Sunday, March 17, 2013

St. Patrick's Day - How about a Movie?

Ahh, St. Patrick’s Day, when everyone becomes a little more Irish. My friend, Italian-American Ted Calantino, who owned and operated the Irish Pub in Pueblo, Colorado, adopted the moniker, Ted O’Calantino. So, yes, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by those Irish or not.

Of course, much of the celebration involves Pubs and drinking, in addition to pipe bands and step dancing.

But here’s a thought, in addition to whatever else you may do to celebrate, watch an Irish movie. There is no shortage of good ones to choose from. Here are some suggestions:

"The Quiet Man"

This is one of those films that I will watch over and over again. If it is on TCM, you can count on the fact that I will turn it on. John Ford, John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ward Bond as a fly-fishing priest and the rest of the Ford Acting Company. John Wayne as Sean Thornton, a boxer with a past relocates to Ireland and falls for O’Hara as Mary Kate Daneher. The marriage is complicated because of Mary Kate’s dowry and her intransigent brother, played by Victor McGlaglen. The Irish scenery is great and there is that horse race and the running fist fight between Wayne and McGlaglen.

"In the Name of the Father"

Daniel Day-Lewis shows up twice on this list. Before he was Lincoln, this amazing actor played Gerry Conlon in this real-life story about the Belfast man wrongly imprisoned for the 1974 IRA bombing of a pub in England. A number of films on this list focus on ‘the troubles’ or the early fight for Irish independence. The film also features the late Pete Postlethwaite.

"Shadow Dancer"

This terrific film is the newest one on the list (2012). I saw it at the Denver Film Festival last November, and in fact it really only had film festival exposure in the US (though it is available on Blu-Ray). This riveting thriller, too deals with ‘the troubles’. Andrea Riseborough as Colette McVeigh plays an IRA sympathizer forced to become an informant for British MI5. Clive Owen is the MI5 agent who may be falling in love with McVeigh.

"The Commitments"

A group of down-and-out Dubliners form a band. Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) has dreams of creating the ultimate soul group, and succeeds in bringing together a bunch of talented, eclectic characters. But eventually personalities clash, and the survival of the band is threatened. This adaptation of the Roddy Doyle novel featured a relatively unknown cast at the time, but was welcomed with critical acclaim and a successful box office run.

"My Left Foot"

It really isn’t all Daniel Day-Lewis all the time on this list, nonetheless, here he is again. Another true story and character for him as an Irishman who overcomes his disability to become an amazing painter, poet and writer. The film documents the extraordinary life of Christy Brown, a working class Irishman born with crippling cerebral palsy. With the encouragement of his mother, played by Brenda Fricker, Christy learns to write and draw with his only functional limb - his left foot. Both Day-Lewis and Fricker won Academy Awards for their roles.

"Bloody Sunday"

This is a documentary style re-creation of the events of January 30, 1972 - better known as Bloody Sunday. An attempt by Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt) to organize a peaceful protest in Londonderry, Northern Ireland over the illegal imprisonment of Catholics in Northern Ireland is torn asunder by more hard-line IRA members and the British military. By the end of the day, the military will fire on the protesters and kill 13 people. More of ‘the troubles’

"Odd Man Out"

This film by Carol Reed goes back to the early days of the struggle for Irish independence. It stars James Mason in his star-making role as IRA operative Johnny McQueen. Breaking out of jail, Johnny takes it on the lam, but idealism forces him out of hiding in order to raise money for the IRA cause he believes in so strongly. He decides to rob a bank, but the hold-up goes bad and Johnny is seriously wounded by the police. Staggering through the streets of Belfast, Johnny meets a succession of people who either want to help him or turn him over to the authorities. Johnny finally stumbles into a pub, where he is taken in by a homosexual artist (Robert Newton) who wants Johnny to pose for him in order to capture the desperation in his eyes. Johnny breaks free from the artist and tries to make his way to the waterfront in a final effort to escape ... but the police are slowly closing in

"The Crying Game"

The controversial film that put Irish director/screenwriter Neil Jordan on the map. Set in rural Ireland and bustling London, IRA member Fergus (Stephen Rea) develops a friendship with his captive, Jody (Forest Whittaker),and promises that he will protect Jody’s girlfriend Dil. Fergus cannot execute Jody, as he has been ordered, but Jody is killed nonetheless in a horrible set of coincidences. Fergus then flees to London, where he seeks out Dil. He becomes romantically involved with her. But the plot becomes more complicated. This is a terrific film not only about ‘the troubles’ but about gender, sexuality, race and nationality.

