TOP 5 DESERT ISLAND Directors! Part 1 of 3 Under Construction

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

This is an idea that the filmspotting podcast covered in their latest episode, and while they had intriguing choices it spurred me to a slightly different list and slightly different choices.

If you can only, for whatever reason, have the films of five directors to watch, on a desert island, for an uncertain amount of time, or for all time… what five directors do you choose? Fritz Lang? F.W. Murnau? Louis Feuillade? Alfred Hitchcock? David Lean? Orson Welles? Ousmane Sembene? Mary Harron?

They list very interesting choices, not as good as the names I list above (I’m joking), many of which I myself am a cheerleader for (Kurosawa, Howard Hawks), but it occurred to me that diversity, particularly when it came to Hollywood films, was a rare exception rather than a rule. And that concerned me because, if I am trapped on a deserted island with the filmography of only 5 directors, that I wanted the filmography of at least a couple of those directors to represent the ethnic width and breadth of the human condition. The beauty of a range of colors and women and cultures.

I being someone who even today gets bored with the lack of diversity of films, the idea of being stuck with films not representative of the larger world, and the rich tapestry of people in it, gave me pause. For all our berating of terms like political correctness (which when really defined is respect, so when people rail against political correctness what they are really arguing against is giving people respect) we have become a more intolerant and stratified society. And part of that I think has to do with our mass media. Our obsession with vilifying the other.

The (seemingly increasing) lack of diversity in recent films and television, being I think a dangerous sign of a tail wagging the dog society. Of a vocal minority calling for a return to ‘the good old days’ which, when finally viewed, never really were that good.

Hollywood has from its inception been a propaganda machine, where a few people’s fiction altered often negatively many people’s facts. And before discussing Desert Island directors, another discussion has to be had first… about the values of film. Not the value of film, but the values portrayed or reiterated or held dear, in perhaps too many films. We have to talk about exclusion and stereotyping in films beginnings, and in film’s present.

While willing to give a slight pass to pre-1960 films given their historic placement, I have less interest or sympathy for segregated and nearly Apartheid rich, post-1960 into 21st century, Hollywood films. Or worse the 21st century version of Step and Fetchit, black actors used to deliver White Messages. Be it MONSTERS BALL or TRAINING DAY it’s the eye-bulging, debasing, cartoonish extremes, that Black actors are saddled to wear, that hearkens to what is worst in cinema.

If the choice is between only debased caricatures… of people of color, ala Frank Darabont or David Ayer or practically no characters of color ala Woody Allen, I’ll take the latter evil. But ideally the filmmakers I want to support and revisit, are those who can represent characters of color with the same broad diversity we grant to the human race, the Michael Manns, the Carl Franklins, the Tony Scotts, the Gordon Parks.

This idea of us as hero and villain, Sexual and chaste, brilliant and imbecilic, honorable and flawed, important and funny, savior and victim. In the 21st century that diversity of roles is generally relegated to White actors. In the 21st century the number of Hollywood movies that portray characters of color with any of those positive aspects listed… are few and far between.

Even supposed mass market films like XMEN FIRST CLASS and SIN CITY reek of this ingrained stereotyping and caricature as truth, when it comes to the non-pale characters. And I could deal if this mentality and programming and white wish fulfillment was the occasional film, however in the last two decades it has become practically every film and tv show. The White hero has a woman of color pining for him, his backup girl typically. And the male actor of color, seldom a protagonist, and even less seldom does he get the girl, he is now relegated to comedy relief or side-kick; Rochester for the 21st century. Far have we drifted from the sexually virile Black stars of the 70s.

This creates a cinema of exclusion and to some extent, social engineering. Our facts are shaped by our fictions, arguably more than anything else, and a cinema of marginalization, legitimization and feminism of the male of color, bodes not well.

We are not DW Griffith we are not Cecil B. DeMills making entertainment for a virulently segregated, Jim Crow America. We have made some progress since then, and for filmmakers not to acknowledge that progress or that shifting audience, is to take a stance against that progress, and against that diverse viewing base.

We are not in the early days of the 20th century, we are in the early days of the 21st and while it is a filmmakers choice whether to be exclusionary or boring or homogeneous to a fault, you do so at the risk of failing to become a better filmmaker. You do so at the risk of making scared, redundant, and repetitive early 20th century films, here in the 21st century.

