Friday, September 26, 2003

Sweet Painted Little Ladies

Well, the state of Iowa has this program that tries to lure its college graduates to relocate there. Last night, they had a reception at the Chicago Cultural Center, with a meet and greet with Governor Tom Vilsack (whom we'd met previously when they did the same thing in 2000). So what did I get out the event? Well, Vilsack, despite being a native of Pennsylvania, has the laid-back Iowan thing down. He went through a five-minute speech with no notes.

But what caught my eye was the little promotional video they showed before his speech. In the montage of footage presenting Iowa as a healthy, prosperous and safe place to raise your kids up, was a clip of a child at some fair or festival getting her face painted.

It just struck me that a face-painting scene has become video shorthand for family life in a lot of commercials for area chambers of commerce, renaissance fairs and county fairs. I don't know that it has any cultural background to it, except for grandma exclaiming "Why did you get your face painted up like some wild Indian?" I first noticed face painting as an accessory to women characters in sword and sorcery comic books of the 70's. And now here it's a harbinger of traditional family values. I guess it's just one of those things that lends itself to a picture of a kid having some fun without being twirled around in a carnival ride.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Linked by Death

When two famous people have the bad luck to die on the same day, or at least so that their deaths are noted in the news on the same day, we can help but compare their relative contributions to our culture. So we note that the Chicago Tribune put Johnny Cash?s obituary on their September 13 front page, while John Ritter was in the Tempo entertainment section. This also despite the fact that Ritter died Thursday night, September 11 (no irony marked there) and Cash very early on Friday the 12th, so while both deaths were all over the morning TV and radio on Friday, the papers couldn't get to them until Saturday morning.
The placement of these stories in the paper, and the order in which they were covered on broadcast news, clearly favored Cash as the more pre-eminent person. That?s likely so, what with his being "there at the creation" of rock?n?roll and a pioneer country crossover, and influencing even punk and later styles, and managing a comeback in the 1990's, while Ritter was "just" the lead in a "jiggle comedy" most people are embarrassed to admit they watched.
However, had theseoccurred occured in, say, 1985, Ritter would have certainly gotten more play as one of the most successful sitcom actors in TV at that point, and one whose show sparked a host of imitators, while Cash had been largely ignored, influential but not as far as the mainstream was concerned. And with the reach of TV being what it is, its possible more people saw an episode of "Three's Company" than ever saw Cash perform. Whether more people might have heard one of Cash's records than saw a Ritter performance is up in the air. But each had a part in shaping the world we know today.
Of course during the whole time these two were alive, it's impossible to imagine that one had compared himself to the other, whether favorably or unfavorably, the way death has invited these implied comparisons. Now it is possible their paths had crossed: the Internet Movie Database cannot put them together on the same production, although Ritter was doing TV work starting in 1968, the same time Cash had his own variety series. And Ritter was the son of Tex Ritter, who had to have shared a bill with Cash at some point, maybe with little John backstage. The mind boggles.
And you haven't seen the video for Johnny's last single, "Hurt?" (a cover of a Nine Inch Nails tune, yet), Cash's website has links to it. Watch it; it's astounding.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

German Film Director, Leni Riefenstahl, Dies at 101

Ooooh... I can't wait to see if any editorial cartoonists touch this one! Then again, I haven't seen any Warren-Zevon-meets-St.-Peter gags, so that string may finally be played out!

Monday, September 08, 2003

"Let them eat Freedom Fries!"

I'm waiting for someone to suggest this to Bush as he now goes begging "that irrelevant debating society" for help in Iraq.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Adult Children of the Corn

What did we do over the Labor Day weekend? Rather than make any big plans, I just said to Barb on Saturday, �Let�s go for a drive and see where we end up.� Spontaneous holidays are a sort of fantasy I have.

We headed south on the Historic Dixie Highway�I suspect any highway that leaves any northern city going south is named �Dixie Highway.� We�ve gone down this route before, prowling antique malls or taking the scenic route to the nearest Lowe�s in Bourbonnais, but this time we kept on going south a little further. Passed some nice little river towns with great old houses. Too bad living there would run counter to my goal of spending less time commuting to work, unless I change jobs.

We decided to go as far as Watseka before we turn around, but just before we get near that town, we spotted a small sign reading �Corn Maze.� Immediately we decided to detour six miles west and came across the Shule Family Corn Maze, near the unincoporated town of L�Erable.

So yep, we spent a few hours wandering around a corn maze, looking for �scavenger hunt� clues: lettered slips of paper that would make us eligible for a drawing. These folks have been doing their corn maze since 1997, though only on odd-numbered years, since farmers need to rotate corn with soybeans that fix nitrogen back into the soil.

I, of course,

�Copyright 1997 by Bill Welch
worked in the fact that I had spent a few summers detasseling seed corn. Even so, Mr. Shule warned us to watch for black-and-yellow banana spiders, which are harmless and beneficial, but are also pretty noticeable, especially when they spin webs right across your path. I had never encountered these back in Iowa. We almost considered taking one home to help with our mosquito problem. The ones we saw were a lot plumper and more colorful than this photo suggests,

As darkness approached, we abandoned the scavenger hunt, and were directed to a local restaurant in L�Erable called the Long Branch, were, coincidentally, Mrs. Shule worked. But that was okay, since it was the only nearby place to eat. We had some nice entrees with homemade bread, and an appetizer of corn fritters in commemoration. (The other attraction in L�Erable is one of the country�s largest all-wood Catholic churches).