"The Magdalene Sisters"

Away from ‘the troubles’ to a different and disturbing kind of trouble. The Magdalene Sisters is a 2002 film, written and directed by Peter Mullan, about four teenage girls who were sent to Magdalene Asylums (also known as 'Magdalene Laundries'), homes for women who were labeled as "fallen" by their families or society. The homes were maintained by individual religious orders in the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. The Magdalene Sisters is a bold, shocking and powerful film.

"Ryan’s Daughter"

This David Lean film takes place during World War I against the backdrop of the Irish Nationalist Movement and the recent Easter Uprising in Dublin. The film has all the hallmarks of a Lean film: sweeping vistas, complicated characters and complicated romances. Sarah Miles plays the title character, Rosy Shaughnessy - nee Ryan - who is unhappy in her life, married to the local schoolmaster played by Robert Mitchum. Into this comes a British Army Officer, commanding the nearby Army base. Rosy becomes involved with him and trouble ensues for her and her father.

On a completely different note:

"Darby O’Gill and the Little People"

This Disney film introduced us to Sean Connery in a very unBond-like role. It is typical Disney fare, which means it doesn’t have much depth but it is fun to watch nonetheless.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Maui Vodka, with 2,000 year old water

So yesterday I wrote about aging wine in the ocean. Today it is about vodka made from aged-water from the bottom of the ocean.

When staying in Hawaii some time ago, I discovered Ocean Vodka.

Ocean Vodka is distilled from organic sugar cane grown on the island of Maui. After distillation it is combined with MaHalo Deep Sea Water from the Big Island. The result is an 80 Proof, very pure, organic vodka (it is also wheat and gluten free, for those that care about that sort of thing).

It is the water that makes this most interesting. The water is drawn from 3,000 feet below the ocean surface just off the Kona coast of the Big Island. It is truly aged-water because the water is nearly 2,000 years old.


That’s right. 2,000 years old and not only that but the water started life in the North Atlantic Ocean and then made its way via the ocean currents to the Hawaiian coast.

It takes from 1,200 to 2,000 years for the water to travel from the North Atlantic, through the Arctic currents, under the glaciers of Greenland where it picks up ancient minerals that have leached down from the ice. Then it flows around and back down toward the deep channels of the Pacific.

The water is gently filtered to remove excess sea salts but preserve the minerals. It is then transferred to Maui where in Ocean Vodka’s facility it is further desalinated and mixed with the distilled sugar cane spirits.


Growing sugar cane in Hawaii is a 1500 year tradition, but making Vodka with it is pretty new.

Ocean Vodka is available in Colorado.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Forget the cave or the cellar, it’s the ocean.

Mira Winery of St. Helena, California has submerged forty eight bottles of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon somewhere in Charleston, South Carolina Harbor.

What, you say?

Then you say, why?

Then secondly, why Charleston Harbor, three thousand miles from the winery? Don’t they have an ocean closer? They don’t like the Pacific, they like the Atlantic better?

In answer to the second why, the winery is actually owned by a Charleston resident, Jim Dyke Jr. I guess he wanted to keep a figurative eye on the wine.

The first why is that he wants to see how the wine ‘aged’ (it will just be under water for three months) in comparison to wine aged on dry land.

The bottles are enclosed in yellow steel-mesh cages equipped with GPS, so that when the winemaker is ready, he can find the bottles. At the end of the test period, the bottles will be opened and tasted. The wine will also be subjected to chemical analysis.

Stay tuned.

This aging in the ocean is not actually new, though this one may be a first in the United States.

Some European vintners have experimented with ocean-aged wine.

Bruno Lemoine runs Chateau Larrive Haut-Brion in Bordeaux. He had two 56-liter wooden barrels built in which to age his 2009 vintage wine an extra six months. One was to be kept in the chateau cellars, the other sunk underwater among the prized oyster beds of the Bay of Arcachon, north of Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast.

The one in the ocean was chained inside a concrete chamber to keep it from being swept away by the sea.

At the end of six-months both barrels were retrieved and opened, the wine bottled, tasted and analyzed.

Wine experts tasting the two wines thought that the ocean-aged wine was better.

The experiment showed that the process of osmosis helped improve the flavor of the wine aged in a barrel submerged in seawater, by adding trace amounts of salt to the wine.

