Thursday, May 20, 2010

"New York Shit" by Busta Rhymes

Birthday wishes go out today to Busta Rhymes, whose 2006 single New York Shit - from his seventh studio album The Big Bang - was produced by DJ Scratch and features Swizz Beatz; the track also contains an extended sample of Faded Lady as performed by Soul Sensual Orchestra, while its video features photography of Manhattan landmarks interspersed with cameos by such old skool luminaries as Rakim, Q-Tip, Slick Rick, RZA (and others) plus images of such late lamented stars as The Notorious B.I.G., Big Pun and Jam Master Jay.

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Remembering... Jon Pertwee

Best known for portraying the third incarnation of the Doctor on the classic BBC show Doctor Who between 1970 and 1974, Jon Pertwee - who died on this day in 1996 - scored a second hit playing the title character in the children's series Worzel Gummidge (which was itself based on a series of books by Barbara Euphan Todd) from 1979 to 1981.  Despite this and other subsequent roles Pertwee never ceased to act as an ambassador for Doctor Who, promoting both the show and his role in it even unto his last television appearance*...

PhotobucketBorn in July 1919 into a theatrical family - his father was noted screenwriter and actor Roland Pertwee and his cousin, Bill Pertwee, played Chief Warden Hodges in the classic sitcom Dad's Army - he was educated at Frensham Heights School, Sherborne School, and later expelled from Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA); a wartime stint as an officer in the Royal Navy ably prepared him to play a Chief Petty Officer in the long-running radio series The Navy Lark, which he did from 1955 to 1979He also appeared in four Carry On films: Carry On Cleo (1964, as the soothsayer), Carry On Screaming (1966, as Dr. Fettle), Carry On Cowboy (1965, as Sheriff Earp) and Carry On Columbus (1992, as Duke of Costa Brava) among dozens of others beginning with A Yank at Oxford in 1938.

Twice married - first to Jean Marsh (1955-1960) and then to Ingeborg Rhoesa from 1960 until his death - by his second wife Pertwee had a son and a daughter, Sean and Dariel, who've both gone into the family business.

*On the Cilla Black presented Surprise, Surprise for London Weekend Television.

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Pop History Moment: Lindbergh's Historic Flight

It was the Orteig Prize he was chasing when Charles Lindbergh announced his intention to fly from Long Island to Paris in his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis - even though six aviators had already perished in pursuit of the French hotelier Raymond Orteig's $25,000, and Lindbergh was both far younger and far less experienced* than those who had tried and failed before him.

PhotobucketCarrying 450 gallons of gasoline (which weighed a whopping 2,385 pounds) Lindbergh took off from New York City's Roosevelt Field at 7:52 AM on this day in 1927 - having already broken a transcontinental speed record to get there the week before. His flight nearly ended before it had properly begun; he only managed to clear the telephone wires at the end of the runway by about 20 feet.

Once underway, over the next 33.5 hours Lindbergh encountered the usual problems which bedeviled early aviation: unable to maintain a constant altitude he alternated skimming the tops of clouds and the tops of waves, dealt with ice forming on his wings, flew blind through fog or else navigated by stars, as well as coped with fatigue, loneliness, and bodily functions.

Upon his arrival at Le Bourget Field near Paris the following day a crowd of 150,000 swept the newly-minted hero onto their shoulders, some of them grabbing at the plane for souvenirs; only the quick thinking of troops stationed there for crowd control managed to rescue the now-famous aviator and his redoubtable plane. Still, the crowd bore him on their collective shoulders for more than half an hour as they sang and danced in the best French style.

The legendary flight of Charles Lindbergh is recounted in the 1957 film The Spirit of St. Louis, directed by Billy Wilder and starring Jimmy Stewart; Lindbergh wrote two accounts of the flight himself - WE, published in July 1927, and The Spirit of St. Louis, published in 1953, and winner of the 1954 Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction.

*Prior to his record-breaking flight, Lindbergh was principally known as an Air Mail pilot.
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"What's My Line?" with James Stewart

It may not seem like much to see a big-time movie star on television these days, but in the 1950s and 1960s the major studios were still running scared of the upstart medium that was threatening to overtake their monopoly on entertainment.  By the time this aired - in November 1963, in support of the Sandra Dee comedy Take Her, She's Mine - the movies had started to figure out how to harness the power of television for promotional purposes*.  None of which makes this appearance by James Stewart on What's My Line? any the less thrilling for both the studio audience and the viewers at home...

