Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Doc Martin" with Martin Clunes and Caroline Catz (2011)

This quirky little series has a unique charm which will draw you in quickly. The characters are all richly developed. The story revolves around the simple plot of a doctor in a small Cornish town who has a baby with another medical professional. The two are unmarried.

Between the slightly inept Town Constable, the drugged out pharmacist, the cat woman, his off-beat “mother in law”, and problems associated with his rather brusque bedside manner combine to create some truly awkward moments for the Doc as well as those around him. In short, he has no bedside manner at all and is somewhat of a bull in a china closet. But, he is a genius.

One things for sure in this series; you never know what’s going to happen next; nor how Doc Martin is going to react to it. Nor, how the people around him will react to the things he says and does. You will marvel at the fact that this socially backward man could even land a woman at all, let alone one as sweet as his significant other. But will they last? This season finds her moving out to be with her mother, taking the baby with her.

While Doc Martin struggles to come to terms with his personal life, he saves just about everyone else’s. This is another of those great British series which I never see on TV; electing to watch them binge fashion instead when they are released as DVD’s. Though I have started with the 5th Season, the characters are immediately familiar, and basically what you see is what you get. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

"Take This Man" by Brando Skyhorse (2014)

The very first thing you need to know about this book is that the author is not an Indian, as his name would suggest. Neither is he Mexican, as his mother is. He is not really Filipino either, which is a shame because his real dad was. If you can wrap your mind around that then you are off to a good start in a very unique memoir that takes place in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles in the 1970’s and 80’s.

The author takes you on a journey through the dysfunctional world created by his Grandmother, who is Mexican; and his mother, a woman who has fashioned herself into an American-Indian. The problem is that she really believes this to be so. She has a child with a man from the Philippines. And then rejects him with the threat of having him deported because he is here illegally. And this is just the beginning.

Brando is raised within a whirlwind of new men his mother meets- 6 in all over the years- and each one becomes a possible father to the boy, only to fade away under the strain of dealing with his mother and grandmother. Or else they just leave on their own. These experiences with repeated hope and disappointment inform the man that Brando becomes.

This book will actually keep you engrossed, if only because you have never read a memoir like this before. There is no blatant physical or sexual abuse; just a succession of poor decisions by every adult in Brando’s young life. He is constantly on the verge of having the father he wants and needs so desperately, but never finds in the men his mother chooses.

I actually identified with the yo-yo type of existence the author lived due to my own mother’s long and severe illness. It’s hard to grow up when you are told one of your parents will be dead soon. And even harder when they don’t die, leaving you to experience the same pain over and over, each time loathing yourself for wishing it would finally happen and put an end to the anxiety. Of course this leaves you scarred and feeling guilty. And those feelings then claim whole parts of your life until you can find a way to deal with it. I’m one of the lucky ones; some never do.

After failed relationships and a move from Los Angeles to New York, the author; with the aid of time and distance; is able to gain some clarity on just what the hell happened to him while growing up. It took a long time, and was not an easy path, and in many ways the author still struggles to see what the meaning of it all has been.

Later in life he finds the family of his real father, where he is accepted by his half-brothers and sisters as an equal; a true sibling. After a journey of a lifetime the author finally gets his family and learns that love takes many different forms, and families come in many shapes and sizes. What counts most is the love.

This is a very different kind of memoir; it’s more of a search by the author to find out who he really is. And once he figures that out he still needs to assess the damage which has already been done. As the author’s mother used to say, “Well, at least it’s never boring.”

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Material World - Irony of Life

Have you heard the news today, oh boy? The George Harrison Memorial Tree, which was planted in his honor at the Griffith Observatory; located in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park; has died. Apparently it passed away last month but has just been announced last Monday by City Councilman Councilman Tom LaBonge.

The irony in the story is that the tree died as a result of an invasion of; you guessed it; beetles, the agricultural type. The irony of this is further compounded by the frantic effort to replace it. Mr. Harrison, who did not really believe in the impermanence of things material, would either amuse or bemuse him. The tree was planted in 2004.

