Thursday, December 23, 2010

My New Year's Column

The kid was waiting at the crossroad. His face was unlined and his diaper was clean. He adjusted his sash that read “2011” with a winning smile.

Down the road he spied a slowly moving figure coming toward him. As it approached closer he couldn’t notice a long matted beard, a bald head, and a toga-like outfit that was stained and ripped.

The sash that read “2010” barely still hung around him.

The kid slowly realized what he was looking at – his predecessor. He uttered a single word, not suitable for a family newspaper, under his breath.

It took a while for 2010 to make it over to him. Not only was he slow, he was also limping. Eventually he came up to the kid and stopped with a groan. His cheeks seemed hollow and his eyes sunken.

“Holy crap,” the old man said looking at his young colleague, “I looked just like you just a year ago.”

“Holy crap, indeed,” the kid said while looking at the damage.

The kid fidgeted nervously. “You mean I’m going to end up like you?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” the old man replied. “I never thought I’d look like this.”

“You see one is never quite sure what is down that road,” the old man said while he pointed ahead to a thoroughfare cloaked in fog. “You could age gracefully or you could be beaten up – continually.”

“What happened to you?” the kid asked.

“Well, there were a lot of things: unemployment that wouldn’t go down; jobs that continued to go overseas. Home foreclosures that are still happening,” he said.

“It takes a lot out of you,” he added with a sigh. He rubbed a prominent bruise on his arm.

“There were also the usual things: wars that won’t stop; greed; people concentrating on venal and trivial subjects, you know like the Kardashians”

The kid shuddered. “The Kardashians,” he thought.

“What they don’t seem to understand is time actually does fly,” the old man continued. “There’s not enough time to go around and they blow a lot of it.”

“You see, we’re all alike,” the old man said. “We all start out fresh-faced and full of hope – bright eyes and bushy tailed. But the events lately have had a tendency of going bad really quickly.”

“Do you have any advice to get through this?” the kid asked.

“Sure,” the old man replied, leaning against a walking stick. “Don’t believe everything you see on TV. Stay away from those informercials and reality shows. Just watch ‘The Soup’ and ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ Everything else is pretty much crap."

The kid took out a pad and pencil from his diaper and started taking notes.

“Understand that a good part of politicians tell you is self-serving hooey. An occasional cigar won’t hurt you, but avoid those dumb energy drinks. Watch out for people who compliment you a lot. They can’t be trusted. Read ‘The Devil’s Dictionary’ by Ambrose Bierce for support.”

The old man coughed, took a deep breath and continued.

“There’s nothing wrong with prayer, too. Listen to the blues. Watch good movies. Watch bad movies if they entertain you, too,” he said.

“Also read those local community weeklies. There’s some good stuff in there,” he added with a wink.

The old man looked at a beat-up pocket watch hanging by a chain around his neck and said, “It’s time for you to get going.”

“I’m a little scared,” the kid said, taking a couple tentative steps.

“You can’t be scared,” the old man said. “You’ve got to give this your best effort and keep your head high.”

As the kid headed into the unknown, the old man offered one more bit of advice: “Keep laughing. It’s your best defense.”

©2010 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Time to sell stuff!

Check out these eBay bargains.

"Naked" is a crazy pop culture book I pickedup in Scotland in 2006.

Here's the long out of print book, "Dark Visions" a bunch of interviews with horror folk by Stanley Wiater. I wrote the introduction. I also co-conducted the interview with Vincent Price, but didn't get credit.

Movies: Then and Now has an interview with the late Joe Spinnell.

The lushly made presskit for "Memoirs of a Geisha is a nice and rare item.

As is the presskit for the second Zorro film

Everything is priced to go. I've got more to put up, including a completley mint-still-in-the-box absolutely essential Wile E. Coyote cookie jar from the early 1990s.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My parents moved down to Virginia in 1987 following my brother and his wife who moved the year before. Virginina has never been appealing to Mary and me, but we've made dozens and dozens of visits over the years and I've visited Whitings Old Paper in an antique mall near Mechanicsville (on Route 301) probably every visit.

It's a great shop and I've found many thimgs over the years, including a four-sheet catalog from a non-theatrical rental company this last visit.

The reason it intrigued me so is the movies it offered were low-budget productions most of which I've never heard of and there is nothing mor einticing to a film fan that movies that are unknown to them.

I call it the "What's this thing?" condition.

Here is an example:

"FBI Girl" is available on DVD in a double feature from VCI Entertainment.

The other film, "Timber Fury," is also on DVD, but there are no youtube posts for either film.

Here are two others from the sales sheet:

I've actually seen part of another minstrel movie years ago, but "Yes Sir Mr. Bones" beat it as a truly inexplicable cultural document. Shot in 1951, one realizes that racist humor was still very much of the mainstream American comic lexicon. Try to watch this clip – it's painful.


The other film seen here is a starring vehicle for one of the most active second or third bananas in ther 1950s and 60s: Sid Melton. Anyone who grew up in that era could see Sid in a variety of TV and film productions, but I bet this was one of the few times he got star billing.

I couldn't find a clip from this film, but I did find "Lost Continent," perhaps the "biggest" film offered by this company. In fact, you can experience this entire film right here:


Stick with it. You've got to see the dinos!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Lucky is thinking, "Gulp!"


There are many ways to divide up the people in the world, but animal lovers and non-animal lovers is a significant division.

And I do not expect the non-animal lovers to understand or appreciate in some way the following post.

This is not some sort of criticism. Some people simply want animals to be part of their lives and others don’t.

Two animal lovers raised me. I married an animal lover. Our foster daughter and granddaughter are not animal lovers by any means. That doesn’t make them bad, just different.

My late father often said he would much rather be around animals than people. He sometimes noted that as a kid growing up in crushing poverty in rural Alabama during the Depression that the family dog was his best friend. Dad was anti-social, but that’s just how he felt. My mom remains an animal lover, although she no longer has any pets.

When we had the small family farm in Granby, we had plenty of animals, but the diary goats were clearly my mom’s favorites. They came into the milking area of the barn by name and were as loving and intelligent as a dog.

My mom could barely stand the day they had to sell the herd. She had to leave the house.

So I expect some readers to roll their eyes. That’s okay. We’re the crazy animal people.

One of our favorite pets was put down this week. Vincent – named for Vincent Price – was a jet black short haired male cat wit the most intimidating set of double paws I’d ever seen.

Despite Vincent’s appearance – he had a swagger that indicated he would stand for no foolishness – he was a sweetheart.

Vincent lived with us for 16 years. He started life as a stray – a feral kitty born of a mother cat we fed on our porch. This cat – which eventually died – was somewhat friendly, but Vincent as a kitten was not. He was as wild as he could be.

When winter came we were fearful for his safety, but Vincent made a decision. One cold day, he simply ran into the house and was instantly part of the family.

It amazed us that he could turn off one set of behaviors and turn on another, but that’s what he did.

He was a favorite of our friends and got along fine with the dogs in the house. He would frequently want to help me write, by lying down in the space between the computer and the monitor.

