NBC Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” ought to have a followup report now; Chris Hansen no longer at NBC though

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There was one particular reality television series on NBC Dateline which also help set up a climate change in Internet law and awareness issues of Internet safety.

That was NBC’s “To Catch a Predator”.  The concept was to work with a volunteer phone group called “Perverted Justice” (link ) Members of the group would pose as legal minors, and enter chat rooms.  Men would contact them and then go to a particular home for a liaison.  In all but the first two of the episodes, police or the sheriff’s department would arrest the men as they left.  Chris Hansen, the lead journalist, would appear in place of the intended minor, and quiz and scold the visitor.  (“Why are you here?  I want to go over the chat logs. This isn’t a gay-straight thing.”)

NBC does not appear to have an active link for the show now, but there are various links for specific episodes, such as here.

The first episode occurred on Long Island in November 2004.  The next episode did not air until early November 2005, but had been taped in mid August 2005 at a home in Herndon, VA.  One of the most awful cases involved a rabbi named David Kaye, who had worked in his faith in education in suburban Maryland.  He had actually used his work computer in the chats, some of which (reproduced by peej) became quite graphic.   He tried to get NBC not to air his segment, which of course he could not prevent. He resigned from his job right before the airing.  At the apparent prodding from Peej, the FBI began to investigate him.  He was contacted and told to surrender in late May, 2006.  He never saw home for 12 years.  Despite the lengthy time before bringing charges, he was denied bail, and convicted in a most interestingly written opinion in federal court in Alexandria, VA.  He served about six years and would follow with ten years supervised probation. The Washington Post story by Jerry Markson of the Dec. 2, 2006 sentencing hearing, where Kaye sobbed, is here.

Stings were set up in a number of states: Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas,  California.  In California, a cancer researcher fell for the trap.  In Texas, an assistant DA was caught and committed suicide. That led to litigation, as reported in the Los Angeles Times here.

One of the most important moral points was that the “entrapment” defense could not work, because most states will punish attempting to contact a person that the perpetrator believes to be a minor.  There may have to be a specific person, but the person can be a decoy.  Stings run by police departments are common now, particularly in the Washington DC area in all local jurisdictions.  In one case, an Army general was arrested in Union Station by Metro Transit Police in trying to set up an encounter after traveling across the country on government expense.

It’s very important to note that about 90-95% of the men who came to the sting houses were looking for females.  This was mostly a heterosexual thing (Vladimir Putin’s recent comments, as well as the Kaye case,  notwithstanding).

A disturbing comparison could be made to the case of Justin Berry, who started answering requests from chat rooms to make his own videos, as reported in the New York Times video here.  Berry has since cooperated with police and the DOJ.

NBC would follow up with a sequel later called “Predator Raw” with excerpt from the series, on MSNBC.

Chris Hansen would author a book, “To Catch a Predator”, published in 2007 by Dutton, link for my Blogger review here.

Hansen would eventually be “dumped” by NBC, according to a New York Post story, here.

Arrests of teachers for improper conduct with students seemed to be reported in the media much more often starting in 2006.

NBC Dateline (which sponsored the series) should report on what happened to many of the convicts, many of whom would be released by now, especially Kaye.  This would be a disturbing but important project for an independent film documentary.

ABC 20-20, on Feb. 14. 2014,  reported on a troubling case in Florida about a n 18 year old girl in a relationship with a 14 year old, and not realizing that it could be illegal, link here.

(First published Thursday, February 13, 2014 at 11 PM EST.)

 

“Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election”: another civics lesson from Greenwald; did the US experience a coup?

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I do recall the night of the 2000 election.  I was at a party in St. Paul, when NBC called Florida for Gore.  I was driving to another gathering with the Libertarian Party of Minnesota in Edina, stopped at a railroad crossing somewhere, when I heard on the radio that the Florida result had been pulled back into “Undecided”.  What the networks giveth, the networks taketh away. It turned out that the media would pull back Florida again even after giving it to Bush.

The 56-minute 2002 documentary from Public Interest Pictures and Robert Greenwald Productions, “Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election”, directed by Richard Ray Perez and Joan Sekler, presents the sorry story of this affair.

There is a lot of attention to the Felony Purge list.  A company was hired to create the list for the polls, and with lenient matching standards, enormous numbers of African-Americans with names similar to those of felons were purged and had to prove individually they were not felons to vote.  On election day, many found they were not on the rolls.

The 2000 election in Florida played out in an environment where Jeb Bush (George W. Bush’s brother) had angered the black community by rolling back affirmative action.