The tree is a nice gesture and draws tourists. But a far better way to honor the former Beatle and all round musician/composer would be to have a look at the following video from 1990. At the time Romania had just come out of its darkest days under the brutal dictatorship of Nicolae Ceau┼čescu.

Thousands of women were raped by the military and forced to carry the babies’ full term. Many of those children were infected with AIDS, as well as severe learning disabilities. Hospitals, when available, were primitive and lacking in everything. There were no schools for these children, who were all slated to become members of the Romanian dictators military. When freedom came the country was completely unprepared.

At the time, Olivia Harrison heard of the plight and visited the country. When she came back she got together with the other Beatle wives and formed the charity organization Romanian Angel Appeal Foundation. Quietly; ever so quietly, over the course of the last 24 years; Olivia Harrison; along with Barbara Bach, Yoko Ono and the now deceased Linda McCartney; made it financially possible for these children to survive and even excel.

In this following 1990 interview you will not only hear the story of how the charity came to be; but also about the Traveling Wilbury’s and their second album “Volume 3” which was released in 1990.
“Nobody’s Child” wasn’t on the original album but appears on the re-release. It’s an old American song by Cy Coben and Mel Foree; performed by Lonnie Donnegan. George had to call Joe Brown in London to get the lyrics. It was 5AM in London. They succeeded in getting half of them, and then wrote their own last verse.
The song originally appeared on an album for the Romanian Angel Appeal which featured artists such as the Traveling Wilbury’s, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon and George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Guns N' Roses, Ringo Starr, and Elton John. Here is that interview;

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

"Romeo and Juliet" - Andy Griffith Style (1962)

The Andy Griffith Show was always one of my favorites. The mixture of comedy with some basic lessons in life was the hallmark of the show, and it wasn't lost on me. I actually "got" it. When Opie killed a bird I knew it was wrong; just as I knew that his father's solution to have Opie care for that bird's hatch-ling was right.

In this classic episode Sheriff Taylor has been a bit humiliated. The night before this scene takes place he was confronted at home by 2 young people wanting to get "hitched" by that Justice of the Peace. Although both were of legal age the sheriff was unable to complete the ceremony when the fathers of the bride and groom showed up with shotguns. It seems that the two families were "a fueding";  in the parlance of the time and place.

Andy needs to recover his "lost face" and begins by explaining his actions; or non-actions; of the night before by making an appropriate comparison between the situation at hand and Romeo and Juliet. This is what made Andy Griffith so famous to begin with. He told stories. His legendary "What It Was Was Football" is the vehicle which took him from the Ed Sullivan Show to headlining on Broadway in "No Time for Sergeants."

From there he hit the screen with an Oscar worthy performance as Lonesome Rhodes in the 1958 film “A Face in the Crowd” which co-starred Patricia Neal. In that film Andy Griffith gives one of the best performances of his career as a drunken guitar playing bum who finds himself catapulted to fame. 

It’s not a pretty picture to watch as he becomes a controlling and nasty individual, pushing away all those who love him. It’s a far cry from the roles he became known for as Sheriff Taylor on TV’s “The Andy Griffith Show” and later as the homey attorney “Matlock.” If you have never seen the film before, you should.

Meantime, enjoy the clip above and hit you tube for a peek at Andy Griffith playing Lonesome Rhodes in “A Face in the Crowd.” You will be astonished. Here’s a clip; make sure you catch the performance at about 3 minutes into the clip. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

"Blood Done Sign My Name" with Ricky Schroder and Nate Parker (2009)

Ricky Schroder shines as Pastor Vernon Tyson in this 2009 film about a preacher who comes to the town of Oxford, North Carolina in 1970 with his family. The film is based upon a true story. It involves a local black man named Dickie Marrow who has just returned from Vietnam and was killed by a white man who thinks he heard him insult his wife. The actual murder was committed by grocer Robert Teel and his son Larry, who were both acquitted of the crime by an all-white jury.

