Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

Encounter with a small, humble and shocked comedienne

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

(UPDATE: Very sad to see Joan passed away September 4, 2014, but I stick by the re-telling of this story as I know one tough and funny broad would appreciate.)

Originally posted June 1, 2010

Dear Joan,

Remember this letter in the Los Angeles Times Calendar section for June 17, 1984:

HERE’S JOANY

When is NBC going to wake up and give Joan Rivers her own late night talk show? They don’t have to get rid of Johnny Carson – just put him on after David Letterman. Then Joan could have the best laughs, Johnny the last one, and we’d all be happy.

I was moved to write the letter because Johnny Carson’s show had been getting a little stale of late, and every time you had guest hosted, the energy lifted, the gossip barbs flew out like cluster bombs, and I was entertained.

And I guess my letter entertained you, because the day after it ran in the paper I got a phone call from your assistant in Las Vegas, where you were currently performing. The assistant said you saw the letter, were very grateful, and you wanted to personally invite me to attend your next nightclub show when you were in L.A.

Was I being punked? It turns out not. I got another call soon after saying I had been put on the V.I.P. guest list for your appearance at Carlos ‘n Charlie’s nightclub on Sunset Strip. Did I have any guests I wanted to bring? Well, my girlfriend, Danette, of course. We had been dating for a little more than a year, and wow, this would surely impress her.

We dressed in our finest 80’s nightclub wear; me in skinny tie and a textured jacket of multi-colors with the narrow lapels; my girlfriend with shoulder pads and the hair teased big.

When we arrived we were escorted to the front row of the club, just like the scene in Goodfellas where Ray and his main squeeze get the V.I.P. treatment. And for the next hour or so we heard you call every famous woman on the planet a ‘bitch,’ with scathing tales of venom, spite, gossip, and frankly, hilarity. Kathy Griffin owes everything in her act to you. Donald Rickles, who also knocked celebrities down to size in his act, was tame by comparison. He only called them ‘hockey pucks.’ You wielded the “B” word like a light saber. And we laughed our asses off. Or maybe we just felt compelled, since we were so conspicuous in the front row.

The show ended and, sure enough, we were invited backstage to meet you. You didn’t even wait for us to get to your dressing room. You came charging out of the room with a big smile on your face and your hand extended in generous friendship.

And that’s when it happened.

My girlfriend fired the “B” word right back at you.

“There’s the BITCH,” Danette loudly announced as you approached. I guess I forgot to mention that she was an actress, had just watched your act for an hour and a half, and probably wanted in on the fun and was playing it back to you. Don’t they say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery?

But it was something you definitely didn’t expect, and you stopped cold in your tracks like a mime hitting an invisible wall. Your smile disappeared. Your extended hand drooped faster than a granny tit from an unhooked bra. There was what seemed like an eternity of awkward silence.

But you’re a professional, and it took you only a few more moments to recover, put the hand up again and address me with gratitude.

“I read you letter in the Calendar,” you said, “And you made this old broad very happy.”

I don’t remember much past that. I’m sure you looked at Danette and shook her hand and tried to say something pleasant. But the bloom was off the rose. It was obvious at this point we weren’t going to be invited to party on any further that night with you or your entourage at the Beverly Hills Jockey Club, or go for blintzes at Cantor’s Deli, or anywhere else, for that matter.

You had been bitch-blocked. You weren’t that hot on meeting us anymore.

And for that, I’m sorry. Once you got past being playfully called a ‘bitch,’ you might have found us a fun couple. We could have had a few laughs.

But I guess you didn’t have quite the sense of humor when you were given a taste of your own medicine. What’s that they say, “You can dish it out, but you can’t take it.”

So for possibly dampening your evening, and not being welcome to hang out longer, I’m sorry.

But there’s no way I’m sorry for my girlfriend calling you a ‘Bitch.”

That was classic.

I had to marry that girl.

Twenty-six years later, we’re still together, and we recently went to a Kathy Griffin concert and listened to her call every other more famous woman a ‘bitch’ for ninety minutes.

Despite the laughs, I won’t be writing a letter to the newspapers praising her anytime soon.

And as far as bitches go, you’ll always be our “Number One.”

— A. Wayne Carter

Postscript – It’s clear now that Joan River’s offstage persona was completely different from the one she used onstage or on camera. Stories abound of her humble demeanor, generosity and support for good causes and underdogs. But it’s also understandable how anyone attending her shows or watching her on the E! channel might confuse the two. Let’s not canonize her. God knows Hollywood is full of egos that need taken down by size, but it’s also a breeding ground for insecurity and damaged and fragile psyches, and she often fired indiscriminate of the potential harm to the target. She should know. But she would no doubt be gratified to see her ‘other side’ winning the media coverage, and for that, she can truly rest in peace. 

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I think it’s gonna be a long long time

Monday, July 14th, 2014

(Summer reruns while I work on a script. Here’s a favorite. Don’t forget to check the archive)

I live less than 50 miles from Cape Canaveral, formerly Cape Kennedy, and formerly Cape Canaveral before that.  Talk about an identity crisis.

And now it’s going through another one: What’s the mission?

This week there’s a scheduled launch of an unmanned Ares rocket, which could replace the Shuttle, now on its last scheduled flights in … well, forever. NASA has submitted several mission proposals and budgets to the government, but the government’s got its own budget problems. How can we send a spaceship to Mars when we can’t get our own Earthship in order? Why should we go back to the moon when we’ve already been there? And are we content to just send astronauts up like janitors to regularly empty the Porta Potty on the Space Station?

I find these choices and questions somewhat sad.