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The film summarizes the recount and hanging chad fiasco, which went through several steps with the Florida Supreme Court, and finally to the US Supreme Court, with the infamous Bush v. Gore opinion in December 2000.

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There is a contention that a manual recount of the entire state, which the Democrats actually didn’t want, would have put the state back in Gore’s column.

The film also presents the vulnerabilities of electronic voting machines, and the “conflict of interest” problem where companies manufacturing these systems (like Diebold) use copyright or trademark law to keep their systems from being audited.  Electronic Frontier Foundation has written about this problem in the past.

The DVD has five short films following: “The Voter Purge”, “Media Malfeasance,” “Response to a Stolen Election”, “Critical Perspectives”, and “Rise of Corporate Dominance”.  The fourth of these refers to  a “coup d’etat”, an illegal seizure of power.  Noam Chomsky speaks on that one.  The fifth discusses the idea that “corporations are persons” and an attack on “The Commons”, which includes our voting system.

Al Gore actually won the popular vote, which is a good sign that something is wrong with the Electoral College system.  The FEC has a link for the popular vote here.

The subject of campaign finance reform, and even its relation to blogging, would become controversial by 2002, a matter that would actually have an effect on my own life, as I will discuss again later.

The DVD can be rented from Netflix, and the film can be viewed “legally” for $2.99 on YouTube, Journeyman Pictures (and Shout!) as the owner.

The third of these pictures shows me playing Supreme Court reporter at the Newseum in Washington DC in 2008.

NBC’s “The Event”: in my view, one of the best recent sci-fi series, but you had to watch it all, in sequence

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One of my favorite television series has been NBC’s “The Event”, which ran for 22 episodes from September 2010 to May 2011.

The premise of the show is rather Roswell-like.  It supposes that during WWII, an  extraterrestrial spacecraft crashed in Alaska, and the government held most of the aliens.  But the aliens look almost exactly like humans, even with the same approximate race variations, and those who escaped assimilated into the population, one winding up heading the CIA. The one difference is the Methuselah syndrome, meaning that the aliens age very slowly.

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Another element of the plot is that a president Martinez (Blair Underwood, aka Obama) wants to release them on human rights grounds, and that leads to an assassination plot in the first episode, which the aliens foil with radical technology, taking the people on an aircraft through a portal.

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For me, the lead character was Sean Walker, played by Jason Ritter, a computer games designer who becomes involved when his fiancée disappears in the first episode.  Sean is extremely charismatic and has a “Clark Kent personality”, and has abilities that verge on being powers.  Toward the end of the series the audience begins to believe that Sean is himself an alien, or perhaps was conceived by an alien and normal person.  As Sean realizes he is partially “one of them”, he is faced with a real existential test of his loyalties.  The aliens seem to lack our full moral compass, but Seam does understand it and (like Clark Kent) tries to live by it.  A clue is that about six or seven years in flashbacks have passed, and even Sean notices that he still has the body of an 18 year old. That would be a blessing.

The series varies from other series of this type (like “Smallville”) in that the episodes are much more interconnected;  one must watch every episode to follow the story, which may have cut down on ratings eventually.  And some of the story is told in detailed flashbacks.

Another interesting character was Sofia, played by Laura Innes, and she can become quite chilling.  An interesting fact is that she was originally conceived as a male character.  So making her female required some flexibility among the writers, something I am never willing to do in my own fiction (and this may become a critical discussion point in later posts).

The last few episodes telescope, leading to a denouement where the aliens bring their dying planet close to earth – a kind of “Krypton” or “Earth II” that has been scorched to desert by it’s expanding sun, which is threatening to become a supernova.  If so, it would need to be a at least a few hundred light years away or else the radiation from it (the gamma rays) could eventually destroy life on Earth, too.  Only  “Type I” civilization could master black holes or portals and traverse an entire galaxy.

The NBC link is here.  NBC considered spinning off a sequel series and I’m not sure what became of that, link.

It would have been interesting to wonder what a second season could have brought.

 

 

The unfinished documentary “American Lynching” by Gode Davis; also, controversial films on abortion

lynch4On New Year’s Day, January 1, 2003, a Wednesday, while I was staying with my mother in Arlington over the holidays (I was still living in the Churchill in Minneapolis) I drove my rented car to West Warwick, RI (very near Providence) to visit filmmaker Gode Davis, who is since deceased.  It was a mild day, with rain and fog but no snow on the way up (but wind-driven flurries all the next day as I came back).

