All posts by jboushka@aol.com

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.

IMGA2645

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

IMG_8078
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.

IMG_8068

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”

IMG_5652

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.

IMG_5653

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.

IMG_0975

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.”

IMGA1626

Update: July 27, 2016

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

IMGA1599

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

IMG_7946

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.

IMG_7952

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?

atlanta3

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.

IMG_7280

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

IMGA1579

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

IMG_6434

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.

IMG_6433

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.

everwood

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”.

everwood2

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.

 

“Jake 2.0” gave us another young adult superman character, and the show was allowed to die

IMG_4764

Jake 2.0” provided some competition to “Smallville” in the fall of 2003, on the overlooked UPN channel.  But it apparently aired only the first twelve episodes in most markets, I believe; four more were aired in the UK, and the last three were never completed, after CBS/UPN canceled the show, because of ratings. David Greenwalt had been the executive producer.

Christopher Gorham, 29 when the series was filmed, played Jake, a computer technician at the NSA (National Security Agency) who gets “infected” with nanomites accidentally after a minor wound resulting from a shootout with a saboteur.

IMG_6193

Jake soon has super-strengths of the Clark Kent variety, including being able to run and jump great distances, and heal quickly.  Most of all, he can affect the contents of computer files with technotelepathy, his mind, which would be a dangerous capability. (Indeed, “let the hacking begin.”)  The idea somewhat foreshadows a similar idea in J J Abrams in “Revolution” today (to be discussed later).

IMG_6196

Jake is also concerned about morality, and the proper use of power, an idea that comes up in a conference scene in a late episode, and that would certainly fit the controversy over the NSA today.

There are episodes including stopping EMP attacks (before the idea was widely discussed) and dirty bombs.  There was a humorous episode with a paintball maneuver.  In one episode, Jake rescues his immature younger brother, and talks about “loyalty to blood”.

In the episodes that didn’t get aired, Jake had become a target of the NSA.

UPN (CBS) apparently didn’t even try to air all the episodes that had been filmed, replacing it with the silly “America’s Top Model” in January 2004.

I think the series would have done better if aired on a more visible network, and not in competition with “The West Wing.”


The series was filmed in Vancouver, but the Washington DC backdrops were put in seamlessly.

“U.S. Bill of Rights and Constitutional Amendments” from “Just the Facts” Learning Series: for me, deja vu

IMG_5893

When I watched the educational DVD from Goldhil and Full Circle Films, dating back to 2004, “United States Bill of Rights and Constitutional Amendments”, from its “Just the Facts Learning Series”, I felt like I was back in the public school system, substitute teaching as I did (in two periods) from 2004-2007.  This DVD could very well have been the “busywork” for the day in a Va, and US Government or even US History class.  I don’t recall it, however.  I rented it from Netflix. I could not find a current website for the company but here is a typical retail link for the DVD.

A narrator, and law professors Robert Hennig and Priscilola Zotti explain all the amendments to the US Constitution in straightforward fashion.

IMG_5894

Many people, for example, don’t know that many of the framers did not believe we needed a Bill of Rights, which were ratified in 1791.  Also, a lot of people don’t know that the 27th Amendment (giving District of Columbia residents the right to vote in presidential elections with as many electors as the least populous state) was written by James Madison, but could actually be ratified in 1992 because there is no time limit.

The film (running about forty minutes) takes no-nonsense positions on controversy, pointing out that the Second Amendment did originate in a climate where states had organized militia locally, and that it does not give people the right to arm themselves gratuitously with military-style weapons (or nuclear weapons, as mentioned specifically in the DVD).

The DVD attempts a beginner’s explanation of the “incorporation doctrine”, with the 14th Amendment, where the guarantee that the federal government cannot take away certain fundamental rights is extended to the states, but not consistently.

The DVD includes a 20-second multiple choice quiz, which one has to click through.  The detractors in the questions are tricky, so students would have to be careful.   It could be easy to get a bad grade in a public school with a typical 90-80-70-60 (or stiffer) grading scale.

On the cover of my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book, self-published in 1997, I had mistakenly said the Bill of Rights was 160 years old, when 200 years would have been much closer.  It’s not a good idea to put a number like this on the cover of a book. That problem was fixed with the 2000 iUniverse printing.

In my second DADT book (“When Liberty Is Stressed”, 2002), I discussed the idea of a “Bill of Rights 2” and talked about the constitutional amending process (not covered on the DVD), online link here.amendments could anchor the “right to privacy”.  In Chapter 6 of my first DADT book, I had proposed “28th” and “29th” amendments.  The “28th was structured to prevent any government from interfering with adult sexual privacy and had many provisions.  It was not as protective as free speech on the Internet as it might have been, as I explain in the book.  The 29th amendment was actually conceived as a 90s-era attempt to encourage states to experiment with gay marriage by putting DOMA-like limits on federal recognition, but we all know what happened to that idea with the Supreme Court in 2013.

As I have covered on other blogs, I think we have real potential issues with the question of whether unsupervised self-broadcast of one’s speech ought to be regarded as a fundamental right, as in the recent debate over Section 230.  But many court opinions, even in the Supreme Court, have tended to support this view, as with the litigation a few years ago over COPA, the Child Online Protection Act, against which I was an indirect plaintiff through Electronic Frontier Foundation

“Smallville”: Superman was once a teenager himself; recalling the 10-year television series

kansas35

The science-fiction television drama “Smallville” premiered on “TheWB” (eventually to become CWTV) on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2001, about five weeks after 9/11.  The Pilot must have been filmed weeks before, that summer, in British Columbia, but the scene of meteors crashing into the town of Smallville, KS may have seemed terrifying then.

That sequence had been preceded by a brief prologue, introducing the loving couple (John Schneider and Annette O’Toole), the Kents, who would find baby Clark in a corn field and take him home and raise him as their own (a godsend, since Martha couldn’t have children).  In that prologue we saw a boy Lex Luthor made bald for the rest of his life by the meteor exposure – a play on radiation fallout (or dirty bomb) fears?


Fifteen minutes into the Pilot, we’re shown a handsome teenage Clark, played by a youthful enough Tom Welling (then 24), gently arguing with his dad about not being allowed to play football because he could hurt other people.  Tall and strong but lean and lanky, he actually looks more like a future baseball 100-mph fastball pitcher than a lineman or quarterback.  He a freshman at Smallville High, apparently in ninth grade, and his legal records show him to be 14.  He is tall and physically strong for his age, but very socially awkward.  He is morally sensitive.  He wonders if he is special or just different. No one can explain his unusual strength (although that does exist in nature, genetically, in some young men), or ability to heal, or “speed” – ability to teleport himself by altering space-time.  Later, he will develop x-ray vision, which would allow him to scope people, and then heat vision, which could allow him to set things on fire telepathically (like Zak in “Revolution”).  His father, upon questioning, finally tells Clark that he is an alien, and shows him the spaceship in the barn.  It is quite a touching scene.  Clark “speeds off”, upset, after saying “You should have told me.”  Soon, he is somehow “disabled” and hazed in a notorious scarecrow scene (which some people see as an allusion to Matthew Shepherd), with the “S” painted on his smooth chest.

So this is to be the story of how the future Superman came of age, as a teenager.  The series would run for ten years.  But after the first three seasons, it seemed to lose focus and become more episodic.  But the earlier years will filled with suspense.  Season 1 ends with a tornado.  In the middle of Season 2, Clark meets Dr. Virgil Swann, played by Christopher Reeve, now a quadriplegic from his own 1995 horsemanship accident, trying to decipher his origin from hieroglyphics.  As his father Jor El and other forces from his home planet Krypton chase him, Clark faces a crisis at the end of Season 2.  He fears his end is coming, and in one scene the “S” is burned into his chest as a scar (although it seems to be reversible).  At the very end, Clark takes a motorcycle to Metropolis (usually shown by Vancouver, but in this episode the skyline of Kansas City MO was used), having invited Lana to come with him. The seasons ends with dramatic music (I think by Tchaikowsjy) as Clark rides to the city.

Clark usually has a moral compass that would make any parent proud, except when he is exposed to red kryptonite, which unmasks all inhibition and turns his usual kindness into a curious moral nihilism.  He can be brought back by green kryptonite, which can cause him to lose all his powers.  In fact, in another episode, he learns it is better to be “different” and have powers than be like everyone else.  (Like it is better to marry than to burn?)  In season 3, he starts working for the Metropolis Mafia (that is, Kansas City MO or Vancouver BC, interchangeably) and robs some ATM’s (which in more recent years has become a real crime problem), but then gets his moral compass back and returns home.  At the end of Season 3, it seems as though he has to go back “Home” – to the Phantom Zone – for the summer.

I was living in Minneapolis when the series started, and had been laid off at the end of 2001, and was about to start my “second life”.  Somehow, I saw a rerun of the Pilot over Christmas that year, I think while “home” in Arlington visiting mother.  I became intrigued with the series.  I remember seeing the finale of Season 2 the day before a successful job interview, still in Minnesota then.  But I also remember watching it in May 2002 in a motel on a trip to talk about my own book and movie possibilities. Smallville became a fixture.

Logically, Clark should have entered college in Season 5, and that would have been a better track than the episodic plot that followed.  Starting in 2004, Smallville had moved to Wednesday nights, at 8 PM ET, and I typically looked forward to watching it regularly in the middle of the 00 decade anyway, despite a weakening plot.  Instead of college, Clark actually works for a professor Fine for a while, on his way to eventually becoming a journalist.  Lois enters the plot during these years (having found him and “imagined him naked” at the start of Season 4 when he is back from the summer “abroad”).

Other devices from the comics come into the series, such as the Fortress of Solitude.  Other kinds of kryptonite get mentioned, such as black, which gives Lex powers.  There are all kinds of episodes with bizarre experiments, such as trading bodies.  Other interesting characters are offered, such as Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley, after a body shave relative to the soap “Passions”), reporter Jimmy Olson (Aaron Ashmore), whose cognitive abilities as a mere human can match Clark’s, and another teenager who can fly played by Richard Harmon (who would later star in “Judas Kiss”).

TheWB and later CWTV had impressive websites, with video and discussion boards, for the show, which in the early years added to suspenseful speculation as to where the plot would go.

There were some “revelation” scenes toward the end of the series that were a bit homoerotic, but homosexuality as an issue was rarely mentioned.  However, in one episode, when Clark did get to play football (and perhaps catch his own forward pass) he came to the defense of a gay classmate.  The issue probably would have been covered more had the series aired only two or three years later in span. Nevertheless, the parallel between Clark’s being “open” about his extraterrestrial origin (despite appealing human appearance) and openness about sexual orientation would be obvious, and the series ended while the final steps in the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy were being certified.  I think the show made a difference even in that debate.

Technically, the series was always broadcast in HD, and tended to use garish colors, lots of comic-book bright oranges and reds, which must have been achieved by manipulation of film stock.

Some individual episodes have some silly premises, such as when Clark and Lex exchange bodies.  A few show flashbacks, such as when Jor-El visits Smallville in 1961, and a marque for “Splendor in the Grass”, one of my favorite classic films, shows.

Created by Miles Millar and Alfred Gough, the series was produced by Tollin, Robins Productions, which went on to produce the less successful “One Tree Hill“.

I have a detailed writeup on my “doaskdotell site” here.   The Blogger chain can be accessed from this link.

kansas18

I went to graduate school at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, getting my M.A. in Mathematics in early 1968, and I always equated Smallville to Lawrence, which really does look like Smallville in the show.

kansas14

I ask, does a real teen Clark Kent, who can teleport himself instantly, exist on Earth?  Maybe.  If so, I hope he goes to college.

kansas20

My own music history, mostly as a youngster

IMG_7589

I will be discussing the “timeline” of my own life and self-awareness on another blog entry soon, but a very important component of tracing this history is the music I performed and composed, particularly early in life.

IMG_7591

I was born on July 10, 1943.  I started piano lessons in February 1952, in third grade, at age 8.  I took piano lessons twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays) and had Wednesday class, in the home of a Mrs. McDermott in Arlington VA until her death in May 1958 from colon cancer.  Her illness was sudden.  The I took piano from a Mrs. Wheeler, also in Arlington, until after graduation from high school in 1961.

