Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Indian Day 2012

I don't ride a bike, but I would like to and I love going to Indian Day each year at the Springfield Museums. If I ever hit the lottery, one of the first things I'd buy would be a classic restored Indian. I guess I would have to learn to ride.

The Indian was the first successful American "motocycle," and was made here in Springfield, Mass. from 1901 to 1953. It was a product of the incredible pool of engineering and manufacturing talent here in Pioneer Valley.

On Indian Day, Indian owners ride their vintage bikes to town and it's quite a sight to see – rolling history.

The classic bikes summon up a time and place in this country – before the Interstate when U.S. highways such as Routes 20, 5 and 66 were the principal roads linking this nation.

It was a time of mechanical innovation, when someone working in their garage could change the course of a product or invent a new one.

The following are some of the photos I took.

Have a hankering to bring an Indian back to life? The guy who had this 1946 model was asking only $12,000 and assured me the engine was in great shape as all of the parts were in boxes!

© 2012 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, July 08, 2012

I've been watching a lot of DVDs lately and here's a few thoughts!

The Decoy Bride

Normally I would avoid most any film that has the word "bride" in it only because of the prospects of yet another romantic comedy that is neither romantic nor funny.

But when "The Decoy Bride" was delivered to me, I knew I had to watch it. First, the film was shot in Scotland — my wife is Scottish — and second, it stars David Tennant.

Who? That's right, but actually you might know him with a title: Dr. Who.

Tennant is no longer traversing time and space in the long-running British science fiction series and he returned to his native Scotland to make this film.

The problem is the publicist sent the review copy in the Blu-Ray format instead of a DVD. I had to upgrade my technology in order to watch it, so I hoped it was actually worth of all of the expectations and the $100 in a new gizmo.

I'm happy to say this film is actually funny and the romance is actually acceptable even to this old curmudgeon.

Tennant plays James, an author who is engaged to Lara, a world famous movie star (played with sympathy by Alice Eve), and a woman who can't get a private moment away from the paparazzi. In an effort to thwart the press, the couple decides to get married on a small island that is part of the Hebrides.

At the same time, a resident of the island is coming home after her failed engagement. Kelly Macdonald is Katie, who seems to be willing to resign herself to a kind of exile.

When a persistent photographer shows up on the island, Lara's management comes up with a plan to fool him: stage a phony wedding with a decoy bride. Katie is recruited when they offer her 5,000 pounds.

Although Tennant's name may attract American fans to the film, the movie is really Macdonald's and she shines. She is a familiar face from a number of films including "No Country for Old Men," the last "Harry Potter" film and "Nanny McPhee," among others.

Now for those who might think a film full of Scottish accents would be a challenge, don't worry. Everyone makes allowances for non-Scottish audiences.

This little film is a lot of fun.

The Artist

Perhaps the most celebrated film from last year, "The Artist" is now out on DVD and Blu-Ray. I wrote about this movie when it was in theaters last year and was eager to see how it would be presented on home video.

The extras are pretty standard — interviews with the cast and crew and a gag reel — and I was surprised that they did not include something about the inspiration for the film and whether or not there were models for the characters and the events.

If you've not seen "The Artist" I urge you to do so.

Since "The Artist" was the first silent film many people had seen — and not one from the silent era of cinema — I thought it would be appropriate to present some information that might shed some additional light on the film and the time it recreates.

Did an actor like George Valentin really exist?

In interviews, star Jean Dujardin said his inspiration was Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Gene Kelly. That's very apparent, as Valentin is cocky like Fairbanks, who was also extremely likable. The director even used a clip from Fairbank's first Zorro film as a wink to the audience. I think, though, the part of the film that chronicles Valentin's fall is modeled after John Gilbert.

Gilbert was a major star in the silent era. He is the actor who has been surrounded by a myth that his voice was so bad that sound ruined his career and he drank himself to death.

In reality, Gilbert's voice was just fine, but his clashes with MGM head Louis B. Mayer had more to do with crashing his career than sound. Gilbert was put into some poor films that spurred the legend about his voice.

