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.

Not Touched by an Angel: Dr. John E. Mack

DATELINE: Taken by Space Aliens

touched

A dozen years ago a little documentary was released by Laurel Chiten. She took on the work of psychiatrist John Mack, formerly of Harvard Medical School.

He was the doctor who started to examine alien abduction as psychological condition.  And, he found that it was not pathological in any way except after the fact. Touched is a short film about the work of the pioneering psychiatrist, made a dozen years ago.

Mack was dismissed by Harvard, of course, a place that had experts and professors examining angels, demons, and devils, but drew the line at space aliens. It seems Mack refused to throw his patients under the bus and claim they were koo-koo birds. The situation is related to sleep paralysis, a pathological condition worth consideration.

The documentary looks at a handful of cases, two in depth: a man and a woman who said the paralyzing visits began in their early years and continued through young adulthood.

A corresponding psychologist in Brazil also allowed several of her patients to explain their situations.

They all insist that a light of some sort burrowed into their heads and made them pliable to your classic little gray men or insect-like creatures that used them for breeding purposes, against their wills.

They describe involuntary capture, painful testing, and physical abuse by the extra-terrestrials. However, we aren’t really sure who or what these creatures may be.

You have a large segment of the populace with disturbing experiences, which some scientists would like to dismiss as the hallucination of sexually abused children.

Mack took a more sympathetic approach and came to appreciate the suffering and normality of the victims, apart from being singled out by some larger, more powerful force.

Intriguing even years after the fact, Mack is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer and important medical figure on the periphery of the entire extra-terrestrial debate.

 

 

 

The Nightmare Alleged Documentary

DATELINE:  Nod off Elm Street

nightmare

We find the subject of sleep paralysis fascinating, having experienced it as a small child. The experience was so frightful that we recall every minor detail and our fear.

So, of course, a documentary on the topic would be illuminating and helpful. This is not the film for that. The Nightmare from 2015 is a snooze-fest.

No wit, no snide comments, no satiric barbs, could help us review this atrocity. Anything that makes it remotely interesting is a disservice on our part.

Rather than give bad reviews to films, we usually ignore a movie and move on to other, more interesting efforts. However, this particular film is probably the worst one we have encountered in many years. We cannot allow it to pass without notice.

The filmmaker uses no experts. He cites no authorities, and he puts together a cheap horror movie on the fly, pretending to be something more. He may be good enough to pull this off.

With a minor sample size of eight individuals, none of whom appears remotely professional, intelligent, and only recently drug-free, he allows them to mumble on and on about the sleep paralysis they suffered.

They strike us as rejects from a casting call for Friends. It looks like millennial night at karaoke. If you want your audience to empathize, make sure they do not deviate from the narrow profile for your demographic appeal. What a bunch of losers.

Intersperse these accounts with cheap theatrical shadow figures and worse animation to indicate neurological turmoil.

You won’t believe a word of these “actors” giving an audition for the director who knows what a profitable movie looks like.

Terrible. A disservice to the subject.

Unsolved History: Reel History & Massacres

 DATELINE:  Crockett & Crispus

Massacre Boston Massacre

The old muckraker TV documentary series used highest technology to examine traditional history stories. For three seasons it provided some gems of research, original and incisive.

In the first season, Unsolved History tackled two major icons of American history:  Davy Crockett and Crispus Attucks on separate shows. You could not go against political correctness more than to try to tarnish the reputations of these legends.

Crockett died at the Alamo, and Attucks was killed in the Boston Massacre. One fought to the end, and one led the American Revolution. Unsolved History said, “Not so fast.”

Each contributed to building the American character of hero. And, Unsolved History questioned the notion that Crockett did not fight to the end but was executed like a criminal by General Santa Ana. Attucks, a former slave, did not lead the unarmed protestors against the British and was not the first man killed in the American Revolution, but a background figure.

The controversies, as always, were always hosted by resident historian Daniel A. Martinez, on the spot, glossing the facts.

Testing a Mexican officer’s manuscript as witness to the end of the Alamo and using satellite imagery to verify the Mexican army’s route to the Alamo, you had an interesting use of science.

In Boston, they re-created the acoustic noise of gunfire in a riot with studio sound systems and fired replica British muskets at melons to determine bullet damage. Paul Revere’s famous print is quite inaccurate.

In both cases, you had an unpopular notion that the Mexicans and British were not completely the bad guys but acted as people under duress.

Host Martinez goes a long way to suggest the heroes are not lessened by determining a different angle to their stories. And, it is fascinating business to see how science changes the past.

 

 

 

 

70 Years After Roswell

DATELINE: Happy Anniversary, Aliens70 years later Major Coverup of What Exactly?