Well I’ve gone on about the pitfalls of cinema, here 15 years into the 21st century, now let’s discuss the strengths of film. The people I think are portraying an America and a world far more intune to the one I walk through, where heroes can be both Black and White.

In the Hollywood system the names are few, but welcome, and waiting… waiting for viewers, reviewers, actors, writer, producers, studios, and directors to recognize there is an inequity, a growing one, at the heart of our fictions, that much be addressed to make our cinema and ourselves… better.

Those filmmakers are (among others):

The late great Gordon Parks
The late great Tony Scott
The very much with us and Great Michael Mann
The very much with us and Great and underutilized Carl Franklin
Sergio Leonne
Ossie Davis

Very, very different directors, but what they were all able to do, sometimes for a single movie, sometimes for multiple movies, is something so rarely done in Hollywood today that it’s like there is an unofficial Hayes code prohibiting it…

…prohibiting having a movie with a character of color or Black character as both heroic protagonist and a male with a functioning libido, who doesn’t have to die or be sacrificed for the majority. 🙂

Outside of the great explosion of films in the 70s extending a bit into the 80s, and the subsequent eradication of locally controlled/independent theaters, The Heroic, virile Black hero has become a scare commodity on Theatrical screens.

Which is why when it gets done well… these days, such as in Peter Berg’s poorly named and badly marketed HANCOCK… the film becomes a wild success. Because there is a large population starved for empowering images of themselves. 2013 with its BUTLER and FRUITYVALE STATION and 12 YEARS A SLAVE, showcases Hollywood’s debasement attitude when it comes to theatrical releases. “Multiple characters of color? You better be a comedy, or telling us about getting your ass whupped.” 🙂 .

Hence 2013s abundance of films of victimization, while they should be valid stories that have their place, if you counter them with just as many films of triumph, or winning, or adventure, or thrilling action and heroism. However the Heroic Tale is a rare one, and that is the failing of the system we have to change. Without the heroic myth to contrast it, tales of victimization are just an assault, a tool, a club… to beat a population into shape.

— to be continued —

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WEDNESDAYS WORDS

WEDNESDAYS WORDS is a new weekly installment that ranks the most interesting, intriguing books of the week (old, new, reissues, digital, etc). Contributors represent a variety of genres and sources. Each book includes Title and publisher blurb.

Star Trek USS Enterprise Original Series Crew James T Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura & Chekov T-Shirt

Yes, I’m kicking this off with one non-book item just cause I thought it was pretty awesome looking. :). Okay, now onto the books!


Night Watch
Publication Date: July 26, 2006
The Night Watch series has caused a sensation never before seen in Russia — its popularity is frenzied and unprecedented, and driven by a truly great, epic story. In 2005 Fox Searchlight announced it had acquired the Russian film adaptation for an American release. Interest in the books here is now set to reach a fever pitch.

Set in modern day Moscow, Night Watch is a world as elaborate and imaginative as Tolkien or the best Asimov. Living among us are the “Others,” an ancient race of humans with supernatural powers who swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light. A thousand-year treaty has maintained the balance of power, and the two sides coexist in an uneasy truce. But an ancient prophecy decrees that one supreme “Other” will rise up and tip the balance, plunging the world into a catastrophic war between the Dark and the Light. When a young boy with extraordinary powers emerges, fulfilling the first half of the prophecy, will the forces of the Light be able to keep the Dark from corrupting the boy and destroying the world?

An extraordinary translation from the Russian by noted translator Andrew Bromfield, this first English language edition of Night Watch is a chilling, engrossing read certain to reward those waiting in anticipation of its arrival.

I caught a bit of the DVD, but not enough to really get a grasp of this 4 book Russian series. So interested enough to pick up the first book and give it a read.


Voyage: A Novel of 1896

Editorial Reviews
From Library Journal
Hayden’s wonderful 1976 novel is a historical page-turner with a social conscience. The book compares the treatment of the rich and poor as it juxtaposes the journeys of the pampered daughter of a shipping titan and the crew aboard one of her father’s hellish barks. (Classic Returns, LJ 11/15/99)
Reed Business Information, Inc.

