Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Five Films for Halloween

looking for a scary movie to watch on Halloween? Here are my suggestions. Many will disagree with this list and have a list of their own but that is okay. Everyone has their favorites. I like these because they are not just scary, they are incredibly well-made films.

Fascination with this film continues, as the upcoming “Hitchcock”, about the making of “Psycho”, attests.

Hitchcock’s films of the Fifties, “North by Northwest” or “The Man Who Knew Too Much” or “Rear Window”, even “Vertigo” were in color, featured name stars and were very slick. Psycho was completely different: it was in black and white, had only one real name star, Janet Leigh, and was truly ‘jump-out-of-your-seat’ frightening. The ‘shower scene’ of course was frightening but subsequent scenes were equally so. When the chair turns around with Norman’s ‘mother’ in it, I jumped.

The film works because everything about it works: the pacing, editing, mood and of course the performances: Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam and of course Anthony Perkins. Without Perkins’ Norman, “Psycho’ wouldn’t be “Psycho”.

“The Shining”
Jack Nicholson – “Here’s Johnny”- what else needs to be said? Well, maybe a little. Stanley Kubrick was a masterful filmmaker and he knew how to take Steven King’s novel and make it truly frightening. By eliminating the supernatural elements that King included in the novel, and focusing on Nicholson’s character’s insanity it becomes even scarier.

“The Exorcist”
William Friedkin did include the supernatural and this truly is a horror film, not just a scary one: it shocks, scares and horrifies. While the special effects make the film visibly frightening, it is the sexual undertone to the film that disturbs us and makes those visual effects so powerful; that the sexual suggestion is so potent and Reagan (Linda Blair) is a prepubescent girl. Is there a more upsetting scene than the Crucifix scene?

“Rosemary’s Baby”
There is not just sexual undertone in “Rosemary’s Baby”; it is blatant including the midnight rape of Rosemary (Mia Farrow) by a being that just might be Satan. Roman Polanski is a master at creating tension by giving us the feeling that there is always something abnormal beneath the guise of normality. What is unsettling is that we are constantly guessing: is Rosemary crazy or is there something going on? What is just around the corner, what is in the next room, when will the shoe drop?
I saw Polanski’s first film “Knife in the Water” recently. The elements that he would use over and over in his later films, including “Rosemary’s Baby” are all there: the appearance of ordinariness, but with a knowing suspicion that something is not right; that something is about to happen but you are not sure what.

When I saw the film in 1968 my little folk-music trio, “The Happy Folk” was in California in search of fame and fortune (that didn’t work out, maybe it was the dumb name of the group). One day we had gone out on the Santa Monica Pier and for laughs stopped in a fortune teller’s booth to have our fortunes told. As we were leaving the booth the woman asked if we had seen “Rosemary’s Baby” and we said no but that we planned to. To which she replied that it is an evil movie. I remember she kept saying it over and over, it is an evil movie. That was creepy particularly to our female singer whose name was also Rosemary.

This film created the summer blockbuster and still has some of the scariest scenes in movies. What makes the film work are the spaces between the fright scenes that are quite ordinary. That ordinariness lulls you so that when the shark attacks the boat, for instance, you are not prepared and have one of those jump-in-your-seat moments.

That’s it, five of my picks for a scary movie to watch on Halloween.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

“Shun Li and the Poet” - review

“Shun Li and the Poet” is a beautiful film and a beautiful love story directed by Andrea Segre and showing during the upcoming Starz Denver Film Festival.

Shun Li is a Chinese woman living in Italy. She is for all intents and purposes an indentured slave. She is working as a seamstress to pay off a Chinese broker who brought her to Italy (in search of a better life, we assume) and to earn enough money to have her 8-year old son brought to join her.

Zhao Tao as Shun Li is iridescent and deservedly won the Italian Oscar for her performance in this 2011 Italian film.

After working as a seamstress her boss/broker sends her to a small fishing village near Venice to work in an ‘osteria’ as a bartender. Bepi (Rade Sherbedgia), also called ‘the Poet’ by his friends has been coming to the bar for years. A Slav by birth he has been a fisherman in the village but is now ‘retired’.

Shun Li and Bepi find a gentle bond and friendship. They are both ‘immigrants’: she Chinese and he Slavic living in Italy. They both had fathers who were fishermen and both are lonely: he is widowed and somewhat alienated from his son and she is alone in a foreign land where she speaks little of the language and had to leave her son behind in China (we don't know anything about her husband or the father of her son).

Poetry also creates a bond: She is taken with a Chinese poet and celebrates a Festival of the Poets; he has a facility with rhymes.

Their poignant love story unfolds until prejudice and hate complicate it: a conflict between the local Italians and the Chinese expatriates.

This is a lyrical film that moves at its own pace. It is also a beautiful film to look at. The cinematography (Luca Bigazzi) superbly supports the mood and feel of the film. Sometimes the color is flat, almost atonal; at other times, particularly when the sun is low and Shun Li and Bepi are quietly sharing each others company, rich and warm.

This is one of those films that you will likely not get another chance to see in a theatre. See it at the Festival, which starts Thursday, November 1. It screens three times: Tuesday, Nov. 6 at 7pm and Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 7pm and 9pm.

Interestingly, one of the films I liked very much from last year’s Festival also was about an Asian woman living in Europe: “Yukiko” has a Japanese woman trying to make her way in Paris.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Barrymore, Plummer, Ken Howard and actor stories

“Barrymore”. According to the Hollywood Reporter, this film starring Christopher Plummer as the great actor will open in the US in November. The film is based on a play by William Luce for which Plummer won a Tony 1997. While the film is scheduled for a more than Oscar-Qualifying release, it seems clear that there is some expectation that Plummer as John Barrymore has a shot at an Oscar nomination and thus part of the reason for the timing of the release. Plummer, of course, won a 2012 Best-Supporting Oscar for the film “Beginners”.

To qualify for Oscar consideration a motion picture must screen commercially for at least a week in Los Angeles and Manhattan. Openings are currently scheduled around the country but at this time none in Colorado.

The film, directed by Erik Canuel, is Canadian (as is Plummer) and was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011. It was filmed using numerous HD cameras during a 30-day revival of the play in early 2011 at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto.
It is in essence a one-man show. Set in 1942 (the year of Barrymore’s death) Plummer as Barrymore is preparing for a backers-audition to raise money for a revival of his 1920 Broadway triumph in “Richard III”.

Plummer is one of the great actors of our time as John Barrymore was of his. The difference is that Plummer is fit and still at the top of his game at 82 and Barrymore had basically destroyed his career and his life with the ravages of his life of excess and died at 60.

Barrymore of the great profile was part of the great theatrical dynasties, which included his brother Lionel and sister, Ethel Barrymore and his granddaughter, Drew.
Actor stories about Barrymore abound. Some may be true, some not, but who cares, they are great stories. My favorite Barrymore story: he was speaking to a group of high school drama students when one young girl in the group sheepishly asked if he thought Romeo and Juliet had carnal knowledge of one another. Barrymore thought for a moment, then replied – “In the Chicago company they did.”

