Saturday, May 14, 2011


My career in media has almost always included an interactive element. I certainly had that as a radio talk show host back when dinosaurs ruled the earth and I've had that for the past 11 years working at Reminder Publications.

Even when people are calling me names and expressing pretty hateful thoughts about me, I hold close to my happy place that this is the nature of political discourse in America and really has always been so. Newspapers in the 18th and 19th century were far more harsh than even the worse Murdoch tab today – as difficult as that may be.

My mail at WREB included a cut and paste job in which my face was photocopied on top of the "Asshole of the Month" column that used to run in "Hustler." Whoever sent it put some thought in that piece of hate mail.

It's interesting how some people are reassured by hate and seek its comfort over trying to either understand some other opinion or agree that this country was founded on varying ideas.

Today, I get a fair number of letters to the editor and over the years I've learned that some people write to react to something I've written, some people simply need to voice their opinion on an issue and some just need to write – anything

The graphic above is my all time favorite letter, written to me by John Skok who used write almost every week. I'm afraid that Mr. Skok has probably passed on by now and I enjoyed his musings.

This one, though, was simply way out of the box and, yes, I printed it.

"Has anyone noticed as I have that some bathroom tissues (toilet paper rolls) are less wide than they used to be? If the companies are going to make the paper tissue less wider than now we are in big trouble. Oh, well, back to the depression era when we used crumpled newspaper ot leaves. What a way to recycle paper."

© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Here are some recent DVDs I've watched.

No One Knows About Persian Cats

One reason I love watching foreign films is to get a taste of a different culture and Iran is certainly a different culture. This film from director Bahman Ghobadi is part documentary and part fiction about the huge underground music scene in that country.

Ghobadi's film is the product of the underground. In the making-of feature, he explained that in Iran, one must obtain a permit to shoot a movie. The script and subject matter must be approved by government censors who want to make sure there is nothing that goes counter to the government or how they interpret Islam.

Tired of the bureaucracy, Ghobadi decided to shoot the film illegally and did so with a skeleton crew with their eyes peeled for the police. Despite the obstacles, the film has a very polished look and is very well edited.

The film tells the story of two musicians, Negar and Ashkan. They are trying to fill out their band, obtain a permit for concert in Tehran and then get visas and passports so they can tour Europe. Their search is a difficult one, taking them to secret rehearsal spaces and dealing with forgers to get the necessary papers.

I think they are a couple, but the film is extremely chaste. Only in the last few minutes does one get the sense they are in love.

Ghobadi filmed the performances of actual bands to present a flavor of the music scene and clearly young Iranians love all sorts of rock 'n' roll — folk rock, heavy metal and hip-hop are among the genres represented. Unfortunately, playing it can land them in jail.

The film is subtitled, although almost all of the music is sung in English, which must be the international language of rock.

Go to Netflix and check it out.

Behind the Burly Q

Director Leslie Zemeckis has produced what is clearly a labor of love. Starting in 2006, she began interviewing people who worked in burlesque — strippers, comics, straight men, theater owners and others — to capture a look at an American art form that only recently has seen a resurgence of interest.

Burlesque — a somewhat naughty combination of low humor, music and pretty unclad women — has been around in this country since the 1860s, but reached its classic form in the late 1920s and continued until the mid-1950s. Those on camera spoke fondly, most of their time on stage and generally explained how the reputation of burlesque's overt sexuality has been overstated throughout the years.

For some, burlesque was a training ground. Chris Costello, daughter of comic Lou Costello, spoke about her father's time in burlesque where he and Bud Abbott developed many of their most famous routines.

Alan Alda detailed how growing up in burlesque affected him. His father, Robert, was a singer in burlesque before he landed a movie deal at Warner Brothers and lead roles on Broadway.

Although the hazards of making a living doing something many people viewed as immoral took its toll on performers, the remarkable thing is how many of those interviewed seem to miss it.

For Springfield area residents who remember burlesque, "Behind the Burly Q" features a segment on Ann Corio, the stripper from Hartford, Conn., who used her fame to land movie roles in the 1940s.

Corio and her husband owned the Storrowton Music Theater in West Springfield for years where summer theater productions were presented, including versions of her own hit Broadway review, "This was Burlesque."

In this day of explicit entertainment, old-fashioned burlesque might seem like weak tea, but Zemeckis revealed the charms of the wink and the nod and leaving the audience wanting more.

Anything Goes

In 1954, Broadway legend Ethel Merman returned to a production that had helped make her a star 20 years previous, "Anything Goes," with songs by Cole Porter.

Merman recreated her role as brassy nightclub singer Reno Sweeney in an hour-long episode of "The Colgate Comedy Hour." The Archive of American Television has now released a DVD of the production and I'm sure Merman's fans as well as those of classic Broadway shows will have many reasons to rejoice.

There is another attraction to this long-forgotten show: Frank Sinatra.

This show was broadcast live 56 years ago and the DVD's source material is a kinescope — Merman's personal copy. Kinescopes were 16-millimeter films of live television with the image taken from a television monitor. I've seen some kinescopes where the image is soft and slightly out of focus. This image, though, is very sharp, making watching it a pleasant experience.

The DVD comes with a 20-page booklet that put the show into its historical context. Although Merman never had the kind of success in movies she had enjoyed on the stage, she was still a big draw in the mid-'50s. Sinatra, on the other hand, was in a career slump at this time.

The plot revolves around Merman's character finding her true love with Sinatra's gangster character as opposed to marrying for money and stability.

It's silly stuff — as most musical comedy is — and the bulk of the humor is carried on the capable shoulders of Bert Lahr — better known as the Cowardly Lion from "The Wizard of Oz."