Winemakers have long known that wine recovered from sunken ships has a unique taste and the ocean is thought to have something to do with that.

In 2010 two bottles of champagne that were salvaged from a ship sunk 200 years earlier in the Baltic Sea, were uncorked. One of the bottles was from the House of Vueve-Clicqout. Richard Juhlin, one of the tasters said that “Bottles kept at the bottom of the sea are better kept than in the finest wine cellars.” That is if the bottles and corks are intact. He said that the Vueve-Clicquot was very chardonnay-like with notes of linden blossoms and lime peels.

11 other bottles from the salvage were auctioned off for $136,000.

So there you go, ocean aging.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Palindrome, Palindrome Where Do You Roam?

I am a big fan of Riders in the Sky, a group in the tradition of the Sons of the Pioneers with a humorous bent and a fixture on many public radio stations. One of the sketches they did on their radio show was The Ballad of Palindrome, which featured a song lead-in much like the Johnny Western song The Ballad of Paladin used on the 50s TV western, Have Gun Will Travel, starring Richard Boone.

Some of the lyrics:

(to the tune of the Ballad of Paladin)
There are campfire legends that the plains men spin
Of a man who was nothing like Paladin
Couldn't ride couldn't shoot but he won his fame
Cause everything he said, said backwards was the same
Palindrome Palindrome what's in a name
Palindrome Palindrome backwards the same

From there, the sketch dialogue involved palindromes.

I mention this because I am also a fan of palindromes and Sunday, March 10 (3/10/2013 – a palindrome date) the first annual SymmyS (a palindrome) were awarded for the best palindromes of 2012. The awards were announced at a
ceremony at the Funhouse Art & Beer Cabaret (sounds like fun) in Portland, OR. The competition featured all of the contestants in last year's World Palindrome Championships plus several talented newcomers.

There were four categories, with 10 finalists in each:
Short Palindromes, Long Palindromes, Word-Unit Palindromes, and Poetry.

A palindrome is not, as has been suggested, an unmanned aircraft flown by Sarah Palin. It is a word or phrase or date that reads the same forwards as backwards. Some common palindrome words are civic, level, rotor, and kayak.

A familiar palindrome phrase is Madam I’m Adam. One of my favorites is party booby trap.

These are simple compared to what the came out of the SymmyS Sunday.

For instance in the Short Palindrome category, Jon Agee won for Igloo Dialogue:
An igloo costs a lot, Ed!
Amen. One made to last! So cool, Gina!

In the Word Unit category Aric Maddux to first with:

You swallow pills for anxious days and nights,
and days, anxious for pills, swallow you.

And in second place John Connett offered:
Fishing for excuses? No need. You need no excuses for fishing.

I love words and word play, but this is way out of my league.

A last thought about Have Gun Will Travel. It was very popular in the 50s and I watched it avidly. There seemed to be a lot of curiosity about Paladin’s first name as he didn’t use it, however if one paid attention it was quite obvious what Paladin’s first name was: Wire. His business card read “Have Gun Will Travel” and below that his name, “Wire Paladin”

Monday, March 11, 2013

Burt Lancaster, George Clooney, Stolen Art and Monuments Men

The Train with Burt Lancaster is one of my favorite films. This 1964 black and white beauty directed by John Frankheimer and also starring Paul Schofield tells of an attempt by the Germans to transport art masterpieces stolen from French museums and private collections to Germany in August of 1944.

Lancaster plays Labiche, a railroad stationmaster, who is also a member of the French resistance. Initially he is reluctant to join an attempt to stop the train but after a friend of his is executed (for trying to stop the train) by the German’s he joins the effort.

He is to try to stop the train with the stolen art from leaving France, but to do so without destroying it. As we have seen, even recently, one of the casualties of war and conflict is art and cultural and historical artifacts.

Schofield plays Colonel von Waldheim, who is trying to get the paintings to Germany.

The plot involves an elaborate ruse of misidentifying railroad stations so that it appears the train is headed to Germany when in fact it is not.

The film is fiction but is based on a real event. On August 1, 1944, the Germans did indeed attempt to take some of France’s greatest paintings back to Germany by train. They did not succeed as the French resistance through the use bureaucratic red tape and paperwork delayed the train until Paris was liberated. What actually happened was not as dramatic as the film.

This was not the only historical event involving art and World War II and not the only one to be depicted in film.