Gilbert, sadly, suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 39 that was undoubtedly brought on in part by his drinking.

Here's a clip of Gilbert speaking. His voice was fine, but the talkies in which he was placed by MGM were not.

Were there actors who decided to direct themselves who had disastrous results like Valentin?

One of the silent film's celebrated comics, Harry Langdon, had a near meteoric rise to fame after years of near obscurity. Frank Capra directed Langdon's most successful features, but Langdon dumped him. The comic directed three features in the late 1920s that showed he really didn't understand his own on-screen character very well.

Did silent films disappear as quickly as the film shows?

The success of "The Jazz Singer" in 1927 convinced many studios and theater owners that sound — which had been tried before — was worthy of investment.

By 1929, most films boasted of having recorded dialogue and sound effects. By 1930, only a relative handful of films were silent.

Only Charlie Chaplin resisted recorded dialogue and, like Valentin, thought sound was artistically inferior to silent films. Chaplin didn't perform any dialogue in his movies until he made "The Great Dictator" in 1940.

What's a short list of silent films to view?

Watching comedy is frequently the best way to break into silent film and I'm a huge fan of Buster Keaton. Try "Sherlock Junior." Harold Lloyd's films also hold up well and "Speedy" is a treat. Fairbanks' "Robin Hood" is a lot of swashbuckling fun. For something serious — and a bit twisted — Erich von Stroheim's dramas can't be beat.

One of my favorite silent films is Fritz Lang's science fiction fable "Metropolis," now finally in a version that restored Lang's vision from 1925.

John Carter

Many critics trashed this film adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' venerable pulp science fiction series and honestly I don't why. Perhaps they didn't know what to expect from source material aimed at boys and men and first published in 1917?


This is what I call a "Boy's Life" movie — no slam intended to the Boy Scout magazine I certainly loved when I was kid. The hero acts like a hero, the princess is beautiful and capable, there is rousing action, interesting visuals and at the end you've had a good time.

There is no message, no outrageous sex, nudity or violence in this PG-13 movie. It's an old fashioned good guy versus bad guy adventure film.

John Carter is a Civil War vet who finds, quite by accident, a way to transport himself to Mars, or as the Martians call it Barsoom. There he finds several species of people fighting among themselves, including the tall green, multi-armed Tharks.

Because of the lower gravity, Carter can jump great distances — shades of the earliest form of Superman — and becomes a valuable warrior to the Tharks.

There's plenty of intrigue as well supplied by the Thern, an intergalactic race who go from planet to planet manipulating civilizations for their own purposes.

Andrew Stanton, the director of the animated hits "Wall-E" and "Finding Nemo," is a Burroughs fan and he does right with the material, even working Burroughs himself into the narrative.

I think the marketing of the film helped sink it at the American box office, where the film lost money. Interestingly, it was a huge hit overseas and, with DVD sales as well as pay-per-view, the film just might break even, eventually. The trailer of the film didn't seem to convey what this film was about and the title — "John Carter of Mars" or the original book title "A Princess of Mars" would have been better.

If you're looking for a perfect summer movie that all but the youngest members of the family can enjoy, gamble a rental fee and get "John Carter."

Billy the Exterminator, season four

Storage Wars, season two

Gene Simmons Family Jewels, season six, volumes one and two

Top Shot, season four

Pawn Stars, volume four

Thanks to DVDs, we can have summer television reruns whenever we want them as this new group of releases proves.

I will sheepishly admit that I do watch reality television, but I can't see collecting reality television to watch over and over. I will also admit that is a position that makes no logical sense as I do collect movies and will watch them multiple times.

I can't explain it. It's an enigma, wrapped in a conundrum with a creamy puzzle center. However, to each their own.

"Billy the Exterminator" perhaps is the most formulaic of the bunch. Billy gets a call to remove some sort of varmint. Billy goes out to the work site and removes the offending animal. He does so wearing heavy metal country rock clothes and giving us play-by-play commentary showing his familiarity with the critter.