Fifty years ago, in 1960, I was playing with my Cape Canaveral toy set as an excitable young boy growing up in Maryland and dreaming about our great big space adventures to come. Our rival superpower, the Russians, had beaten us to space with Sputnick, and now President Kennedy was promising we would beat them to the moon within 10 years.

And, by golly, we did. In the most amazing run of technological breakthroughs, NASA team dedication, personal sacrifice, and fast track government and popular support this world has ever witnessed, we went from stranded on Earth in 1960, to stepping on the moon in 1969.

But we dreamed much bigger than that.

Our favorite prime time television cartoon at the time was The Jetsons, where a family like ours lived in a penthouse perched in the sky and traveled around in their own personal flying saucers. They also had a cool robot pet dog that fetched the newspaper. (Paper newspapers? In the future? Now that’s science fiction).

Our favorite books were science fiction treats like The Martian Chronicles and R is for Rocket by Ray Bradbury, who wrote of international space travel, aliens and other worlds as if they were already here, and a natural part of our daily life experience.

We went to the movies and watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, which evo-leaped us in the single tossing of a bone from raging primates to commercial passengers on celestial spaceships waltzing through the galaxy to “The Blue Danube.”

David Bowie sang about Ground Control to Major Tom in Space Oddity, and Elton John picked up on Ray Bradbury’s working stiff astronaut theme by singing as a Rocket Man, who punched a clock and did his job five days a week, but also had time to ponder why he was, “burning out my fuse up here alone.”

Star Trek, Space 1999, and Star Wars delivered us warp speed to a time where we had so distantly moved on to exploring (and fighting with) other worlds that living on Earth wasn’t even an afterthought anymore.

And beyond going to the moon … none of these things happened.

And none of them likely ever will. At least the way we’re headed now.

It was all just a fever dream fueled by huge leaps in rocket technology, hope, and great expectations.

My childhood imagination soared on those expectations.

And now, as an adult, I don’t even want us to spend one more dime to go anywhere else in the universe. I just want us to get Earth … right. I don’t want us to burn one more drop of ultra high octane rocket fuel further depleting the ozone layer and exposing the Earth to deadlier levels of radiation. I don’t want us to send one more man or woman into space unless it’s for some reason to really help us back here on Planet Earth, today. It’s not enough to live on the fantasy of what travel through the universe can deliver us anymore. We’ve got to deliver here, first.

This isn’t some tree-hugging idealist writing.

This is … merely a realist.

A realist who doesn’t think we need to completely abandon our dream of space, but just abandon the last century’s model and method of how we get there.

The next leap in evolution could be some matter-anti-matter dylithium crystal device breakthrough that beams us throughout the universe without burning fossil fuel or using any more precious resources, but it won’t be constructed from any blueprints left behind from the existing technology paradigm. It will be another great leap of imagination that re-invents the way we meet the stars.

You see, I’m still hopeful that we will explore the space beyond, and maybe even live there one day. But the realist in me now understands we must the find the way way out by better exploring the space within.  That’s where we’ll find even greater answers to the questions of what’s out there. That’s where the bigger mysteries wait to spark our inspiration and be revealed. And that’s where the next phase of space exploration can begin.

Maybe Cape Canaveral will still be the harbor for this new evolution and rename itself Cape Higher-Consciousness.

I can’t wait for that play set.

— A. Wayne Carter

 

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Watching Bill Maher, Religiously

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

(Summer reruns while I work on a script. Here’s a favorite. Don’t forget to check the archive.)

I watch Bill Maher, religiously. Every week. Like church.

He speaks truth to power in a manner so cool and rational and funny, it’s refreshing and entertaining beyond shit.

No matter who the guest or panelist is, he has a way to instantly disarm them with pure reason. It’s hard to argue when someone is brandishing the cold, hard, indisputable facts.

Unless, of course, the subject of religion comes up.

Suddenly, this cool, calculated rationalist begins ranting and raving; practically foaming at the mouth about gullibility, ignorance, stupidity and the ‘fairy tales’ of the believers.

To quote Shakespeare, “Methinks thou doth protest too much.”

How is a raving atheist spewing contempt and intolerance for believers in Jesus or any other faith any different than an evangelical Christian on the other side spewing condemnation and intolerance for heathen non-believers?

They are really mirror images of the same basic intolerance.

Who CARES what someone else believes? Nobody really knows. Why does it bug you so much, Bill? If someone wants to believe in Jesus, Mohammed, Scientology, Leprechauns, or the magic underwear of Mormonism, what’s it to you?

Sure, if someone uses religion to incite hatred and violence and war (as so often has been done throughout history, past and current), then expose it and condemn the hypocrisy of the agenda behind it. But don’t become one of them.

CNN has a religion column and 90 percent of the people who post comments to the column appear to be atheists angrily mocking or condemning the idea of faith, God, or religion. Religious columns online provoke more responses from atheists than actual followers of one faith or the other. What does this say?

Again, methinks they doth protest too much.

I have a theory that many atheists, and probably Bill Maher included, are burned believers. Why else would they get so riled up over what someone else believes?

At some time in their lives, perhaps in the early devout Catholic upbringing of the half-Jewish Bill Maher, they fervently believed in something. Maybe it was the power of prayer. Maybe it was the saving power of grace. Or maybe it was a miracle that just didn’t come through. They lost a parent or precious loved one or even a pet; the bully unjustly got away with his crime; or their parents stopped loving each other and divorced. So they threw away prayers or faith in anything beyond belief in the random cruelty or callousness of life, and embraced pure rationalism.