I love actor stories regardless of their origin. I heard one this weekend from Ken Howard, one of the Co-Presidents of our newly merged union, SAG-AFTRA.

Ken told of the time that he was preparing to do a production of “Man of La Mancha”. He had a phone call from the wonderful Howard Keel. Keel said that he had heard that Ken was going to do La Mancha and would Ken have breakfast with him; keel had played Don Quixote himself numerous a times and would like to give him some advice. Ken agreed. They met for breakfast and Keel provided lots of advice and then finally came to what he thought was the most important piece of advice: “Some time during the run,” Keel said, “probably during previews, you need to take the actor playing Sancho Panza outside to the front of the theatre, point up to the marquee and note that the title of the play is “Man of La Mancha”, not “Sancho Panza.”

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Whale Writer Wins Whiting

Samuel D. Hunter, author of the remarkable “The Whale” is one of four playwrights to win a Whiting Writers Award, this year. The awards are given annually to ten emerging writers in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and plays by the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation. This is the first time that four of the ten have been playwrights. This years awards were given Tuesday and consist of a $50,000 stipend each - a lot of help for an emerging writer.

“The Whale” had its world premiere last January with a production by the Denver Center Theatre Company. Hunter first wrote the script in 2009 but continued to fine-tune it. That process came to completion at the Colorado New Play Summit in Denver. DCTC scheduled it for its 2011-2012 season.

When I saw it last winter, I was dumbstruck. It is an amazing script but it also featured an amazing performance by Tom Alan Robbins as the central character, Charlie – the whale. Charlie is well over 500 pounds (the actor wore a fat suit) and living out the last days of his life.

I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like the play, and frankly had some trepidation about it: sitting for two and half hours watching an obese man eating himself to death?

Boy was I wrong. The play was funny and sad, disturbing and strangely hopeful.

Hunter is one of a new generation of promising writers for the stages. His other plays include “A Bright New Boise” (which earned him a 2011 Obie Award for Playwriting and a 2011 Drama Desk Nomination for Best Play), “A Permanent Image”, “Jack’s Precious Moment”, “Five Genocides”,and his most recent play, “The Few”. He has active commissions from Seattle Rep, South Coast Rep, Manhattan Theater Club, and Lincoln Center. In 2013, he will be a resident playwright at Arena Stage. He is a graduate of NYU, the Iowa Playwrights Workshop, and Julliard. A native of northern Idaho, Mr. Hunter lives in New York City.

Candidates for The Whiting Award are proposed by nominators from across the country whose experience and vocations bring them in contact with individuals of extraordinary talent. Winners are chosen by a selection committee, a small group of recognized writers, literary scholars, and editors, appointed annually by the Foundation. Both nominators and selectors serve anonymously.

The Award and Foundation is named for Mrs. Giles Whiting. She was the daughter of Louis Ettlinger, who owned the Crowell, Collier Publishing Company. In 1899, she married Giles Whiting an architect and designer. At the time of her death in 1971 she had set aside $10 Million for the foundation. The Foundation began giving the awards in 1985.

“The Whale” is an example of why new and exciting work must be developed. Production by theatre companies of the classics and old favorites is important, but new work must constantly be fostered or the theatre will become moribund and die. That is why new play workshops and production venues – the Humana Festival in Louisville, KY - are so critical. The Colorado New Play Summit, which helped foster “The Whale” remains an important part of new play development, but I miss its predecessor the US West Theatre Fest of new plays. The loss of corporate sponsorship can have a negative impact on the arts and the disappearance of US West and its corporate sponsorship of this program is an example.

Fortunately in Denver, we also have other, albeit smaller, theatre companies producing and commissioning new work. The Curious Theatre is a prime example of the commitment to new work.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Revitalized McNichols Opens and Moving Library Books

Mayor Michael Hancock cut the ribbon and officially opened the revitalized McNichols Civic Center Building, this morning.

This old/new jewel in Civic Center Park is a great addition to Denver’s cultural scene. The building was originally the Denver Municipal Library and had been made possible through the generosity of Andrew Carnegie – there were Carnegie libraries throughout Colorado – 35 in all – and some of the buildings continue to function as libraries.

The Denver Library opened in 1909 and served as the main public library until 1956 when the new Central Library opened, just across Civic Center Park between 13th and 14th on Broadway.

The building served municipal government purposes into the early 1990s but then was vacant until 2010 when a major remodel was undertaken and the building was used during the Biennial of the Americas, after which the building was again vacant. While some remodeling had occurred that had allowed the temporary use during the Biennial more work needed to be done and a certificate of occupancy could not be issued until that work was accomplished.

That has now been resolved and this oldest of new public cultural and event spaces is again open, and it is spectacular.

The opening of what is now the old Central Library in 1956 involved a rather interesting logistical move: transferring all the books, etc from the Carnegie to the Central. It was accomplished by building a giant conveyor belt all the way across Civic Center Park from the Carnegie Library at Colfax and Bannock to the Central library at 13th and Broadway.

The books were loaded into wooden crates and then set on the conveyor belt. These photos courtesy of the Denver Public Library show the process in 1956. In one photo

you can see the conveyor belt at the Central Library, in the other the belt reaches the upper floors of the backside of Carnegie. You can see one of the wooden crates rolling down the belt.

Three Musketeers - gone and probably forgotten

It's big, it's showy, it has swords...its just okay. I saw The Denver Center Theatre Company’s production of “The Three Musketeers” Friday night in the Space Theatre (it closed Sunday) and left me wanting.

To be sure, the sets by Vicki Smith and costumes by David Kay Mickelsen are quite good – up to the standards expected of DCTC. And Sam Gregory (Count de Rochefort) and John Hutton (Cardinal Richelieu), when they are involved, bring the stage alive with their usual rich performances but the rest of the time everything felt run of the mill – not bad but nothing special. Certainly nothing like what we expect from DCTC productions such as the wonderful “Fences” which also just closed. It was like drinking Vin Ordinaire when you want a Grand Cru Bordeaux.

It’s not just that this is piece of fluff; there is nothing wrong with producing fluff – no one wants a steady diet of Ibsen - it is that it is so ordinary and nothing of the caliber of Alexander Dumas’ novel, the basis for the script.

Not every production succeeds and the failure in my eyes of this production does not in and of itself reflect badly on DCTC. However I am concerned about the overall season-quality over the last few years. The high points are still there from year to year (the aforementioned “Fences”, for instance) but overall the seasons don’t seem to be as challenging and rewarding. DCTC built a reputation and an audience by mounting challenging and rewarding productions – even when those productions might fail.

I know that these are challenging economic times for arts organizations and I know that the diminishment or loss of corporate sponsorship creates additional challenges, but organizations like DCTC must find a way to overcome these obstacles and not lose the reputation and identity they have built. DCTC continues to be unique among Regional Theatres, I want to see it stay that way and its reputation enhanced.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The May Company, Movie Museums and the Colorado Connection

An iconic building in Los Angeles is getting new life as a movie museum. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the folks who bring us Oscar), has met its initial

fund-raising goal of $100 Million to convert the old May, Co. building on Wilshire Boulevard at Fairfax (in the Miracle Mile) into a museum dedicated to the history and ongoing development of motion pictures.

