Monthly Archives: November 2009

TV Perspective: James Wolcott Lambasts Reality TV

James Wolcott
James Wolcott (Photo: Vanity Fair)

James Wolcott‘s take on pop culture is clear cut and acerbic on a routine basis. Some critics, myself included, too often hem and haw as to our views on certain matters. Not Wolcott. Consider the following excerpt from the December 2009 Vanity Fair:

There was a time when idealistic folksingers such as myself believed that Reality TV was a programming vogue that would peak and recede, leaving only its hardiest show-offs. Instead, it has metastasized like toxic mold, filling every nook and opening new crannies. Idiocracy, Mike Judge’s satire about a future society too dumb to wipe itself, now looks like a prescient documentary.

I wish I could quote more of Wolcott’s analysis, but to fully appreciate his insight you need to read the whole thing yourself. To a certain extent, I’m saddened by the weight of his perspective. I hope he’s wrong and fear he may be completely right. On the bright side, there are critics that care about the state of affairs enough, that with any luck his critical eye can bring more folks along to his line of thinking.

[Hat Tip to NY Times’ Idea of the Day for pointing me to this item]

Classic Interview: Dick Cavett on Charlie Rose

I should have mentioned this earlier in the week, but due to the U.S. holiday, I opted not to run a new interview this week. Hopefully, you have enjoyed the slightly increased posting level this week, however.

I love a good interview, and Dick Cavett is a damn good interviewer. So is Charlie Rose. So a chance to watch the two of them talk (from back in 2001)–a good opportunity.

I hope you agree.

On TV Right Now: White Collar Marathon

USA Network's White Collar
USA Network's White Collar

Several weeks ago, a grade school classmate of mine (who I reconnected with through Facebook) asked me what I thought of USA Network’s new show, White Collar. The show’s Friday night slot at 10 PM makes it a show I often miss, due to busy Friday nights in the O’Shea mansion. But I like the show–although it’s a different beast and a far leisurely pace than my favorite USA Network show, Burn Notice. So I was happy to find out that today USA Network is featuring a White Collar marathon. It started at 1:30 PM (EST) and will rununtil 7 PM. If you like what you see, be sure to come back at 10 PM (EST) for a new episode.

The show started with a con artist,  Neal Caffrey, breaking out of prison just before he was due to be paroled. The FBI agent Peter Burke, who initially caught Caffrey, quickly catches him again. Staring at an additional four years in jail, Cafferty offers to use his criminal expertise to help Burke. Begrudgingly Burke accepts, knowing just how smart his former adversary is. There’s an element of the late l1960s Robert Wagner series, It Takes  a Thief, as well as a sliver of Burn Notice. What I mean by the latter aspect is that Caffrey broke out of jail because his girlfriend, Kate, had left him. The mystery of how and why she left him is an overarching plot thread being carried through every episode.

Of the two leads, Burke is played by Tim DeKay and reminds me of a young Chris Cooper. Caffrey is played by an actor (Matthew Bomer) that folks like myself (who are longtime fans of NBC’s Chuck) will recognize him as that series pivotal character, Bryce Larkin. The witty banter and general chemistry between the two leads are the core appeal of the series.

If you read this after today’s marathon airs, no worries, as USA Network offers all the episodes online for free.

Classic Atlanta TV: Don McClellan Catches Up with Officer Don

Atlanta has a rich media history, and Don McClellan has been part of it for 50 years with WSB-TV. While McClellan’s blog is clearly focused on WSB history, McClellan is also an avid runner (I remember when WSB would allow him to document a test run of the Peachtree every year, the day before the race) who loves to photograph other runners and document their stories at his blog. In fact, a co-worker who was photographed by McClellan at a race is how I found out he had started a blog.

