for social media. He is ambiguous enough in sexual terms as to make you wonder about that wedding ring.

Sooke travels around Florence, Venice, and museums, wearing sandals. When he stops to explain an early depiction of Jesus on a church mural, he happens to be wearing the same sandals as JC. No coincidence we suspect.

He explains  how the Devil, Lucifer, originally was a blue angel on the left hand of God, before his precipitous fall. He is described as a bureaucrat in heaven, which explains his rebellion.

Lucifer’s initial beauty downgrades to ugliness over the years, as you need corruption to supervision corruption. Sooke raises the issue that Lucifer’s transformation was far more an aesthetic decision of poets and artists rather than Church leaders.

Sooke also revels in showing us the most depraved depictions of hell fire and suffering. As he tells us, it’s more porno than Inferno in the art world for the Medieval viewers.

If you want a blue angel for your guide, there is none better than Alastair Sooke.

Art & Neon

DATELINE:  Hitch Loved Neon

 Neon Novak Novak in Neon!

An Australian film, Neon may seem like a subject hardly worthy of excitement. When some of the interviewees talk about the colored gas lights, you begin to think they need to get a life.

Neon, of course, defines American business, urban life, and a change in American perspective. Once you realize that the invention and adoption of neon lights in American business altered the landscape of the nation, you begin to recognize how special it is.

Not surprisingly, once again Nikola Tesla enters the picture as one of the prime inventors of neon light, but he never patented it, nor made a nickel off the product. Patent fights centered over a Frenchman who produced lights first stunning Paris.

Though the United States featured several World Fairs with cities of lights in the 19th century, the notion of neon changed the life of urban America when it seemed to debut and spread over Broadway and Manhattan in the 1920s.

Neon’s bright and jazzy colors and motion brought forth a new nocturnal culture. And, it was immediately picked up as a motif in movies, first in musicals and as a flashy jazz parallel. Only later did it turn dark with film noir—and then color noir.

Neon captivated movies. Indeed, Hitchcock loved to use neon—in his great movies like Psycho (that alluring Bates Motel) and as the garish green ghost of Kim Novak in Vertigo.

Las Vegas is where the light-scale went bonkers in the years after World War II. Nothing could compare to the garish, commercial call. Yet, the images of flashing logos became landmarks, not just sales gimmicks.

The film presents an array of magnificent shots of glowing neon signs and streets across the world.

Only when neon began its inevitable fade to black did artists and museums realize it needed preservation. As an expensive means of communication, it now seems to be finding homes in art refugee centers. However, mammoth chunks of 90 feet of neon is not conducive to indoor display.

The film turns elegiac when neon starts to lose the battle with time and timeliness. At least a movie like this will allow future viewers to see what magnificence it truly inspired.

 

 

Killing Jimmy Hoffa: a Profit-able Enterprise

DATELINE:  #Hoffa Conspiracy

Young James Young James (not Jesse)!

Al Profit (a You-Tube personality named Alan Bradley) directs this muckraking report and also appears, billed as historian. However, he presents himself he manages to give a provocative look at the life, death, and influence of union boss Jimmy Hoffa.

We presume that the brash Profit sees himself as the Francis Ford Coppola of crime documentaries.

His film on Hoffa indicates there beats the heart of a really serious filmmaker under the bravado of a con man, #AlProfit. Alas, for Bradley, the need to make a living, shaking his booty and hawking T-shirts, transcends his movie making skills.

Putting aside his groupie-inducing personality, Profit’s film suggests that Hoffa hated Robert Kennedy and was instrumental in the murder of John F. Kennedy to remove Robert as a smug snobby nemesis. There is no suggestion that Hoffa could have orchestrated RFK’s killing.

Hoffa had ties to the mob certainly: including Sam Giancana, Santo Trafficante and Carlos Marcello, notorious peripheral conspiracy figures in the Kennedy Assassinations. Hoffa was also tied into Robert Maheu (notorious #HowardHughes chief aide) and the CIA.