And now, any time someone else brings up faith or religion, it stirs their blood and those inner emotions and triggers a deep anger at something they once might have believed in and have since lost. How DARE someone else have faith in something?

It’s just a theory.

But I would also remind atheists or non-believers attempting art that almost every great masterpiece in the world of art or music was inspired by faith in something bigger than, or beyond the ego or rationalism of the artist.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (that’s Jesus in man’s ‘Joy’ there)

Mozart’s Requiem

The Beatles “Let It Be”

Michelangelo’s Pieta or David or Sistine Chapel

Even a secular artist such as Paul Simon found his greatest inspiration in gospel music when he composed, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

And what would Soul Music – think Marvin Gaye, Al Green or Otis Redding – be without the ‘soul?’ Probably just lifeless, uninspired programmed crap like the Black-Eyed Peas, “I Got a Feeling,” who’s only inspiration appears to be greed for a dance floor remix that has a shelf life about the same as milk.

John Lennon sang “imagine no religion” in his classic, “Imagine,” but he wasn’t talking about God or faith. He meant the use of religion by men as a form of control over others. And keep in mind he wrote this song after extensive experimentation in primary therapy writing cathartic songs like, “God,” and “Mother,” where he was screaming about the loss of … well, his mother. It happened when he was young. He probably prayed to have her in his life and felt betrayed. And he got angry. And later … he protested too much.

But he must have made his own peace eventually forgiving everyone else their silly beliefs in faith or God or religion or alcohol or pills or magic underwear, because one of the last NUMBER ONE hit songs he ever had was the very positive and cheerful, “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.”

It’s all right. It’s all right.

Here’s a simple test to determine whether you believe in some form of God or spiritual life.

Have you ever meditated? Do you believe in the power of meditation?

We’re not talking prayers. Prayer is ASKING for something from above or beyond yourself.

Meditation is LISTENING for something beyond yourself.

If you believe in the power of meditation, then you are not an atheist.

Because meditation is going within yourself to find a silence or inner peace beyond the chatter of your own mind.

It’s letting go of the ego or mask of identity you’ve created for yourself that pretends you really are separated from anyone or anything else.

It’s going within to find that inter-connectivity.

In physics, it’s called The Unified Field Theory. Everything in the universe; solid, gas, or liquid is really just dancing particles of energy suspended in space. Everything really is just ONE thing in a field or matrix.

In metaphysics, this inter-connectivity is called the Collective Unconscious, or Universal Consciousness.

In religion, followers call it God.

And to poets and dreamers, it’s called … Love.

Believe in that, Bill, and you just might find the inner peace and tolerance that evade holier-than-thou zealots who simply can’t “live and let live,” or “Believe what you want, and let believe.”

Believe in that, Bill, and you just might believe again.

I believe in you, Bill.

— A. Wayne Carter

 

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Things I’m Over, Volume 1

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Media Library

1) Collecting Shit       
          55 pennyWhen I was very young I collected coins. I don’t think I ever got past a wheat cent, or maybe a buffalo nickel. The holy grail of mildly passive coin collecting at the time was a misprinted ‘55 Lincoln cent where his image was blurred. Never got that one. I sold the collection for about $40 when I was ten.

I collected Marvel Comics almost until the age I went to college. I had issues 1-50 of most every title that came out in the sixties, including the original X-Men, Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Thor, Iron Man, etc. If I still had those issues today and they were in near mint condition, the collection would be worth at least a half million. X-Men Number One alone recently sold for more than $30,000. I could’ve paid for my son’s college a few times over with my collection, or bought a nice shack on the ocean in Monterrey. X-menBut then we didn’t have comic saver bags back then and, even though I kept them in prime condition, I doubt I would’ve continued lugging the whole lot from Florida to L.A. and back again. I sold the entire lot for about $400 in 1973 and used the money to buy two large 80-lb ESS speakers, after I heard the cascading guitars of “Band on the Run” on them in a stereo store. I still use those speakers 40 years later, so it turned out to be a good investment. No regrets.

I eventually collected about 1,000 vinyl LPs, but as soon as I heard CDs, I traded them in starting in 1986 until I had about 1,000 CDs (I kept some of the best art vinyl). I never collected movies on VHS because it was a lousy medium, a pain in the ass to rewind, and you could never get a decent freeze frame. Laser discs cost $100 each and were too expensive. DVDs were perfect, so I collected about 700 of my favorite films and television shows. Now I’ve traded most of the DVDs in for Blu-rays because they’re even better. I won’t go 4K because, frankly, my 1080p eyes will never need anything better than the image I get from Blu-rays. And now, I regularly trade in my Blu-rays that I doubt I’m ever going to watch again for other Blu-rays I just want to see.

elton_john-captain_fantastic_and_the_brown_dirt_cowboy-frontalAt some point, I finally realized that collecting is just a more organized form of hoarding. And I realized something even more important: It’s never really about the collecting; it’s more about the hunt. The joy of collecting was in finding that rarer ‘D’ penny, scoring that latest issue of Spiderman, picking up the Captain Fantastic LP the day of release, or having your favorite film finally come out on DVD or Blu-ray. It was the hunting and gathering that was fun, not the actual owning or putting that stuff on the shelf. Sure it’s nice to see this big library of stuff on my shelf, but, like I’ve said before, am I really going to listen to or watch it all again?

So now, it’s all just an evolving and diminishing library. If I have something I think someone else might enjoy, I pass it on. That gives as much pleasure as the original hunting and gathering. If I want to ‘briefly’ own a film or CD, I now trade in others to pay for it. I recycle. It’s all just moving through me now, not possessing me. And I also realize, I could let go of it all tomorrow. Well, except for the 3,100 songs on my iPod and iPhone. You’ll pry those songs in my earbuds from my ears when I’m dead (or I get tinnitus).