As presided over by host John Charles Daly, perennial panelists Dorothy Kilgallen, Bennett Cerf, and Arlene Francis - with guest panelist, legendary film writer and director Joseph L. Mankiewicz - have no trouble guessing the identity of the man whose birthday it would have been today.

*Just as some movie stars had given their moribund careers a new lease on life on the small screen.
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Best Of The Best: James Stewart

After the Thin Man (1936) - It wasn't Jimmy Stewart's first film, nor was it his best; but an up-and-coming actor couldn't ask for any better role than a part in an established film series. So while the Thin Man series was still far from established - this is just its second instalment, after all - few star teams were as beloved even then as that of William Powell and Myrna Loy, and so hopes were high that their chemistry would provide the physics to take Nick and Nora Charles a long way. Since it was early in his career still - well before the ossification of typecasting could take hold - director W. S. Van Dyke traded on Stewart's cornfed face and aw-shucks demeanour to... Ah, but then if I told you, it might spoil the surprise!

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) - In any year but that magic year of 1939, Mr. Smith's eleven Oscar nods would have yielded far more than its single win; nevertheless, Stewart's bravura performance here is its own award, winning him the love and affection of three successive generations of movie fans, with many more to come. Frank Capra's masterpiece is patriotic without being jingoistic, and Sidney Buchman's glittering screenplay - with its ruminations on what America was, is, and could be - still bears the golden shine of the Academy's approval, while Joseph Walker's cinematography shows just why they used to call it the silver screen.

Destry Rides Again (1939) - Proponents of the maxim that opposites attract need look no further than this all-too-rare example of the comedy-western for validation; all-purpose vamp Marlene Dietrich is amply equipped to seduce the too-good-to-be-accurate deputy, who - get this - refuses to carry a gun! In the end, of course, it's he that seduces her, winning her from the lawless ways of the saloon to the straight and narrow - just as the times demanded.

The Philadelphia Story (1940) - While the film is really Katharine Hepburn's it was Stewart who got the prize; her usual neurosis is put to good use here depicting a spoiled Main Line socialite but his amazing turn as a likable tabloid journalist (those were the days!) is the one that got Oscar gold.  Considered among the finest in the comedy of remarriage genre, it also costars Cary Grant, and all three stars shine so bright the studio must have saved a fortune during production on lighting. While it inspired the musical High Society (1956) this one has the rat-tat-tat banter that is so beloved by the Pop Culture Institute - plus the scene-stealing Virginia Weidler as Hepburn's kid sister, Dinah.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946) - One of Hollywood's truer truisms is that to ensure the enduring appeal of a movie, set it at Christmastime; it may not show often eleven months of the year, but it'll more than make up for it during the twelfth, which is especially true since the advent of television and even more so since home video came along. Even in a cynical age, Capra's surprisingly bitter pill with the sickening sugar coating has sweetened many a Christmas Eve and will continue to do so as long as just one day a year sentiment is allowed to reign supreme.

Rope (1948) - Alfred Hitchcock later tried to distance himself from this movie, with it's blatant (if innovative) gimmickry; shot on a single set in ten minute* scenes, with a massive (and massively detailed) cyclorama for a backdrop, Hitchcock's first colour film is nonetheless a marvel of motion picture making. Based on the Leopold and Loeb murder case which riveted the world in the 1920s, Stewart no doubt feels he is the hero in this one - although to modern eyes he might look like a judgemental bigot; it's far more interesting than the curio its director later attempted to make it out to be, and was a sign of kinky things to come for Hitchcock.

*Ten minutes is the length of a reel of cinema film stock.

Harvey (1950) - Stewart's comedic side didn't get aired very often, and more's the pity; when it did the results could be as whimsical and thought-provoking as this. Befriended by a pooka, Elwood P. Dowd thwarts the social-climbing of his stuffy family, who just in time learn to value his eccentricity - all in all, a pretty powerful message to be spreading around at the time, and one which hasn't lost its meaning over all these years, either.

Rear Window (1954) - As far as star-director combos go, Jimmy Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock were among the best; and as far as director-decade combos go, viewers couldn't ask for a better pairing than Hitchcock and the Fifties. This, then, may just be one of the finest films made in that oppressively bourgeois decade. Stewart plays a photojournalist - essentially a professional voyeur - laid up by an injury earned in the line of duty. Housebound, save for visits by his fiancee (the icy-hot Grace Kelly), he dreams up a murder right in his own back yard. Or does he?