This is a great building, built in 1938 in the Streamline Moderne style. The building is owned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art which will lease the building to the Academy under a 55-year lease with a 55-year option to renew.

The Academy needs to raise an additional $150 Million to complete the project and create an endowment that will support the museum’s operations. Annette Bening and Tom Hanks, co-chair the fundraising effort which began this year. I am proud to note that my union SAG-AFTRA has contributed to this effort (the building is just down the street from the SAG-AFTRA offices). The museum is expected to open in 2016.

Ahh, the May, Co.

The building that will become the movie museum was part of the May, Co chain in southern California. But the May, Co actually got its start in Colorado. It was founded in 1877 by David May in Leadville, CO during the Silver Rush. May moved his headquarters to Denver in 1889. Eventually the company relocated its headquarters to St. Louis, MO in 1905 and then incorporated as the May Department Stores Company.

In 1956 May Company acquires The Daniels & Fisher Company (of the Daniels & Fisher Clock tower on the 16th Street Mall at Arapahoe Street) and becomes the May D&F division of May department stores.

The flag ship May D&F store in Colorado was at 16th Street and Court Place. Built in 1960 on what was then called Courthouse Square or Zeckendorf Plaza it was designed by

noted architect, I.M Pei. It was part of a mixed use complex with a 22 story deluxe hotel with convention facilities, the four story department story, and a public plaza which became an ice-skating rink in the winter. The hotel connected to the department store through a second story pedestrian bridge over Court Place. That is still the case.

When the hotel part of the complex opened in 1961, it was a Hilton. In 1985 it became a Radisson and then in 1995, Fred Kummer bought the hotel and made it part of his Adams Mark chain. Two years later, he demolished the May D&F store and in its place built an addition to the hotel. Kummer sold the property and in 2008 it became a Sheraton.

There was a lot of controversy surrounding Kummer’s ownership of the two buildings, not the least of which was the destruction of the iconic May D&F building.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

George McGovern, a hero of mine.

In addition to being a United States Senator, a candidate for President of the United States, a decorated bomber pilot in World War II, George McGovern was an author. Of particular interest to me is “The Great Coalfield War”, published in 1972. It is about the strike by coalminers in southern Colorado during the winter of 1913-1914. The book is based on McGovern’s 450 page Doctoral Dissertation. I wrote recently, in my post about Alex Karras, about the significant number of Greek Americans that were in Pueblo and southern Colorado in the late 19th and early 20th Century that many were involved in the strike and one, Louis Tikas of Denver, was killed on the day of the Ludlow Massacre.

The Ludlow Massacre was an attack by mine guards and members of the Colorado National Guard on the miner's tent colony at Ludlow, which was just outside the mine property about 10 miles north of Trinidad Colorado. The attack occurred on April 20, 1914. A number of people were killed by the guards including 11 children and 20 women were asphyxiated and burned to death in their tent home.

I met George McGovern a number of times and interviewed him once on the phone and once when he spoke at the University of Southern Colorado (now CSU Pueblo). During one of those meetings I had him autograph my copy of “The Great Coalfield War”. He seemed somewhat surprised that I knew about the book and had a copy. He was very self-effacing. He was also a gracious, ‘gentle’ man who came out of the upper Midwest/prairie populist tradition. Food/Hunger/agriculture and peace were his great passions.

I had been a McGovern delegate to the 1972 Colorado State Democratic Convention. That is when I met Gary Hart for the first time. He was working for McGovern’s campaign. That was a wild time, and of course, McGovern was beaten badly by Richard Nixon. Then came Watergate and I think there were a lot of people who, in hindsight, wish that they had cast their votes differently.

My friend Rick Ridder was working on that campaign as well. Moreover, Rick’s wife Joannie Braden and her parents and siblings were very close to McGovern. Her father Tom and George were very good friends. Tom was the author of “Eight is Enough” which was the basis for the television series. Tom had been in the Office of Strategic Services and later the CIA. He passed away in 2009.

Friday, October 19, 2012

"Girl Model" Trafficking Young Girls from Siberia to Japan

The thirteen, fourteen and fifteen year old girls (some may actually be younger) line up in their skimpy bathing suits, mostly bikinis. There are dozens of them. A badge pinned to the suit has a number on it, so they can be identified by number, if picked. They are almost all rail thin, and some appear to have not completely gone through puberty. Their hips and breasts are those of young girls not young women, for that is what they are, young girls. They wait in line for their turn to stand before the recruiters; to find out whether they will be selected. The process is impersonal, the girls objects that the recruiters eye and evaluate – “her hips are too big, that one is too fat.” In the acting trade this is called a cattle call and that is exactly what this is.

“Girl Model” is a disturbing documentary that delves into the seedy business of underage models. In this case, teenage girls from Siberia are recruited to work as models in Japan. “They like them young in Japan,” one of the recruiters says. “In Japan, you can’t be young enough.” As the girls are being measured, hips, bust, another voice says that the secret of a successful modeling career is to start modeling at 5 to 10 years of age. In a scene later in the film, we see very young girls perhaps 6 or 7 years old demonstrating runway moves at a modeling agency. The image of Jonbenet Ramsay was inescapable.

The film by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin follows Nadya, 13, as she travels, seemingly all alone from her home in Siberia to Tokyo. She has been promised work – at least two modeling jobs in Japan and $8,000.

It is also features Ashley, herself a former model and now a model scout who recruits Nadya. Ashley is ambivalent about the business, clearly aware of the abuses that occur, but she rationalizes it. She has made a lot of money, which perhaps helps the rationalization.

Nadya and her family live in poor circumstances and she hopes her modeling career will help improve their circumstances. She sheepishly calls herself a gray mouse, a country girl. She is pretty but not devastatingly so however there is sweetness to her and something about her draws us to her.

Nadya’s time in Tokyo is not successful. She doesn’t speak the language and though she has a roommate, another girl from Siberia, she is lonely and homesick. The promised jobs are not there and no other jobs materialize. Eventually she returns to Siberia. Not only has she not earned any money, she owes $2,000 for her expenses.

The film documents the exploitation of these girls. Nadya is not unique. The film does not suggest any sexual abuse, but the harsh reality is that this is an abusive business; the girls are abused whether financially, sexually or emotionally.

“Girl Model” peels away the glamorous mask of modeling to reveal some ugliness behind. This is a troubling film but one which should be seen. It opens today (Friday, October 19) at the Denver Film Center, Colfax.

View a Trailer from "Girl Model"

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Abandoned houses; vacant factories; a once-magnificent church now gutted, its grand piano just a shell tipped on its side; a high-rise apartment building with an entire wall missing, the rooms exposed to view: Beautiful images? Not really, but in the new documentary “Detropia” about the crumbling of Detroit, they actually appear hauntingly so. The extraordinary cinematography of Tony Hardmon and Craig Atkinson reminds us that even ruins can appear magnificent and beautiful even as we are aware that they represent a devastated city and ruined lives. It is just one of the things that makes this film so moving and powerful and affects us so in watching it.