On top of that, Hoffa was indeed pardoned by Richard #Nixon, presuming that the union leader promised to be an FBI informant against the Mob.

James Hoffa was scheduled to appear in 1975 before the Church Committee on Assassinations when he disappeared, and two other mobsters were murdered shortly before telling what they knew about political killings.

Hoffa was associated with Jack Ruby, and Sam Giancana may have ties to Oswald.

Add this one to the raft of theories with disturbing credibility.

Bayer Laid Bare: Aspirin’s History

DATELINE: History’s Big Headache

Eichengrun 1900 Arthur Eichengrun, circa 1900.

Who might have thought there was a political scandal behind the invention of aspirin? It was created by a group of chemists in Germany in 1897 for a company named Faben.

Since then, aspirin has become the “wonder drug” of the 20th century, and today its usage and importance continues to grow, lately taking on curative effects for heart disease and cancer.

Not all is rosy. The documentary A Bitter Pill presents us with the ugly story of how a major drug and pharmaceutical company joined hands with the Nazis and Hitler to blackball a Jewish scientist, largely responsible for creating aspirin. Their strategy works until today.

Arthur Eichengrun was Faben’s most important chemist and he oversaw a group of young workers, but the German company fell into the propaganda hands of Hitler. The big lie took hold and Eichengrun was erased and deleted from all records. He was not even allowed into a museum where aspirin was touted as a great “German” invention.

Worse yet, though Eichengrun invented many other important chemical effects, he never complained about being ignored over his work on aspirin. Then, the Nazis came to power and arrested him.

There in a concentration camp, he was recognized as an important German and given “preferred” treatment. He survived but had to swallow the bitter pill that others took credit for his work.

Faben executives were put on trial as Nazi collaborators and found guilty. It was not much solace to Eichengrun who survived life in a Nazi death camp where everyone around him died. Faben turned itself into Bayer aspirin—and went on to make billions of dollars around the world.

Today the crypto-Nazis running Bayer in Germany still refuse to acknowledge the creator of the aspirin. As many in America have learned, the big lie may survive them all: there was no Holocaust, and aspirin was created by a non-Jewish scientist.

You may feel some outrage over this, and then again, you may be a Trump supporter where the crypto-Nazi policies today are still at work. Those types hate this movie.

 

 

 

Westworld Grand Finale, Season 2

DATELINE:  Who knows?

 ben barnes.JPG

 Back in the Saddle Again!

If you expect us to save your sorry series Westworld, you are barking up the wrong portal.

The Mighty Jonathan Nolan has struck out, and there is no joy in Westworld 2.

Anyone who can explain what happened is a false prophet.

The season finale ran about ninety minutes, an epic of sorts in which Westworld turned into John Wayne’s Alamo. Yes, we might conclude that everyone died at the end. However, HBO has signed up for Season 3,  which may be ready in a couple of years, and by then we expect that loose ends will mean that more than a few cast members will cut loose.

Those who have long-term contracts may be back. Alas, your favorite’s fate may rest on the volume of fan mail that demands a return.

We thought for a moment we were returning to prequel-land where Ben Barnes as Logan, now an android, runs Westworld. However, there were more endings on this series finale than you might find in a Steven Spielberg movie.

No writer or producer wanted to end this thing.

William, aka Billy, turns out to be Billy Pilgrim. Yes, we expect that madman Ed Harris’s character will make a full recovery, and we expect that technicians will selectively pick from among the hosts all your favorite characters for re-programming.

We think too that in the chaotic confusion that a few other characters revealed themselves to be hosts, not human guests.

Of course, you can never be sure on this loony-tune series that what you saw is what actually happened.

Beware of those who tell you what really happened. Only Jonathan Nolan knows, and he isn’t telling.

 

Damnable Damrell’s Fire

DATELINE: Great Boston Fire

 Boston's Great Fire 1872 Fire.

Boston nearly burned to the ground one year after the Great Chicago Fire. Damrell’s Fire is an extraordinary documentary, partly for the realistic animation and non-sensational approach to the subject matter. It succinctly presents the issues, the problems, the solutions, in a fast-moving 50 minutes.