William Chavis was the only real witness to the crime, asides from an elderly black woman. Both of their testimonies were discredited in order for the white men to walk free. During the trial a man arrives in town to organize the resistance among the people. He is known as a “Stoker.” He fuels the fires of dissent, hoping to help effect change. He is the legendary Golden Frinks, who roamed the country from one hot spot to another for the ten years between 1964 and the early 1970’s. This film is as much about him as it is about Dickie Marrow.

It is also a film about the effect our actions have on those around us; not least of whom are our families. Both main characters struggle to maintain a balance of what they are fighting against, as well as an awareness of how those actions will affect their children. This is particularly true of the Pastor’s young son.

Excellent cinematography and location shooting in North Carolina make this an extra special film to watch. The statue of the Confederate soldier is still in front of that court house; and several others in the state. I would not have them removed for all the tea in China. They serve as a reminder of an inglorious past, and were they to be removed we might forget the shame of those times.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Shotgun Shacks - Relics of a Bygone Era

Driving home from Lincolnton one day I passed a group of shacks along the side of the road. They are at the intersection of  Routes 150/27 on the north side of the road. Intrigued, I turned around and headed back to take some pictures and a closer look. I got so much more for my trouble, it was worth the time.

The shacks date back to the earlier part of the 20th century, probably about 1920 or so. They were rented by the day, night or hour to people passing through. That was the story I got from the bank that sits adjacent to the shacks.

I was directed to the owner, who lives across the road on 150. She is an elderly woman and I really didn't want to bother her, valuing my own privacy as I do. So I asked two guys standing outside the Realtor Office, which is next door, about the shacks. They directed me to the Lincolnton Historical Society and gave me a contact there along with a number to call. And I just may do that. But the story they told was so good, I'm afraid that the truth might spoil it for me.

The area was known as Goodyville back then. It sits next to the town of Boger and has been swallowed up by Lincolnton over the years. It was commonly knowledge that these shacks were mainly used for drinking "white" liquor and also prostitution during the years of Prohibition.

That was all I needed to hear. My mind raced with sepia toned images of hot, sultry summer nights and ladies dressed in flapper type outfits with rolled stockings, drinking white liquor from glass jars. Maybe there was music -a radio, or perhaps a piano...

The mind is the most fertile of places. Images come and go as you drive by and stories plant themselves in your head. They take on a life of their own that nothing, not even the true story, can change.

I'll probably make that call to the Historical Society, but I'll always hold onto this little slice of life that I got driving down the road. Sometimes the truth just don't cut it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

People Who Wear Masks

People who wear masks while advocating a political point of view have always baffled me. I know that they believe in the causes they claim to support- but I have to question the wisdom of the masks. Here is a photo taken a few years ago showing the Basque Separatists declaring a truce. I never thought of a truce as something to be ashamed of. What is so shameful about advocating for Peace?

Regarding masks in general, it would seem to me that if the cause were a just one, I would want my face to be associated with my point of view. I would take pride in my position. On the other hand, I do recognize that in some countries the mask may be necessary, especially if your views are not in sync with the repressive government with which you may be in contrast. 

But the mask does seem to take away from the perceived legitimacy of the argument. I cannot imagine George Washington or Thomas Jefferson wearing masks to obscure their identities. Because I have been raised in a free society it is hard for me to imagine the necessity of taking such measures. As a child I quickly understood that only the bad guys wore masks, with the possible exception of Zorro.

Once mask wearing begins, it doesn't stop. It snowballs into a mindset of deliberate obscurity, in which no one takes a personal stand for what they believe in. Even the Police and Military, when they don masks, detract from the honor of what they do to protect us. But given the danger of what they are up against, namely other people in masks, well, I understand that this may be necessary, although it does make me somewhat uneasy. Where does the responsibility lie when justice is obscured behind a mask?

Halloween is an appropriate use of masks, as is Mardi Gras. Here is a group of revelers in the Big Easy last year during Fat Tuesday. The masks are rather gruesome, but they are about fun, and not clandestine in nature. In my opinion, Political Views and Law Enforcement should be conducted in an atmosphere of transparency. It is only through a spirit of openness and honor that we will ever be able to face one another, and ourselves. And wouldn't that be something...?