Unlike some of the other cats, he enjoyed being held and we could carry him around cradled in our arms like a baby.

To wake us up, he would gently but firmly bite a selected finger.

He had a problem with one eye, which necessitated its removal. He was not even more intimidating with just one eye. I wanted to get a small watch patch for him, but that suggestion was vetoed.

Although he no longer had the advantage of third dimensional sight, he caught a bird right after coming home from the vet’s.

In his later years, he developed the habit of sitting with us when we were watching a movie or television. He liked to sit very specifically – close to us on a side that would prevent the dog from being close to us. He tolerated Lucky the Wonder Bichon – just tolerated.

In the last few weeks, his health broke and we were forced to put him down. He’s buried in a flowerbed in the back yard.

What is amazing about pets is they want to express affection and they look for affection. They don’t judge. They don’t discriminate. It is a cliché to say we could learn a lot from them, but it is the truth.

Like all of the cats we have Vincent was a rescue. I think he had a good life and I know he enriched ours.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Who would you vote for?

Now remember, this is the candidate for the U.S. Senate in Delware who was unaware of the Constitutional protection of the freedom of religion and expressed her ignorance in a debate at a law school.

For more on her check this out

And this is the woman who has set fanboys' hearts on for for over 30 years.


I love how Halloween and the elections have collided a bit in Deleware.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Rock and Shock addition:

How could I forget this photo? This is one huge difference in the conventions of my youth and now: women. There weren't any women at comic book conventionsor movie convnetions when I was in college. Not even women at booths hawking stuff.

These two ladies were among the models for the new Mantown Calendar from WAAF. I bought one. It's for charity. I'm giving it to my brother-in-law. Oh never mind!

Actor Danny Trejo admired the work of Westfield, Mass.-based artist Jamie Cross who was tattooing Trejo’s portrait on the foot of a customer.Contact Cross here.

Rock and Shock 2010 or am I too old for this stuff anymore?

So, Mark, Marty and I once again had a table at Rock and Shock and we all made varying amounts of cash. Whether we go again next year is a question, as the rates will probably increase to the point that profitability will be difficult to make.

I’ve been going to conventions of one sort or another – my first was a Boskone science fiction show when I was in high school – and generally they have been positive experiences. For a teen growing up in Granby, Mass. it was always reassuring there were other people who were into the same odd stuff – comics, movies, horror, fantasy – that I was.

It was a lot tougher to be a fan of such things back then. I think I started a fanzine, just to communicate to other like-minded folks.

Attending UMass confirmed there were fanboys and a few fangirls like me, but traveling to conventions in New York City or Boston was especially rewarding to me.

I like Rock and Shock a lot. It’s close to home. It’s organized well by someone who gets it and the dealers’ area is laid out to accommodate crowds.

The DCU center in Worcester, though, is a poorly run facility that didn’t keep the restrooms clean, harassed dealers about outside food and hadn’t properly cleaned up the exhibition hall from the mess the circus animals made. I don’t blame the Rock and Shock management as they were contesting the DCU people over these issues.

Rock and Shock is a young fans’ show. The kids who attend probably barely know who Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing was, much less Karloff and Lugosi.

However if you have something to sell that they can relate to, you can do all right.

At age 56, though, much of the magic of attending a convention, even behind a dealer’s table, has been lost. The best part of the weekend in many ways was simply hanging with two friends.

My buddy Jeff Allard has a great post about his feelings. Check it out here.

A large part of it for me revolves around interactions with guests. I have fond memories of simply talking with people. I didn’t have to buy an autograph and, in fact, they were happy to autograph whatever you had.

That’s not the case any more and hasn’t been for a long time.

I remember at a Chiller Con years ago, Mark Godard, the second male lead of “Lost in Space,” yelling at a fan who had shot some video of him while he sat at his dealer’s table. Now, if he had paid him, I bet it would have been okay.


This show I was asked by my buddy Steve Bissette if I could fact-check something with legendary director George Romero. So, I stood in line. There was a sign alerting me to all the things he was selling and the various costs. I reached the head of the line and had to clear what I wanted to do with one of his assistants – a humorless guy who was pretty unfriendly. I told him I wanted to ask Romero a question. I read it off my iPhone from Steve’s email and as I did another handler came into the areas and was clearly aghast. He asked the first guy what was I doing, what was the question and clearly got worked up about it.

Romero seemed fine answering it. He clearly was used to a more standard interaction – greeting, autograph, photo – but I had no issues with him. Now, with the other two morons, I did.

I was going to try to stake out some interview time with Danny Trejo, but next to Romero he was the most popular and, while he was clearly nice to the fans who ponied up a minimum of $30 for a signature, there was no time for idle chitchat.

Perhaps my time at conventions has come and gone. Or perhaps I need to attend one that has a greater emphasis on older films.

Here are some photos:

This guy was going around going around the show trying to get people to go to make-up artist Cherie Verie to get some custom work done. Contact her here.

Mark at our table. He was busy zombie-fying folks.

Actor and comic Judah Friedlander was hawking his book “How to Beat Up Anybody” at the show.

Posters, posters and more posters: I sold four from my collection – one very reluctantly. I bought none.

Director of a film I will never watch Ruggerio Deodata, the man behind “Cannibal Holocaust.”

Some cool stuff!

© 2010 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

There are always critics out there.

So I get an e-mail from the folks at the Historic Journal of Massachusetts that they reviewed my Springfield postcard history book. I'm addressed as "Dr." in the e-mail.


So here's what was published or about to be published:

Arcadia Publishing is known for its extensive line of local history photography publications. Springfield is part of the Postcard History Series, which focuses exclusively on old postcards. A brief introductory essay outlines some of the high points of Springfield’s history, from the founding of the settlement by William Pynchon to the present day. Numerous famous residents are also briefly profiled, including Springfield’s most famous son, Theodore Geisel, and one of her most infamous, Timothy Leary.

The bulk of the book consists of 180 postcards. Many of the postcards feature the landmarks of Springfield, such as Forest Park, Court Square and other important municipal buildings. Others focus on important businesses, such as the Smith and
Wesson plant, the Springfield Armory and the Indian Motorcycle factory. Like the Images of America series, each postcard is accompanied by a short caption.

The captions, while informative, are too short to add up to anything of substance. There is no attempt at interpretation or placing the postcards into any sort of historical context. While current or former area residents (myself included) will enjoy seeing familiar buildings, some gone, others not, without any kind of contextual support, Springfield is little more than a collection of old postcards. This is particularly unfortunate because some of Springfield’s best history is left out as a result.

An excellent example is the postcard featuring the Bosch Magneto Company. Bosch was a well-known and long-time employer in the city. Opened in 1910, it was in operation until 1986, when the plant’s operations were moved to another state. The building itself, situated along the border of Springfield and Chicopee, was destroyed by arson in 2004. This information, all from the caption, is somewhat interesting, but the reader would be better served by being told the real story behind the Bosch plant. Originally owned and operated by a German family, the factory was seized by the federal government twice, during both the First and Second World Wars. After World War I, the original owners were allowed to repurchase the business, but the government refused to permit this after the second, and ownership passed to a new company that remained in control until the plant’s closure.