What fascinated me about this show is that it's an example of what television used to be: live and willing to take chances. Theatrical productions were a key part of programming at that time.

Could you imagine a network forgoing its schedule of cheap reality shows to actually put a live theatrical event on the air today?

I'm not a big fan of either Merman or Sinatra, but these two performers seemed to enjoy what they were doing so much, their energy proved to be infectious.

For more information, log onto

Valhalla Rising

Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn is an up and coming filmmaker on the international scene and other critics have praised this art house film as a cult film in the making.

I've watched a lot of cult films and my share of art house films and all I can say is that Refn's film has a long way to go to measure up to the best in either genre.

Set in 1000 A.D., the film centers on an enigmatic prisoner held by a Viking clan and used as a fighter. One Eye, as he is known, doesn't speak, but is the champion at the fights that earn his captors money.

He hates them and manages to kill all of the tribe while escaping, with the exception of a boy, who had been charged to take care of him. After his escape, One Eye and the boy join up with a group of Vikings headed to the Crusades. Instead of the Middle East, they wind up in North America, where things don't go very well.

I thought Vikings were amazing mariners — not this bunch.

Refn's film is full of long, long shots of rugged landscapes or dirty actors clad in skins reciting pithy dialogue. It's a pretentious piece of claptrap. The glacier-like pacing of the film is punctuated by scenes of graphic violence. I've not seen a disemboweling in a movie for a long time — joy!

I'm sure the film was about something and had some deep inner meaning, but it wasn't apparent to me.

Sugar Boxx

This is what "Grindhouse" — the loving and entertaining recreation of 1970s drive-in movies — has brought about. Now, people like me will have to suffer through low-budget "homages" to independent fare from 35 years ago.

I would much rather watch the originals. Thanks goodness, they are now on DVD.

This particular film tackles one of the most controversial genres: the women in prison movies. It is next to impossible to craft a type of production that would have the potential for as much exploitation as the women in prison movies.

It is also next to impossible to defend the films — which date all the way back to the 1930s, but really didn't come into their own until the 1960s.

Despite the distinct lack of political correctness, women in prison films have always found an audience and I'm sure when "Sugar Boxx" pops up at a Red Box, it will also be a high renter.

Set in 1975 — although there are no indicators of a particular time — Genevieve Anderson stars as an investigative reporter who goes undercover at a notorious women's prison. All of the plot points and cliches of the genre are trotted out.

According to the making-of feature, this is all supposed to be amusing and hip. It's not. It's cheap, style-less and tawdry.

The movie also commits the unforgivable sin of being boring.

Pass this one up.

© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Films I hate!

Recently I was speaking with my friend Amber about movies – a typical conversation between us – and I brought up how much I hate “Top Gun.”

To my surprise, since “Top Gun” is considered to be some sort of "classic,” she hated it as well. Thank you Amber!

For me, “Top Gun” is all that is wrong with big budget vapid Hollywood fare: big names, big effects and nothing else. I particularly hate the film for how the lead female character is treated in it. Kelly McGillis is a civilian instructor who risks her entire career in order to have a relationship with the arrogant fighter pilot played by Tom Cruse.

The film celebrates very bad values and is completely soulless, but it clearly has touched the 13 year-old make fantasy that lives in too many adult men.

While I am stumped when asked what is my single most favorite film, I do know what films I hate and what films I couldn’t be made to watch again. I’ve been told over and over my taste in films is not with the critical norm.

For instance, I don’t think Adam Sandler is a huge comic star. Neither is Will Ferrell. They do the same damn movie over and over. “Avatar” is an exercise in re-presenting themes common to several genres. It’s a derivative piece of crap.

I’ve never seen “Titanic” and never will. Knowing how the film ends kills any interest in it.

“Independence Day:” a big budgeted 1950s sci-fi film, again with few new ideas but a lot of noise. A mini-budgeted film, such as “Cube” has more ideas and more tension that than film.

"2001" is really really pretentious and amazingly boring and I know I'm supposed to love that film.

Most of the Robert Altman films I've sat through bored me to tears – "MASH," "Nashville" – with the one exception of his adaptation of "Popeye," which I liked alot. Of course,most Altman fans HATED "Popeye."

“Gone With the Wind” is a film I saw in the eighth grade and I’ve never seen the thing in its entirety since. Now, we 13 year-old white kids from Granby Junior Senior High School were hustled into a bus and brought to the theater to see The Great Film and not a single teacher provided any context for us nor did anyone challenge any of the racist images and scenes depicted in the film.

Besides all of that, Scarlett O’Hara is a psychopath. Why would anyone want to be with her?

“White Christmas” was a television staple around the holidays as I was growing up, but it always seemed to be so fake on so many levels. Shot on soundstages, the film lacked any touch to reality. This is another film I grew to despise.

In fact, almost anything with cloying self-conscious Danny Kaye is enough to make the skin peel off of my skin.

Here comes a shocker: I’ve never seen “Bambi” or “Dumbo.” That’s right “Mr. Animation” has never seen either film, both of which are celebrated classics. I intend to go to my grave never seeing them. Why? I’m the biggest sentimental lunkhead when it comes to movies. I’m sure I would sit and bawl when Bambi’s mom is shot or when Dumbo is teased and that kind of emotional response is not entertaining to me.

I spent several evenings with my pal Steve watching films with him that naturally he LOVED and just brought me closer to the grave. “Sante Sangre,” “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and her Lover,” Jan Svankmajer’s “Faust” and “Twin Peaks: Come Fire Walk with Me.”

Now with Steve, the more he realized I hated each film, the more pleasure he received from the film. If you asked him, those four films probably among his favorite films, I’m sure.

We remain close even those any one of the films could have torn the friendship apart!

What films are you suppose to like, but you hate?

© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs