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We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

One of my favorite movies of all time is Jaws (1975) but I can’t name an African-American in the film so that’s messed up, but then Steven Spielberg made The Color Purple (1985) so he’s cool. My other favorite directors are Martin Scorsese and also Woody Allen so if you total up all the African-American characters in their films you end up with the character ‘Stacks’ in Goodfellas (1990). Too bad about Stacks, he got high and left his prints all over the getaway van. In Goodfellas, ‘Two ni**ers just stole my truck’ was the excuse for the paid-off truck driver as he complains to anyone who will overhear him, “Can you believe that?” he asks incredulously, Charles Stewart-style. There were no black gangs in New York in the 1800’s, apparently and Sugar Ray Robinson isn’t even given a line in Scorsese’s masterpiece, Raging Bull, (1980) yet he’s still my favorite director. Scorsese himself plays a racist in his film Taxi Driver where he brags to DeNiro’s Travis Bickle that he’s going to kill his wife because she’s cheating on him with a ‘ni**er.’ Marty, time’s up to make your Black Narcissus.

Anyway, in Jaws, the story revolves around a killer shark, terrorizing a little island on the 4th of July and if you think I’m going to write a post comparing the caronavirus to a killer shark at a time when humor is seriously frowned upon, prepare to turn that smile upside down. Jaws is probably used as an analogy more than any other film in history and that speaks to the incredible storytelling power of Steven Spielberg. He was at the center of a movement in early 70s film that was a reaction to the free-love drug culture that was hungover from the 60s, where young and dynamic filmmakers such as Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and Scorsese were redefining cinema, with an eye on the French New Wave created by Francois Truffaut and the neo-realism of Frederico Fellini and Vittorio De Sica in Italy, these young Americans created some of the greatest movies of all time. Scorsese however, also looked to directors such as the English Michael Powell and the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, employing a documentary-style realism that shaped 70s film into an art form all by itself. Director William Friedkin’s The French Connection; Coppola’s The Conversation and The Godfather; Sidney Lumet’s Network and Dog Day Afternoon; Scorsese’s Mean Streets and Taxi Driver and other groundbreaking films of the 1970s opened a new way for artists to connect with audiences and Hollywood took note, based mostly on the East Coast with the exception of the great director Robert Altman, a combination of that 70s cinéma vérité style with the commercial and artistic power from Hollywood was why Jaws was such a great movie. From The Morning News:

Jaws is a spectacular film, one of the greatest to come out of American cinema. It is rightly catalogued in the Library of Congress, where it has been preserved as a major cultural milestone. It also belongs in the very small club, alongside Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht and Friedkin’s The Exorcist, of “monster” pictures that are simultaneously true artistic achievements. After the movie opened, Steven Spielberg would become the household name he has remained ever since, but he would never again—forgive me for saying so of a billionaire with a shelf full of Oscars—make a film as seamless, and as dramatically accomplished, as this.

Author Peter Benchley, son and grandson of Algonquin tabler Nathaniel Benchley and the quintessential working writer also really loved sharks. He might have become a marine biologist if his father and grandfather weren’t writers and was troubled that his book and Spielberg’s film demonized sharks, which led directly to a precipitous decline in their population; based on a 1914 series of attacks off the coast of New Jersey, the real-life Jaws wasn’t a single shark eating lots of people, but many sharks eating a few people and we’ve found that sharks don’t particularly like the taste of humans and usually enjoy us for a snack, just an arm or leg before the main course of a poor, cute harbor seal.

The caronavirus, or SARS-Cov-2 is not like a shark in a few ways: 1. this virus is super, super tiny (not ‘invisible’ as our idiot VP thinks) and 2. far less scary on a movie poster than a killer shark and 3. can live outside the water, in fact it really likes to float in the air, landing in your nose to move down your throat, chewing into your lung tissue like the killer shark chewing into ‘Ol Ben Gardner. The films 28 Days and Contagion are both scary movies, with good movie posters, however competing with ‘Bruce,’ the shark (extremely scary), is only bested by Jason at the lake and Michael on Halloween. If you’re Crissy out for a midnight swim or some poor sailboat instructor who loses his whole damned leg, the big shark makes as fine an analogy to COVID-19 as any, after all, wasn’t Jaws really a film about a public health crisis made worse by the ‘town fathers,’ making Chief Brody reopen the beaches to swimmers even though it wasn’t safe to go in the water?

Chief Brody:  Larry, we can re-open the beaches in August.

Mayor Vaughn:  August! Tomorrow is the 4th of July, and we are going to open for business. It’s going to be our best summer in years. If you’re so concerned about the beaches, you two, you do whatever you have to to keep them safe, but with you or without you, those beaches will be open for this weekend.

Chief Brody and his family are outsiders in the movie because they ‘Weren’t born in Amity’ and told they’ll ‘never’ be an Islander. He works within the community and yet will never be a part of it and African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans know this feeling very well. They’ve fought in wars for this country and served with distinction, hoping to be recognized as equal to any other American, but since they’re ‘not white,’ they’re always viewed as an outsider to the larger white community — no matter what their achievements — take President Barack Obama as a prime example. In Jaws, the outsider police chief is trying his best to protect the townspeople, including tourists, from the threat they’re facing and the Amity community, from its citizens to the mayor to the medical examiner, actively work against his ability to do his job effectively. It’s with the July 4th collapse that Jaws’ final, third act begins and as today, the community’s true driving force is commerce.

The Jaws script went through three drafts, reworked by playwright Howard Sackler, nutty screenwriter John Milius and actor­-writer Carl Gottlieb, who would write himself out of one job and into another, creating the final shooting script, which was revised continually on location until the cameras started rolling. As Spielberg told one Boston journalist during the shoot, “We’ve been making it up as we go along…” Benchley’s original concept proposed to his editor was, “to explore the reactions of a community that is suddenly struck by a peculiar natural disaster [that] loses its natural neutrality and begins to smack of evil.” Jaws was set in a vacation tourist trap, Amity Island — an American utopia — with the welcoming name meaning ‘friendship,’ so ex–NYC cop Brody brought his family there so they could finally live somewhere safe. When scouting the film, Benchley wanted Spielberg to look at Nantucket Island, his family home, and when Production Director Joe Alves asked him, “Okay, what about this island, Martha’s Vineyard?’’ Benchley replied, “I don’t think there’s really anything there.”

Chief Brody, the New York cop looking for an easy job on the quiet island was met with far more challenges than just a shark in the water in Peter Benchley’s original book published in 1974, the manuscript was painstakingly forged together by the author Benchley and his patient editor Tom Congdon, the movie rights bought by Hollywood based on the opening four chapters, Benchley won the contract to write the full book yet would spend the advance before the book was completed and he needed to be walked to the third act by his editor and publisher, inserting typical 70s book homages to Updike’s sex and Puzo’s mob (in the book, Brody’s wife gets down with Matt Hooper and Mayor Vaughn is in the pocket of the mafia), but Spielberg saw through the murky plots, with Carl Gottleib, and created the best popcorn movie of all time.

You always hope a good movie will always follow a great screenplay (it should) but it doesn’t always, with a great screenplay it’s almost impossible to make a bad movie, like an architect with an elegant plan, the beefy union builders are the ones who are actually going to let you build the damned thing. The greatest directors know this and they take the core story of what they want to tell you and thread the details around it until you are totally lost  in the story and two hours have passed. That’s called entertainment and Jaws delivers on all fronts. If the film drags at all, it might be when Matt Hooper says “and this is what happens” when showing poor Chrissy’s chewed-off arm to the audience, but folks love that scene for the gore, matched with poor Ben Gardner’s head popping out of the hole of his sunken boat (filmed in editor Verna Fields’ swimming pool) providing the other big highlight for the thrill-kill crowd before Quint gets bitten in half at the end. Back in ’74, Steven Spielberg had directed only one feature, the unsuccessful Sugarland Express (1974) and had only done the TV-movie of the week Duel before that (about a crazy truck driver chasing down Dennis Hopper), Spielberg got the offer to direct Jaws, then named the mechanical shark Bruce after his Harvard-trained lawyer Bruce Ramer, which became the nightmare of the characters and filmmakers alike (the mechanical shark, not the lawyer) and is legendary in the film business for forcing Steven Spielberg to rely on the careful editing of Verna Fields to make the shark appear scarier, as well as the music and scoring of the best film composer of all time, John Williams of the Boston Pops.

The relationship between a film director and the director of photography, or ‘DP’ is the most important in the making of any good film, beyond a good script. If film directors usually start as production assistants on a film set (PAs), DPs usually start as camera operators but the greatest DPs such as James Wong Howe, Gregg Toland, Owen Roizman, Haskell Wexler and Gordon Willis recorded the great images they are known for by the employ of great camera operators. Camera operators (unionized) have created all the magic of the movies, minus editing, sound and score, of course and the film producer must start the process by hiring the director, who then hires the casting director and then the fun begins, but the images are recorded by the camera guy or gal. One of the first hires on Jaws was for the role of ‘Meadows’ and Carl Gottleib won the role as the local reporter who covers up the first shark attack in the book and who better than an actual writer with an Emmy to his name (kept in his fridge, so no one could miss it) working for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, going on to write for the Bob Newhart Show, All in the Family and The Odd Couple, in Jaws he practically wrote his character Meadows out of the script, giving him thoughts on which career choice to follow, yet after seeing The Jerk, (1979) with Steve Martin, which he co-wrote, I am eternally grateful he remained a screenwriter, even though I also liked him as a character actor, especially as Balls McGinty Gottleib, unlike Benchley, was a born writer.

The DP on Jaws, Bill Butler, was a TV cameraman for WGN Chicago who shot the early Coppola film Rain People (1969) starring James Caan and Shelley Duvall and all would later to collaborate on The Godfather, Butler then met with Spielberg, going on to shoot the greatest monster movie-on-the-water, Butler knew he needed a great camera operator for the harrowing job and that’s when he reached out and hired the great Michael Chapman, who would film almost all of the great images seared into our minds since, keeping us out of the water for decades. Chapman was then the DP on The Last Detail with Jack Nicholson and Randy Quaid, then he worked with Scorsese on some of his finest films such as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull; also Phil Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) Woody Allen’s The Front (1976) directed by Martin Ritt and Chapman even worked for the dearly-departed Carl Reiner on Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and The Man With Two Brains. He shot everything from The Fugitive to Space Jam and also helmed 1983’s under-appreciated All the Right Moves (Tom Cruise’s first lead performance after his first film Taps) and also Clan of the Cave Bear with the great Dutch DP, Jan de Bont.

Bill Butler, Steven Spielberg’s DP of choice after Allen Daviau, would record some of the other great films of the 70s, a replacement to Haskell Wexler on two occasions: The Conversation (1974) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), also first camera operator on the film Deliverance with Vilmos Szigmond and The Godfather with the great Gorton Willis, also doing Stripes (1980). Spielberg’s DP for The Color Purple, Allen Daviau was raised in LA and was one of the most highly-regarded DPs in Hollywood after Spielberg tapped him for the groundbreaking E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982) he also recorded Raiders of the Lost Ark; Twilight Zone: The Movie and Empire of the Sun for Spielberg as well as Defending Your Life starring Meryl Streep for director Albert Brooks and he also worked on John Schlesinger’s spy flick, The Falcon and the Snowman starring Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton (both also in Taps).

On April 16th, DP Allan Daviau died from the effects of the caronavirus at 77 years of age while a resident of the MPHA, a home where many Hollywood character actors end up, a place where character actor Allen Garfield also died of the effects of caronavirus, a wonderful actor who made his name in the 70s who reminded me of another great character actor by the name of John Cazale, who was once married to Meryl Streep, you may remember him from Dog Day Afternoon or The Deer Hunter by Michael Cimino, John was from Revere, MA and died in 1978 and I take any opportunity to celebrate his life and work, as short as it was due to the killer disease known as cancer. In Jaws, Chief Brody is awakened to his moral failure by a hard slap across the face from Mrs. Kintner, who took out ads in the local papers to fund the shark hunt, the mother of the boy who becomes the second shark attack victim (along with ‘Pippit’ the dog), Lee Fierro, the actor who played Mrs. Kintner, died at 91 of complications from COVID-19, she was a drama teacher on Martha’s Vineyard when Steven Spielberg cast her for the role in 1974.

A recent National Geographic report has indicated that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease is “50-100 times more deadly” than the common flu and where only a few people in the movie Jaws die in the end, we are now approaching 150,000 American citizens dead as a result of this awful and weird virus, more than double what the Trump Administration predicted back in March when the terrible Dr. Birx (called ‘Deborah’ by our president*) estimated 65,000 total dead Americans by August. This pandemic has revealed the utter incompetence of this man and we are now living in a real-time horror movie where our president* is trying to get us all killed. This 4th of July, when we Americans are tempted to go back into the water and enjoy the holiday after finally stamping out the virus, just remember the immortal words of Amity’s Mayor Vaughn:

I’m pleased and happy to repeat the news that we have in fact caught and killed a large predator that supposedly injured some bathers. But as you can see, it’s a beautiful day, the beaches are opened, and people are having a wonderful time.

As we all know, he was dead wrong.

 

John Underhill
July 4, 2020

 

When America Sneezes, the World Catches a Cold

The Wonderful Effects of Cowpox by James Gillray (1802)

Conservative Austrian diplomat Klem von Metternich (1773 – 1859), the architect of the ‘Metternich System’ of détente diplomacy between France and Prussia from 1800-1848, which dominated politics on the Continent and established the pathway to Austria’s independence, for four decades Prince Metternich served as foreign minister from 1809-1848 and also Chancellor from 1821, the father of the empire until the liberal Revolutions of 1848, he maintained Austria as a great power and was Napoleon’s able foil because Metternich was super smart but also extremely cocky, once saying,

There is a wide sweep about my mind. I am always above and beyond the preoccupations of most public men. I can cover a ground much vaster than they can see. I cannot keep myself from saying about twenty times a day: ‘How right I am, and how wrong they are.’

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The Tonight Show Starring Donald Trump

 

Boy, did Trump put on a bad show last night or what? Since my last post, the country has become a poorer, sicker and dumber place than at any time since Donald Trump took office, however a small side benefit to the Coronavirus outbreak is that I’ve had an enormous amount of free time to catch up on old TV shows on YouTube, so lately I’ve been binge watching Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; Maude; Wolfman Jack’s Midnight Special and especially Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. I’ve never been so happy to ignore reality because after watching TV or reading Twitter or the local news,  I tend to get selfish, angry and mean and I don’t want that to define who I am during this crisis. It’s terribly frustrating to see our government work like it’s run by an amateur and it highlights just how terrible our president* has become. If Hillary Clinton was elected instead of Donald Trump in 2016 and was the President of the United States right now, (as THREE MILLION more people voted for her than the other guy) I would be preparing to watch the Boston Red Sox play a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox, possibly rained out at Fenway but nonetheless, that ain’t happening now. The reality is that our imbecilic president has allowed this awful tragedy to happen to our great country because — at this point — the only logical explanation that I have left is that Donald Trump isn’t just a misogynist (he obviously hates women) but he’s also a psychopath. He hates people. After all, his parents were just awful human beings and I have a first-person account of how Fred Trump was basically a Nazi sympathizer. Being the son or daughter of a Nazi sympathizer and a cold and distant mother would be a challenge for most normal people and Donald Trump is certainly not a normal human being. He’s totally fucking abnormal. Interesting fact: the first toilet paper panic was caused by an offhand joke by Johnny Carson in 1974 when he said there were shortages of everything in California during the Watergate scandal and gas shortage. The joke became a rumor, which became a fact, resulting in a run on toilet paper and also a very funny example of how humans can panic and act irrational, even in the best of times. Here’s a typical zinger from the show:

I hear that whenever someone in the White House tells a lie, Nixon gets a royalty.

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Cult of Trump


Now that the United States Senate is finished with impeachment, the Cult of Donald Trump is now armed with the knowledge that ‘The Dear Leader’ is innocent of all charges against him. Before long, things of this nature tend to get out of hand, however all cults are not necessarily a bad thing and many cultists are darn good people. Someone who knows a thing or two about cults, Steven Hassan, is an American mental health counselor who has written extensively on the subject of mind control and how to help people who have been harmed by cults. I suggest the US Congress create a new Committee on Political Cults, similar to the Parliamentary Commission on Cults in France following the so-called ‘Order of the Solar Temple’ mass suicides in the 1990s, with Mr. Hassan appointed as it’s first director. His personal experience being a former member of the Unification Church, or the so-called ‘Moonies’ of the 1970s gave him all the experience he needs for the job and Mr. Hassan has become one of the most respected authorities on the subject of cults and mind control in the world. Just last October he published his fourth book, The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control where he explains the problem we all face and what we can do about reversing the damage. Most of us think that we are totally above these sorts of shenanigans and know better than the experts, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to fall the victim of a cult leader.

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3 Whistleblowers

Photo Illustration: ABC News

Here we are at the end of a decade and sometimes that means the end of an era. The 80’s ended with a thud and we’ll see if the 10’s live to be remembered as the decade in which we all finally lost our minds and with this in mind, let’s now affix our tin foil hats and review some of the many conspiracy theories that have swirled around since I was born. The greatest conspiracy theory of all time, the conspiracy by which all other conspiracies are measured is of course the Kennedy Assassination, our 35th President was murdered on November 22, 1963 by self-avowed Communist and former US Marine, Soviet-defector Lee Harvey Oswald and that case is still open. On New Year’s Day in 1979, the House Subcommittee on Assassinations released it’s shocking findings that, on the basis of the evidence available to the committee at the time, there was a 90% probability that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as the result of a conspiracy. The committee was unable, however, to identify any other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy. The earlier Warren Commission, formed by President Lyndon Johnson just after the trauma of the murder had subsided, had the initial effect of answering some of the most basic questions the American public had about the assassination that unfolded in front of our eyes in Dallas, the Warren report was at first accepted as the most definitive, exhaustive investigation of any crime in history.

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A Very Big Thing

Eighty years ago today, the Winter War began, where Joseph Stalin had been granted Finland in a ‘quid-pro-quo’ with Adolph Hitler, prior to the Barbarossa offensive, a dazed and confused Russia (referred to in international circles at the time as the ‘Soviet Union’) were bloodied and basically beaten after just three months of battle, where Russia suffered 134,000 to 138,000 dead or missing with estimates as high as 167,976 by the Russian State Military Archive in this early ‘war’ of WWII and the following Continuation War pushed the numbers far higher for both sides.

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Kenneth, What is the Frequency?

 

In a strange incident in 1986, Dan Rather was roughed up by a couple of well-dressed goons as he walked home near the corner of 88th Street and Park in New York, with one of them repeatedly asking, “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” The newsman made news himself because the louts, instead of calling the celebrity CBS reporter by his given name, Dan or even Daniel, referred to him as ‘Kenneth.’ This was just weird enough to make the national news. The brouhaha died down and the incident was quickly forgotten until 1994 when a band by the name of R.E.M. out of Athens, Georgia recorded the hit song, “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” off their album Monster, which is why anyone remembers the story. The reason Rather came to be asked the strange question by the nutty duo is quite weird and stupid and tragic, and I’ll get into that later in the post, but it’s when we hit the ‘stupidity curve’ as a culture, where schizophrenic news cycles and the the weird shit that we see today has hit the fan every day, week and month since.