We met first for dinner in a Friday’s restaurant, and he said immediately, he could tell from my artificial body language that I, like him, have at least mild Asperger’s syndrome.  We had spoken on the phone numerous times.  He had said he had been an Army officer, had been married and was also bisexual and was very concerned about “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

Then we retreated to his modest Cape Cod home on St. George St., and watched all the footage of his documentary “American Lynching”.  I think about 40 minutes of interviews and various narratives had been assembled.  I actually spent the night before driving back.

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In June 2005, he came to Washington to tape some interviews at the Capitol about a Senate resolution to apologize for the government’s not doing more about the past wrongs associated with lynchings since the Civil War.  Senator George Allen (VA), Mary Landrieu (LA) and victim James Cameron were interviewed.  Gode took a lot of footage, and I took my own footage of some of the same material.

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My own footage:

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To play these in Windows, click once, and then click when the box appears on your screen,  These were taken with an older Sony Camcorder.

Gode had called to ask if he could stay at my home, but at the time my mother was in charge (as I was looking after her) and I could not return the favor.  That is an idea that I ought to be able to address now.

In fact, there are several sites in Alexandria, VA where lynchings occurred in the late 19th Century, such as this

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this

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and this.

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The estate has a website “americanlyncing.com” which right now Google warns as possibly being hacked. It comes up cleanly in Firefox with Webroot Secure Anywhere in a Windows 8 environment, so I am having Webroot check on the reason for Google’s warning (link)  Note: Webroot’s initial reply is that it did not find anything wrong with the site.

Gode’s one YouTube video, from 2006, about ten minutes, also appears on my Blogger Movie Reviews blog, Dec. 24, 2013, but I’ll re-present it here for convenience.

The logical next step is to contact the estate and see what is being done with the materials and if some sort of effort can be assembled to fund and finish the rest of the project.

In February 2003 there was a fire at the Station Disco in West Warwick, RI.  David did become involved in a city’s investigation of the disaster.

There’s another controversial film around, “South Dakota” (no relation to “Nebraska”) by Bruce Isaacson, a long drama about two young women dealing with abortion. The production company is Lionheart, and it is very difficult to find out any information in when it will show up. I would wonder if the controversy of the film’s subject matter is provoking concerns.   I have reviewed both “Lake of Fire” and “After Tiller” on my Movies blog (look for the “Right to Life” label).

Update: March 9, 2015

A disturbing incident with a University of Oklahoma fraternity, now closed down with students likely to be expelled, shows the problem is still with us, CNN story here.   The expulsion letter published by ABC on Facebook is quite graphic, here.

 Update: March 15, 2015

I have had some occasional discussions with the estate about my past contact with Gode.  I can’t report details now, but I believe that there will be more news in the reasonably near future.

Update: April 2, 2015

There are reports of a noose incident on the Duke University campus in North Carolina, story on Jezebel here.

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Update: August 15, 2015

I recently visited the executor of Gode’s estate in Rhode Island.  More details will be available in the reasonably near future, I hope.  It is apparent that the focus of Gode’s work was “extra legal violence” that has neighborhood or peer social approval, and isn’t limited just to race.

 

Recalling a friend’s novel (15 years ago), and the question as to whether to self-publish

IMGA2498On my regular Book Review blog (link from the Profile on the “About” page), I review books that deal with important issues of interest to me.  Some of them are fiction.  A few of them are self-published, when I know the author or when the subject matter is close enough (and broad enough in implications) to catch my notice.

In August, 1997, about a week before I moved from Arlington VA to Minneapolis for a job change (explained yesterday here ) , a writer B. Daniel Blatt (or “Dan Blatt”) lent me (at a Log Cabin Republicans reception in Alexandria) a copy of the manuscript of his novel “Calypso’s Cave”.  I actually read a lot of the novel in restaurants and hotels on the way out that “Labor Day” (no pun to the movie) weekend.  I recall stopping for lunch on Monday in Madison, Wisconsin, in some family restaurant on the isthmus, and reading the most critical climactic chapter near the end.  (It seems like I have some epiphanies in family restaurants when “On the Road” – again a pun for another movie).  I mailed the manuscript back to him about a week after I settled in to my new apartment (the Churchill) in downtown Minneapolis.