The film by Oscar-nominated directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady was shot over eighteen months and is told through the eyes and experience of people who are living with the devastation of a city they care about. There are no experts, or social scientists, or pundits or politicians (with the exception of Mayor Dave Bing who is struggling to find a way to salvage his city including turning vast tracts of urban land into urban farms) explaining to us what is happening to Detroit, just people who refuse to leave.

Retired schoolteacher, Tommy Stevens who now owns The Raven, a restaurant and blues-bar next to an abandoned GM plant believes the plant will come back and things will get better, even as we see pictures of deserted streets of abandoned buildings; George McGregor, president of UAW local 22 laying out for his members the company’s proposal to significantly reduce pay for skilled machinists and other workers to something close to a Fast Food Burger Restaurant salary; Blogger Crystal Starr a young African-American woman with a small video camera who is trying to find beauty herself in the destruction.

The film is about Detroit but it is also about America at large. The post industrial economy will find other cities vulnerable to destruction and decay and not just in the Rust Belt.

The film opens with arresting images: empty streets, vacant overgrown lots and a wrecking crew demolishing an abandoned house. As the bucket crane tears into the roof of the house, the crew chief tells a glib TV reporter that there are 11 houses on the same block that they will demolish. The reporter calls it the ‘downsizing of Detroit’.

In the mid part of the twentieth century Detroit was a symbol of the industrial might of the United States. It built the machines that won World War II. It was one of the Meccas of the great black migration from the South to the upper mid-west industrial heartland during the period. In 1930 it was the fastest growing city in the world. Today, it is the fastest shrinking city in the United States with 100,000 abandoned homes or vacant lots.

With the abandoned factories, the unstated question has to be: We retooled our industrial might from manufacturing consumer goods to building tanks and planes and warships to win WWII, if we had to do it again, could we?

There is an element of Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me” to this film – the closing of automobile plants and off-shoring of manufacturing jobs – but this film is really about the decline of a great American city.

There are lots of visuals of deserted or nearly deserted streets and buildings. The pictures evoke a strong sense of emptiness, the feel of a ghost town. You almost expect to see tumbleweeds blowing down the street.

These visuals are juxtaposed against archival footage from the 50s when times were clearly better and Detroit was booming.

We see men scavenging metal from abandoned factories and selling it for scrap. One of the men notes that they can get eleven cents a pound for steel which will be sent to China and then will come back here as new product. One of the top exports from the U.S to China is scrap metal. We send them our jobs and our scrap.

Interspersed with the scenes of desolation and abandonment, are scenes of productions of the Detroit Opera. The irony is that the Opera is sponsored by the big Three U.S. automakers. Another irony is that the film was funded in part by the Ford Foundation.

Some of the archival footage is from the late 60s, when the decline may have had its start. The manufacturing jobs had not quite yet started their torrent overseas but the growing disparity between rich and poor was there. It would then grow in more modern times to include the disparity between the rich and the middle class. But in the late 60s there was great unrest in the African-American communities in the north. The footage from the late 60s includes the riots that began in 1967. Ironically Georg Romney was Governor of Michigan in 1967 and his voice can be heard in some of the clips.

The film does touch briefly on the influx of artists to the abandoned properties because they are so cheap. But it is clear that even this bit of positivity is not going to be enough to save the city.

The film is not a diatribe and it poses unspoken questions for which there may be no easy answers and answers and questions which may be conflicting. The questions are unspoken but the context of the film makes sure that they are there.

“Detropia” opens Friday, October 19 at the Denver Film Center on Colfax.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Best Political Movies

So “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” was on cable early this morning – I had to watch it, Stewart is just terrific in it. But it got me thinking about the best movies about campaigns or politics I have seen. So I had to do the inevitable Top Ten thing. As I was thinking about the movies, it struck me that many on my list were not so much about campaigns but about unscrupulous activities related to gaining power, or influencing elections.

So, here they are in no particular order.

“All The President’s Men” - This is a terrific film and regardless of how many times I have seen it and that I know how it ends, it is spellbinding. I watch fascinated as Woodward (Robert Redford) and Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) unravel the mysteries behind the Watergate break-in and cover up.

“The Candidate” – Redford is in this one too, as the idealistic candidate for U.S. Senate who is not supposed to win, but does. The great line at the end of the movie: Redford asks campaign manager Peter Boyle, after having won, “What do we do now?”
“Bulworth’ – Warren Beatty is terrific as the incumbent Senate candidate who is losing but then sort of goes off the deep end, gets drunk, speaks his mind and even raps. He becomes a media darling and his campaign seems to turn around.

“The Parallax View” – this also has Beatty as a journalist investigating a shadowy company called the Parallax Corporation. This is a political thriller about secret companies, organizations, and political assassination. This is one where you don’t know who the good guys or the bad guys are – nor does Beatty. Interestingly, this was directed by Alan Pakula who also directed “All the President’s Men”.

“Wag The Dog” – in this Dustin Hoffman also takes another turn on the List. He plays a Hollywood Producer who is charged by a Washington DC political operative to produce a war in Albania which doesn’t exist – it is all done with smoke and mirrors and a country song. The President’s reelection is in jeopardy because of a sex scandal, the ‘movie’ war is designed to distract voters from the scandal.

‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” – Jimmy Stewart as the idealistic head of the ‘Boy Rangers’ is appointed to fill a vacant US Senate seat. The theory is that the corrupt political bosses will be able to control him and follow through with a land and water deal that will make them money. It is full of great character actors including Guy Kibbee, Edward Arnold, Thomas Mitchell and Harry Carey. It also has the wonderful Jean Arthur. The filibuster scene is one of Stewart’s best, and of course it was directed by the master, Frank Capra.

‘All The Kings Men” (the original) – Broderick Crawford plays Willie Stark, a rough around the edges, rural populist who runs for governor railing against the corrupt interests. He wins, but then becomes just as corrupt as those he ran against. This is the best thing Crawford ever did, except perhaps for saying 10-4 repeatedly on Highway Patrol.

“Frost/Nixon” – I saw the play in London some years ago and was just astounded. Frank Langella as Nixon was the very embodiment of the disgraced President. The play was then made into a motion picture with Langella reprising Nixon. It is about the famous interviews, and the circumstances around putting them together, that David Frost did with Richard Nixon about his presidency, in particular the Watergate scandal. This is the second Watergate film on the list.

“The Best Man” – Henry Fonda against Cliff Robertson for the Presidency: idealist against win at any cost candidate. It is based on a Gore Vidal play. Vidal wrote the screenplay as well.