No movie was made about the Boston conflagration because Chief John S. Damrell, despite opposition from political Brahmins, saved the city from calamity in 1872.

Damrell was a man from the people. His father and grandfather were firefighters—and he was not rich, nor a member of the aristocracy of the Athens of America.

He was merely a man who studied fire science and applied pragmatic strategies to a firestorm. He argued against using gunpowder to blow up buildings, noting that it made for more kindling and swifter moving flames.

For years he warned the city of Boston that its water pipes were too narrow, and there was not enough energy to reach upper stories. He railed against building codes and mansard roofs. Yet, the City snobs thought they already had the best fire department in the nation.

It took idiocy of politicians, yet again, to wake the country up to the reasons the urban areas were becoming tinderboxes.

Boston put him under the microscope after the fire, only reluctantly acknowledging his hands-on insights were years ahead of assorted commissioners who were political hacks.

Damrell did not win accolades easily. His resignation was eventually forced by powerful enemies, though he best recommendations were adopted.

Boston’s Great Fire deserves one of the best documentaries and receives it.

 

 

 

Man in Orange: Cottage in Oil

DATELINE: Parallel Stories or Tag Teams?

cast that never appears together

Cast actually never appears together.

Not to be confused with dull plotting, Man in an Orange Shirt is a Masterpiece PBS drama.

The film is a complex examination of gay life across 60 years with a focus on two generations: the post-World War II veterans, and the modern 21st century.  If there is any relief here, it is that this is not your typical gay story about randy American teenagers, charging out of closets.

However, the angst spreads over the decades. The older generation keeps a stiff upper lip and sucks in their tears, whereas the contemporary gay men let it all out. The tale is about a gay banker and his artist lover, separated by social convention and a wife in the 1940s. His grandson is also in the closet with a different inability to be monogamous, and never knew about his grandfather.

The stories share Vanessa Redgrave as the difficult grandmother, a painting of the man in an orange shirt, and a remote love-nest cottage, shared by the two divergent generations.

Suffering seems to be hereditary in this tale. Vanessa Redgrave took the role because her father, Michael Redgrave, was gay. She understood the sturm und drang in the script.

The cast includes Redgrave, Julian Sands in the modern tale, with Laura Carmichael (of Downton Abbey), and James McArdle in the past. As always, you have the best actors in the field, unlike American gay casts of beauty pageant boys.

Since England has been about 50 years ahead of the United States on the subject of homosexuality, it seems to have smaller moments of fraught tension. Young men forced themselves into a bisexual mold, whether it fit or not, in the old days.

Today’s gay men must fight to be faithful, and open relationships appear to be compromises that make for overwrought drama.

This is not your teenage gay disco dolly gay movie. Thank heavens.

Is Anybody Out There?

DATELINE:  Phone Home!

SETI@home No Robots Need Apply!

When we ask if anybody is out there, it sounds as if we are wondering whether anybody actually reads these blogs. Some may say that our outreach indicates there is no intelligent life behind the message.

The question and answer is somewhat bigger. A documentary about intelligent life in the universe raises some traditional questions about whether we humans are alone in the universe, and it runs through the SETI organization for the most part.

In case you have been hiding from ET, SETI is the acronym for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. It sounds like an oxymoron, not an acronym.

We don’t even have intelligent life in college faculties, let alone the entire planet.

The hour-long recap of info deals with the Drake Formula and the Fermi Paradox. One tells us how many intelligent planets there could be in the Milky Way (only a fraction of the universe), and the Fermi pessimism stated that all intelligent life forms have come and gone by now. We are indeed all alone.

If there is one point of interest from the doc, it is that there is something out there called SETI@home, which is a means that all of us, everyday idiots, can scan the skies for a phone call from ALF.

In 2010 Stephen Hawking warned against trying to reach out and touch an alien. SETI dismisses that idea.