This amount of information is difficult, if not impossible, to get into a caption for a postcard. But it isn’t in the book anywhere. The logical place would be the introduction, but upon closer examination, the introduction reads like an extended version of the captions, and repeats a good deal of information that can be found there. The Bosch postcard is not the only example, but it is one of the most striking.

Many questions go unanswered. What are the origins of the postcards themselves? Postcards featuring the beautiful architecture and monuments of the city make sense. Springfield was once a popular tourist destination, one of the gateways to the Berkshires. Postcards to sell to that market would be expected to appear. But who thought a postcard of the Bosch factory would be popular, or Monsanto, a chemical factory? Why was it produced, and by whom? A large number of the postcards appear courtesy of their owners. Why did these individuals keep these postcards? What was their connection or interest to the subjects of them?

Local history buffs will no doubt enjoy Springfield, or any of the other similar books that Arcadia Publishing churns out yearly. As a local history buff, the reviewer found the postcards interesting, especially when one spots a house or building that still exists today. But without that local connection, this book is the equivalent of a neighbor’s vacation slide show. It is pretty and interesting, but it lacks meaning.

Micah Schneider is a master’s candidate in history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

I had to respond and did so thusly:

I am delighted to first be referred to as a "Dr." when I'm not one and to have a review of my book that COMPLETELY misses the point. The Arcadia books are strictly formatted by the publisher. They tell you EXACTLY how many words to be used in the caption.They tell you exactly how long the introduction should be.

But of course the authors – such as myself – is seen by this academic as some sort of boob historian who can't adequately present his story. Thanks so much.

"It is pretty and interesting but lacks meaning" – did the reviewer actually read my introduction? I actually set up the context to explain how this city came about, why it is significant, why it is still significant within the format given to me by the publisher.

The reviewer wonders why people used postcards and why people collect them today? Did I have to explained the history of cheap postal communication and the thrills of collecting little pieces of history?

I guess the reviewer missed there are two very interesting facts brought up by this book that have seldom been brought up before: the location of the tavern visited by Washington and the movement of the former library onto the Quadrangle.

You want a history of American Bosch? Within the context of a postcard history book?

I emphasized that this book was a mere introduction to the history of the city. I referenced other more in-depth works on Springfield's history.

Here's a novel idea: instead of taking pot shots from your ivy-covered towers on Western Avenue, how about actually interviewing authors to obtain an understanding of how a book is created and what is its intent.

G. Michael Dobbs

P.S. At least you gave me fodder for my blog and Facebook.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

New car

With the considerable help from my brother and his wife, Mary and I purchased a new car: a 2009 Chevy HHR. While we've bought our share of cars in the past, for some reason – largely financial – I was quite worried about the process. I deeply appreciate the help my brother gave me as he absolutely loves buying cars – God bless him.

With our road trip to Rock and Shock coming up – yes soon the pimping of our booth will begin on this blog and on Facebook – Dogboy has declared the new ride "the party car." I'll have the get the DVD system and wet bar installed before then!

Mark also did the following graphic. There is only one mistake: It's silver grey! Lucky has not ridden in it as yet nor has he christened the tires, but I'm sure he will on both counts soon.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Do you ever forget what you have? And why you have it? I stumbled across a copy of "The Penguin Film Review," a slight paperback book from 1948. I think I picked it up at a tag sale and I had forgotten about it. When I found it I realized why I have bought it.

It has an essay by Fritz Lang, a director I much admire, about happy endings and it reveal interesting things about him. I was hooked when he admitted he didn't know how to create suspense.

He said that out his successes and failures he had "developed a kind of automatic reflex device that guides my work."

I thought my fellow film fans would appreciate the chance of reading what Lang thought about story construction and how a story ends. He was one of the greats.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Stuff on eBay

I'm starting to go through stuff that I've been lugging around for years and out it slowly but surely in eBay. I wish I could simply sell it at a show, but that is far more expensive and labor intensive that the 20 minutes or so it takes to something on eBay.

In one way I'm reluctant to part with any original art from my very limited collection, but in this case it doesn't make any sense to hang onto to the painting seen here.

I'm going to go through my still collection as well, but even in this age of being able to scan an image and sell the original I'm reluctant to let the best go.

Here's the link to the vampire painting

Here's a "Chicken Run" action figure set.

And here is the link to the factory sealed Popeye set.

I've got two of of the Popeye sets, if anyone locally is interested. More stuff to follow.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

As a kid I marveled at the concept that someone well known or famous came from the same town or area in which I lived.

Although I was born in Roswell New Mexico, I never considered it my hometown. As a service kid, I attended kindergarten, first and second grade in Springfield, Mass., third grade in Montgomery, Al., part of fourth in Rantoul, Ill., the second half of fourth and the first half of fifth in Hadley, Mass., the second half of fifth in Greenville, Calif. and my sixth, seventh and apart of eighth grades in the Department of Defense schools on Okinawa.

Springfield was always where I considered home and if someone asked what was my hometown, Springfield was my response.

Although I spent my high school and college years living in Granby, Mass., Springfield is my hometown.

When I became interested in film during junior high school, I was very intrigued to discover the show business connections to the area and Springfield. Among those was Eleanor Powell, who was born and raised in the city.

Now I’m not a huge fan of musicals, but there are some performers who are just electric on screen. I’m a fan of Fred Astaire, for instance and I love those early 1930s Warner Brothers musicals with the over-the-top numbers of Busby Berkley.

What bowled me over with Powell was that she danced like no other woman on the screen at the time. She had a kind of athleticism the other female dancers lacked. Strikingly attractive, she made what she did looked so easy and effortless, while of course anyone watching her perform would know it was the product of grueling work.

Powell’s time of the screen was relatively short, compared to some of her contemporaries. She basically retired from film in 1944 while still a young woman.

She does have fans today, thanks to her films being broadcast on Turner Classic Movies. If you’ve not seen one of her films, do yourself a favorite and haunt the TCM Web site to see when one will be on.

Here is the official Web site for Powell

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I really liked this Korean cultural mash-up.

I've not posted DVD reviews for a while so here are some of the films I've recently seen:

How to Make Love to a Woman

I must admit a grudging respect for some old school exploitation values exhibited in this new sexually tinged romantic comedy.

First, the title sounds like something one of the old road show producers would have brought 60 years ago from one theater to another. There was once a kind of movie that low budget producers made and showed to men-only and women-only audiences discussing intimate subjects that invariably included a live lecture from a "hygiene" expert!

Second, the design of the cover art suggests the film might be part of the "American Pie" series. It's not. Deception was part of the exploitation experience.

Third, while one might expect there would be some nudity in the film, there isn't any. Explicit language, yes, nudity, no. "Bait and switch" is also a fine tradition of the exploitation film.

Lastly the inclusion of adult film legend Jenna Jameson in the cast puts forth the promise of some hotsy-totsy action, but guess what? Jameson's cameo role is certainly demure and brief.

Having noted all that, "How to Make Love to a Woman" isn't a bad little comedy that plays on basic miscommunication between two people who love one another, but it's not a truly notable film at all.