Vertigo (1958) - Stewart is a bit old to carry off the romantic side of things in this movie; in true Hitchcock style, though, the romance in this film is strictly the macguffin. As remarkable for its photography of San Francisco as it is for its kinky plot, it received a lukewarm reception in the United States upon its release - probably because it hit a little too close to home. Re-evaluated by the French in the Sixties, its repute has grown along with the social sophistication of audiences, and is today considered one of the finest films ever made in America. Despite Kim Novak, that is, who as an actor is about as convincing as a picture of herself tacked to a sheet of plywood.
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In Memoriam: James Stewart

PhotobucketThough his first onscreen appearance was only in 1934, Jimmy Stewart (born on this day in 1908) received his first Oscar nomination - for the classic film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - just five years later, and his first award the following year, for The Philadelphia Story. Unlike many, though, whose rise through the Hollywood ranks has been similarly rapid, it wasn't accompanied by an even faster fall once the novelty of him had worn off; having established his brand he remained at the pinnacle of fame for the next five decades.

A genial screen presence, in an era in which every leading man was either overtly romantic or obnoxiously virile, he virtually invented the Everyman - who was somehow neither and yet both simultaneously. And just in time too; the American film industry had always been a magnet for scandal, but in the years leading up to his debut things had gotten so bad that censorship had been imposed not just on the movies but on the lives of those who starred in them as well. Stewart's integrity, then, appealed as much to executives as it did to audiences.

By the late-1940s, noted subversive Alfred Hitchcock began harnessing the power of Stewart's reputation to add a special kink to such movies as Rope, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, and North by Northwest. It's unlikely, though, that Stewart had any idea what Hitchcock was doing; a lifelong Republican, had he known that the director was using him to undermine the orthodoxy of 1950s America (which then, as now, had a fetishistic appeal to those on the Right) he likely wouldn't have participated.

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Now Showing - The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour

Featuring a very special guest star... Chastity Bono! This clip from the The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour highlights everything that was most fabulous about Sonny & Cher: the eye-popping colours, the wacky matching costumes, the not-so-thinly veiled contempt for Sonny. All this and Cher's original face besides!

This is actually the fourth year running that I've posted this clip, and I consider it such a major achievement that it's still up and active I'm a-gonna let it ride...
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Happy Birthday Cher

Hers is the face that launched... Well, a thousand subsequent faces frankly. Don't get me wrong, though - I love Cher. It's a little known fact that when gay men come out of the closet they're made to swear allegiance to a minimum of three female singers, and I chose Cher, Madonna, and Bette Midler (in that order); even though I later added Judy Garland, Maria Callas, Liza Minnelli (and many others besides too numerous to list) Cher continues to top the roster.

PhotobucketYet despite being one of the most consistently provocative cultural figures of the last forty years, the paucity of photographs of her available on the Internet is truly disheartening. Even in combing the ample archives of the Pop Culture Institute I was unable to find anything suitable for scanning. Fortunately her website (which you can access by clicking on the image at right) has several which feature the added benefit of ably demonstrating the transformative power of the wig.

I actually have all her albums* - or at least all the ones I can get my hands on - and one of my earliest memories is of watching The Sonny and Cher Show. On days when I am feeling blue, one sure-fire cure is watching her 1990 film Mermaids, which for good measure co-stars Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci. I have been known to defend her decision to revert to alien form by the use of plastic surgery, and even when the story recently surfaced that she had a live-in relationship with Tom Cruise in the early 1980s (which she said not a peep about during all the years the media was determined to make him gay**) I had a good old laugh.

Fortunately, all the surgery and the trainwreck of her career (how many years can a farewell tour last, really?) has harmed neither her smoky contralto nor my memories of what she once was. But if I could turn back time, I'd capture her the way she looked as she does here, at the end of the 1980s; when I turn to her music for much-needed succour and close my eyes to better savour her amazing voice, this is the face I see...

*During the 1999 apartment robbery that cleaned out my CD collection, hers were some of the only ones left behind!
**Not that a relationship with Cher is a great signifier of heterosexuality, not by a long shot.

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Pop History Moment: The Town That Refused To Blow Away

On this day in 1916 the town of Codell, Kansas was struck by a tornado. Nothing so unusual about that, as most of Kansas is located in Tornado Alley, a fact which has been well-enshrined in pop culture thanks in large part to the work of one Mr L. Frank Baum. Given the considerable damage such a force of Nature can cause, though, makes the situation bad enough, and not even I would make light of it.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBut Codell was struck again - on this day in 1917 - likely just as residents had managed to get their lives back together from the previous year's calamity.