George Clooney is currently in Germany filming The Monuments Men.

At the same time that the French Resistance was trying to prevent stolen art masterpieces from being transported to Germany a group of allied military men who were also museum directors, curators, art historians and other art professionals were seeking to preserve and safeguard as much of the historic and cultural monuments from war damage, and as the conflict came to a close, to find and return works of art and other items of cultural importance that had been stolen by the Nazis or hidden for safekeeping.

These amazing volunteers came to be known as The Monuments Men, working in small numbers at the front lines or even behind enemy lines to do their job.

Countless monuments, churches, and works of art were saved or protected by these dedicated men.

The film is based on a book by Robert Edsel, which chronicles some of these men and their efforts. The film is set for release in December of this year – yes in time to qualify for Oscar consideration.

In addition to starring in the film, Clooney co-wrote the screenplay and is producing and directing. It also features a powerhouse cast: Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin (of The Artist), Bob Balaban and Cate Blanchett. She plays Rose Valland who was a French art historian and an amazing person as well.

Valland, at great risk to herself, secretly catalogued the art the Nazis were stealing and was the one that notified the French Resistance of the train that was to transport much of the art to Germany in August 1944 – the event that prompted the above referenced film, The Train. In addition to being a member of the French Resistance, she was a captain in the French Army and was one of the most highly decorated women in French History.

Okay, I can’t wait to see this one.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Paramount - It can make and broadcast TV but not own a movie theatre

Paramount Studios has announced that it will once again produce product for television. An initial project will be based on the Beverly Hills Cop series of films that starred Eddie Murphy. This is the first time in eight years that Paramount has been involved in developing product for TV.

Paramount was once a major player producing TV series. In the 60s, it often partnered with Desilu (the production company started by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) which was headquartered on the Paramount lot. In the 70s, 80s and 90s it produced huge hits on television: Star Trek (and its subsequent spinoffs), Taxi, The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Mork and Mindy (which gave Robin Williams his start), Cheers, MacGyver (on which I worked and which was produced by Henry Winkler) and Frasier.

For a time Paramount not only produced for television but broadcast it as well as a part of CBS (and for a time as the short-lived UPN).

This is interesting, because…

From the beginning, the broadcast networks, while purchasing some product from studios, particularly Universal, also produced their own shows. CBS still has its own studio with 18 sound stages in Studio City in the San Fernando Valley. That means that CBS and the other networks could not only own the product but the vehicle through which the product was distributed.

The networks could do this but studios like Paramount could not with their feature films.

As I have written about the great movie palaces of the first half of the 20th Century, it is noted that many of the movie theatres were part of chains owned by the studios: Fox, Warner Brothers, Paramount, etc.

That came to an end in 1948 with a court decision – the Paramount Decree, ironically – that required the studios to divest themselves of their movie theatre chains.

The U.S. Justice Department had sued the studios under terms of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, claiming restraint of trade, etc and won with the decision of 1948.

Studios are still prohibited from owning movie theatres, but not from ownership or co-ownership of television distribution outlets, which arguably is much more lucrative.

The most conspicuous example is that of Comcast/NBC Universal. Universal Studios had produced product for NBC beginning in 1950 through its television production arm Revue. Overtime Universal went through a series of ownership changes. It had been built by the Laemmle brothers, was eventually acquired by MCA, a Chicago entertainment management and theatrical booking agency. In 2000, Universal was acquired by the French media company Vivendi. In 2003 Vivendi sold 80% of Universal to NBC’s parent company General Electric.

In 2009 the cable giant, Comcast bought out 51% of Universal from Vivendi and GE. Comcast is now buying the other 49%.

So now, Comcast, makes movies, operates theme parks, makes television programs and distributes them through its cable networks.

But they can’t own movie theatres – yet.

Media consolidation, indeed

Monday, March 4, 2013

Historic Santa Fe Movie Theatres

I am still ferreting out old movie theatres as I travel. Latest stop: Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Santa Fe doesn’t have many historic movie theatres. In the movie palace heyday, Santa Fe only had a population of around 20,000 people. It was only 30,000 by 1940, so it was difficult to support many movie theatres, particularly the grand movie palaces found in Hollywood and other places.