We noticed on the application form that robots are not allowed to join SETI@home.

We prefer not to have furry aliens living in our garage, or mind-controlling our children, but it would break up the monotony of daily existence for the vast majority of intelligence-challenged humans.

You should watch this little science kindergarten show-and-tell because education has to start somewhere.

 

 

Origins of Lone Ranger, Tonto, & Silver

DATELINE: Hi-ho, Hi-yo!

tonto  Jay Silverheels

When you tie together the first 3 episodes of the 1949 TV show The Lone Ranger, you have an early TV movie. Indeed, some years ago, the producers edited these extraordinary moments into a short film. Sometimes it is called Enter the Lone Ranger, or Origin of the Lone Ranger.

The latest edit is called The Lone Ranger Story, answering all your questions, according to the narrator.

You have to guess which one of the six Texas Rangers is, in fact, the one who survives a terrorist attack by a Manson-style gang. You never see his face until he dons the mask. He cannot put on the mask until his face heals.

On top of that, he will presume to be dead, making an empty grave for himself. He is a ghostly vision of revenge against lawlessness. He rises from the dead after three days in a near coma.

His faithful companion, Tonto, bleaches his hat white as a symbol of his new identity. He cuts a mask from the vest of the Ranger’s dead brother.

You see him crawling to a spring to save himself, but only when his childhood friend Tonto appears is the Ranger likely to survive to another day. As the narrator states: “He was a fabulous individual.” He was indeed a walking fable.

In case you forgot, the Masked Man is rich: he owns a silver mine—and takes his payment from that. He also casts silver bullets: another symbol of justice, never to be used on another person. He will hand them out like calling cards. He wears Tonto’s ring around his neck.

And, to finish the silver motif, he finds a white stallion of great indomitable spirit with whom he bonds. Hi-yo, my goodness!

The film is old, simplistic, and utterly charming with the exciting William Tell Overture as a musical background. Clayton Moore’s baritone is authoritative, and Jay Silverheels is the ultimate in noble savage. The horse ain’t bad neither.

What a treat from the thrilling days of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger rides again. Oh, you, Kemo Sabe.

Coke & Pepsi: 100 Years of Marketing War

DATELINE: Bottoms Up!

cola

Well, it’s not exactly the War of the Roses. You might be surprised at the back and forth of the fates and fights of the two soda pop giants. A documentary entitled Coke and Pepsi: the Marketing Battle of the Century offers to eliminate your six-pack with caloric intake.

It seems like much ado, full of sound and fury but signifies billions of dollars and millions of lives over the empty bottles, cans, and soda fountain glasses.

Many factoids emerge from their origins in the time after the United States Civil War. Coca-Cola arose in the 1880s out of battle scarred Georgia, and a few years later in South Carolina, you had the birth of the purer Pepsi. Coke was originally laced with cocaine, long-since discontinued. Both were overly laced with sugar.

Both started small:  like six ounces in a bottle, not like today’s mega-drinks that are three times the size and deadly to the human diet and nearly a diabetic shock in one swallow.

In the 1930s, Pepsi made great strides by selling itself at half the price of Coke. It became the drink of poor people and disadvantaged Americans and reinvented itself as the drink of the elite.

The Colas are as political as you might expect. They created marketing: red and blue ribbons of their banners. Santa Claus drank Coke. And, Coke was the patriotic American thirst-quencher. It was a staple of World War II and had to be discontinued in the Third Reich (where Coca-Cola became Fanta for the duration).

TV appeals and musical ditties permeated the 1950s: you are who you chose to drink with. When Joan Crawford became Pepsi’s spokesperson, Bette Davis drank Coke.

Nixon drank Pepsi and tried to force it down the Russian throats. But Coke went for the Red Chinese market.

When health fanatics became their enemy in the 21st century, the colas teamed up against the political forces of the health industry and the diet Puritans.

Which tasted better? Which one shot itself in the foot and became a classic? Which one is more akin to rot your gut? This documentary may be for you if you want to learn the answers.