How many times do I need to see him do this?

At least "Top Shot" is a marksmanship contest, which like any athletic event has the elements of uncertainty.

"Storage Wars" merely pushes the concept of finding something valuable in a heap of crap and then finding out who has made the most money by doing so. Frankly, "Pawn Stars" and "American Pickers" are more interesting and informative.

A group of "characters" with various backstories compete with each other bidding on abandoned storage lockers and the stuff therein. They hope their cursory examinations of the contents give them some idea if the material is worth something.


Rock entrepreneur Gene Simmons is probably the smartest guy in pop music as he turned KISS into a juggernaut of merchandising. At a time when other musicians of his age are either oldies acts or signing autographs for $20 bucks at conventions, Simmons is rising much higher with this reality show depicting his family life.

Simmons, who also co-produces the show, understands both the fundamentals of soap opera and the sit-com. Like many classic TV comedies, Simmons knows the role of the father is to be an idiot and he gladly plays it. He also knows the dramatic value of those episodes in which he debates whether or not he should marry Shannon Tweed, his long-time girlfriend and mother of his two children.

Simmons' show can be entertaining at least, something many other similar shows are not.

The reality show that is my most frequent guilty pleasure is "Pawn Stars," only because I actually learn things from the show but also, like "Antique Roadshow," I'm intrigued by items that people have either stumbled across at flea markets or acquired through their families.

The interaction among the Harrison family who run the pawnshop in Las Vegas is far less interesting to me than what people bring in to sell.

Of this group, a positive nod to "Pawn Stars," and furtive approval to "Family Jewels."


If you have not yet discovered "Sherlock," now is the time to do so.

BBC Home Video has recently released the second season of this updating of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's venerable detective and if you're a mystery fan or a Holmes fan, you need to see it.

I have to admit that I viewed the new show with some trepidation. Sherlock Holmes has been one of the sturdy literary characters when it comes to adaptations into other media, but not all of the actors or adaptations have worked.

I will readily admit that I'm definitely a Basil Rathbone/ Peter Cushing/ Jeremy Brett enthusiast, but I'm open to other interpretations of Holmes. I've always preferred depictions of Dr. Watson that were not comic relief.

So I came to this new show wondering if the approach was going to be straight or campy, retro or ironic. I'm happy to say that Conan Doyle himself would probably see how well his character could fit into the 21st century.

Dr. John Watson's original backstory is that he is an Army doctor who has been injured in a war in Afghanistan and the new show has maintained it, as it is frighteningly appropriate today. Martin Freeman, best known to American audiences from the original production of "The Office," plays Watson as a bright, competent man who is trying to deal with his post-war life. His involvement with Holmes is accidental and has more to do with finding a place to live than anything else.

The only reason Watson seems a bit thick at times is because Holmes is such a genius. Conan Doyle always characterized his hero has someone seeking a puzzle to solve, afraid of being bored and, despite his general lack of concern for the human race, needed someone to act as a companion and humanizing agent.

These are all qualities the new show has brought to its stories. This Holmes is described as a "highly functioning sociopath," and yet with Benedict Cumberbatch's performance he is still a likable hero. Physically, Cumberbatch is also perfect, although his Holmes is a bit more physically agile than earlier versions.

The strength of the Conan Doyle stories and characters is evident in the new show. Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's older brother, was a high level government official involved with secrets. That fits in perfectly today. So does crime genius Professor Moriarty.

I was curious how a story such as "The Hound of the Baskervilles" would work today. One of the most horrific of the Conan Doyle stories and one with a genuine monster, the new adaptation brought these elements along and they fit perfectly as Homes and Watson investigate sightings of a horrendous beast near a government research facility.

The pacing of these shows is brisk and I like how there is a visual device to show how Holmes thinks.

My wife and I found these shows to be pretty addictive and wanted to watch one after another. In a summer filled with re-runs and derivative reality shows, "Sherlock" on DVD is a must-see.