From the Back Cover
“Violent, colorful… you keep turning the pages to find out just what in the name of God is going to happen next.” –Boston Globe

“A book of savage beauty.” –Boston Herald American

“A rousing epic… Big, muscular, profane, cynical, romantic.” –Chicago Daily News

“A rare sort of sheer drive and vitality carries this novel… a raw fury about class distinctions and privileges… strangely refreshing in our blase age.” –New York Times Book Review

“A story of extraordinary richness and power… Sterling Hayden here proves himself a master novelist. His prose is vivid and brawny, his characters come to individual life… At once a magnificent epic of the sea and a dynamic portrait of turn-of-the-century America.” –Publishers Weekly

Painting With Light
Book Description
Publication Date: May 18, 1995
Few cinematographers have had as decisive an impact on the cinematic medium as John Alton. Best known for his highly stylized film noir classics T-Men, He Walked by Night, and The Big Combo, Alton earned a reputation during the 1940s and 1950s as one of Hollywood’s consummate craftsmen through his visual signature of crisp shadows and sculpted beams of light. No less renowned for his virtuoso color cinematography and deft appropriation of widescreen and Technicolor, he earned an Academy Award in 1951 for his work on the musical An American in Paris. First published in 1949, and long out of print since then, Painting With Light remains one of the few truly canonical statements on the art of motion picture photography, an unrivaled historical document on the workings of the postwar, American cinema. In simple, non-technical language, Alton explains the job of the cinematographer and explores how lighting, camera techniques, and choice of locations determine the visual mood of film. Todd McCarthy’s introduction, written especially for this edition, provides an overview of Alton’s biography and career and explores the influence of his work on contemporary cinematography.


Denim: From Cowboys to Catwalks: A Visual History of the World’s Most Legendary Fabric
Book Description
Publication Date: September 1, 2005
The story of denim is a tale rich in paradox. Cherished alike by cowboys and models, the fabric is at once a symbol of the counterculture and the raw material of a major industry. A simple fabric, dating back to 17th-century France, denim today is ubiquitous: Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood have pushed it into the forefront of high fashion; and Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani have made it the basis for billion-dollar brands. This homage to the much-loved fabric delves deep into the archives to trace the origins and development of denim. It features rare pictures of icons wearing denim, like Marilyn Monroe and Steve McQueen, plus specially commissioned photos of rare and classic garments from the 1880s to the present day. It is complete with a glossary and a guide to valuable vintage items.

Even though like all of you I own denim clothes, I admit to until prepping for this post, being relatively ignorant of exactly what Denim was. I mean fabric content, is typically not on the foremost of my mind. I’m sure I picked up it was cotton in the many years of buying jeans, but if so only as background noise. With prepping for this post, it became actual consumed and recognized knowledge. So what is Denim? For those of you like me, ignorant of fabric content… Well, it’s a uniquely American popularized byproduct of the slave-trade it’s nothing more than an incredibly tough form of cotton weave. I admit to being intrigued enough, to want to learn more.


Eyes with Winged Thoughts: Poems and Photographs
From Booklist
Gordon Parks is remarkable: a Renaissance man who has mastered photography, filmmaking, and writing. The story of his life is certainly an incredible one, which explains why Parks has written a new memoir titled A Hungry Heart (2005). This collection of poems and photographs, however, will add yet another dimension to Parks’ life story. From the resonant words and lessons of his parents to meditations on current events–terrorism, the tsunami, the war in Iraq–the poems are candid snapshots of Parks’ emotional life. Words harmonize with landscape photographs and images of strangers walking through their lives without a sense of being observed. Transcending voyeurism, Parks’ photographs reveal vulnerabilities of the human experience with grace and compassion. After all, Parks understands vulnerability and willingly displays it in his writing. In his 90s and still driven to experience what the world has to offer, and to express his response to it, Gordon Parks is an inspiration to us all.– Janet St. John

Gordon Park’s was a renaissance man, in the highest definition of that word. Photographer, writer, musician, cowboy, director. And with his passing, the world lost one of the last adventurers, one of the last of a dying breed… called men. All his books, are highly recommended.


Face Forward
Amazon.com Review
“Makeup should be fun, not fascist,” celebrity makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin avers in Face Forward, his third book. One of the most adored stylists among fashionistas, entertainment divas, and high-society jet setters, Southern-born Aucoin arrived on the New York fashion scene in the early ’80s, a period he ridicules for its ’50s-era conservatism and McCarthyist us-against-them values. His career since has been motivated by the feel-good ideals of acceptance, diversity, and self-love, and the vain world of beauty has eagerly participated in his vision. While one may puzzle on how it is he finds fulfillment in an industry known for its superficiality and elitism, Aucoin’s words are nonetheless infectious and the touches of his brushes inspired.