Dan has published the first chapter “A Boy’s Best Friend” online, on his “Gay Patriot” website, here.    He makes a note about self-publishing there.  (I’ve heard of Sean Floyd’s novel but haven’t read it – yet).  The novel tells the story (which seems autobiographical, to me at least) of an adult gay man who moves from the Midwest (Cincinnati) to Washington DC and encounters his high school best friend.  That is indeed a situation that is meaningful to me, given what happened in my own high school and college days (see the posting on Jan. 10, 2014 on my “dadtn” blog).  In fact, the concept vaguely relates to my own 1969 manuscript, “The Proles”, which I will discuss here soon.  The meaning of the metaphorical title becomes apparent toward the end.  I won’t say more here, but you can look on Wikipedia for the source story in Homer’s The Odyssey here.  Oddly, when I was substitute teaching back around 2005 in a ninth grade English class, the students came across this story.

The novel is mentioned in Dan’s online resume here   That posting mentions several of his other projects, including a screenplay of Beowulf.  I do recall the 2007 Paramount 3-D film “Beowulf” directed by Robert Zemeckis with Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary adopting the anonymous poem that we all read in senior high school English (as well as “Everyman”).

I don’t find the novel on Amazon.  It strikes me that the novel would indeed lend itself to an independent film, of the sort that often gets released by Wolfe Video or Breaking Glass Pictures.  The style of storytelling and feel is very 90’s in nature, with mention of favored spots in Washington then, like the Pop Stop on 23rd St (near Dupont Circle).  The feel of Washington has changed since then.

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Blatt is an alumnus of Williams College, in northwestern MA.  I know of another senior graduating from Williams this year who will go to graduate school at Oxford next fall.

Shortly after moving to Minneapolis , I met thriller novelist Vince Flynn, when he had self-published his first novel “Term Limits” with his own Cloak and Dagger Press in St. Paul, MN.  I attended a booksigning party in at a Barnes and Noble in Edina.  I remember finding the novel quite riveting, as three politicians in Washington are “executed” by hit men in one night as the novel starts, and the incidents are quite riveting to read.  (They anticipate two incidents in Prince Georges County Md where technicians in the counter-terrorism world were apparently assassinated in 2008, and these cases are still unsolved.)   Flynn’s first novel certainly anticipates the partisan gridlock that paralyzed Congress over the debt ceiling anb government shutdown in 2011 and then again in 2013. Flynn would go on to get a contract with Pocket Books.

Actually, in 1998, I heard about another manuscript by a Minnesota college student in which there is a stock market in the value of people’s souls.

I should mention that I knew the late playwright Robert Cassler (through Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty), and saw a vidoe of his play “Second in the Realm”  (about Steve Langton, picked by the pope to be Archbishop of Canterbury for King John) as produced by a Fairfax County group in 1996.  I’ve also browsed the script of “The Trial of John Peter Zenger“, about the first successful battle over the free press in colonial America.  Both of these would make interesting films.  His biographical site is here. Rick Sincere wrote about the first of these plays in a 2005 posting “790 Years of Magna Carta” here,

Picture: I don’t have anything from Dan’s Cincinnati, so the closest I could come was Mt. Vernon, Ohio (NE of Columbus), August 2012, my trip.  Some of the soap “Days of our Lives” is supposed to take place around here (although the real “Salem” in Ohio is a small town to the East a bit).  The second picture is at Williams College (my trip, Aug. 2012).

Music for the movies gets covered in a few DVD’s

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Recently, a couple of Netflix DVD’s in my queue gave a refresher course in movie music.

There is a series by Joshua Waletsky “Music for the Movies” with  particularly attention to “The Hollywood Sound”, originally in PBS in 1995, released on DVD by Kultur and Sony in 2007.

John Maurceri, of the BBC Symphony of Wales conducted the many samples.  The film opens with a drummer announcing the 20th Century Fox fanfare (by Alfred Newman), and then takes us to that climactic music before the intermission of “Gone with the Wind” (MGM and Sleznicj), when Scarlett screams “I will never be hungry again” (even if I have to life and cheat), with that image that stays with us forever.  The film points out that the composer, Max Steiner, was trained in the style of German romanticism of Mahler and Strauss.  Musical scores in the old days used to end loudly, as “The End” would flash on the screen because in the past the credits were always at the beginning.

There’s a lot of discussion of David Raksin’s score for “Laura” (1944), the story of a detective who falls in love with a dead woman. Raksin says he had writer’s block, but the famous theme came to him when he received a letter from his wife that she wanted to leave him.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold was another Hollywood composer in the German tradition. He agreed to score “Robin Hood” only after his family had to flee Germany and all his belongings in Germany were confiscated.