You might shrug this off as just another rehash documentary, with the usual gaggle of conspiracy theorists. Nick Redfern is most notable of the experts here.

Yes, it may be low key and low budget, but the film is straight-forward and wants to cover aspects of the notorious UFO crash that started the phenomenon that has grown into Ancient Aliens and extra-terrestrials as a cottage industry.

A fresh look with basic honesty is always refreshing, and you will have it here.

And, still we found it illuminating despite being shown that all-so-familiar newspaper headlines about the flying disc recovered by the military that was retracted within a day.

The documentary analysis takes each chunk of the story in hand. A few explanations may surprise: not the tales of witnesses being threatened, but that some of the early participants, including one military officer, started the Roswell UFO Museum.

Of all the startling bits, we were most bowled over by the fact that the producers were not allowed to fly over the crash site with a drone by the military. Seventy years later, they don’t want you to see a 30-foot gash in the ground.

The other eye-opener was the notion that the government actually had disabled “volunteers” on a craft that crashed, and they wanted to hide the human guinea pig concept.

Also, people became ill in Lincoln County shortly after the crash, which was considered cholera, but might have been radiation poison.

The 45-minute film is worth every moment of your attention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Waters: The Filthy World Auteur

 DATELINE:  Standup for Smuttiness

young waters, old warhol Young Waters, Old Warhol

About ten years ago, John Waters filmed one of his so-called lectures on a college campus, but it’s more like social media commentary about porn in the modern age done as standup comedy. It’s now streaming:  John Waters: The Filthy World.

He emerges on a live stage to chat with the audience, stepping from a Catholic Church confessional to stand amid garbage cans and bouquets of flowers. Yes, it is pure John Waters, director of Hairspray (an all-family movie) to ultimate disgust (Female Trouble).

Even before an audience of alleged cult fans, he is too smart for them. He mentions how he’d like a tattoo of Joseph Losey on his arm—and the rapt audience is unwrapped in silence. Losey is one of the titans of directors. Who knew? Not this audience.

Indeed, when Waters discusses the invention of “tea-bagging” in one of his movies, audience members of young men look most unhappy, like they were sold a bill of goods.

Not so much funny as appalling in bad taste, he argues for all-Lesbian army soldiers, and discusses Michael Jackson’s spotted private junk.

He tells many stories about the overwrought Divine, the man behind the Hairspray star turn. No one else could epitomize Miss Edna.

Waters notes how he used to go to children’s movies, but mothers always moved the kids away from him, thinking he looked like a perv. He said he isn’t.

One of his long-time hobbies is to attend court proceedings of famous or notorious cases, especially in his hometown of Baltimore, where he proudly defends the nation’s ugliest people.

Having worked with an eclectic group as actors in his movies—the likes of Patty Hearst, Traci Lords, Sonny Bono, and Johnny Depp, he has tales about all of them.

He started out as a guerilla filmmaker and has become the Establishment outre star.

 

 

 

Tesla is for the Birds!

DATELINE:  File Under Pigeon

Uncle Trump

Yes, Nikola Tesla loved his pigeons in New York City and Central Park. He observed them, fed them, and even took in ill pigeons to bring them back to health. He had a portrait taken of his favorite dirty bird.

All this sounds like something for the koo-koo birds, but Tesla was nothing of the sort. Apparently, he was studying the ability of homing pigeons to reach far destinations.

Later scientists wanted to build on Tesla’s bird-brain work by using homing pigeon ability to direct guided missles.

Once again, the Tesla Files turns out to be a pleasant and informative surprise package.

In his dotage, Nikola was still able to use the New Yorker Hotel as a communications tower to the universe.  Yes, the show finally goes where all History Channel series end up:  at the foot of the Majestic-12, that shadowy government agency created after Roswell. Tesla was calling home for ET.

The government was roosting in adjacent hotel rooms in the 1940s, waiting for Tesla to die in order to raid his research notes and confiscate plans for a death ray.

For all those years in the New Yorker Hotel, Tesla kept a hidden laboratory near the top of the building, nestled in a corner where he could commune with the birds.

By 1947, Tesla was dead for five years—and nitwits like John G. Trump had fronted the notion that the man was a crackpot.

Trump family insights are genetically dumb.

However, MJ-12 wanted the dead legend’s boxes of research material sent to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where dead alien carcasses from Roswell were allegedly stored.

Whatever was up, it is fascinating to behold. The series continues to defy us with its insights.

 

 

Tesla Paranoia Grows on Tesla Files

DATELINE: History Channel Series

 Old Man Tesla Old Man Tesla!