Conceived as an exploration of the past, present, and future of beauty, Face Forward is an ingenious showcase of the transformative, creative possibilities of makeup, with portraits of everyone from Julia Roberts to Sharon Stone, Martha Stewart to his mother, Thelma. His crafted visages range from minimal-application makeovers of friends to elaborate re-creations of such Hollywood icons as Audrey Hepburn (Calista Flockhart), James Dean (Gwyneth Paltrow), and Veronica Lake (shockingly, Martha Stewart) and such pop-culture personalities as Cher (socialite Alexandra von Furstenberg) and Siouxsie Sioux (Winona Ryder). The final pages present his ideas for looks to come, such as “Explorer,” Mary J. Blige covered in eggplant body makeup with a rainbow of metallic eye shadows over her eyes and thickly glossed red lips; “Floralia,” a freckled Lucy Liu resembling a sprite from A Midsummer’s Night Dream; and “Venusian de Milo,” Sharon Stone as an orange-haired, one-breast-baring sci-fi femme fatale. Throughout, Aucoin augments an already colorful book with step-by-step instruction, chatty commentary on each look and model, and riffs on such topics as friendship, politics (he repeatedly applauds the Clinton Administration for embracing diversity in the ’90s), and the environment.

“Appreciating (even highlighting) individuality is one of the great things about makeup,” asserts Aucoin, and Face Forward is a dazzling testament to that belief. For those who see the fun of makeup and are eager to experiment with the virtually unlimited possibilities of it, this book is a boon. –Rebecca Wright –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Okay I admit this last one is an odd choice. But I love that cover, plus we all have women in our lives that we can give this book to as a present. 🙂


The WEDNESDAYS WORDS column is a new blog feature, appearing (you guessed it!) every Wednesday. Come back next week to see which books make the list!

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Stumbling through the Dark in… Heroic Times!

If you’ve stumbled across this handy dandy blog, it means more than likely you’re a pop culture junkie like myself with more than a passing interest in books and cinema, and aren’t totally adverse to the idea of getting together with a bunch of like minded people and sharing these interests. Yapping a bit on fav music and comics and movies and writers and artists, etc.

Here I’ll try and keep you quickly and concisely informed about some stuff I’ve stumbled over and have loved, liked, or simply believe deserves a larger audience. Some of you are people I know, and I’m using this blog as a way of keeping you conveniently informed without sending out a trillion emails.

And while the gist of this will revolve around pop culture, it will take little segues depending on what’s going on in mi vida loca, my crazy life. Baltimore local here, so a little of this will revolve around this odd port city. Will revolve around landmarks and people; an odd place of power this city is, full of brilliance and banality, beauty and barbarism.

So without further ado:

First a little about me, 30 going on 98, pop culture guy, employed for a major metropolitain newspaper, and in my spare time defend truth,justice and the a… wait that’s that other guy.

But yeah me average dude. Employed here, freelance writer on the side with two pro gigs to my resume( pro as in I actually got paid for the stuff, not pro as they were big time) and a lot of self published and free stuff printed. Looking to do a lot more of that stuff, and actually buckle down and try and submit a piece someplace every week.

(So some of you getting this have volunteered to help me get a new freelance mag/ fanzine off the ground. So really big on that. Those of you serious, let’s get started asap. We meet at my place every Sunday, early, and just start slapping stuff on the page. And either sell it mailorder, or via ebay, or force atomic books to carry it. Think of it as Entertainment Weekly meets Heavy Metal meets Mother Jones. Need writers, artists, photographers, etc. No pay, no glory, outrageous deadlines and fun. Spread the word!)

HOMICIDE was Great, or How I learned to kill my TV

Not a huge TV guy here, most stuff on tv is just…. not good. Last decent TV I watched was like Homicide, lst year NYPD Blue (the year with Carruso, rest of the years were… crap), Babylon 5, Farscape, and generally TCM.