 

 

Experience’s Billy the Kid

DATELINE: Westworld for Real

when billy

When PBS tackles Billy the Kid (a moniker if ever there was), you have something tantamount to Fox News covering Donald Trump. Yes, Americans have a thing for serial killers and serial idiots.

You probably can find a gulf of differences between Trump and Bonney, but they are under the skin self-styled self-important American icons. One was rich and one was poor, but both saw themselves as Robin Hood. They took what they wanted.

For the second season premiere of American Experience, the show decided to do a one-hour special on the Kid. This is a distinct disadvantage in a visual age when there is but one recognized photo of Billy. We see it ad nauseum.

Don’t look for clips from your favorite Billy movie because this is a real history documentary. They eschew Audie Murphy, Emilio Estevez, and Robert Taylor, all of whom epitomized what the experts talk about in movies made a generation or two ago.

And, the show trots out the usual so-called experts on the West, all of whom now see Billy as a kindred spirit to the mistreated Mexicans and Navaho. Yes, he is a civil rights champion.

Billy picked up Spanish language quickly. He had a good ear, but the rest of his face was wanting. However, these experts show us the face of an ugly adolescent and call him “handsome.” You know you are not in Kansas, but in Lincoln County.

The episode also sets the Range War as a version of the War of the Roses: you have Irish immigrants versus British aristocrats with a hired army of mercenaries, including Billy fighting against his own Irish roots.

The legend escaped, but the boy was gunned down in a notorious bedroom shooting. No one mentions whether he was sleeping with a girlfriend, or boyfriend. He was a cop killer with bad press. Like Trump, he decided what law enforcement he approved and called his media following biased.

The short bio dismisses much in an effort to stay on target. Their target was out of range before this so-called documentary started.

Dr. William Russo is author of the historical fiction, When Billy the Kid Met Ben Hur, which examines the Kid’s relationship to Governor Lew Wallace.

 

 

 

 

Beyond JFK and Inside Fake Docudrama

DATELINE: Streaming Availability

beyond

Okay, yeah, we admit it.

We skipped the film Beyond JFK back in 1992 because it seemed to be nothing more than a shill and marketing tool for Oliver Stone’s new movie, JFK.  We cannot say we were wrong. We can say we’re glad we watched the 90-minute film now.

Indeed, the documentary is still billed as a nonfiction version of the Stone film. Hunh?

If you want to believe that, you first must push through the interviews with actors like Kevin Costner (Garrison) or Ed Asner (Guy Bannister) or Walter Matthau (Russell Long) or Gary Oldman (Oswald). Whatever do they know about the assassination?

Of course, Oliver Stone Himself treats his script like Stone Tablets from the mount.

You would be surprised to learn that there are plenty of interesting, seldom seen interviews with the real people who were part of that notorious day in 1963.

Jim Garrison gives a deathbed interview, filmed literally on his deathbed, looking quite ill. Marina Oswald talks about her husband in retrospect, and Lyndon Johnson’s mistress for many years gives her insights.

Those moments are startling and genuine reason to watch this concoction of theory and history. Tom Wicker puts it to you early on: who should you trust—the journalists of history or the Hollywood version? Ike Pappas of CBS News narrates, and he too was there.

In an age of fake news, we are not exactly ready to dismiss movie insights because it’s transitory film. The documentary raises the same points of the movie but does it better.

Dated as it is, nearly 26 years later, you can still guffaw at those who think the issue will be solved in 5 days once the secret reports are released. Well, Trump released many—and nothing was solved.

The documentary keeps referring to a linkage between Oswald, Ruby, Clay Shaw, Dave Ferrie, Perry Russo, J. Edgar Hoover, etc., but never states what it is. Well, we know what it is: for some or all of their lives, they were gay. That point may be totally irrelevant, or merely the social glue to explain American politics.

Keeping that detail secret remains both illuminating and damning.

 

Dr. William Russo wrote Booth & Oswald, examining their educational training as it related to their future role as assassins. Available on Amazon.com.