The conspiracy theory is not just in old man Nikola Tesla’s mind during his last decades. It’s clearly in the brains of the series stars and producers, as the Tesla Files moves closer to other conspiracy theory shows on History Channel.

We expect a guest appearance from Bob Baer and the guys over at Oak Island next.

In this week’s thrilling episode, one of the researchers rides in an original Tesla car while the other watches. Neither is allowed to drive it.

They also don military camo-fatigues and fly in an Osprey based on Tesla’s designs. We are meant to be thrilled for them.

Our intrepid researchers seem to be working in this show for Tesla biographer Marc Seidel. No one told him that they’re the stars of the show. So, he meets with a government leaker and discovers that there was a mole among Nikola Tesla’s research friends.

Yes, someone named Bloyce Fitzgerald, an MIT student during WW2, befriended Tesla in New York and was feeding the Office of Strategic Service all kinds of info on Tesla experiments. That was the proto-CIA.

Indeed, Bloyce will be bloys and may have helped organize the raid on Tesla’s New Yorker Hotel room, taking all those missing files at the moment the old man croaked. President Trump’s fake news uncle is featured prominently here.

Our researchers have a fascinating detail, but don’t seem to do much with the info—except cluck over it.

Doc Travis Taylor does give himself credit for suggesting that the entire New Yorker Hotel was a replacement for Wardenclyffe—and was in and of itself a giant communication device.

We are either heading toward a death ray weapon created by Tesla in the 1920s and 1930s, or we have cross-purposes and cross-pollinate with Ancient Aliens and end up with Martian communications via the Nazi Bell on next season’s Hunt for Hitler.

Stay tuned as the research heads back to the New Yorker next time. We expect to hear that Tesla and Orson Welles co-produced the radio broadcast of War of the Worlds.

Ancient Aliens Between Rock & Hard Place

DATELINE:  Geo Giorgio! 

Ramy  Ramy!

Episode 13.5 of Ancient Aliens dealt with 10,000 year old geoglyphs, or large (we mean big) desert drawings.

You thought the Nazcar lines were the ultimate, but they are merely the tip of the rock berg. With satellite photos now mapping the world in detail, you can find these no-longer unique stones all around the world from South America to the United States to the Middle East.

Iraqi walls extend from Syria to Saudi Arabia, hundreds of geometric shapes made 10,000 years ago. There are 400 at last count, but the onerous narrator intones that this is “astonishing” not moments after mentioning that some of these are about 10,000 years old. Ancient Aliens always has its cake and its plenty too.

The big geoglyphs are king-size versions of petroglyphs, swirling designs on smaller boulders. They now are finding even more of these creations by using HD cameras.

Of course, one of the over-excitable guests insists these were made by ancient alien civilizations to alert us of an important connection. Apparently, they could not leave the message on a CD.

They locate one design called the Cosmic Egg, which may be a code like semaphore. Those giant aliens felt we needed simple, cartoon-like messages or we may miss the message.

Ancient Aliens also points out that there is a rocky parrot design on the surface of Mars, matching a particular dirty bird on Earth in 17 points.

This week’s heart throb is Ramy Romany, who makes Giorgio look like Rocky the Flying Squirrel.

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient Aliens: 13.4, Paint It Black

 DATELINE: Holes in the Plot

kaku Kaku Bird!

The latest fascinating episode in the series of Ancient Aliens theorizes that black holes, not gravitational ones, are all around the Earth as electro-magnetic portals.

The episode is entitled “Earth’s Black Holes,” and it hints that we may have had secret openings to pass through time and space right here on this planet, both on land and under sea.

Vortexes may be at the center of the dimension-shift, as in the Bermuda Triangle.

Heaven knows what can come and go through these doors to somewhere. Though the episode did not suggest paranormal, they were about two steps away.

Regular David Childress went on a re-enacting plane trip with a man who claims in 1970 he entered one of these electrical storm tunnels and was accelerated 2000 miles per hour in his little airplane to his destination. They hit turbulence, but don’t re-stage a trip through the Bermuda Triangle.

Dozens of black hole portals can be found, according to Ancient Alien theorists, all along the southern hemisphere and in certain countries. They even suggest that Moses was taken away for forty days atop Mount Sinai.

More recently, a young man from Deerfield, Mass., was gone for fourteen months—and returned with amnesia from his disappearing act.

We particularly enjoyed seeing one of our favorites, Dr. Michio Kaku, the notable scientist, joining the usual birds of a feather to offer his insights. He has legit and real credentials but noted that the line between science fiction and science fact may be thinner than you’d expect.

The latest season has had some boffo episodes, and this one joins the list.

 

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.