2) Putting a napkin on my lap when I eat out
I hardly see anyone do this anymore. I think it was part of a bygone era from when we watched Donna Reed with our parents. But we were trained well, because I have been doing it subconsciously ever since. Now, I’m thinking… “Fuck it.” It’s not just being lazy. Donna ReedPerhaps it’s a mild act of rebellion, where I don’t give a shit if I happen to spill something on a pair of pants. Or maybe I don’t have any pants worth caring that much about. A spill? Oops. Oh, well. Either wash them or toss them. How’s that for being a Rebel with a Cause? I’m sorry, mom, but you’re not around anymore to feel like you failed teaching manners in any way, and, like I said, laps seem to be open game these days. I believe I can count the times something actually dropped in my lap on one hand. With allergy season 24/7, I’m more likely to blow my nose on the napkin today than lay it across my lap.
dining-etiquette-tips-M2_A3e_581Ann Landers just turned over in her grave.

No napkin would have stopped the glass of water my future wife threw under the table at my crotch when we were goofing around on an early date. I remember getting in a movie line afterwards to see Raiders of the Lost Ark in Westwood with my pants soaked in the front thinking, “No one’s going to think I actually pissed my pants.” If so, why would I really be standing in a movie line with this beautiful woman by my side? But as we walked further down the line and people continued to chuckle behind my back, I wondered if my reasoning had been wrong. That’s when I discovered that I had somehow also sat on an open package of brown mustard back at the deli. So it looked like I had not only pissed my pants, but shit them, as well. No wonder everyone was laughing.

A napkin on my lap wouldn’t have saved that event from occurring. And for that memory alone, and the laughs it provided, I’ll just say grace.

– A. Wayne Carter

 

 

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Time Enough At Last?

Monday, January 6th, 2014

timeenoughatlastHappy New Year!

The classic The Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough At Last” features Burgess Meredith as a harried bank employee and henpecked husband who longs to have peaceful time alone to read his beloved books. When nuclear annihilation of the world occurs while he’s safely hiding in a bank vault reading during his lunch hour, he emerges to a new dawn where he has no responsibilities other than ‘all the time in the world’ to read. He gathers books into piles on the library steps assigning each pile a future year to read, and then clumsily drops and shatters his Coke bottle glasses, essentially leaving himself blind.

Baby boomers didn’t grow up with Aesop’s Fables as their moral compass or their primer on the karmic twists and cruel ironies of life – we got all those lessons on The Twilight Zone.

And there is no more cruel irony than realizing you are in the fourth quarter of your life (sorry, boomers, but it’s not the ‘third act’), and though you may have carved out considerable more time after relinquishing child-rearing duties and full-time job constraints, there just isn’t enough time left to enjoy all your favorite media you’ve accumulated again and again.

I love music and I love movies – to the point where, over the years I’ve collected thousands of LPs or CDs, DVDs and now Blu-rays (I never collected VHS tapes because it was just a poor ass inconvenient medium). Media LibraryAt some point I began restricting the collection to about 500 CDs and 500 movies on DVD or Blu-ray. Shelf space was a consideration, so any time my collection exceeded the space, I had to weed out the less essential and trade them in. It was a good system that created an ever-evolving library that kept me re-defining exactly what was ‘essential.’ But now I know that, even at this level, the time I have to review all the television series or films or albums I love is limited to the point where I’ll never hear or see all of my library again. Not unless that was all I spent my time doing, which, of course, is not going to happen. I actually watch less television now than I did as a kid (maybe 3-4 hours a day versus 6 as a kid). And the only time I listen to music at the levels I want (loud) is probably in my car or through my ear buds at the gym.

There used to be a time where, when a new album by one of my favorite artists came out, I would wait for the perfect unencumbered 40-50 minutes to listen, position myself between my 80-pound ESS Speakers, lie back, and just fully devote myself to the listening experience. The only equivalency to that today is if I have a drive over 30 minutes alone in the car. Otherwise, it’s just songs here and there.

We like to accuse millennials or our children of shorter attention spans and less focus on reading an entire book or listening to an entire album. But if we are honest, we know it’s not them that have changed, but the culture they are dealing with, where there is just ten times as much media competing for our attention at all times. Media BombardmentThey don’t buy albums; they just buy a song on iTunes. So is it any wonder they don’t collect physical media like CDs or books? Because the nature of everything now is so micro-transitory and momentary. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, and it keeps us more in the moment. But I can’t help but think that by trying to absorb everything that’s coming at us in smaller and smaller bits and pieces – songs, films, television, youTube, texts, gossip, twitter, news, etc. – we are actually absorbing NOTHING.

Wayne w Scripts sWhen I write a screenplay, I spend maybe hundreds of hours focusing on the structure, story and character to deliver as deeply rich an experience of the tale as possible. But no producer, agent or studio exec has two undivided hours or wants to read 120 pages, so they skim it or just read a two-page coverage. And, even if they love the story and buy the script, they provide notes based on a very superficial understanding of what went into the story. That’s why films are so bad today. The deal is everything. Nobody reads, or takes the time to grasp the full vision.

The pure experience of melding with the intention of the artist has been reduced from the time it takes to read a novel, or a screenplay, or listen to a full album, to about the length of one song or a YouTube video. With so many things competing for and dividing our attention, that’s about all we’ll give it.