Doug Richards’ Live Apartment Fire (Richards is another veteran Atlanta [granted not 50 years] long with WAGA, but currently at WXIA) is another great Atlanta media blog–and Richards recently directed folks to McClellan’s wealth of knowledge. So this time when I revisited McClellan’s blog (after my initial visit several months ago) I was pleasantly surprised to see he’d written a number of posts on Don Kennedy. For some of my older siblings, Kennedy was an important part of their childhood (through his alter ego, Officer Don) because of his live kids TV show on WSB-TV, The Popeye Club. (Really, one of these days I should do a post about my older sister, who had her appearance [the show was done with a live studio audience] on the Popeye Club preempted by coverage of the Six-Day War).

Continue reading Classic Atlanta TV: Don McClellan Catches Up with Officer Don

Film Criticism: Jonathan Rosenbaum

I derive great joy from films. Almost as much as I do from music. In film, the gratification is less immediate and harder to reach than when I listen to an engaging film. While I am a longtime friend of veteran film and theater critic Curt Holman–his friendship unfortunately does not grant me his same amazing level of film knowledge. And yet, there is a great deal that can be learned from critics like Holman (and a good critic typically has a great deal of wit, for example, my current favorite Holman line is in his review for 2012–“Director Roland Emmerich remains the John Holmes of disaster porn.” [that’s right, always wanting to inform his audience, Holman provides a link to John Holmes’ Wikipedia entry…]).

But as much as I enjoy Holman’s writing (along with the criticism of Roger Ebert and Mick LaSalle), I often think that I could learn more about film (and thereby get more satisfaction from films) by reading a greater variety of critical analysis. In my quest to broaden my film knowledge, I recently added former veteran Chicago Reader film critic, Jonathan Rosenbaum, to my RSS reader. Rosenbaum, a critic since the late 1960s, has filled his website with a staggering amount of his writings from over the years. How staggering? According to him:

I’ve published over 8,000 items since the late 60s. And according to my former technical adviser and helper Benjamin Coy, over 5,500 of these appeared in the Chicago Reader. Thanks in part to Ben’s diligent work, there are now (as of November 25, 2009) 7,722 separate items or “posts” on this web site (not counting items which have been prepared but not yet published) , which most likely include virtually all of my articles and capsule reviews from the Reader, approximately 160 Notes (some of which are republished texts), 49 other “featured texts” that haven’t appeared in the Reader, and, I would guess, many other posts that are either unwitting duplications or else mystery texts that haven’t yet been identified (unless that estimate of  “over 5,500”  was unduly conservative).

On a regular basis, Rosenbaum pulls from his archive of writing to revisit a review–maybe from the 1980s, maybe from the 1990s or more recently. A recent post revisited his 2001 review of Citizen Sarris, American Film Critic: Essays in Honor of Andrew Sarris, which ended with this broad perspective on cinema and the general study of it:

I don’t doubt that things are still growing and still possible for various crazed cinephiles today, so I’m not trying to pull any rank here. The point is that, cinema-is-dead theorists to the contrary, film history never even comes close to repeating itself, for better and for worse. And the prime lesson to be learned from Citizen Sarris, American Film Critic isn’t how much things were changed forever by one book called The American Cinema, because ultimately there is no forever in film criticism. The point is how much they’re still changing because of it, because with or without forever, ripples can last for centuries.

Rosenbaum has a wealth of experience that thanks to the Internet, is free to read, at his website. If you want to broaden your scope of film knowledge, you’d do well to visit the site. You won’t agree with everything, of course, but either way you’ll learn something.

DVD: Must Read After My Death (Now Available to Buy)

Must Read Poster
Must Read Poster

Back in January 2009, I had the pleasure to interview Morgan Dews about his documentary, Must Read After My Death. It was quite enjoyable getting to watch the documentary then, and I was pleasantly surprised when he emailed me this week to let me know his work was available on DVD.

As noted at his website, the DVD (stuffed with great extras) can be bought for $20– and/or snag the original movie poster ($20) from Dews directly (“who gets to keep the proceeds!” Dews was quick to add and offer to sign for an extra buck).  To order it, you can send an email to Dews at info AT mustreadaftermydeath.com (I’m trying to spare Dews some spam here, please be sure to place a proper “@” in place of ” AT ” when you email him) to place a direct order with him. Or, if you prefer the comfort of Amazon for $19.99, you can go that route. Other options include watching online at Gigantic Digital for $2.99; iTunes for $9.99; and in the near term–Netflix (soon, according to Dews).