Josh Meyers of "Mad TV" is a record company executive who realizes he isn't much of a lover, even though he cares deeply for his girlfriend. He goes on quest to improve his skills, but hits a roadblock when his bumbling and ego causes her to consider accepting a job offer in another city.

There are some talented character actors in the cast, including Ken Jeong and James Hong, who brought some additional mirth to the proceedings and Meyers is fine as the lead as is Krysten Ritter as his girlfriend.

There is nothing particularly outstanding or memorable, though, about the film and that's the problem.

The DVD extras include the usual making of feature in which the producers actually describe just how difficult it is to make a film in just 19 days.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird

I've sung the praises of Asian films before in this column and this 2008 Korean "western" set in Manchuria in the 1930s during the Japanese occupation would be a great introduction for a newcomer.

What always fascinates me is how Asian filmmakers -- whether they are Japanese, Chinese, Korean or Indonesian -- have pushed their own history, culture and attitudes through a filter of film grammar, technology and iconography that is largely American. The results are films that look familiar in some ways but take viewers along paths they didn't expect. As a film fan, that's what I live for.

In this case, Korean director and writer Jee-woon Kim has clearly been influenced by westerns in general, but especially by Sergio Leone's classic western, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," which in turn was the great Italian director's reimagining of American westerns.

Kang-ho Song is "the Weird," a Korean outlaw who steals a treasure map that is the object of desire by a Chinese crime lord as well as the Japanese occupying forces. Byung-hun Lee is "the Bad," a skilled assassin who understands the value of the map and seeks to have it for himself. Woo-sung Jung is "the Good," a no-nonsense bounty hunter who dresses like a cowboy and seems to have patterned himself after Gary Cooper.

The director knows how to stage great action sequences -- from an outstanding train robbery to some spectacular fights -- but he also infuses the film with a uniquely Asian perspective. The Korean outlaw longs to return home, now occupied by a brutal Japanese regime. The cultural and historical differences of Asian people come into play in this film.

Jee-woon Kim also understands how to use humor and sentimentality to sustain the viewer's interest.

I really liked this film and think you might as well if you can suspend your disbelief a bit -- I can't quite believe Manchuria was as much as like the wild west as it was portrayed -- and give the subtitles a chance. I always opt for subtitles, as I really want to hear the performances of the actors even if I don't understand the language.

The Dungeon Masters

I'm not much a game player, so if I can't finish a game of Monopoly one can see that I would never be able to immerse myself in video games or in the game featured in this documentary, Dungeons & Dragons.

There are a lot of people out there, who do plunge into playing a game and it becomes more than a recreation, but a lifestyle for them. This new film looks at three people who devoted a substantial part of their lives not just playing the game but being a game master and organizing a game.

While fictional movies and documentaries about fanboys and their pursuits is nothing new -- "Trekkies" probably invented the genre -- director Kevin McAlester manages to avoid clich s. He doesn't laugh at his subjects. He presents their lifestyles and allows the audience to react.

McAlester follows three very different people: Richard, a married sanitation worker and member of the Air Force Reserve; Scott, a married apartment building manager and struggling writer; and Elizabeth, a single woman trying to find employment.

McAlester shows that in each case the role of game master gives these people a sense of control over some part of their lives. Scott is clearly very smart, but he seems incapable of applying himself to anything meaningful. Elizabeth is searching for a solid relationship as well as a job. Richard, who seems to have a very full life, obviously yearns for something dramatic.

While these three people may dress in costume and talk about elves, trolls and dragons, at the core they are no different than anyone else who is a fan of something. Is the person who regularly wears shirts showing his or her allegiance to a sports team and can reel off facts, stats and analysis of the latest game no less a geek than these three?

Considering that I have spent much time with fanboys -- I'm one myself -- I think this film is an insightful look at how people can give into a hobby to the point of near obsession.

The extras include some great outtakes and a series of "not outtakes, exactly," that have some interviews with folks who make our three subjects look pretty normal -- whatever that means.

Don't Look Up

At last, a DVD horror film release that isn't some lame low budget vampire film. "Don't Look Up" is a genuinely creepy film with some good shocks.

Reshad Strik stars as a film director named Marcus. He's going through some personal and professional hard times -- his girl friend is dying of cancer and he walked off the set of his second movie -- when he receives an offer to film a script based on a lost movie.

A Hungarian director -- look for director Eli Roth in a cameo -- disappeared in 1928 when he attempted to shoot a film based on a medieval legend about a village doomed by a supernatural spirit. Marcus wants to make his version of the same story in the very studio his counterpart used more than 80 years ago.

Anyone who has seen any horror movies knows this can't be a good idea. For Marcus, the extra wrinkle in the story is that he has psychic abilities and can "see" the events that took place years previous.

It's not too long before the spirit makes herself known and members of the crew start dropping and she has some plans for Marcus.

The shocks include far more than the standard gory deaths. Director Fruit Chan, a Hong Kong filmmaker known for a horror film called "Gaau ji (Dumplings)," makes sure not only are his actors allowed to build a characterization, but also to vary the chills.

One of the most disturbing moments in the film for me was a scene in which the director and his producer -- played with an oily charm by Henry Thomas -- watch the dailies from the first day. Their footage contains that shot 80 years earlier, long thought lost. It's a subtle but effective moment.

This is the kind of horror film I like: original, unpredictable and free of dumb vampires!

The extras include the standard interviews and behind the scenes footage.

"Shinjuku Incident" may certainly be a disappointment to Jackie Chan fans who expect silly comedy and stunt-filled action. Instead, they are going to find a very serious film dealing with illegal immigration and organized crime.

In an interview included in the DVD's extras, Chan said he would like to extend his career as an actor and director, like Clint Eastwood. To do so, he has to take on more dramatic roles and clearly this is a step in that direction.

With the success of the re-make of "The Karate Kid," American audiences are starting to see this new Jackie Chan, but he has been around for awhile -- in his Chinese movies.

Chan tried a straight drama in his 1993 film "Crime Story," and returned to it with his performance as a failed alcoholic cop in "New Police Story." His burglar character from "Rob-B-Hood," was also a departure from his standard good guy parts.

In his recent American films he has reverted to his standard screen persona, such as in "The Spy Next Door." The sad thing is his more interesting films, such as "New Police Story" and "The Myth" haven't received any theatrical release here though they eventually come out on home video.

If you're a fan of Chinese cinema or of Chan, I recommend adding those two productions to your Netflix list.

"Shinjuku Incident" tells the story of Nick, a Chinese tractor mechanic who illegally comes to Japan to search for his girlfriend, Xiu Xiu, years after she immigrates to find fame and fortune. Although at age 56, Chan is a tad too old for this role, he delivers a moving under-stated performance as a man who is attempting to do the right thing, but whose choices are limited.

Once in Japan, Nick encounters prejudice from the Japanese plus the challenges that come from being an illegal alien. Nick lives on the streets until he meets a friend from back home, Joe, who introduces him to a group of a largely Chinese illegals all living in a communal home.