Where this goes or ends up, I have no idea. But I enter the New Year a bit sad that I won’t have the time to fully re-experience all the great movies, albums and books that really combined to make me the artist and person I am, and with the full attention I once devoted to them. time enoughAnd that my son will never share all the same interests or devote his time to going through my library. But why should he? He has to create his own persona.

One of my resolutions this year is to put some filters on, use extreme discrimination, and realize that 90 percent of what’s being blasted at us through media is just useless distraction. And, beyond all the other more essential life experiences – family time, friends, work and travel – try to give the films, music or books I actually choose to re-visit the time and attention they deserve. Like old friends, they’ve given me so much.

– A. Wayne Carter

 

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Where were we in ’63?

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Fourth grade. Miss Booth’s class. Miss Booth wore glasses and had a big bun of white hair. She looked like George Washington, but she was also my favorite teacher in elementary school, and a very sweet person to have looking over you when the P.A. system came on and the principal announced that our President had just died after being shot. I was nine years old.

We were told to be silent and I can remember just putting my head down on the desk and trying to grasp what it meant that “Our President” had just been killed. Then they sent us home. I can’t remember if I ran or walked the mile or so home. Because of the Cold War and nearby Washington D.C. being a ground zero target for Soviet ICBMs, we often had Civil Defense drills where we were released from school and told to run home as fast as we could. This was no drill. I can only remember getting home and finding my mom red-eyed and crying on the couch in front of the television in our living room.

We lived in Maryland about 15 miles from the White House and everyone we knew in our universe liked President Kennedy. He was young and vibrant and optimistic. The Cold War with Russia was tense, but the ‘hot’ wars were over and America was in a boom economy. He promised we’d be on the moon within the decade after the Russians had gotten the jump on us to space with Sputnik, and we believed him. We envisioned the future like the cartoon, “The Jetsons” with our families living in dwellings among the clouds and scooting around on our own private flying saucers. The press labeled the glow of optimism that surrounded Kennedy and fueled our belief in the future as “Camelot” – a magical kingdom on a hill.

It seems that few people to this day can believe that a lone gunman discontent or looking for glory could bring that kingdom down with a cheap Italian rifle and two bullets. I couldn’t believe it. I spent years later in California going to lectures by Mark Lane and other conspiracy theorists trying to weave some fantastical story that gave such a senseless tragedy the mass complex story line it deserved. But I’ve spent the rest of my life learning to understand that, more often, the simplest explanation is usually right, and today, single lone disturbed gunman cause havoc almost every day. The problem with most mass conspiracy theories is they involve human beings, who are flawed and often susceptible to paranoia; they involve other human agents who are never as brilliant as we attribute their plots to be; and most people (who are not professional spies or soldiers) can’t resist the attention from spilling secrets if they know anything. Human behavior demystifies the myths almost every time. (For my full view on conspiracy theories see this blog).

Here’s what I do know is true: John F. Kennedy saved the world. At the most tense moment in the Cold War for thirteen days in October of 1962, when Russian was placing nuclear warheads aimed at the United States in Cuba, Kennedy resisted bullying five-star hawk generals like Curtis Lemay demanding we immediately attack, which would have certainly ignited World War III. Instead, he challenged and stared down the Russian Leader Khrushchev both through public denunciations at the United Nations, and through secret emissaries communicating indirectly, and made a face-saving deal for Khrushchev to back down and withdraw the missiles. Strong arm diplomacy instead of knee-jerk reaction won. And for nine year-olds like us who were shown 18 millimeter films in school of how we could somehow protect ourselves from a nuclear bomb by ducking and covering under our desks, the imminent threat of a worldwide exchange of thousands of inter-continental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads was lifted.

A year later, and long before the details of that story were ever fully revealed, our President was dead. Two days later his assassin was shot by police wannabe Jack Ruby (a George Zimmerman for his day); a familiar Dallas nightclub owner with aspirations for his own vigilante glory. And we spent the next few days watching Kennedy’s funeral. There were only three television channels back then and they were all tuned into the funeral events nonstop. We saw the flag-covered coffin in the caisson move slowly through the cold streets of Washington. We watched six year-old John Jr. salute at his father’s grave. We watched the widow, usually fashionable with a stylish hat and sunglasses, sheathed in a dismal black with a veil. And we experienced the optimistic spirit that so pervaded his presidency being gradually lowered into the ground along with his remains.

I guess you can say we just grew up. We learned to no longer believe in the shining kingdom on a hill. JFK had Addison’s disease. He took steroids. The steroids destroyed his back. He slept around. His wife remarried a Greek tycoon. John Jr. died piloting his own plane. Personal details soon overshadowed the mythical qualities of a president who could actually represent a nation’s collective hopes and aspirations.

Where were we in ’63? Naïve, but blissfully optimistic.

– A. Wayne Carter

 

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That ol’ black & white magic

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

(Revisit this oldie but goodie – the kid’s now 20! – or check out the archive while I commit my beleaguered brain cells to finishing a thriller feature screenplay in the next few weeks. )

Whenever I hear someone say they can’t watch a black & white movie or television show, I cringe … with pity. No student, lover or fan of cinema ignores the 50 plus years of artistry and lighting evolution that went into perfecting the black & white image on film … before color became the common palette.  And all that brilliant contrast of light and dark went the way of that gold dust blowing away into the wind at the end of Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Citizen Kane.  The Third Man.  The Maltese Falcon.  Casablanca. Strangers On a Train. Night of the Hunter. I’m sure you have favorites. And it wasn’t the lack of technology that made these classics black & white.  Color was around long before Dorothy landed on the Yellow Brick Road in 1939. In these and many other films, it was often the artistic choice of the director or cinematographer.