It’s been nearly a year since I watched the documentary, and parts of it were some powerful, it still lingers in my mind. See this documentary, please.

TV Trends: Thoughts on Oprah’s Show Ending in 2011

I’m honestly stupefied by the fact that Oprah’s announcement of her show ending in 2011 has made such a big splash.  I guess if I was one of the local TV stations carrying her show, the news might be a serious blow–given her ratings track record of more than 20 years. But as a consumer, does anyone doubt the existing show will not be replaced with some other daily project on her OWN upcoming channel (set to launch in 2010)?

Media Memories: 1980 Braves & WTBS/Channel 17

A Slice From My Childhood
A Slice From My Childhood

So tonight I was at my mother’s house, looking for something that required me to dive into the folder of stuff my parents keep in a file for me (honor roll notices from grade school, summer reading program certificates from the 1970s…amazing stuff).

And then, in the file, I found a few of these. Tickets sent to me, due to my good grades (I’m fairly certain I was not a straight A student). As a kid, I did not appreciate the printed signature on the certificate (yep, that’s Ted Turner). The logo was WTBS on the eve of Turner Time (remember when TBS shows started at 5 minutes after the hour or half hour)–before the days of TBS Superstation.

Holding these tickets took me back to my childhood. Back in the days when the Braves were managed by Bobby Cox on his first round with the team (his second to last year as manager on this round)-but far from first place. It’s funny, as a kid I remembered them as always being a last place team, but as documented by Wikipedia, there were two teams (San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres) worse off than the Braves.

[Apologies for the fuzzy quality of the image, O’Shea mansion does not have a readily available scanner, so I shot this with my wife’s Blackberry…]

Kaya Oakes on Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture

Slanted and Enchanted
Slanted and Enchanted

In the introduction to her book, Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture, Kaya Oakes writes: “If we understand culture to mean something more than a style of music, a visual aesthetic, or a literary mode and try to define it from its Latin root, cultura—“to cultivate”— then we can see how indie artists have traditionally worked together to cultivate many things: credibility, freedom, the ability to promote their own work and to control how it’s promoted, self-reliance, open-mindedness, and the freedom to take creative risks. Likewise, if a culture is truly a group of people working and living together, independent artists have traditionally embraced the value of networking, making connections, and striving toward doing their art, their way. If being independent in your choices about what you listen to, look at, read, and watch implies a lack of compromise, then many of the people still making music and art independently would absolutely fit that definition. Indie’s ambiguity can partially be chalked up to its emphasis on making its participants feel individual and unique. But before any of us were able to be creatively independent, we had to build on the practice of our independent predecessors. Because indie’s history is in many ways a shadow history— one that parallels and reflects mainstream culture but also poises itself as being a subculture of outsiders— the threads connecting the twentieth- and twenty- first-century indie movements are not always readily apparent, especially in this day and age, wherein young artists face a plethora of choices about what kind of art they will make and how to distribute that art. Young fans often encounter art that builds on traditions of independence with which they may not be familiar.” (The entire intro can be read here at Oakes’ site). In the book, Oakes (who co-founded Kitchen Sink magazine) set out to examine the evolution of the indie movement and the scope of its impact. My thanks to Oakes for her time and insight into the DIY dynamics.

Continue reading Kaya Oakes on Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture

Interactive List: NPR’s The Decade’s 50 Most Important Recordings

So when my friend, Ralph Klein, told me about NPR’s project, The Decade’s 50 Most Important Recordings, he admitted that he was not familar with some of the recordings. Musically pompous fellow that I can be, I thought to myself–well I’m sure I’ll be able to ID all 50 of them fairly easily. Boy was I wrong. I own under five of the 50 and I only recognize about 35 of the recordings.

Consider this list (which NPR conveniently breaks down into smaller chunks with sample recordings for each artist), which I provide after the “more” link.

Continue reading Interactive List: NPR’s The Decade’s 50 Most Important Recordings