Which makes the fact that it was struck even harder a third time - on this day in 1918, resulting in ten deaths - that much harder for those of us gifted/cursed with a dark sense of humour. That familiar sensation of being simultaneously disheartened and amused can be very confusing.

Whatever the gods of coincidence were attempting to teach the town's residents was all for naught, however, as the gods of persistence won the day. All three tornadoes had struck at around the same time, between 6 and 9 PM; so while the afternoon of May 20, 1919, must have been one of the most nerve-wracking in the town's history, the day - by now referred to by the residents as Cyclone Day - resulted in no fourth tornado, and Codell has never been directly hit with the sky's windy fury again.
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"Let's Talk Dirty To The Animals" by Gilda Radner

At the risk of offending PETA - whose concern for animals ends with humans, about whom they care nothing - here's a classic ditty by Gilda Radner, not about harming or exploiting animals, but merely engaging them in a little harmless vulgarity.

Taken from her one-woman show Gilda Live!, which was directed by Mike Nichols and produced by Lorne Michaels, and filmed in December 1979 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for release the following year as part of her send-off from Saturday Night Live.
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Remembering... Gilda Radner

There are several truisms at play in the life of Gilda Radner - namely that comedy comes from pain, only the good die young, and that angels walk among us...

PhotobucketWhile her childhood was a happy one - to which even she would have attested - adolescence and young adulthood were not so kind. She was fourteen when her father died, which invariably leads to mishegas of one kind or another, and in Gilda's case that meant an eating disorder. As discussed by her lifelong friend David Saltman in his memoir of her, an illegal abortion in college scarred her emotionally as well. And then, of course, there was her meteoric rise to fame through the famed Second City comedy troupe and the syndicated National Lampoon Radio Hour - both of which were raided by Lorne Michaels when he was putting together the Not Ready For Prime Time Players, to feature on an irreverent new late night show eventually called Saturday Night Live. Gilda was the first to be cast.

As has been discussed time and again on the Pop Culture Institute, youthful fame is corrosive, and invariably exacerbates - rather than eradicates - existing problems. Such was the case with Gilda, whose ambivalence towards fame meant that she would often become angry when strangers (ie: fans) approached her in public, and depressed when they didn't; Gilda's time on the show is discussed extensively (if selectively) in Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller. Likewise, her work on the show is gradually being released on DVD, and allows us to not only see her brilliance emerging for ourselves but to reassess our own impressions of it as well.

A relationship with fellow cast member Bill Murray ended badly, and after she'd left the show in 1980 she made an ill-advised marriage to bandleader G. E. Smith, all of which seemed to conspire to keep Gilda unhappy, even as her career was going great guns. Her one-woman show Gilda Live! is such quality entertainment it has yet to be released on DVD, where dreck flourishes and quality founders**. All that looked about to change, though, when on the set of the film Hanky Panky Gilda met and fell in love - as she later described it 'at first sight' - with co-star Gene Wilder. Together they would make two more movies together: 1984's The Woman in Red, and 1986's Haunted Honeymoon. No doubt they would still be making movies together today, if only Fate hadn't seen fit to intervene.

Early in 1986 Gilda began to feel sick, and in October of that year was diagnosed with ovarian cancer; her treatment was less than aggressive, her illness voracious. Despite an early remission, in 1989 her cancer returned. Three days before her death she was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, a scene heartbreakingly described for posterity by Wilder himself; as she was being wheeled in for a CAT-scan nurses attempted to sedate her. She became wild, refusing to accept the morphine, raving that if they gave her anything she'd never wake up. Eventually, she did take the morphine, and she never woke up.  In life, as in comedy, her instincts were impeccable.

Gilda Radner died on this day in 1989; she was 42.

So while her life was short and easily taken, her legacy has proven long and will live on. Since 1991 many Gilda's Club branches have sprung up around North America to help those living with cancer (and those living with those living with cancer). Having won an Emmy Award for her work on SNL in 1977, she was posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which is located at 6801 Hollywood Blvd. Yet a star on Earth hardly seems tribute enough for one whose place in the firmament shines brighter with each passing year...

*Season One, Season Two, and Season Three have been out for awhile, and Season Four was released at Christmas 2008, while Season Five followed a year later - at which time it joined its mates in the collection here at PCI. Season Four is the most pertinent to this post, since that's the season for which she won her Emmy.
**Not that I'm bitter.