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The film paid a lot of heed to the career of Alfred Newman, including the influence on him of British composer Delius.

A couple of my own favorite scores are Hans Zimmer’s constant ground-bass in “Inception” (2010), and the score of “A Canterbury Tale” (1944), the triumphant conclusion and postlude of which seems to be based on the way Havergal Brian’s Third Symphony ends (although it throws in “Onward Christian Soldiers”.)

The film quoted Oscar Wilde, “To be understood is to be found out.”

There is a DVD “Maurice Jarre: A Tribute to David Lean” where Jarre conducts the London Symphony in a 1992 concert of suites of music from all of his film scores.  My favorite is “Dr. Zhivago”, which I saw in Kansas City at the Capri Theater on an icy December night in December 1966.  Another film getting a lot of attention on the DVD is “A Passage to India”.

There is some good music in the trademark fanfares that the studios own.  Newman composed the 20th Century Fox intro, which the studio uses failthfully.  Most other studios use their trademark music only sproradically.   Lionsgate has experimented with a horror intro, and two different orchestral outbursts, the newer one being Wagnerian.  Universal’s is also rather like Valkyries, and Columbia has the rising theme.  Even some smaller companies, like Roadside Attractions, have new lingos.  I wish Warner Brothers would use it piano concerto-like setting from “Casablanca” consistently.

Paramount has announced its 100 years as follows:

“Project Greenlight” (Miramax and LivePlanet) sponsored three screenwriting contests a few years ago; my 2004 entry was “Baltimore Is Missing”

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In 2002, while still living in Minneapolis but after my “career-ending” layoff, I took part in a screenwriting contest called “Project Greenlight”.

The contest was sponsored by Miramax Pictures (before the breakoff from The Weinstein Company) and Live Planet, with the help of Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Chris Moore.

There were actually two contests, a writing contest and a director’s contest.  The writer’s contest consisted of a standard-formatted screenplay, which had to be written in either Screenwriter or Final Draft and submitted as a PDF, with a limit of 120 pages (about two hours).  The directors’ assignment was to make an 8-10 minute video that used a particular prop and specific script line.

I entered only to judge the screenplays.  Typically, the system would assign a screenplay randomly (or you could choose from a few titles). To rate the play (and give comments) you had to pass a T-f quiz of seven questions (not missing more than 2), submitted by the author.

The “Greenlighters” became quite a community online, with forum discussion boards on all kinds of topics.  The contest effectively became a social networking site in the days before Myspace and Facebook. There were plans for a Greenlighter’s party to be held in the Hollywood Hills (I considered a weekend flight), and people were going to hitch rides and bring sleeping bags.

The winning script was “The Battle of Shaker Heights”, by Erica Benney, which I do remember seeing on cable.  The film is about high school student in Ohio who takes on a bully by his artistic skills reenacting war scenes.  Shia LaBeouf was in the film.   The first contest had been won by Pete Jones for his script “Stolen Summer”, about a little boy who takes a priest’s advice literally and tries to help someone get into Heaven.  I recall seeing that film in Minneapolis, I think at the Landmark Lagoon.

In February 2004, on a Sunday morning, after I had moved back to northern Virginia to look after my mother, I caught sight of Ben Affleck announcing another Greenlighter contest. This time I decided to enter a script.  You also had to participate as a judge if you entered a script.  This time, it was suggested that the film be suitable for a PG-13 rating if possible. The contest winner was “Feast”, by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, directed by John Gulager, about people trapped in a rural bar when it is attacked by alien monsters.  I would see this at a special screening at the Landmark E Street in Washington.  The film would be followed by a couple of sequels, including “Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds”.  I note that the second film in the unrelated gay “Eating Out” franchise is called “Sloppy Seconds”.

The making of “Feast” became an HBO series on Project Greenlight, in 30-minute episodes, with all kinds of crises in trying to produce the film for under $1 million.