“The Manchurian Candidate” – Frank Sinatra has recurring nightmares about something that happened while he was fighting in Korea. It turns out that he and the rest of his unit had been captured, taken to China where they were brainwashed. The goal: to turn one of the men in the unit into a war hero (Congressional Medal of Honor) and a political assassin. His mother, played terrifically by Angela Lansbury, is the communist agent who is to be his controller. She did not know that it was her son that they were going make into the assassin. She is married to a buffoon-like Senator (patterned after Joe McCarthy and played by James Gregory) who rails on about communists in the State Department and is to be nominated as the Vice-Presidential candidate. The plan is that after the nomination is made, Harvey will kill the Presidential candidate with a rifle as he sits on the stage and Lansbury’s husband will become President in light of the tragedy. The Russians will own the American President. It falls to Sinatra to sort all this out and try to prevent the assassination. The film was also remade in 2004.

7 Days in May – I just love this film: big cast, with lots of name actors, a terrific plot and in glorious black and white. Kirk Douglas, a Marine officer working in the Pentagon uncovers what he thinks may be a plot by his friend, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – one William Mattoon Scot (what a terrific name), played evilly by Burt Lancaster - and some right-wing political types to overthrow the government. The plot unfolds over seven days in May, thus the title. The film, another political thriller, is based on a novel by Fletcher Kneibel and Charles Bailey.

Those two also wrote another political novel titled “The Dark Horse”, about an obscure highway commissioner from New Jersey, who is tapped by party bosses to run for President. They believe that their party has no hope of winning that year and they don’t want to use up one of their political bright lights in a failed campaign. Better to send someone else to the wolves and get ready for next time. The dark horse candidate knows that he is the sacrificial lamb and goes about campaigning as if he has nothing to lose, says what he wants and enjoys the process. Then all of a sudden, he starts to rise in the polls and it looks like he might actually have a shot at winning.

So, okay, the list is not ten, it is eleven. But hey, in this political year, numbers don’t seem to matter anyway.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Better Denver Cultural Bonds: We got our bridge

I recently wrote about the process for using the remaining G and H Better Denver Bond money that had been voter-approved but never issued or used. G and H dealt with maintenance and capitol construction or improvements to cultural facilities and so the bond money must be used in accordance with the original intent.

The Mayor appointed a committee to solicit and evaluate proposals from city cultural facilities for maintenance or capitol construction/improvements. In one posting I had argued for inclusion of an upgrade (at least a covering) of the pedestrian bridge over Champa Street that leads from the Convention Center Garage to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Complex (DCPA). Not only were there maintenance issues exacerbated by the lack of a roof, it meant people had to brave rain and snow to get from their cars (or the light rail station) to the DCPA. And, as a portal to our crown jewel of a performing arts complex, it was a disgrace; unsightly and inhospitable.

The good news is the bridge is going to be improved and will be inhospitable and a disgrace no more. Kudos, Mayor. And kudos to the the team at Arts and Venues including this project in their proposals and fighting for its selection.

The Mayor has released the projects he has selected to receive the remaining cultural bond funds and it includes $2.5 Million for the Champa street Bridge. The other projects selected are all worthy, though I know that some will be disappointed by projects that did not make the cut.

I am particularly happy that the soon to re-open McNichols Building in Civic Center Park is getting $5.5 Million to assist in finalizing this old building that will be our newest cultural asset. Some remodeling had occurred and the building used temporarily during the Festival of the Americas two years ago. Because some work to bring the building up to code and thus gain a certificate of occupancy remained to be done, the building could not be open or used. That wait is now over. The building opens with a gala opening on October 24th.

For the projects to move forward City Council must amend ordinances related to the two bond questions: G and H.

Here is a list of the projects selected. Question G relates to deferred maintenance for city-owned cultural facilities and the remaining amount is $18,497,001. Question H relates to financing the cost of new construction of city-owned cultural facilities and the remaining amount is $38,629,205.

Boettcher Concert Hall -Improvements $6,700,000 $10,075,000 $16,775,000

Denver Performing Arts Complex -
Champa Street Bridge $2,500,000 $2,500,000

Denver Art Museum -
Ponti Building $3,000,000 $3,000,000

Denver Botanic Gardens -
Café & Restrooms and Science Pyramid $6,619,000 $6,619,000

Denver Center for the Performing Arts -
Deferred Maintenance $9,932,000 $9,932,000

Denver Museum of Nature and Science
and the Denver Zoo - Parking $4,400,000 $4,400,000

Levitt Pavilion Amphitheatre - $2,000,000 $2,000,000

McNichols Building -
Improvements $700,000 $4,800,000 $5,500,000
Red Rocks Amphitheater -
Water Supply and Concession $2,800,000 $2,800,000

Total $17,332,000 $36,194,000 $53,526,000

Monday, October 15, 2012

Stand Up Guys come to Denver Film Festival

The schedule for the 35th Starz Denver Film Festival is out. And while I have not had a chance to go over it in detail (The lineup includes more than 225 features, shorts, and student films.) there is a film that I had hoped would make it: “Stand Up Guys”, with Al Pacino, Alan Arkin and Christopher Walken.

My general rule for the film festival is to see films that might not get a later release in Denver; films for which this might be my only chance to see. These include documentaries, small Indies and foreign language film. I will see plenty of those and while I am certain that "Stand Up Guys" will play in Denver next year, I intend to see it at the Festival.

The film, a raunchy comedy, is about three aging bad guys reunited when Val (Pacino)
gets out of prison after serving 28 years for a murder he probably didn’t commit. He took the fall for his pals Doc (Walken) and Hirsch (Arkin) when they were all involved in a shoot-out in which the only son of a top crime boss was killed. Whose bullet it was didn't really matter, someone had to pay.

I have written in the past about the growing movie-market targeted at an older demographic (yes I fit that mold) and this film will tap into that. This year’s “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and the wonderful 2003 “Something’s Gotta Give” with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, are examples.

Pacino, Arkin and Walken each have long and celebrated careers and have a huge fan base. They are each tremendous actors and as with fine wine, just seem to get better with age. I expect standout performances from each individually and in ensemble.

This is a twofer for Walken. He also stars in the Festival’s opening night film “A Late Quartet” It’s also interesting that this is the 40th anniversary of "The Godfather" and Pacino as back with us as a mobster.

The film premiered on October 11 at the Chicago International Film Festival. It was the kickoff screening for the festival. It also played the much smaller Mill Valley Film Festival and now it comes to Denver. At this point it only has two screenings, both on Sunday, November 4th: One at 7:00 PM and one at 9:45 PM.

The film is scheduled to open nationwide on January 11, 2013, but will get an Oscar qualifying run before the end of the year. To qualify for Academy Award consideration a motion picture has to have a commercial run of at least a week in both Los Angeles and Manhattan.

The Starz Denver Film Festival runs November 1 – 11. More information about the Festival.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Alex Karras and Pueblo, Colorado – The Six Degrees of Separation.

Alex Karras passed away this week. He was a defensive lineman with the Detroit Lions but he also had a career as an actor. He had a small but notable role in Mel Brooks' “Blazing Saddles” (one of my favorite movies) as Mongo who rode into town on a Brahma Bull and knocked a horse out with one punch. He also starred in the TV series Webster with his wife, actress Susan Clark.