Many directors more recently have tried to recapture that look. Peter Bogdonavich with The Last Picture Show in 1971. Robert Rodriguez with Sin City in 2007. And even Hitchcock revisited it as late as 1960 with Psycho.  The very translation of the classic style of Film Noir is Film “Black.” Black as night. Full of inky black and veiled gray shadows, in alleys and across faces. There’s just nothing quite like it in color.

Especially for horror.

I wondered if my young son would ever watch black & white, let alone come to appreciate the gothic style horror lighting so perfected in black & white long before his time and even long before mine.

Just yesterday (it seems like), when my son was seven years old, he collected Yu-Gi-Oh bubble gum cards that included ‘monster’ cards. They reminded me of cards I collected as a kid from a science fiction horror TV anthology series in the early 1960’s called The Outer Limits. Each week a disembodied ‘control voice’ took over your television set and introduced a gothic-style horror or science fiction story with new characters, and featuring at least one new monster.

Because this was 1963 and most television sets could only play black & white, the show was filmed and broadcast in black & white. But this was the ‘perfected’ black & white shot by a master cinematographer (Conrad Hall), who would later go on to win Academy Awards. I was only about eight years old when the show first aired and I remember that it scared me out of my wits. I went to bed every Saturday night with nightmares, and yet I couldn’t wait until the next week to have some new ones. Perhaps this was the beginning of an adrenaline addiction. I just know I wanted to be scared silly, and The Outer Limits never failed to do the job.

So I retrieved the treasured deck of monster cards I had collected back in 1963 to show my son. Each card featured a hideous creature from one of the episodes. There was the bug-eyed alien with the razor sharp boomerang from “Fun and Games;” the shimmering, negative image radioactive man from “The Galaxy Being;” and the one that gave me the worst nightmares of all … the over-sized crawling ants with human-like faces known as “The Zanti Misfits.” In this episode, these insect monsters crawled out of their spacecraft atop a military post headquarters in a deserted Western town named “Morgue” and attacked everyone in sight. I couldn’t sleep for weeks.

I went straight to my DVD box collection of the original series and put the episode on to show “The Zanti Misfits” in action. My son took one look at the rather primitive animation of the ants crawling out of their cheap, tin-looking aircraft and immediately scoffed in ridicule, “That’s not scary.”

I was crushed. What could be more terrifying than loudly buzzing, over-sized ants with human-like faces crawling up your leg and biting you with poisonous teeth?

I cued up another episode called, “The Mice,” that featured what appeared to be a man on two legs covered from head to waist with a huge blob of snot-like gelatinous material with two protruding, claw-like hands. It was obviously a man in a costume fitted with a huge glob of fake jelly slapped on top.

He watched this ‘Jelly Man’ picking up lake scum with its claws and stuffing it in what appeared to be a slit-like mouth. He watched the Jelly Man running through a forest back to a laboratory. He watched the Jelly Man use its claws to attack and kill one of the workers in the laboratory where the creature had first been transported to Earth. And he watched as they eventually captured and sent it back to the planet it came from in the same transporter. And that was it. No major reactions from my son. But somehow he couldn’t take his eyes off of the Jelly Man until he had seen its final moment on screen.

That same night he insisted his mom come and lay down with him in his bed when he prepared to go to sleep. He told her to leave the closet light on. And when he finally and fitfully fell to sleep, his mother came out to the living room with a sour look that and scolded me for scaring him with the ‘Jelly Man.’ She went to bed mad as hell. And, as soon as the bedroom door slammed closed, I found myself grinning from ear to ear.

An old black & white TV show that had scared me as a kid more than 40 years ago could still scare a kid today.

It may have been the ‘Jelly Man’ and not the human-faced crawling ants with poisonous teeth, but it still counted. That old black & white mojo still worked.

I shouldn’t be proud about scaring my son with this stuff, but when he so easily scoffed at one of my most powerful childhood fears with, “That’s not scary,” well, I couldn’t help but feel glibly vindicated. And so I grinned.

And a week later he was still insisting on sleeping with the lights on in the closet and secretly talking about the ‘Jelly Man’ to his mom (but never admitting his fear to dad, of course).  I apologize to him to this day. I’m deeply sorry.

But wait until he sees the episode with the space rocks that come alive and cover your face with smothering black goo.

– A. Wayne Carter

Destruction of the Clay Man

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A brief rant on men’s fashion

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Okay, I’m the last guy in the world qualified to talk about fashion since I haven’t been seen out of loose-fitting, soft T-shirt, shorts and socklets with sneakers since I gave up bosses. But sometimes a trend so abominable it rankles your senses just forces you to go rouge, er, I mean, rogue.

I’ve always had a problem with men wearing suits, anyway. Did we really evolve and fight for our freedom over thousands of years to wear a colored noose around our necks? Do we really need a suit to proclaim we are a successful hunter-gatherer? Obviously some people don’t think so, and they are usually the richest and most successful in Hollywood. Take a look at Larry David, who’s worth about a half a billion dollars, and see if you ever catch him with a noose around his neck, or anything that remotely looks uncomfortable.

So what’s the trend that’s got my wrinkles rankled? It’s overly tight suits with overly short tight pants. And where are we seeing it? Such fashion mavens as Nick Cannon on America’s Got Talent, and Bill Maher on HBO’s Real Time. Are they really fashion mavens? They seem to think so. And what exactly is a maven? A raven with a hair lip?