IMG_7583

I performed in numerous recitals, and according to scrapbook records, it looks as though I performed in the “Festivals” every March from 1953 (fourth grade), until at least 1959 (tenth grade).  The festival required performing a “required” piece for grade difficulty from a list and an elective.  The elected piece had to be composed by an American, or a composer who had lived in the United States for much of his or her life.  Sergei Rachmaninoff was included, and I played the B minor  and E Major preludes from Op. 32 in the last two festivals.  Records also show I performed the infamous C# Minor Prelude at least once.  I recall playing the Debussy Arabesque in E, and a Schumann piece called “May, Sweet May”.  I may have performed the Chopin G Minor Prelude.  It looks like I earned “Superior” ratings four of those six years.

IMG_7599

It looks like I had started composing at around 11 years old, in sixth grade. I have re-recorded much of this music on my Casio through Sibelius on a MacBook and preserved some manuscripts and mp3 records, published here.   A few of the works are shown in photographed documents converted to Adobe PDF’s.

For tracking my own sense of “who I am” (an upcoming posting) early in life, it’s useful for me to list everything I composed, or could reconstruct, and give the status of any manuscripts that I have.  All compositions are playable on piano

Year Composition Manuscript? Online?
1955 Inspiration Sonatina, F Major, 4 movements, 10 min L N
1956 (perf. 1957, 1961?) Sonata 1, A Maj., 4 movements, 14 min L,S,P, P
1956 (perf. 1957) Minuet, E Maj P P
1956 Anthem, “Lord Thou Art My God”, 3 part chorus, F Maj N N
1957 Anthem, Psalm 133, D-flat P P
1960 Sonata 2, D Min, 3 movements, 25 min P (photographed) P
1961 4 Modal pieces (4 min) N N
1962, 1974, 2012 perf. 1991 Sonata 3, C, 4 Mov., 50 min P(photographed) P, some excerpts as MPG
1972-1974 “Song Symphony”, 6 min, no key, 40 min S Exceprts as P and MPG
1962, 1974 Orch. Symphony, E Min. 4 mvmts, 30 min S Excerpts as P
1974 Polytonal Prelude (D and E), 4 min S P,MPG

 

(L refers to Apple Logic, which I got before Sibelius.)

I entered the first two sonatas and Minuet into composition contests in the period 1957-1960.  I think I composed the Sonata, which has its own Minuet, first.  The E Major Minuet won a prize, but the Minuet in the Sonata is more interesting.  I’ve given some history of these pieces on Blogger here.

I must say that in the “Song Symphony”, in an episodic “scherzo” movement, I experimented with taking a minuet theme, and then recasting it harmonically (by throwing in polytonality, which classicism can always “use”) and telescoping the rhythm.  It’s like a Haydn minuet (rather than Mozart), with lots of little surprises that come on.  It’s not literally adopted, but a movement from the “Farewell Symphony” figured in, as did the “Imperial”.

The most complete  big works are the Sonatas 2 and 3.  I must have written out the Sonata 2 manuscript on the kitchen table in black in in early 1960.  Much of Sonata 3 was written in the spring of 1962, after I had started at GWU from having returned home from WM.  My father had a “mild heart attack” and could not stand loud classical music from the basement.  The third movement was a reflection of that circumstance.

The scrapbook notes show a judge discussing an “Impromptu in A Minor”, but I recall no such piece. I think she mixed up the title with another contestant and was really judging the Sonata #1 in A.

I’ve discussed a William and Mary classmate’s (from 1961) compositions also, here.   Sometime in 1962, after I had returned “home” because of the “expulsion” from William and Mary that I have discussed on my blogs, I received a huge postcard from a high school friend from the old Science Honor Society, in which he sketched out eight folk songs.  They may be some of the Irish songs that Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, and later Amy Beach, used in “Irish Rhapsodies” and symphonies, or they may include some Czech melodies.  The card may still be lying around in the attic or in estate property somewhere. If I find it, I’ll get it converted to digital.

atpiano