Struggling to find any meaningful work, while working in a sewer he rescues the life of a sympathetic police officer. He also sees his one-time girlfriend, now the wife of a powerful Japanese mobster, Eguchi.

Although resistant at first to do anything against the law, Nick eventually begins stealing and scamming. When he saves Eguchi's life, he's given the crime territory of the would-be assassin. Eguchi is not being generous. He plans to use Nick and his Chinese gang as pawns in his game to take over leadership of the mob.

Director Derek Yee handles this gritty drama pretty well, although there are moments in which the passing of time is not presented well and creates a little confusion.

For instance, the audience has no idea Xiu Xiu has been gone as long has she has before Nick begins his search for her and until we see her young daughter, who is about six or seven years old.

Overall, though, this is an above average crime drama that plays out in the same vein as the classic gangster films from the 1930s such as "Public Enemy" or "Little Caesar."

One note of caution: there are several moments of graphic violence that are also very uncharacteristic for previous Jackie Chan films.

And Chan demonstrates that he not only has a place in cinema history as one of world's best action stars, but also as an effective dramatic performer.


When I was teaching a film class at Western New England College, I frequently showed one of the worst movies I had in my collection: an obscurity called "Terror in the Amazon."

I showed that film to illustrate what constitutes good direction. I learned my students couldn't really tell what good direction is like because they didn't have a benchmark of really terrible direction for comparison.

"Terror in the Amazon" provided that. It's truly incompetent.

The difference a director makes to a film can be crucial and that's the problem with "Stolen," a murder mystery that takes place over the course of 50 years.

"Stolen" features a pretty intriguing script. John Hamm plays a present day cop who is still grieving for the disappearance of his son eight years ago. He suspects an incarcerated child killer, but can't prove it.

His obsession with solving the case increases when a construction crew discovers the corpse of a young boy who had been murdered about 50 years ago. Through flashbacks we learn of the boy's story.

While I thought Glen Taranto's script had much merit, director Anders Anderson made a bit of a mess of it. An average episode of "Criminal Minds," has a better use of production value and a closer attention to detail.

Because this is partly a period film, one can't help but notice the haircuts and clothing are too far off, something a good director would notice. The use of a roadside diner supposedly a busy location is on a dirt road. Huh?

There is never a true sense of location established or that these events are actually taking place in a "real" place.

The film has a fine cast, but too many characters have too little to do and have been given throwaway roles, such as the lovely Morena Baccarin whose talents are completely wasted.

This is Anderson's first film and he has a lot to learn.

While flawed, mystery fans might find some interest in "Stolen."

Left Bank

This horror movie from Belgium came with some high recommendations and I was expecting a lot. While it also has many good points, watching it was fairly irritating.

Marie is a young runner who is headed for great things when she contracts an unknown ailment. Her doctor recommends a month's worth of rest and Marie decides to move in with her new boyfriend.

Slowly but surely she discovers the apartment building in which they live on the left bank of the river in Antwerp has a disturbing history. It is supposedly built on the site of literally a hole to Hell and the place where generations of devil worshippers have conducted ceremonies.

Now Marie, in the worst traditions of the horror film protagonist, sticks around even as she realizes that things are not what they seem. A sensible person would have tried to escape well before she does.

That's where this film is frustrating. There are some good performances and some good ideas that hole in the basement is pretty damn creepy but the film is agonizingly slow. The writer and director apparently want to stick with the conventions of the genre rather than do something new.

This film is unrated and while the violence isn't explicit, there are a number of sex scenes and ones with nudity that are fairly revealing. While low-budget director Fred Olen Ray once accurately said that "nudity is the cheapest special effect," these scenes certainly don't make "Left Bank" a better story.

© 2010 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, August 09, 2010

Year in Fear: Take Two

A newly minted friend on Facebook posted a “Year in Fear,” the calendar for horror fans that I conceived and which featured artwork from my friend Steve Bissette.

I realize I’ve blogged about this doomed project before in 2008, but this posting is more detailed. I’m in a revelatory mood.

I split an advance of $1,250 with Steve from Tundra Publishing – the now legendary experiment in something to do with creator rights publishing – and thought at the time that were going to make big money.

How could we go wrong? Every way possible.

The tale of the “Year in Fear” should be one taught to anyone entering into a business or to any creative type dreaming of a new project.

In 1988, I met Steve Bissette at a party conducted by a mutual friend. Steve is one of most charming guys you could meet and we quickly struck up a friendship. About a year, year and a half later I came up with the idea of a calendar for horror fans and asked Steve if he would like to come aboard. He said yes and when he was invited to be one of the first creators invited into the Tundra inner circle by Kevin Eastman, the calendar was going to become a reality.

I had known Peter Laird, half of the Ninja Turtle creative team since my days at UMass. We were never friends, but fellow comic book fans at a time when we sort of stuck out like sore thumbs.

I had staged the first museum exhibition of the Mirage Studio crew at the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke where I worked. I think, without digging through old papers, that was 1987.

Anyway, I was known a bit by both Kevin and Peter.

Mark Martin, a fabulous designer and artist with whom I subsequently became friends for 20 years, designed the calendar. Mark and I no longer talk – I don’t why, ask him – but I have to give him his due. He designed a great looking portfolio for Steve’s work.

But it was a crappy calendar. More on that in a minute.

By the way, what made all of this more painful was a friend at the time was trying to do his own calendar that was surprisingly similar to mine that was going to be published by Peter laird. I remember him telling me something along the lines of “It’s not personal. It’s business.

The thing was over-sized and was in black, white and blue. I thought that all we had to do was solicit it through the comic book distributors and the fans would grab it.

After all Steve was and still is a pretty hot commodity.

Lesson number one: don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

This was the early days still of comic fandom and frankly what people bought was the ancillary items – they didn’t exist as they do today. They bought comic books. A calendar was a fairly foreign item in shops in 1990 and 1991.

We solicited orders in the summer – just in time for the fall calendar season and got back orders for 125.

There were 1,000 of these in the Tundra warehouse.

Well, Tundra was full of cousins, brothers-in-law and long-time friends of Kevin’s and some of them formed a brain trust. I was on their shit list as I had actually come up with a promotion item to give away to stores that the fans did want – a shot glass for Steve’s “Taboo Especial.” We made a profit on a give-away and I was toast. I had shown up these guys.

One of them said not to worry; he could get Costco to buy the entire stock. He had connections. He didn’t sell any.

Lesson two: Don’t trust someone’s brother-in-law.

So then I took it upon myself to get them sold. I spoke with a regional card shop chain whose management couldn’t understand the idea behind the calendar and then I decided to go large and went to Atlantic City to the open vendor day at Spencer’s Gifts.

The buyer was a great guy who had gone to college in Springfield and who patiently explained to me just why this product was nearly unsellable. First, I was too late. Calendars are ordered in the spring of the year. Second, it was too big. Third, where was the hole?

The hole? On crap, we don’t have a hole so it could be hung in the store and hung by the customer.

We had done EVERYTHING wrong.

Lesson three and the most important one of all: do your homework.

I went home only to hear the Tundra braintrust wanted us to autograph the stock so they could be used as give-aways for Tundra UK. Steve and I dutifully signed hundreds of them.