Alex met Susan when he played George Zaharias in the TV Movie “Babe” (1975). Babe was about Babe Didrikson Zaharias, the great Depression era athlete and golfer. She won two gold and one silver medal in track and field in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Susan Clark played Babe.

Babe met and married George Zaharias. George had been a professional wrestler (Alex Karras also wrestled for a short time professionally) was a Greek-American from Pueblo, Colorado.

Pueblo (and Denver) had significant Greek communities in the early Twentieth Century. Those in southern Colorado had come with the large migratory wave of southern Europeans in the late 19th and early Twentieth Century. Many worked at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation (CF&I) owned by John D. Rockefeller and the largest steel mill west of the Mississippi River. Others worked in the coal mines of southern Colorado, many of which were owned by the CF&I. Interestingly, Louis Tikas, a Greek-American from Denver was shot to death by members of the Colorado Militia at Ludlow during the coal strike of 1913-1914.

My personal footnote to this, is that my Dad, who came to Pueblo in 1936 to work at the CF&I (his dad had lost the farm in eastern Kansas during the Depression and died shortly afterward) knew George Zaharias and met Babe.

In addition to being a pro-wrestler, as was George Zaharias, Alex was also a proud Greek-American. His wife Susan said one of his great joys was cooking traditional Greek dishes.

Alex had been diagnosed with Dementia and Clark said that after that it was so difficult for him that he could not remember the recipes for the dishes he wanted to prepare. The Dementia prompted Karras and Clark to join in a suit against the NFL about player safety, particularly as it related to head injuries.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Italians are Coming, The Italians are Coming and Mel Brooks gets an award.

The full list of films to be screened at the Starz Denver Film Festival will be released Monday, Oct. 15, but we do know now, the titles of two films that will be on the list. Mark Cousins’ 900 minute “The Story of Film: An Odyssey” and “Caesar Must Die” by brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani.

I have not seen Caesar Must Die, but it is getting a lot of buzz and I very much want to see it. It won the top prize, The Golden Bear, at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. It is also Italy’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars in February.

The film follows real-life inmates of a high-security Italian jail as they rehearse for a performance of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Watch the trailer

In connection with the screening the filmmakers will be here to receive the Maria and Tommaso Maglione Italian Filmmaker Award. The Award, given annually, recognizes the best in Italian cinema. It is funded through an endowment from the Anna & John Sie Foundation and is named for Anna’s parents.

This is quite a coup for the Film Festival. The Taviani brothers have been making film for 60 years and have received scores of awards. That Paolo, aged 80, and Vittorio, aged 83, continue to create remarkable work with a shot at an Oscar is in itself remarkable.

“The Story of Film” is also remarkable for its comprehensiveness and length. It literally surveys the entire history of film from the 1890s to modern day. The film originally aired on British television in September of 2011 as 15 one-hour episodes. The Festival will screen the film in two ways: as series of combined episodes screened over a number of days during the Festival and then on the last two days of the Festival as two 71/2 hour episodes screenings.

The director and narrator of the documentary is Mark Cousins, a film critic and sometime filmmaker from Northern Ireland.

Mel Brooks

One of the funniest guys out there is getting a well-deserved Life Time Achievement Award from the American Film Institute (AFI). My list of films that I will always watch – over and over and over again – includes three Brooks’ films: The Producers, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. He got his start in early television writing for “Your Show of Shows” with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. It also featured Howie Morris and Carl Reiner. Brooks and Reiner would team up for the very funny “The 2000 Year Old Man”.

I had a very fleeting moment in Brooks’ “High Anxiety”. I was living in San Francisco, taking any acting job I could, including being an extra, and was part of a hotel lobby crowd in the Hyatt for the elevator scene.
Ahhh, Show Business.

AFI, in addition to its film preservation work and honoring film artists is one of the premiere film schools in the world.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How I Came to Sparkle Again.

Coming home early from work, Jill Anthony hears noises coming from her bedroom. It almost sounds to her like intruders having sex. She takes her cell phone out to call 911 but as she looks into the room she sees her husband in bed with another woman. Shocked, angry, betrayed she flees the scene but not before snapping a photo with the phone so that when disbelief or denial sets in she will have a record.

Distraught, she doesn’t quite know what to do but makes a snap decision to return to her teenage home – a place safe and comforting. The next stop is Sparkle, Colorado.

Kaya McLaren’s third novel, “How I Came to Sparkle Again”, chronicles the next year in Jill’s life, as well as that of her best friend Lisa Carlucci and a young girl, Cassie Jones, whom Jill befriends. All are trying to regain some love and stability in their lives. It also, humorously, chronicles the life and the adventures and misadventures of Jill and the denizens and ski bums of a ski town in ski season.

Jill takes a job with the Ski Patrol and moves in to ‘The Kennel’ – a ramshackle trailer house next door to Lisa. It is inhabited by fellow ski resort employees – all males, who become like a support group for her. it is called 'The Kennel' because the dog to human ratio is one to one.

She also takes a part-time job, looking after Cassie, a ten-year old who has recently lost her mother to cancer. This resonates with Jill because in addition to the pain she suffered from her husband's infidelity, she had only few weeks earlier had a miscarriage and lost her baby. Their shared sorrow creates a bond between them.

Kaya McLaren will be signing books at the Tattered Cover Book Store in Highland’s Ranch on Wednesday. I spoke with her recently by phone.

She said she wanted to write a story about a person like Jill but that she wanted to write about her in a way that did not involve a conventional family situation – thus, ‘The Kennel’.

She said that she herself is single and lives a very happy life so the idea of a single woman living happily without the benefit of marriage, etc. is one with which she is very comfortable.

“I wanted Jill to have a more unconventional family, it just seemed more interesting to me.” 'The Kennel' fits that.

McLaren, who is also an elementary school teacher, told me that despite never having been married, students and former students feel like her children and family.

“I’m single and like my life being single,” she said. “And I always felt like I had family and children. I am still in touch with former students,” she told me. “In fact, I recently went camping with a couple.”

She said that she had originally written a different, more unconventional ending but her editors didn’t think readers would accept that.

She accepted their advice and changed the ending.

Is the Jill character her? She said no, that actually Lisa is most like her.

“Lisa was always going to be there as a secondary character, and I found her easy to write because she is the most like me.”

Conventional or not the novel is about family - the conventional and the unconventional kind - relationships, healing and putting the pieces of a life back together.

McLaren is a quilter (among many other things) and the theme of the book is a lot like quilting.

”Quilting is a metaphor for what we do in life. We take our favorite pieces, the salvageable pieces of our favorite things, that have been stained and torn or ruined in some way and piece them together to make something beautiful and perfect and whole,” she said.

That is indeed what happens in the novel. Both women and Cassie find a way to piece their lives together into something beautiful and whole. Not happy with the current state of their lives: Jill and Cassie needing to move past the pain and suffering and Lisa realizing she doesn't like the life she is living - that there is something more - each are able to move beyond the past and grow into happier lives.