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My entry was a sci-fi script called “Baltimore Is Missing”.   (The word “Missing” refers to a missing value for a variable in programming languages!) The idea for the film had come to me in a dream sometime after 9/11.  The character “Bill” is the protagonist.  In the early scenes, he gets criticized in a DC disco for gawking at only younger men.  On nightcall at work, he gets a call for an abend that may be caused by a forgotten logic bomb in his code; be goes into work to fix it forgetting he is in his pajamas.  He gets fired, but not before wild rumors about a huge solar storm circulate on the Internet, and not before he gets a strange call inviting him to Baltimore where he will undergo some sort of cleansing tribunal.  He boards the Amtrak train, but after it goes into the Harbor Tunnel, it never emerges.  Or if it does emerge, the whole city of Baltimore is missing and there is some sort of alien, arid and cold landscape.  He boards another train and explores this world, finding himself trained to fit in to a world with a simpler lifestyle.   He meets some of the people he admires, and some of them come from flashbacks in earlier periods of his life.  The film, in these flashbacks, recreates his “William and Mary Expulsion”, and in meta-storytelling, even recreates a scene where one of his best friends auditions for  a key part in movie about the expulsion.  In the meantime, he is paired off with a young woman who is to become his wife.  He gradually develops affection, even physical attraction for her, which surprises him.  He gets a view of what life in a homestead cottage on this alien planet in some other universe will look like.  (Is he in the afterlife?)  He undergoes his tribunal, and then is confronted with the fact that he has become a toy in al old nemesis’s model railroad. At the end, he gets a glimpse of Earth under siege from the Sun (maybe black holes can transmit video to other universes through X-rays or gamma radiation).  He settles down to a simple life as a toy with a toy spouse.

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The script mentions some other oddities, like the idea that someday male doctors and male nurses may have to epilate their hands and arms as part of infection control.

The reviews, to put it mildly, were mixed.  One reviewer was confused by the flashbacks and multi-layer plot.  One thought that a scene where he rides in a boxcar (sort of like the train on John Carpenter’s “Ghosts of Mars”) was an inappropriate use of the Holocaust, but I hadn’t even thought of that when I wrote the passage.

As I look at it now, I still think a film like this can work.  But it probably can’t be made for under $1 million.

The treatment document for my screenplay, which in turn links to the PDF script, is here.  I did register this screenplay with WGA-West.

I can remember finding an essay by Matt Damon, then about 30, in the site telling people who want to enter the movie world, “Don’t do it.”

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Update: July 27, 2016

The startup company “Adaptive Studios” seems to have picked up Project Greenlight.  The slogan is “Reimagine everything”.

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“Gone with the Wind”: big epic films used to provide family experiences; and this one has never lost its moral edge

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At a grocery store recently, I saw and picked up a TV Guide “American Icons Special Edition” for “Gone with the Wind: 75 Years of the Greatest Movie Ever Made”.

I first saw DWTW with my mother and male cousin (one year older) late on a Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1954, when I was 11.  I think we saw it at the Arlington Theater on Columbia Pike in the southern part of Arlington.  We got there about a half hour early and saw the end, about where Melanie dies, and I was even struck then about the loyalty of the former slaves, like Mammy.

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My parents had always said that this was the “best” movie ever made.

The family also had a motion picture edition of Margaret Mitchell’s novel, published in 1940 by Macmillan. The book has many color plates from the film, and the Technicolor look is quite garish and fascinating to the eye, especially with the indoor scenes with costumes, dresses and furniture.

As kids, a few scenes fascinated us.  For example, the tragic scene where Bonnie dies when the horse misses a jump (anticipating what could happen to Christopher Reeve), and that famous line by Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) right before the end, where he says a word unmentionable at the time. In the book, Rhett lectures her that making apologies aren’t always enough in real life.

The book and film are still notable for their moral outlook.  Scarlet seems spoiled and sheltered, and unaware that her privilege comes at the expense of others (slaves).  She is in Atlanta when Sherman comes, and the burning of Atlanta and later Tara provide a big climax for the film before the intermission.  Scarlet is mortified by the wounds to the men, and learns something about privation and hardship.  The first half ends with the line, “I will never be hungry again”.

Indeed, Scarlet becomes a schemer, rather like Sami in the soap “Days of our Lives”.  She may have lost it, but she gets it back, and she can get her hands dirty.  (That theme comes up again in the novel and film “Cold Mountain”, maybe the last movie my late mother ever saw, where there is a line, “I can embroider but I can’t darn.”)

It’s easy to imagine what can be done with the plot skeleton of a novel like this. Imagine an EMP blackout of much of the country, and a “revolution”.  But suppose, instead of the permanent change to the world as in the NBC series “Revolution” (to be taken up later here), power and even Internet gradually comes back over many months.  Could people rebuild?  Would wealth change hands?  Would a Maoist kind of personal justice take place for many people?