Then we discovered they were going to be tossed. We rescued a bunch.

We had a couple of months left, so I worked out a fulfillment deal with Fangoria magazine. They ran an ad for the things and we spilt the money.

After that we were stuck with a bunch of them. They sat in our basements.

Soon after, I had bought, along with Patrick Duquette, the animation magazine Animato! That’s a cautionary tale as well, which I’ll also tell one day.

We started working conventions ands eventually Patrick lost a taste for it, so I’d split a table with Steve. We realized of we cut the calendar bits of the plates; we would have nifty little prints. We sold them for $3 with Steve’s autograph and that is how we made money on our calendars.

Of course we pissed every dollar we made at shows by buying other things at shows.

I still have a few of them in my basement. I keep one at my office at work as a reminder of the importance of market research before launching a product.

Postscript: You know I was trying to find a graphic for this posting and I realized that some things I could have scanned, I’ve thrown out. Tundra was a bad very scene and sometimes I just want to purge.

© 2010 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Talk radio days

Here is part of a story the Transcript-Telegram did on WREB in 1984.That's my pudgy face in the left hand corner.

The other day I received the 20th anniversary edition of Talkers magazine, the bible for the talk radio industry. I always look forward to every issue as I spent from May 1982 to April 1987 as the afternoon talk show host on the late but still remembered WREB in Holyoke.

The new issue has a time line of the development of talk radio and my years on the air were in that pre-Rush Limbaugh era in which the majority of the hosts were local and the programming reflected the concerns of a market.

While there are some great nationally syndicated hosts, the institution of the local host has been decimated by the corporations that own so much of radio today and who see an opportunity to boost profits by running syndicated programming they get in trade for running commercials.

The industry is divided over whether radio, which by law is supposed to serve the needs of the public, is actually serving those needs with syndicated programming. I don’t think it is.

I also think that if you take a now wily vet such as myself and produce a local talk show I could beat the syndicated stuff. Until someone actually has a station with local or regional ownership that believes in what radio can do and should be doing, that point is moot.

Anyone out there wishing to stage a local radio revolution? Give me a call.

The Talkers story quickly got me thinking about my time in radio. I was a kid who was fascinated by radio and when I was in high school, I used to see what AM stations I could pick up at night when the signals would bounce around the atmosphere. I think Cleveland was the furthest away.

My mom regularly listened to talk radio over WACE in Chicopee and then WREB and folks like newsman Richard Lavigne and talk host Tracy Cole were people we regularly heard.

Cole was very popular despite the fact he was a hateful son of a bitch. Here’s a true story: Cole basically hated women. There were three kinds of women to him ladies (people who agreed with him), broads (those who did not) and welfare broads (he hated those the most).

Despite all this, and the fact he was a bald, bespectacled little scrawny guy, he had his share of groupies. There was a cot in a storage room in the station’s old studios in Holyoke where I was told Tracy apparently brought some of his conquests.

My mind boggled when I found out.

One day, my boss station owner Joe Alfano told me, Tracy got into an argument with a woman on the air and called “a stupid c**nt.”

The next day the FCC was on the line. They had received multiple complaints and were ready to pull the station’s license and give Alfano a $10,000 fine.

Alfano, who was quite a character in his own right, convinced the FCC that Cole had said, “That’s a stupid stunt.” Apparently there were no recordings to confirm what Cole had said. They bought the explanation and incident worked in the station’s favor as people tuned into Cole’s show to hear what he would say next.

When I was a reporter at the Holyoke Transcript I got to know WREB morning guy George Murphy and did a story on him riding the Mountain Park roller coaster to raise money to help restore a statue in town. I had regularly listened to George who was a born broadcaster and when he found out about my interest in film, he had me on as a guest several times.

When I was bounced from the Transcript – I wouldn’t accept a change in beat to cover Granby where my parents lived – I did a story for the Amherst Record on George’s short-lived replacement, a woman named Helen Oats. When she left, I applied for the job.

I was supposed to do the morning shift, but Ron Chemilis, then the owner and editor of the Chicopee Herald was hired for that time and I wound up with the afternoon shift of 3 p.m. until sign-off at sunset. Because my hours shifted during the year, I eventually had to do the half-hour news at noon.

With little training, no call screener except for the receptionist who simply put the calls on hold and no producer, I was put on the air.

My only helper was my seven-second delay button.

WREB was a pioneering station in the area for having an all talk market. I’m convinced other stations started including talk shows in their programming because of us.

My pay, which remained the same for the entire five years, was $5 an hour. I received money to do live endorsements and my price was .75 for each commercial I did. At the end of my time there I received a raise to $1.25.

My best live spot was for a device called “Cold Stick,” a drug-fee treatment for hemorrhoids. You put this plastic tube filled with anti-freeze in your freezer and tuck it up your rectum for “long lasting cooling relief.” My challenge was to avoid saying “pain in the ass” on the air.

I supplemented my income with freelance writing and with bartending. Despite the poverty levels imposed on me, I had a ball.

I realized after my first year that station management had little idea what I was doing, nor did they care as long as the sponsors were happy. I did get one sponsor upset when I interviewed a Playboy Playmate who was appearing at a local car show. I think they eventually came back.

The station owner once said that he would broadcast Japanese folk music if it made him a profit.

Gov. Michael Dukakis was the first state-wide elected official I can remember actually recognizing the potential of talk radio. He came on my show several times, including appearing at this remote broadcast.

The station was not unlike “WKRP in Cincinnati,” as we had a very odd newsguy Richard Lavigne and a fast-talking salesman who also used to wear the white shoes and belt in the summer.

Richard Lavigne was a legend in local broadcasting circles and amazingly odd. He wore string ties and pants two sizes too big held up with suspenders. He wore his bachelor status on his sleeve pining away for a lost love, but could have had his share of little old ladies who constantly asked about him. He foamed at the mouth when he did his half-hour commentaries due to his using too much denture adhesive.

He knew everyone in Holyoke and everyone knew him.

I was the house liberal, so I got the best hate mail during the time of Reagan. Chemilis, now a big time sports writer for the local daily paper and who keeps his radio days under wraps, was the conservative. The mid-day host, Jonathan Evans, fell somewhat in the middle.

I didn’t have the best radio voice, although a story in the Transcript about the station said my voice was “like an old shoe,” which was clearly a compliment. Ron’s voice was “like Kermit the Frog,” which clearly wasn’t.

It was a real treat to speak with character actors such as Frank Coughlin Jr. seen in perhaps his best known role as Billy Batson in the serial "The Adventures of Captain Marvel."

I realized that it wasn’t how you sounded, but what you said and how you produced your show. I liked a mix of local, regional and national guests. My first celebrity guest was the great broadcaster Doctor Demento and later I convinced the station we should run his show.