There is an interesting coincidence in the novel, given the current Presidential election: The Church of Latter Day Saints plays a role. Jill’s parents are Mormon and only communicate with her through proselytizing emails which Jill rejects. McLaren told me that she started writing the novel a couple of years ago; before this year’s presidential campaign and a focus on the LDS church.

“It is indeed a coincidence. I could have picked any religion but one of my best friends has parents that are Mormon and I sort of modeled Jill’s parents on them.”

What she focuses on with the parents is the certainty that they have all the answers and are always right and sure enough to judge others.

"I think the absolute worst thing you can say or think about another person is that you are going to hell," she said. "I think it is very inappropriate to think that you are in a position to judge the worthiness and integrity of another person."

Interestingly, while Jill is resistive to her parent’s religiosity, Lisa in the novel rediscovers her childhood faith.

Colorado readers will recognize ‘Sparkle, Colorado’. It is very like many ski towns here. It could be Aspen or Telluride or Crested Butte, though McLaren said she did not model it after any particular place. She said she saw it in places like Sun Valley, Idaho, or Breckenridge, Colorado. It is just like many ski towns that grew out of older western towns. There is this nice charm in the old part of town, the Victorians and other older buildings and then the new stuff that grows up.

“How I Came to Sparkle Again” from St. Martin’s Press went on sale October 2. Kaya McLaren will autograph copies at The Tattered Cover, Highlands Ranch, Wednesday, October 10 at 7:30 PM.

Kaya McLaren is a fascinating woman, I think you will enjoy hearing her speak, and ‘Sparkle’, sparkles with charm.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Everything's Better with Butter

“Butter” the movie is finally getting a real release. The 2011 film played the film festival circuit last year (I saw it at last year’s Denver Film Festival) but is just now getting a commercial release. It opens today at the Westminster Promenade.

“Butter’ is not margarine or some other ersatz spread, it is the real deal: Very rich and very funny.

Bob (Ty Burrell) has been winning butter carving championships at Iowa State Fair forever. But when it is suggested that he step aside and give someone else a chance, he decides to retire. His frigid, control-freak wife, Laura (Jennifer Garner) is not happy. She sees Bob’s carving championships as the road to political success. Laura, with her frozen – butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth – smiles and social climbing, decides if Bob won’t compete, she will. Winning is everything.

Ah, but the monkey wrench.

An 11-year old African-American foster child named, without subtlety, Destiny (Yara Sahidi) arrives on the scene. How or where she learned to carve butter is anybody’s guess (willing suspension of disbelief comes into play here) but she is marvelous at it and an unexpected threat to Laura.

Garner is hilarious. But so is everyone else in this wonderful comedy. Brooke (Olivia Wilde) is a stripper who Bob (remember Bob?) has been ‘dallying’ also decides to enter the contest. She does this after Laura, who finds out about the ‘dalliance’, smashes into Olivia’s minivan which was the scene of the ‘dalliance’.

The contest is on and so are the laughs. If Laura is willing to ram another vehicle there it is clear that nothing is too extreme for her. She will not lose the competition.

This is a wonderful parody. It almost plays like a Christopher Guest Mockumentary, a tribute to the director, Jim Field Smith. It is interesting that the British Smith so adeptly satirizes the ‘American Heartland’ and its denizens but not in mean-spiritedly; the movie skewers liberals and conservatives alike but in a smiling, happy and bright way.

See the movie. If nothing else, you have to see those butter sculptures.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bottled in Bond – High Proof Spirits Make a Comeback

Over the last few decades the trend in alcoholic beverages has been ‘lighter’. Vodka and other ‘white goods’ based cocktails seemed to prevail. Certainly people continued to drink bourbon and scotch and the like but the ‘brown goods’ share of the market diminished. Lighter also meant lower proof spirits.

In the sixties, a typical bottle of bourbon, for instance, was 86 Proof, or 43% alcohol. Today, that same bottle of bourbon is 80 proof, or 40% alcohol. And at one time, 90 Proof spirits were fairly common, particularly bourbons. However, until recently it was nearly impossible to find any spirit of 90 proof or above (Wild Turkey, being the exception). That is now changing. A recent story in the Wall Street Journal noted that many distillers are beginning to offer higher proof spirits, some as high as 150 Proof – 75% alcohol.

The reason for the higher alcohol content is not just to get more ‘punch’ in the Punch it is to intensify the flavor. Alcohol is what carries the flavor of the beverage, the higher the alcohol content the more intense the flavor. That is particularly important in high-end spirits such as quality bourbons, scotches and brandies.

With higher proof spirits making a comeback, bottled-in-bond is also making a comeback though most distillers are not using that term for any of their 100 Proof + spirits.

Bottled-in Bond refers to spirits (primarily whiskeys) that are at least 100 Proof and are stored and aged until ready for distribution in federally bonded warehouses under government supervision. The spirit must also come from a single distillery, distilled in a single season. It cannot be blended with other spirits distilled in other years or other distilleries.

Before 1985 all liquor bottles had a tax stamp or seal over the top of the bottle cap. This ensured that the tax had been paid on the alcohol. Bottled-in-Bond stamps were green, the others were red. The tax rate was based on the ‘Proof Gallon’. A ‘Poof Gallon’ is a gallon of liquid that is 100 Proof or 50% alcohol. The rate is adjusted up or down depending on the actual Proof of the spirit.

In 1985, the U.S. Government discontinued the use of the tax stamp on all spirits – they didn’t however discontinue the tax.

In addition to the tax stamp the bottle had to indicate the distillery. This was done with a Distilled Spirits Plant (DSP) mark or number. In the past this DSP could be found on all liquor bottles, not just Bottled-in-Bond. It was usually found on the bottom of the bottle. Many distilleries no longer mark their bottles, but it is still required for Bottled-in-Bond. You may find the DSP on the bottom of the bottle or somewhere on the label.

Bottled-in-Bond is still a requirement of the government but you don’t hear the term used much anymore. Maybe the term will come back, with the increased interest in higher proof spirits however the distillers seem to favor euphemisms, Cask-strength is one. Jim Beam introduced its first Cask-strength bourbon in 1988 with its Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon.

So pour yourself a glass of a nice Bottled-in-Bond whiskey, make certain to splash some water in it, it improves the flavor and you really don't want to drink uncut 50% alcohol, I don't care how much you like it. You will enjoy it more with a little water; the flavor will be better, and you will feel better in the morning. If you decide to use Wild Turkey's Bottled-in-Bond version, adding the water will make it a Bird Bath. Enjoy

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Denver: A World Class City for Events and Art

Denver really is a World-class city.

Denver has won The International Festivals & Events Association (IFEA) 2012 IFEA World Festival &. Event City Award.

Spread the word!

The award was presented September 21, during the 57th Annual IFEA Convention & Expo, held, coincidentally in Denver. We are a great event city.

Spread the word!

The IFEA World Festival & Event City Award was designed and created as a way for the global festivals and events industry to encourage and support positive local environments for festivals and events worldwide.