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I saw the GWTW complete film again in 1998 at the Mall of America in Minnesota, after New Line re-released it.  I think I saw it on July 4.  A graduating college student friend from the Libertarian Party almost joined me.  On repeated viewings, the film, despite its 220-minute length, seems to become episodic in the second half and some of the scenes seem rushed and superficial, such as when Rhett takes Bonnie to London.  (It would not have been possible to make a quick trip overseas in the 1800’s.)  Another good example of this occurs when Rhett and Scarlet go to New Orleans.

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The music score, by Max Steiner, is sweeping and monumental.

I used to like the epic historical movie (and still do, when one gets made, which isn’t that often).  There have been a few others, like “The Robe” (1953, the first in Cinemascope, and I remember crying at the end when the hero is put to death), “The Ten Commandments”, “War and Peace”, and “Dr. Zhivago” (which I saw on a bitterly cold night in Kansas City when I was a grad student, at the Capri Theater).  Don’t forget “Giant”, which I saw in the 1980s at the Inwood Theater in Dallas.  A few of the big musicals were also quite long, like “The Sound of Music” (and the earlier “Carousel”, “Oklahoma!: and “South Pacific”).  In 1968 we had “2001: A Space Odyssey”, and after then, it became rather rare for movies to have intermissions (although “Hamlet”, from Columbia, in 1996, does, and runs almost 4 hours).  The first two or three Cinerama movies had intermissions.    It used to be that going to a big historical epic at a big theater downtown (when Washington had theaters like the Capitol, Palace, Columbia, Warner, RKO Keith’s) was a big deal, and usually an outing for the whole family (sometimes, as in our case, extended family). In those days, films showed downtown, and then circulated in the “neighborhoods” for 2-4 day runs.  The neighborhood theaters quickly got caught up in being able to show Cinemascope and even stereo by the mid 1950s.

There is a lot written about the casting of GWTW. Even in the 1930s, producers paid a lot of attention to the “adequacy” of the women chosen to be cast, such as Vivien Leigh, and then even specified exercises to maintain their “appearances”.  The heterosexual eye was capable of a lot of fantasy.

“Summerland”: brief WB series explored “involuntary family responsibility”; so do many indie films

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The Spelling Television series “Summerland” ran for just two seasons (2004-2005) but it made an interesting point about unelected family responsibility.

Lori Loughlin (who, with Stephen Tolkin, created the series) plays Ava Gregory, a struggling fashion designer living nicely but frugally somewhere around Malibu Beach, in a village called “Summerland”, with a best friend, Susannah Rexford (Merrin Dungey).  When her sister and husband are killed in a car accident, she suddenly gets custody of the sister’s three children: teenage Bradin (Jesse McCartney), Nikki (Kaya Panabaker) and Derrick (Nick Benson).

The Pilot sets up the series well, laying out the issues.  In California, Ava balks at her boss, who doesn’t like her design concepts and wants her to travel to Japan, and wants to go solo.  Her boss reminds her that he owns the rights to all her work.  On the beach, she plans with Sue to go to Paris and cold-call to start her business.  In Kansas, Bradin is to look after his younger siblings as his parents go out to volunteer to throw sandbags to stop a river flood.  Fifteen minutes into the episode, Bradin calls Ava, crying, that he has lost his parents to a car wreck/

Lori and her friends, who include some in-and-out males (one of them played by Shawn Christian) are hardly prepared to raise OPC (other people’s children).  But Brandin, while sometimes flirting with trouble, becomes an impassioned surfer, doning wetsuits.

In the second season Ava falls in love with a middle school principal (a male around 40) and the wedding ceremony fails as it starts.

The second season also introduced Zac Efron as the very likeable teen Cameron Bale.

The series had some lilting music, and tended to replace “Everwood” in the same timeslot on the WB in the summer.  It’s interesting that the genesis of the plot concept is similar.

The idea that people wind up raising relatives’ children has been presented in film a few times, such as with “Raising Helen”, “Breakfast with Scot”, “Saving Sarah Cain”, “Gracie’s Choice”,  “The Conrad Boys“, “In from the Night” (where the parent is a writer), “Abel’s Field”, “Any Day Now”., and Jeff London’s little known “Regarding Billy“.  A few films on this issue have aired on Lifetime or Hallmark, and their sources range from Christian groups to LGBT.  The idea comes up in the soap “Days of our Lives”, which will be discussed here later.