First, Nick Cannon and Bill Maher both obviously take pride in their fashion sense. You can tell that immediately by their peacock strut that screams, check out how fit I am to wear this ridiculously tight suit and pants. Suits with narrow lapels buttoned in the middle, but so tight the gap under that button exposes their narrow ties hanging out like a loose tongue gasping for air. Pants tapered down and coming up short above the shoe like they’ve been shrunk in the wash. Who is the inspiration for this fashion trend? They have to be delusional (or at least their fashion consultants) to they think they impress.

We all know the deal. At least for men’s fashions. And how what once was considered hip is soon considered laughable. Take a look at the pastel-colored suits and wide ties and lapels of the 70s. Johnny Carson’s checkered sports coats. Skip to the 80’s and look at the slick tight pants with a sheen, shiny fake leather, tight suits, big hair and narrow ties. Skip to the 90s and look at grunge. Skip to the 00’s and see very few actually following any trend, but the five-day beard stubble is big (have you ever HAD a five-day stubble? Not comfortable), as are shaved heads that have to be shaved more frequently than a woman shaves her legs. That’s just a little OCD, if you ask me.

And then realize that no matter what the fashion is, like the neon day-glow sneakers everyone wears now, sooner or later it all looks ridiculous.

Which is why I stick to non-descript loose-fitting T-shirts, jeans and whatever sneaker is the most light or comfortable. It’s true, I’m no peacock seeking to attract a mate or any other kind of attention at this late point in my plumage, but it’s also because, as a writer, the last thing we want is anything that can possibly distract us from the ridiculously deep focus task of writing. We look for any excuse not to face the blank page of oblivion, so a tight collar, scratchy underwear, overly warm sock, and any presence of finger rings or neck jewelry is just going to interfere with the process. Shit, I bet I could feel a year-old tattoo on my skin. Sensitivity is our gig and it’s also our bane. To create characters and invest them with life, we literally, or at least figuratively, have to walk in their shoes.

So when I see a Nick Cannon or a Bill Maher walking around in an overly tight suit, colored noose, and clearly uncomfortable tight shoes with scary high lifts, I feel their pain. And I wish they could feel the pain I feel for them.

Now I realize any woman reading this right now is laughing out loud at what I feebly characterize as an uncomfortable outfit for the sake of fashion. But that’s a whole other conversation. We’re talking about men here. Or at least men who for some reason want to wear tight suits and short pants that could have only been inspired by that maven of all fashion mavens; Pee Wee Herman.

– A. Wayne Carter

 

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Summer Reading Round Up

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

 

Joyland by Stephen King

A better title might be “Summer of ’73.” Stephen King’s jaunt into crime pulp fiction has a hauntingly familiar theme about a writer who nostalgically remembers back to a summer in his youth when he lost his virginity to an older woman, whose husband was recently killed in the war. That’s right, it’s “Summer of ‘42” re-do, but the war is now Vietnam, and the setting is an amusement park on the coast of South Carolina instead of the coast of Long Island or wherever that beach town was where our hero Hermy lost his. (Ironically, the film “Summer of ‘42” came out in 1971 shortly before the events of this novel). I happen to love crime pulp fiction, plus stories about carnies, so I give the Big Bang plot a pass and applaud King’s tremendous restraint here. This book’s a mere 287 pages, whereas most of his recent novels are short stories padded with another 700 pages of unnecessary exposition, lately. You can read this one by the time the hoister (Ferris Wheel) comes back down and dumps you and the other rubes back off again into the Midway.

The Revolution Was Televised by Alan Sepinwall

If you subscribe to the belief that television is now the place where great characters dwell (unlike feature’s addiction to comic book heroes), and also, thanks to “The Sopranos,” that the protagonist in a TV series no longer has to be like you or even likeable, then this is the book for celebrating the true age of writers ruling television: Vince Gilligan (photo top with Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul) with “Breaking Bad;” David Chase with “The Sopranos;” David Milch with “Deadwood:” David Simon with “The Wire.” The shows covered in this book look like they were cribbed directly off my DVR viewing queue for the past decade. Of course, all of television’s dramatic show runners are now trying to follow this formula of morally questionable lead characters (who is Ray Donovan but a thinly-veiled West Coast version of Tony) but it all started with James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano: a brute and a killer, but a man who also suffered the slings and arrows and disrespect of trying to be a regular family man with a ‘real nagging housewife of New Jersey,’ and two rebellious teenagers whining him down to size.

The Unwinding by George Packer

Here’s your more serious read for the summer – a documentation of the last 40 years of America and its decline through the stories of several real life characters from the depths of Youngstown, Ohio projects to the heights of Wall Street and Silicon Valley. This is territory the great Studs Terkel used to mine so well, and it’s a beautifully written and worthy successor to his theme volumes (such as “The American Dream,” or “The Great War”). Packer doesn’t so much re-create his subjects’ dialogue in interviews as Terkel used to do, but instead encapsulates their stories in finely woven and succinct updates that alternate throughout the volume. Expect to see this one on Pulitzer or National Book Award lists at the end of the year. Equal parts depressing and uplifting, perhaps no book this year will give you a better sense of what we’ve been through and the toll it’s taken, but also one that showcases the spirit that might just drag us out of the mire and wind us back up.

Stop Feeling Lazy: How to Break the Procrastination Cycle Once & For All and Excel by Carol Look

Okay, I admit to a bit of procrastination getting around to reviewing a book that was sent to me:

I don’t really consider myself a procrastinator, at least not for work. Early on during my school years I learned that the sooner you got your work done, the sooner you can play, while all the other kids were waiting until the last minute stressing over their projects. I carried that attitude, for the most part, into my adult working life. But, as the basic dynamics of parenthood would have it, my 16 year-old son is one of those who puts homework assignments and projects and trumpet practice off until the last possible moment before getting around to it. It drives me nuts. But that’s the point, since being a teenager is all about establishing your own identity and driving your parents nuts. And, the process doesn’t seem to stress him out at all. He knows he’ll get to it, and that’s all he needs. You can’t force your will upon a teenager without it biting you back, so if he doesn’t see it as a problem, I will learn to accept that it’s not a problem.