Denver’s award recognizes the commitment Denver has to provide an environment conducive to successful festivals and events. A look at the calendar shows just how many highly successful festivals and events we host.

The award is significant because it helps focus attention on Denver as an event and festival destination - which also helps attract convention business - and that means economic activity and that means jobs. Festivals, events and the Arts are significant economic generators – much more so than people often understand. Event, festival and Arts tourism is a critical part of our economy and can be more so.

Whether it is The Cherry Creek Arts Festival (also honored at this year’s IFEA), A marathon, the Women’s Final Four, a Tony-award winning Theatre Company or the Clyfford Still Museum, the economic impact of those events and venues ripples through the entire economy.

We are fortunate in Denver, that city leadership really understands the positive economic impact of the Arts and of festivals and events and has made a commitment to continue fostering and to enhance a positive atmosphere.

In that light, let me salute the leadership of Mayor Michael Hancock, whose commitment to the Arts and festivals and events has been clearly demonstrated. Let me also saluteKent Rice and Ginger White for their leadership.

When the merger of the city’s Theatre’s and Arenas Division with the Office of Cultural Affairs into the new Arts and Venues was proposed, I was skeptical. How would this work? Won’t the Arts just get swallowed up or become a step-child?
Well, I was wrong. I am happy to say I was wrong. This has turned out to be a wonderful thing. There is a synergy now that is a real benefit to the Arts community and to the former Theatres and Arenas.

And I believe that it has turned out so well in no small part because of the leadership of Kent as the Director and Ginger as the Deputy. We are fortunate to have them both working for the city.

With the merger, there is an increased energy and enhanced role in promoting the Arts, events and festivals and marketing the city and our venues as an Arts, events, and cultural destination.

And as we move forward with the development of a Cultural Plan for the city and other strategic initiatives from both the Arts side and the Venues side, their leadership bodes well for a very bright future for the Arts in Denver.

Spread the word!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Banned Books Week

It's Banned Book week, September 30 – October 6. This is the thirtieth anniversary of this event which calls attention to the effort to restrict our freedom to read what we want or more importantly to think freely and for ourselves. It is an attempt at mind-control, a way to dictate to you what you think and how you think about things that affect all of us. Banned Book Week started in 1982.

I would like to think that we have made progress but the battle never ends. Each time we succeed in ensuring access (on our library shelves, in our schools, or our bookstores) for one book, more are targeted and the battle starts all over again.

The list of books that over the years have been banned or were targeted for banning is long and includes both great works of literature and some less so. A recent One Book One Denver selection, “To Kill A Mockingbird” is on the list as is “The Great Gatsby”, “Ulysses”, “Charlotte’s Web” and “Winnie-the-Pooh”. There are books on the list that I like a lot, books, I have never read and books that I don’t like – “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand, for instance – but I will defend the right to have them read. The point is, no book should be subject to censorship; quality of writing, subject matter, the likes or dislikes of any individual are no justification for censorship.

I will defend the right of any person to read what they want regardless of how I feel about the book. I will object to the banning of “Atlas Shrugged” or “Fifty Shades of Grey” as much as I will the banning of “The Grapes of Wrath” or “Lolita”.

Speaking of “Fifty Shades of Grey”, I have not read it – and may not – but it is getting a lot of buzz and is very popular. It had been atop the New York Times Bestseller list for what seemed like forever, until J.K Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy” topped it this week. “Fifty Shades of Gray” is one of the more recent targets of the censors. In recognition of that, there will be a ‘virtual read-out’ of erotic literature, dubbed “Fifty Shades of Banned” in New York City. The readout is being put together by the National Coalition Against Censorship and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. If you are around Manhattan tonight and interested, here is the information.

Of course it is not just books that are banned. All forms of communication are targets of censors: films, television, websites, you name it. The mind-control battle is never over.

So, I won’t be in New York tonight, but I am going to read from a banned book on video and upload it to YouTube as part Banned Books Virtual Read-out.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Man Who Shot Bonnie and Clyde and more

Bonnie and Clyde were killed in a hail of gunfire, their guns brought a hail of dollars. Two guns that they had with them when they were killed in 1934 were sold at auction Sunday for more than half a million dollars. The guns, Bonnie’s .38-caliber Detective Special and Clyde’s 1911 Colt .45-caliber automatic were among a flood of Bonnie and Clyde items in the sale.

Fascination with Bonnie and Clyde endures. The 1967 Arthur Penn film about the couple helps that. Unfortunately, the romanticized vision of the couple Penn fashioned was nothing like reality. These were very bad people responsible for the murder of nine police officers and an unknown number of civilians. But the myth lives on.

Faye Dunaway starred in the ’67 film as Bonnie. Now, Miley Cyrus – yes Miley Cyrus - is to play the infamous bank robber for Lifetime and the History Channel. They have a 4-hour biopic in the works.

The Man Who Shot Bonnie And Clyde

It will be interesting to see how Frank Hamer is portrayed in this version. Hamer did not come off well in the Penn film. Hamer was played, in a not very flattering light, by the late Denver Pyle. That was not Pyle’s fault as it was the script. He was the type of actor who learned his lines, hit his marks and did as he was told. He was also from Burlington, Colorado.

Hamer was in reality a remarkable guy. He had been a Texas Ranger for years, starting when they were still on horseback, chasing down desperados. He fought in nearly 100 gunfights, is reputed to have killed fifty-three men, was wounded in action seventeen times and left for dead four times. He was also a crack shot and is legendary for being able to fire his pistol from a moving car and keep a can skipping ahead of the car.

Lee Simmons, then head of Texas State Prisons brought Hamer in to track down Bonnie and Clyde. Simmons was incensed that the Barrow gang had been involved (on the outside) of a prison escape in which a guard was killed. Ironically, it was Texas Governor ‘Ma’ Ferguson who gave Simmons the go-ahead to hire Hamer. Hamer, though he still retained a ‘Special Ranger’ commission had left the Rangers when Ferguson had been elected because he thought she and her husband were too corrupt.

Hamer also played a small role in the infamous Jim Wells County Ballot Box scandal. Hamer went with the Governor Coke Stevenson to Jim Wells County to try to examine ballot box 13 – they were never able to examine the ballots. Stevenson was running for the US Senate against then Congressman Lyndon Johnson. Johnson won but Stevenson supporters always believed that Johnson only won because of fraudulent ballots in Jim Wells County.

I became interested in Hamer and was working on a screenplay,with my writing partner, about the guy. I had read an authorized biography by John Jenkins, “I Am Frank Hamer”. In trying to pitch the screenplay we decided we needed to obtain the rights to the biography and reached out to Jenkins. We initiated contact and were prepared to go to Austin to meet with him to try to work something out. Before that happened, however,we got word that he had died, or actually had been killed. He was found in his car with a gunshot to the back of his head. It was ruled a suicide by the Sheriff, though the Sheriff could never explain how this was accomplished and why the gun was not at the scene or never found. No, you can’t make this stuff up.

I always thought there was a story in that, too but never followed up, nor did we ever sell the screenplay.