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POPnews - May 20th

[87 map-makers contributed to the 53 maps found in Abraham Ortelius' great work, and where it lacks accuracy - the outline of South America, for instance, and the lack of but potential for Australia - it excels at being as thorough as it is; 25 editions, some of them expanded and most of them corrected, were published before his death in 1598, and it was in demand as a general reference book until at least 1612.]

685 CE - The Battle of Dunnichen (at a village also known as Nechtansmere) was fought between a Pictish army under King Bridei III and the invading Northumbrians under King Ecgfrith, who were decisively defeated. So decisively, in fact, that Ecgfrith was killed.

1217 - The Second Battle of Lincoln was fought, coincidentally near Lincoln, resulting in the defeat of France's Prince Louis (the future Louis VIII) by William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. Louis had been invited to England, and even proclaimed King (although never crowned) at Old St. Paul's Cathedral at the behest of the same rebellious barons who were so famously opposed to the tyranny and general ickiness of King John.

1293 - King Sancho IV of Castile created the Studium Generale in the town of Alcalá de Henares, still in existence as the Universidad Complutense Madrid, making it one of the world's oldest universities.

1498 - Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama arrived at Kozhikode - previously known as Calicut - in India.

1521 - At the Battle of Pampeluna during the Italian War of 1521–1526 Ignatius Loyola was seriously wounded, causing him to rethink his military vocation in favour of a religious one; he later settled on a compromise, founding the Society of Jesus, a religious order with a decidedly militaristic flavour. Because that's what Jesus would have wanted*.


1570 - Cartographer Abraham Ortelius issued the first modern atlas, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum; containing 53 maps, it was published by Gilles Coppens de Diest of Antwerp, and was in general demand for the next forty years.

1902 - Cuba gained its independence from the United States, with Tomás Estrada Palma serving as the first President of Cuba.

Photobucket1916 - The Saturday Evening Post published its first cover by Norman Rockwell, a painting entitled Boy with Baby Carriage (shown, at right); over the next forty-seven years - spanning an amazing 322 covers - Rockwell's work would become the quintessence of Americana.  Although derided as cornball and old-fashioned between the 1960s and 1980s for seemingly representing an America that never really existed, recent years have seen the work of Norman Rockwell return to favour and his artistry become appreciated once more for the consummate skill with which it was executed and the compassionate nature of its creator.

1920 - Montreal radio station XWA began broadcasting North America's first regularly scheduled radio programming.

1927 - Under the terms of the Treaty of Jedda, the United Kingdom recognized the sovereignty of King Ibn Saud of the House of Su'ūd over the Kingdoms of Hejaz and Nejd, which later merged to become the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

1932 - Amelia Earhart took off from the Newfoundland outport of Harbour Grace on the world's first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean by a female pilot; she landed the following day in a pasture near the Ulster village of Culmore, having flown for 14 hours and 56 minutes. In recognition of her achievement she was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by the US, the Legion of Honor from France, and the National Geographic Society's Gold Medal, which she received from the hand of US President Herbert Hoover himself.

1940 - The first prisoners arrived at the newly-built concentration camp at Auschwitz.

1941 - During the Battle of Crete Nazi paratroopers of the 7th Flieger Division invaded that island under the code name Unternehmen Merkur, or 'Operation Mercury'.

1969 - The Vietnam War's Battle of Hamburger Hill ended, events dramatized in the aptly named 1987 film Hamburger Hill.

1980 - Following a referendum the people of Quebec rejected a proposal from their government to move towards independence from Canada by a vote of 60-40; the federalist victory of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his Liberals did not deal the fatal blow to the Parti Québécois that had been hoped for, though, and Quebec Premier René Lévesque managed to hold onto power for five and a half more years, setting the stage for a second failed referendum in October 1995 under one of his successors, Jacques Parizeau.

1984 - The first line of the Miami Metrorail was opened.

1985 - Radio Martí, part of the Voice of America service, began broadcasting to Cuba with the aim of bringing down the government of Fidel Castro.

1996 - The US Supreme Court published its ruling in the case of Romer v. Evans, applying the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution against a law that would have prevented any city, town or county in the state of Colorado from taking any legislative, executive, or judicial action to protect the rights of gays and lesbians. The usual suspects gave dissenting opinions - namely then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas.

2002 - The independence of East Timor was recognized by Portugal, formally ending 23 years of rule by Indonesia and 3 years of provisional administration by the United Nations; Portugal itself was the former colonizer of East Timor, and nominally in possession of the territory until 1976.
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