But, as the writer of this book points out, if it IS a problem – if it does affect your productivity, you financial situation, your stress level or your happiness, then why not do something about it?

The surprise to me was finding out the technique advocated in the book was Meridian Tapping. I had experienced this form of therapy before during grief counseling after my mother died, but here it was tapping me in the face again in a book on procrastination. Meridian Tapping, for the uninitiated, works on the flow of vital energy, or as the Chinese term it, ‘chi,’ through your body and how to keep it from getting blocked or stagnating. Anyone who practices or believes in yoga, meditation, acupuncture or acupressure should be familiar with the concept. Tapping is a gentle form of acupressure for various meridian points on your face, torso, or head that seek to open up or keep open the flow of that energy while you are also ‘meditating’ or focusing on a desired goal or thought. You are stating the problem and also the emotional state you wish to be in to overcome that problem while you do the tapping. I’ve seen the value of this with the practice of “I Ching,” where you toss coins while focusing on an issue in your life that you want resolution for, and then read a proverb relating to that alignment of coins. These techniques are really just forms of forcing you to intensely focus on what you want to resolve, and to apply your own consciousness through these conflict-resolving meditative techniques to bring you a solution. It’s not as far out mystical eastern hooey phooey as you might imagine. And the surest way to test whether something’s whack or not is to at least give it a try.

You don’t need to be a procrastinator to enjoy the potential benefits of Carol Look’s book. Personally, I used the tapping to focus on overcoming any projected anxiety over the unknown variables in my life; to stop worrying about them so much, and to reinforce that I am a basically grounded individual with reservoirs of talent that can bring me unlimited financial and emotional happiness. Simple, right? What do YOU want to accomplish? Why not pick up this book –  it’s a mere 71 pages – and apply the simple tapping techniques to see if they resolve any blockages or stagnation you are experiencing, or to achieve any outcome you are desiring. What can it hurt, right? Just be careful and not too hard or you might tap yourself silly.

– A. Wayne Carter

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Above the Dumb

Monday, July 8th, 2013

“What the hell!?”

A ‘literate’ Paramount Pictures executive I was developing a screenplay for once told me that if she ever encountered a character in a script using that phrase, she would immediately stop reading and toss that submission. She explained that it was lazy, cliché, imaginatively bankrupt, and that it reflected those same qualities on any writer who would stoop to provide characters such trite, overused dialogue.

Characters in “Under the Dome,” the summer series on CBS use that phrase 11 times in the first two episodes. They use in it reaction to the dome that has suddenly entrapped their city of Chester Mills; and they also use it any time they are excitedly demanding an answer from someone else. And EVERY character uses it as if they all took the same brimstone Rosetta language course.

If that were the show’s only crime, it would merely be irritating, but the rest of the dialogue, plotting, staging and even the production choices are so dumb they are painfully laughable.

A stranger in town to collect a debt struggles with the man who owes the money and pulls a gun, and ends up killing him, and then secretly buries him. You’d think he’d want to avoid attention, but he befriends the dead man’s girlfriend who is a reporter, and stays at her house, gets in another fight with the (snarling villain) used car salesman’s creepy son, is spotted by a police squad car wandering near the woods and then, when they are suddenly called away to a house fire, turns up at the same house fire on foot helping put out the blaze. Way to keep a low profile, manslaughter man.

The house on fire is one of those cheesy temporary constructions Hollywood is so notorious for, with obvious gas jets spewing flames conveniently out all windows. But that doesn’t mean the preacher who has been trapped in there has already been asphyxiated and can’t be easily rescued by the woman town deputy. Oh, and the preacher is in some secret scheme with the used car salesman involving propane tanks, which is why he was in the police chief’s house trying to steal evidence after the police chief’s pacemaker exploded and killed him when he touched the dome wall.

What the hell?!

Stephen King’s novels have been adapted into some pretty classy screen fiction; including “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Stand By Me,” “Carrie,” and “The Dead Zone.” But there have been plenty of misses, as well. Count this corny adaptation as a complete whiff.

I get it; we’re not watching HBO. But if the scriptwriters adapting George Martin’s Game of Thrones can deliver viewers the rich experience of more than 30 characters with complex arcs, different speech patterns, complicated agendas, relationships and motivations, why can’t CBS do the same for the mere five or six characters who seem to be the only people that turn up at every incident in this small town? It’s lazy, unrealistic, unimaginative and just plain silly.

I’d call it a Maberry comedy, but even Barney Fife, who only ever had one bullet, never was desperate enough to resort to “What the hell?!”

– A. Wayne Carter

 

P. S. Here’s some alternatives for the “What the hell!” challenged.

“Jesus!”           (Lapsed religious version)
“Heh-suus!”   (Still religious Spanish version)
“Holy Shit!”    (R-rated version)
“Crikey!”          (Australian version)
“Golll-eeeee”  (Gomer version)
“Verrryyy Interesting” (Arte Johnson version)
“Whoah”        (Keanu Reeves version)
“Bloody Hell!” (British version)
“Fuucckkkk me!”    (NC-17 version)
“Gazooks!”     (Scooby Do version)
“Fascinating” (Spock version)

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