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The Square, Circled

Harvard Square 1974

Rock ‘n’ Roll was in transition in the late 1970s and back in the old days, all the good new music, as usual, was coming from African-American artists and I was totally into ‘black music’ and listening to DJ Antoine and the Quiet Storm at the end of the FM dial on WMBR 88.1, MIT’s awesome college radio station (helping nerds be cool for over fifty years). I remember one of my best friends back then, Mike, who had relatively mediocre taste in music and was kind of dim, had adopted Bruce Springsteen as his very own (as many of our friends have through the years) walling Bruce off and jealousy, weirdly attacking anyone who didn’t like Springsteen as much as he did. Many years later I found out that my stupid friend Michael was actually right about Bruce after all and that I was the dumb one. A note here about my last post (trying to keep these to a minimum) about using mean and pejorative terms on this here blog such as stupid, dumb, moron, imbecilic, Trump Cuck, etc. I’m sorry if they offend anybody and I’m sorry that I use these bad words, but I just can’t help myself, so I sincerely apologize to Mr. Broidy that I called him ‘fat’ in (every) reference to him, however I’m not sorry that I called him sleazy. Watching Aidy Bryant on Saturday Night Live recently, I thought to myself that this funny and delightful (pleasantly plump?) woman probably doesn’t like that word ‘fat’ very much and even when I’m insulting Elliot Broidy, I shouldn’t be calling him that bad word. I should say he’s big-boned. A big-boned, sleazy scumbag. “There I go again” as Ronnie Reagan used to say.

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King Leer

Confidential Magazine

Any reading of the recent drama caused by AMI CEO David (Johnson) Pecker should be called ‘business as usual,’ but I highlight Time Magazine’s March 11, 1957 article Gutterdammerung about the so-called “King of Leer,” Robert Harrison, the publisher of the National Enquirer of the 1950’s, Confidential Magazine, the grandpappy of ‘catch and kill,’ yellow journalism and what passes today as the ‘gossip’ business. Jeff Bezos’ recent dick pics aside, the entry of the Russians, UAE and Saudi Arabia into what we might call ‘American culture’ is a trend that is currently being reversed with vigor — and when you mess with the bull, you get the horns (Gavin de Becker on line one). This I know because I tried to cancel my Amazon Prime subscription. Don’t even try it, folks. It’s just too good of a deal. Just don’t make me ‘subscribe and save’ for razor blades, Uncle Jeff, please? Anyhow, Donald Trump has been ‘in the room’ for ALL of this recent shit (believe you me) and speaking of being in the room, as Trump leered over his desk as Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal were paid off with six-figure sums, in this equation, one of two suppositions is true: either Donald Trump is being extorted, or Donald Trump is extorting. That is a fucking fact. Let’s start with Michael Cohen.

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A Metaphor America

George Washington

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE, INCLUDING THE HATERS AND THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA! 2019 WILL BE A FANTASTIC YEAR FOR THOSE NOT SUFFERING FROM TRUMP DERANGEMENT SYNDROME. JUST CALM DOWN AND ENJOY THE RIDE, GREAT THINGS ARE HAPPENING FOR OUR COUNTRY!

It’s probably not gonna be a fantastic year for me, I fear. The above Tweet© is our President’s New Year’s statement to the nation, where he advises us all to just relax, bend over and enjoy the reaming he intends to administer to us all. The year started out well enough, although with Trump, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham and Fox News conspiring to lock the American people out of 25% of their government (apparently, all run by the dedicated hard work of Democrats, according to The Donald), in Trump’s bizarro-world, our slow motion dismantling of democracy should be something to enjoy, not fear. Donny also tells a seven-year old back on Christmas Day that Santa is a fiction, so here Trump chooses to reveal the first kernel of truth as president in two years — in one of the few places that we actually want our president to lie — when talking to a seven-year old on Christmas Day about the legend of Santa Claus.

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