“Everwood” was an important WB series about a possible teen piano prodigy, and a doctor who doesn’t need to charge

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The WB (and CWTV) ran several  series that interested me ten years ago, and another one for me to review is “Everwood”, which started in the fall of 2002 and ran for four seasons (ending in the spring of 2006).  Sometimes reruns appear on ABC Family.  The series was created by Greg Berlanti (also, “Jack & Bobby” and “The Tomorrow People”, to be discussed later, with the latter of these dealing with teens with “powers”, and reminds me of NBC’s “Heroes”).

The premise is that a successful NYC neurosurgeon Andy Brown (Treat Williams) loses his wife to a tragic auto accident in an ice storm.  He moves himself and his two kids to the town of Everwood, CO, deep within the Rockies. He sets up a general practice and doesn’t even charge (believe that in these days of Obamacare), which draws the ire of the competing doctor Abbott (Tom Amandes).

Brown has two gifted children, a younger daughter Delia (Vivienne Cardone), and her older brother Ephram (Gregory Smith), who is supposed to be turning about 15 when the series starts.  The family is Jewish but secular, but Ephram has already bad a bar mitzvah. Brown’s moral values are typical for his background, a kind of careful individualism, unsettled when right and wrong are not as clean cut as they should be.

Ephram’s gift is piano, and the potential to become a concert pianist.  Much of the plot of the series revolves around Ephram’s progress toward getting into Julliard.  In one episode, he has “learned” the entire Beethoven Appassionata Sonata overnight. Ephram tends to be moody, but clever, and has a faceted personality.

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When he is about 16, Ephram has a fling with a 20 year old college student named Madison.  He is naïve, and has his first experience, in a scene quite well done.  Madison gets pregnant.  Andy decides to keep her pregnancy a secret from Ephram, a soap-opera-like idea that can set up a final confrontation when Ephram approaches the Julliard audition.

Eprham writes a high school essay called “My Greatest Flaw” which is “my inability to change”.  Does this mean that there is a moral imperative to grow into someone that can support a future bigger than the self?  You hope “that you’ll never have to change again.”


There are several other compelling subplots.  One of these happens in season 1 when Abbott’s son Bright (Chris Pratt, later to appear in “Zero Dark Thirty”, “Moneyball”, “Her”) has an auto accident with another teen, Colin (Mike Erwin) in the car sustaining a head injury.  At first, Colin seems to recover OK, but then Andy discovers that Colin has a hematoma or aneurysm that must be removed or it will eventually rupture. Colin agrees to the surgery.  But he dies at the end of Season 1 when the risky operation fails, and the entire town ostracizes Andy for his playing “Ben Casey”.

There is another subplot where a female doctor patient has HIV acquired from treating a patient in Africa, and tells Delia.  Others find out from Delia, and soon her own practice is destroyed by fearful patients, and her gay ex-husband tries to get custody of her kids. Through complications, Dr. Abbott winds up being threatened with loss of his malpractice insurance.

Later in the series there is an extraverted Dr. Jake Hartman (Scott Wolf), a skiing enthusiast.

The series always started each episode with some music that sounded like the slow movement of a late 19th century piano concerto, but what one?  The music may have come from Eugen d’Albert’s first piano concerto, written at age 18 or so, and inspired by Liszt, and filled with many familiar themes for such an obscure work.  Hollywood knows obscure romantic music well. Maybe the work should be called “The Everwood”.

Toward the end, after Ephram has given up Julliard and has to work playing piano at clubs to support his child, and also gives piano lessons (at 18), he takes on a gay teen pupil, Kyle, (Steven R. McQueen, grandson of the famous actor.  Had the series continued, probably Kyle would have become the important character with a professional career.

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In August 2005, I drove (from DC) to a “party” at King of Prussia Mall near Philadelphia, where I met Gregory Smith and Chris Pratt.  Smith, now 30, stars in “Rookie Blue” and has directed two episodes, and has also produced a comedy “Wieners” for Screen Gems, and, in a change of style, a documentary about doomsday preppers, “Training for the Apocalypse”.

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Maybe the best outcome for this series would be a sequel movie based on the characters.  What has happened to Ephram, now in his mid 20s?  Has Kyle’s career taken off?  Or did Ephram somehow go to another music conservatory?  Yale would be interesting.  Maybe a movie, maybe a cable or web series.  Warner Brothers no longer has a separate brand for independent film (this would have been a logical release from “Warner Independent Pictures”, a brand that the company should bring back).

There is a newer series on CWTV, “Hart of Dixie” (2011- ), created by Lelia Gerstein.  about another transplanted (to Alabama) doctor (a woman, Zoe Hart, played by Rachel Bilson) that seemed rather underwhelming.

 

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