But now, in the last six months I turn on my TV maybe once a week. And the killer part is I paid a paycheck or eight for the darn TV, and basically it’s just a very huge paperweight.
(With the exception to that being… I recently caught a show on AMC I think, called HUSTLE. A brit show, it was very good)

HYENAS whup Sin City

All that said I love movies, DVDs. Dig everything from classics to crime to horror to foreign. Let me rephrase, I love good movies. Which means I HATED Sin City (saw it on the big screen like everybody else, what a waste of money). And I dug the Frank Miller books, but like everything Tarrantino and Rodriguez have done recently, the darn thing had no soul. For more on Sin City, a better analysis and why it’s more programming than movie, go here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0401792/usercomments-1000

If you want to see a good movie, and don’t mind subtitles check out the late, great Mambety’s wickedly biting satire HYENAS. Great flick out of Senegal.

WHO KNOWS WHAT EVIL LURKS

But really I’m not even watching movies, unless I have company over. When in the house by myself,or writing or reading, I’m listing to music or OTR.

OTR? Oh yeah, let me explain. Recently got turned onto Old time radio. What they call the theater of the mind. Radio programs ranging from the 1930s to the 2000s. Stuff like The Shadow and Suspense. Currently listening to a program from nearly 70 years ago called Mysterious Traveler, man that’s some good stuff.

Endlessly listenable.

HATH CHARMS to soothe

As far as the music stuff. Very eclectic here, but some names that rise to the top: Terry Callier (if you have not listened to his African Violet you are missing one of the great songs of all time), Rage against the Machine, Public Enemy, Seal, Bob Dylan, Coltrane, Lenny Kravitz, Solomon Burke, Traci Chapman, Green Day, Everlast, Bob Marley, Awadagin Pratt (great classical pianist),Johnny Cash ( based on one song, his Man in Black),and lots and lots of regional guys the best being Jahiti and Talaam Acey.

Nothing like a screaming crowd

Dig live events. Concerts, plays, openmics, sporting events. I really don’t get into watching sports on tv, with the exception of boxing or mixed martial arts. Some great venues for live music are: 8 by 10 club, Notre Maison, Xando, and An Die Muzik.

Comics Smomics

Comicbook fan from the good old days, before it was cool to like comics. Nowadays every movie is comic based, every hack movie or tv writer or director… wants to write a comic. It’s sickening. That said I still dig the occasional comic book. I’d recommend picking up anything by Kyle Baker, his Nat Turner is getting great buzz),and John Ridley (a true Renaissanse man, director, screenwriter, novelist, writes brilliant pulp fiction in the hard angles of Himes and Thompson) is now doing a comic. But seriously it is good to see comics being seen as a valid form of entertainment for adults. Something other countries have long known.

Pulp Fiction or Literature that Rocks

Currently reading so many books. Ones I’ve finished and highly recommend? Marc Olden’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant, BLACK SAMURAI series from the 70s. Far better than the lackluster, related to the book in name only, Jim Kelly film from the 70s.

Have finished 2 of the eight books in the series, Book 5 The Warlock, and Book 1 Black Samurai. This is a series highly deserving of seeking out. If you’re a fan of other Action books such as THE DESTROYER, MACK BOLAN, etc. you will love Black Samurai. Currently on Book # 3 The Golden Kill. Great stuff.

Marc Olden has done some well known, mainstream novels, and police procedurals since, but nothing comes close to the the kick, fun, pathos, and shear brilliance of his work in this 70s series.

Have just started David Anthony Durham’s PRIDE OF CARTHAGE. The story of Hannibal of Carthage, Hannibal the Great… who took the war to Rome. Just knocked out the first 30 pages, and the language, the descriptions… just lovely, lovely stuff. It puts you there, in an odd removed age, of masterless men.

So that’s a little about me, and the type of things you can be turned onto in these pages. Upcoming entries will bring you info on best podcasts, favorite spoken word artists, my trip to harlem, my first Hot Air Balloon Ride, Spain in summer… during the dying of the light, tales of my ongoing unfinished projects, and interviews with writers and creators I admire.

Have guests coming over so we’ll cut this entry off here.

Want to dedicate this podcast to the great Gordon Parks who recently passed away. The absolute definition of a Renaissance man, writer, director, photographer, painter, poet, cowboy.

May you rest in everlasting peace, but may your energy continue, may it go forth and fill and uplift and inspire a new generation.

If you don’t know the name Gordon Parks, please take the time to learn it (I’ll cover him in more detail in upcoming entries). He has left great, immense shoes to fill, and the world is the poorer for his passing.

Thanks for checking out my site, and talk to you soon.