Corn mazes are a good place to get the kids to burn off energy. Many farmers plot out and make their own, or there are companies that do it for them (and here's a Google link to help you find some). Some are part of "U-pick" farms, others may be local fundraising events. And if a maze incorporates a "crop circle," all the better!

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

"If you watched more TV, perhaps you'd be better at your job"

Woe unto Bat-fans who don't have the Trio cable channel. Every couple of months, they run a "Brilliant But Cancelled" promotion featuring network shows that died before their time, like "Ernie Kovacs," "East Side/West Side," etc. (though it's a stretch to put "The PJs" into that category, if for no other reason than they had a three-season run). For September, they've dug up some cult favorite pilots that never made it to air: movie spin-offs of "L.A. Confidential" and "Fargo," but best of all the classic "Lookwell!". This 1991 pilot starred Adam West as an actor who played "Bannigan," a TV cop many years ago, but still tries to solve crimes whether the LAPD needs his help or not. It was written by Robert Smigel and Conan O'Brien and featured such business as West's Ty Lookwell brandishing his honorary police badge, encased in Lucite, and explaining the difference his character and others:

"Hey, weren't you Banacek?"
"You're mistaken. George Peppard was Banacek."
"Were you Brannigan?"
"Hugh O'Brian was Brannigan."
"Who's Hugh O'Brian?"

Though I doubt a series made from this would have survived 13 weeks, this pilot proves Adam West is probably the greastest deadpan, self-reflexive actor of our time. Someone has got to give him a non-Batman project!

Catching this a second thime, I noticed that among the knick-knacks at Lookwell's home was a bust of Shakespeare which I'm certain looks exactly like the one in stately Wayne Manor whose head was hinged to reveal buttons marked "Access to Bat-Cave via Bat Poles"

And maybe a future video release of the movie "Fargo" will include the pilot for the attempted TV spinoff. Even though it doesn't include any of the movie's featured acters, it stuck close to the tone of the movie and even had a sort of Northern Exposure slant. Though I couldn't see the series lasting too long: if Chief Gunderson (Edie Falco in the pilot) was going to investigate a murder every week, the population of Brainerd, MN would empty out faster than Jessica Fletcher's Cabot Cove. Oh, yes, and at the end of the pilot, Marge finally had her baby in an abandonded drive-in cafe surrounded by snow. Don't know if they filmed it in Minnesota, but you sure can't make snow like that in Hollywood.

Nize Lady!

Another Jerry Lewis Labor Day telethon has come and gone, and again I am compelled to watch it waiting for a train wreck. Now understand, that even though Jerry's motive for working this event for nearly 40 years has never been explained, and his statements in defense of his "kids" border on the bizarre, it is still a good cause that focuses lots of attention on a disease that otherwise wouldn't get any notice. That said, when Jerry announced that scientists told him a cure would still be found "within my lifetime," my bud Marc Nelson and I were thinking it's a safer bet that Jerry shouldn't waste his money buying new calendars. Leaving aside the fact that Jerry looked like Mr. Creosote (and yes, it had to be the result of his pain-killing steroids; people in their 70s don't gain weight like that), he was obviously in a great deal of pain. It's tempting to say it would be typical of Jerry to exploit himself the way he exploited his kids for so long, but I suspect Jerry was more concerned that once he's not on the show, bang goes the $60+ million it raises.

And after writing so much about Bob Hope, for whom the popular belief is that he slipped away quietly while surrounded by his loving family, there are millions of people, celebrities included for whom "their time" will come following several years of suffering. I had been re-reading Aristotle on "Happiness" for my Great Books club, where he raises the question of whether a man can be judged to have been "happy" only after his life is completed. I dunno. A lot of entertainers may have the adoration of millions, but does that count against living through the infirmities of advancing age or scars in one's personal life? Just something to think about.

Other highlights from the telethon:

  • Jerry's son Gary Lewis doing a few numbers from his days with the Playboys. Actually good to see, as they were rumored to have been estranged.
  • Charro! Y'know, she was a student of Andres Segovia and is conidered one of the world's best flamenco guitarists, but in America, flamenco don't get ya on the "Tonight Show." She's looking great for someone who's either 52 or 62, and she dared to just play guitar with nary a "cuchi" to be uttered. Her choice of Ravel's "Bolero" wasn't that challenging, but I may check out the few albums she has in print.
  • The local station on the "Love Network," WGN Channel 9, produced one of the most irritating cutaway segments I've seen. When a corporate sponsor announced they would be matching phone pledges for the next several minutes, 'GN spent that period in some sputtering special effect mode which looked like we were watching it through a web cam at 6 frames per second. All the while, the background music was usually that Beyonc� tune that might have been cool when it came out, but not after you've heard in a Pepsi commercial 500 times. And because the Cubs game was rain delayed, it went on several more hours than it would normally. But "entertainment" like is par for the course for Cub fans.