Here’s a short list of the people who appeared on my show: politicians such as Gov. Michael Dukakis, Attorney General Eliot Richardson, Sen. George McGovern; actors including Clayton Moore, Lucy Arnez, Mary Crosby, Vincent Price, Lillian Gish, Elvira, Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis, Fritz Feld, Keye Luke, Billy Benedict, Frank Coughlin Jr., Virginia Christine, Mark Metcalf, Antiono Fargas; authors Sidney Sheldon, Cleveland Amory; directors George Romero, Larry Cohen; voice actors Clarence Nash, Andriana Caselotti; movie producers Brian Grazer, Richard Gordon, Alex Gordon; and wrestlers Killer Kowalski and Bob Backlund.

Backlund came on my show days after losing the WWF heavyweight title and he tied up the phone lines for two solid hours with calls from his fans.

Here am I posing with Killer Kowalski after taping an interview with him at Mountain Park. He was lifting me up!

The station manager once thought it was a good idea for me to switch personas one day and be a conservative to mix it up with the audience. I didn’t do it. I wasn’t comfortable playing a role.

I did have a problem with finding the right words to use in a nasty exchange with a caller. I soon discovered calling a conservative “A Nazi,” was like dropping the atomic bomb on them. I once called one of them “brain dead,” and I quickly got a call when a woman who tearfully told me her son was brain dead. So I crossed that off the list.

Next time I called an obnoxious caller a “cretin,” and that was followed with a call from another tearful woman whose child was indeed a cretin by the medical definition. He suffered from neonatal hypothyroidism.

That was another insult I couldn't use.

So I tried “pinhead,” and that worked!

I left WREB simply because of money. The station had a new owner when I left and I was leery of what the future would bring. I accepted a job as the program supervisor at the Wistariahurst Museum and several years later WREB was gone. I was quite sad.

I’m even sadder that I never had the guts to steal Tracy Cole’s microphone collection. In the storeroom, Cole had left several vintage pill-shaped microphones. I wanted them and figured they could easily disappear. But I didn’t take them and I can’t remember what happened to them when Cole died.

For more on WREB, take a look at George Murphy’s blog

© 2010 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tom Tyler!

A postcard with a scene from one of his FBO silent films. I think that may be a very young Frankie Darro or Darrow holding the gun. Frankie was billed with both spellings of his last name.

Original still from his silent film "Wyoming Wildcat."

A Spanish novelization of one of Tom's silent films. These little magazines were sold at theaters.

Ah the perils of eBay. I'm afraid that I haven't abandoned some sort of project involving the life and career of Tom Tyler and these are some recent acquisitions concerning the B-Western star who actually wanted to act. The careers of many of the B-cowboys from the 1930s through 50s were defined by the stardom they attained with their series. Outside of those films, these actors really didn't have a career. Once their series was over, that was it.

Tyler was different. He yearned to be an actor who had that life outside the confines of low budget oaters. And he succeeded in becoming a character actor in a wide range of films. His parts were supporting, but often showy. I just watched him in the Errol Flynn western "San Antonio" and he was great as Flynn's initial menace.

He's got a great part in the Cary Grant/Ronald Colman dramady "Talk of the Town," and is in "Gone with the Wind." That's pretty good for an actor whose training was churning out westerns.

These three items are all from his silent career at FBO studios. Tyler was a popular western star whose job was eliminated when FBO became RKO. He even announced he was going to change his name so he could start his career over as a non-western performer. That didn't happen and Tyler took the lead in a series of very low budget silent westerns at the dawn of the talkie era.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Tyler was willing to play the bad guy, which was often a showy role for an actor – Buster Crabbe told me he played a bad guy once in "Swamp Fire" and enjoyed it – and because of that choice he was able to perform in some pretty solid pictures.

I've been think that once I finish the SECRET PROJECT proposal perhaps I should seek someone to do a Tom Tyler scrapbook bio.

© 2010 Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Favorite tunes

My nephew Douglas! asked me the other days what my favorite songs are. I really didn't have an answer for him, except "Sing Sing Sing" came to immediate mind and he seemed a little disappointed that it didn't have any words!

The following are pieces of music that, no matter what mood I'm in, make feel better.

I interviewed Mel Taylor the drummer in The Ventures and saw them in person in the mid-1980. They were great!

Could this be the single best piece of swing music ever written?

The driving beat of this theme song of a Fifties private eye show make it a perfect song to drive to late at night.

I interviewed Don McLean and he was such a jerk that I didn't listen to his music for years afterwards. This is a great song, though.

Scott Joplin remains such a seminal force in American music.

Mary and I saw Juice Newton perform a few years back here in Springfield and she was in wonderful voice.

Elder statesman of the Blues Nation with a national anthem

What are some of your favorites?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I've not posted some of the recent stories I've done for th newspapers I edit and thought the following would be of interest:

Societal collapse makes for gripping feature
At first glance, some people might wonder if a feature-length interview with a single person about essentially the factors that could lead to the end of American society as we know would make a good movie.

"Good" isn't the right term. "Collapse" is an amazing, compelling and frightening film thanks to its subject, journalist Michael Ruppert.

Let me say at the onset that I believe everyone, regardless of political belief, should see this film. It addresses issues that concern all of us. Buy it, rent it, but watch it.

Perhaps you've never heard about Ruppert before. I hadn't, but once I watched this film, just released on DVD, I started scouring the Web to read more about him.

Chris Smith, the man who directed the highly regarded documentary "American Movie," is able to paint a rich portrait of Ruppert with a limited cinematic palette.

Seated in what looks like a bunker or an interrogation room, Ruppert chain-smokes and talks about subjects seldom covered in the evening television news. Articulate, but clearly tired of the fight he has waged to have his stories noticed by the general public, Ruppert allows his emotions to overcome him at one point.

Occasionally, Smith underlines a point by cutting to public domain or news footage, but for the bulk of the film, the camera is on Ruppert.

A former Los Angeles police officer, Ruppert came to national prominence when he researched and broke a story that showed the CIA had imported illegal drugs into the country. That story and his subsequent reporting earned him death threats and harassment.

Unlike other outsiders who hawk books, videos and podcasts, Ruppert hasn't made a mini-empire from his work He said he is behind in his rent.

He is not without his critics who have questioned his theories and dismiss them as conspiracy.

What "Collapse" shows is, despite his considerable travails, Ruppert hasn't given up his fight and focuses on what he has been covering in his newsletter "From the Wilderness."

Ruppert documents how he has predicted certain political and economic events that have had serious repercussions on both this country and the rest of the world. In this film, though, he focuses on two major interlocking subjects: peak oil and the fragile world economic system.

Shot over several times in 2009, "Collapse" is especially relevant today with the BP oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. Ruppert speaks about how many scientists believe that we are on the downside of the bell curve in the amount of oil left in the world to consume. He points out we have built our civilization on relatively cheap fossil fuels, especially petroleum.

Part of that oil-based structure is our financial system, which in 2008 showed its house-of-cards-like status.

What will happen when we can't afford the oil we have left? That's the ultimate question Ruppert poses for the viewers. The answer, as we all know, is almost incomprehensible.

Ruppert's arguments and information are very persuasive and as a viewer I kept waiting for the moment he discussed solutions.

The moment never really comes as he said in the film, "I'm no messiah."