The Lensic, 211 W. San Francisco Street, was/is the closest Santa Fe came. Built in 1931, in the ‘Spanish-Moorish style’ (similar to that of Denver’s Mayan) with 1,000 seats and ornate decoration in the lobby and auditorium, the theatre served as a movie theatre – and vaudeville house in the thirties - until 1999. Since, it has been remodeled (with an expansion of the stage area and the building of a scene house to accommodate flying scenery) and is now the Lensic Performing Arts Center specializing in a variety of live performances including theatre, music and dance. The old triangular marquee has also been replaced by a ‘boxier’ one.

The name? Nathan Salman, the original builder of the theatre offered a prize for a name for the new theatre, one that might incorporate the initials of his grandchildren. The grandchildren’s names? Lila, Elias, Nathan, Sarah, Mary Irene, and Charles.

El Onate, at the corner of Palace and Lincoln, predates the Lensic, opening in 1921. It was built on the site of the old Capitol Hotel, in the Pueblo style with the distinctive twin church bell towers. The building, now housing a bank, looks much as it did when it was built, though the bell towers are gone.

Paris Theatre, 123 W. San Francisco. There were two theatres at one time or another at 123 W San Francisco. Initially the site was occupied by the Paris Theatre, also owned by Nathan Salman. Built in 1914, and showing silent films it eventually converted to sound, showing the first ‘talkie’ to be screened in Santa Fe, Carl Laemmle's Universal Picture’s Broadway in 1929. It also featured a Wurlitzer organ. Unfortunately it burned down in 1948. It was replaced by El Paseo.

El Paseo, also at 123 W. San Francisco was built in 1948. This was not a remodel of the Paris, but was brand new construction as a result of the fire. The theatre closed in the 1980s. The building now houses a Coldwater Creek retail store.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Benediction - Haruf's latest about Holt

Dad Lewis is dying. The cancer is all over him. By September he will be gone.

Benediction (Knopf), is Kent Haruf’s latest novel about life and lives in the eastern Colorado town of Holt. Holt is a fictional town but Haruf creates for us such a strong sense of place and authenticity that for us - particularly those of us who have spent anytime in the small towns of eastern Colorado or western Kansas - Holt is very real.

Haruf’s narrative about Holt began with The Tie that Binds and continued through Eventide. Benediction takes place over a couple of hot summer months as Dad Lewis moves closer and closer to death. We spend time with him and his wife Mary and daughter Lorraine as the inevitable moves closer, day by day; we learn about their present lives and things about their past - the past, is indeed prologue - and the son who is no longer there. As with Haruf’s other books, we meet other residents of Holt, neighbors, friends even casual acquaintances. We learn about their lives and past.

Dad and Mary met and were married in 1948. Dad eventually purchased the hardware store where he worked; "he was a known man in town by then, the bankers knew him, and gave him the loan without question." He ran it successfully up until the present.

Lorraine, their daughter, now lives in Denver but has come home to be with her father and mother as the end draws near. She has already had tragedy in her life. We don’t know whether she will stay.

Their neighbor, Berta May is now raising her granddaughter, 8-year old Alice. Alice doesn’t know where her dad is and her mother, Berta May’s daughter, has died of breast cancer.

There is 60-year old Alene, a retired school teacher who has returned to Holt to live with her mother Willa. Alene never married but was terribly in love once.

There is also Reverend Lyle, only recently come to Holt, from Denver, as the minister at the Community Church. Lyle has a troubled teenage son, a troubled marriage and a troubled soul.

Haruf interweaves the current with significant scenes from the characters’ past. This flow makes the present more meaningful. The characters are not perfect, they have made mistakes, had tragedy befall them, and had regrets. But they have, for the most part, persevered and tried to do the right thing. While sadness marks their lives in many ways and there is sadness in the novel, there is also a tremendous sense of hope and humanity. Life does go on and sadness is as much a part of the rhythm of life as joy.

Haruf’s style is a strong mix of spare dialogue and prose that nonetheless evokes the time and place and people in an economical but powerful way. He draws us into these characters; he involves us in their lives and their past; we care about them and what may happen to them: there is a tremendous humanity to them.

Haruf is a wonderful writer, with a style well suited to the west.

Plainsong, an earlier novel about Holt was made into a Hallmark Television movie. That, rather glib, adaptation was not very successful in my view; Haruf’s characters became one-dimensional caricatures. Plainsong and its follow-up Eventide also were adapted to the stage by the Denver Center Theatre Company.

I don’t know whether there will be another story coming from Holt, but I hope so.

Kent Haruf will be at the LoDo Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, March 6, to read from Benediction and sign copies.