What he does emphasize is living within our environmental means. Population must be curbed, wind and solar energy solutions must be implemented, food production must once again be a local industry and buying gold isn't a bad idea.

The DVD's extras include a recent interview with Ruppert, who seemed to be in a better place in his life thanks to the response to the theatrical release of the film worldwide. The DVD also has much more interview footage that was cut for time.


Reminder Publications spoke to Ruppert last week, who is busy promoting not only the DVD release of the film, but also his new Web site venture, an online subscriber-supported newsletter.

Ruppert is very happy with the film. "Chris Smith got it absolutely right," he said.

Commenting on the oil leak in the Gulf, he said the two main themes of the film are seen in that one event.

"It's all about the way money works," he said. "We looking at extinction in the Gulf," he added.

He said he has learned and confirmed through several sources the problem is not just the deepwater well that is pouring thousands of barrels of oil into the water each day, but also many additional leaks that are coming through fissures in the surrounding sea floor. He asserted both BP and the federal government know of the additional leaks and are not telling the public.

"They have absolutely no idea how to deal with it," he said.

What Ruppert is now saying is by the end of the year, there might be between five and 10 million refugees from the Gulf States. As the crisis deepens the jobs of more and more people will be affected, he said.

Florida may be "doomed," he added.

He believes strongly in "people seeking local solutions" to the problems facing the country.

"It's so clear. It's happening everywhere," he added.

On speaking tours in northern California, Oregon, Washington and Vermont, he has seen evidence of "act locally, think globally" axiom and it has heartened him.

"People get it all over the world," he said.

He noted that on a recent trip to Martha's Vineyard, the "year-rounders" understand and are acting on the concept.

Since he said there is cataloging of these efforts, he sees his new Web site as a clearinghouse for information for these efforts.

Paramount among the new way of living is a greater emphasis on local food production, which Ruppert sees happening in a number of areas. He said Americans couldn't continue to import or transport food in the current manner.

Right now, profit is selected over common sense, he added.

He dismissed the power of the federal government to actually make the necessary changes to prepare for an era with decreasing oil and said he sees mayors and county officials as the government officials most inclined to take steps to change on a local level.

He even questioned whether or not the United States would be the same political entity in a few years, with states breaking up into smaller entities.

Still despite the grim nature of his message, Ruppert expressed hope. In the film he tells the fable of the 100th monkey. The story tells of one monkey that learned to wash his food. He taught another and so on. When the 100th monkey learned how to do this, suddenly all of the monkeys in the population started doing it.

"Maybe we're reaching the 100th monkey," he said of the acceptance and taking action on the changes Ruppert sees as inevitable.

WWI documentary reveals lasting history in Europe

While living in a small Belgium village, retired University of Massachusetts Professor Ed Klekowski and his wife Libby didn't realize the history that surrounded them.

They soon did as the town was near the legendary Western Front, the battle line between the Allies and Germany in Belgium and France during World War I (WWI).

Once, however, the husband and wife realized the artifacts of that conflict -- "the war to end all wars" as it was described at the time -- literally abound in the nearby woods and fields, they became intrigued.

For the Klekowskis that meant producing a documentary. Their new film, "Yanks Fight the Kaiser: A National Guard Division in WWI," will be broadcast by WGBY on June 30 at 8 p.m.

Examining history on film is nothing new to the couple as they produced "Under Quabbin," "The Great Flood of 1936" and "Dynamite, Whiskey & Wood: Connecticut River Log Drives 1870-1915" for the local PBS station.

Their new film is the second part of a trilogy about WWI with their first film being "Model T's to War: American Ambulances on the Western Front."

Ed Klekowski said, "Our interest in WWI began in 2004 while living in Leuven (Louvain), Belgium. We were waiting to go into the university library, when a Belgian student asked if we were Americans. She then gave us a lecture on how the old university library had been burned by the German Army in 1914, and how American students from grammar schools, high schools and colleges had donated money to rebuild the library in the 1920's. And how every July 4th the American flag is flown from the library bell tower as a thank you.

"Well, we were hooked; we had to learn more, the war to end all wars became a passion," he continued. "We soon were visiting Western Front battlefields every weekend.

"And one weekend we visited Apremont and saw the fountain that Holyoke had put up honoring its Yankee Division soldiers; you could say it spoke to us," he added. "We walked around the village and into the woods behind -- and there were the trenches! They seemed haunted, artifacts were everywhere. We had to tell this story."

Traveling to France and visiting the village rebuilt by Belle Skinner of Holyoke, Klekowski recalled thinking, "What's Holyoke doing in the middle of France?"

As the couple's film documents, the Yankee Division, made of National Guard troops initially from Massachusetts and Connecticut, was the first American unit to arrive in France to assist the Allies in the war. Soliders from Western Massachusetts were part of that unit.

The troops managed to skip their combat training in the United States and had to be trained and equipped by the French. By April 1918, though, because of their bravery and success in attacking the German trenches, the French awarded the Croix de Guerre to the division, becoming the first American military unit to be decorated by a foreign government.

The film uses much archival movie footage and still photographs and Klekowski explained a Signal Corps unit documented the division's activities.

Klekowski said finding and assembling that footage represented a year's work in itself. Local historical institutions such as the Wistariahurst Museum also supplied photos and information.

"Everyone was forthcoming with materials," Klekowski said. "We could have made a two-hour show."

The reading of memoirs represented the personal side of the war and Klekowski noted the early 20th century was a time when many people kept diaries and wrote detailed letters.

Step inside the woods of the Western Front of France and Belgium and Klekowski said you'd find the evidence of war where the troops left it. He said the actual front was only two to three miles wide and about 400 miles long. The mark of years of assaults and defensive actions taking place in the same basic strip of land can still be seen today.

In the film, Klekowski tours WWI bunkers that are still in place and shows how shell casings and unexploded shells have lain undisturbed the better part of a century after the conflict.

"The woods look like New England," he said. "Except here they were shaped by glaciers and there by artillery."

In the woods, one can find stumps of trees with shrapnel embedded in them.

He also said the woods are cluttered with a multitude of bottles. The French troops drank wine, while the Germans drank beer and schnapps. He said that one contemporary account described "No Man's Land" -- the area between the lines of opposing troops "looking like a local garbage dump."

© 2010 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Okay, please explain the following objections to me:

and this one as well:

Don't conservatives support the effort to get to the truth of the oil spill in the Gulf? Don't conservatives want to protect those who have served their nation? Please don't tell me it's a matter of fiscal responsibility – the Republican members of Congress during the Bush years went along with raising the deficit. Suddenly, they've got religion?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Photos along the Holyoke Canalwalk

I have to say if I had money to invest in a building I'd do it in the Paper City. Projects such as the Canalwalk – the first phase was opened on Friday – along with the high performance computing center and the eventual return of passenger rail make Holyoke more and more attractive.

Here is a random collection of pipes and turbines that now sits near the Canalwalk. I know it has just been dumped there, but it looks like sculpture.

You see nature reclaiming itself even in the center of an urban complex. This patch of plants hides a waterway flowing from the canal. It looks like a typical wetlands.

Looking toward Appleton Street along the Canalway.