Sunday, May 23, 2010

In Memoriam: Jimmy McShane

I absolutely adored this song when it turned up on North American radio in 1986, and afterwards wondered - as has always been my wont - whatever happened to him?

Best known as the lead singer of Baltimora, the Italian New Wave band responsible for the one-hit wonder Tarzan Boy - from their 1985 debut album Living in the Background - Ulster-born Jimmy McShane died of AIDS in 1995, a couple of months shy of his 38th birthday, less than a decade after his greatest fame. I found scant mention of him on the Internet, and what I found is sad: he died penniless and alone, having spent all his money on his 'friends' and apparently disowned by his family.

Never you mind mate... Here at the Pop Culture Institute we remember and love you, and will continue to show you at the pinnacle of your career every year for as long as we are able.
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Happy Birthday Joan Collins

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She was always a beauty (and still is, considering she's seventy-mumble) but it is as Queen of the Bitches that Joan Collins remains lodged in my gay heart.

Money, wardrobe, and access to drop-dead gorgeous men... What 'mo didn't want to be Alexis, if only for that hour every week in the mid-80s when Dynasty was on?
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Bonus Video: Newsreel Footage of the Death of Bonnie & Clyde

Much like Texas Ranger Frank Hamer was on this day in 1934, you must be getting pretty sick of Bonnie & Clyde by now; yet the coverage given to the death of these notorious criminals slash folk heroes is nothing compared to what's out there in all. Clearly, interest in them has been high ever since they began their five-state killing spree in 1932, and shows no sign of abating even now, nearly 80 years after the fact.

I couldn't resist posting this authentic newsreel footage from the time; I think it makes a poignant and fitting farewell to the pair whose bodies died on that lonely road in Bienville Parish, but whose legend lives on, thanks in no small part to people like me.
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The Ending of "Bonnie & Clyde"

As has been previously discussed, Arthur Penn's 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde is definitely a film and not a documentary; nevertheless, in this, the movie's final scene, the viewer is able to glean something of what it must have been like for the real Bonnie & Clyde to go out in a blazing hail of steel-jacketed bullets - some 130 in all - when they were ambushed near Black Lake, Louisiana.

Today a museum in nearby Gibsland commemorates the lives and deaths of the notorious criminals, featuring the car used by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in the film, as seen in the clip above.  The clip also features Dub Taylor as Ivan Moss (who Dunaway refers to as Malcolm, for some reason, just one of the film's many gaffes).
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Screened: "Bonnie & Clyde" (1967)

In addition to movies from the Thirties, I am also an avid collector of movies about the Thirties - a collection housed at the Pop Culture Institute which currently consists of more than seventy titles. It interests me to see how the decade has been variously portrayed by subsequent generations as it recedes into the past; on this score, Bonnie and Clyde rates very low indeed although, to its credit, most earlier films about the Thirties get it even worse...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketArthur Penn's 1967 film is often cited as among the first American movies to bring a European sensibility to Hollywood. Whether or not that's true can be endlessly debated by cineastes, and indeed has been. In the sense that the film consists of vast swathes of silence and angst-y brow-wrinkling punctuated by sudden, furious explosions of gunfire, it is definitely unlike most other films being made in that year, to which end Penn owes a great debt to the French New Wave.

That the film also bears little or no physical resemblance to the Thirties is almost beside the point. They get the menswear right, and some of the women's clothes too. There's no questioning that the automobiles used in the film are all from that era. Otherwise, it's the 'slap a couple of Roosevelt posters on that wall and let's call it a day' school of art direction that wins the day. The hairstyles, for instance, are completely wrong.

History is an illusory thing at the best of times; once you've involved the bullshit factories of Hollywood, it's a miracle there's any accuracy at all.  I suppose it could have been worse - they might have called it Connie & Floyd! Bonnie Parker did not look like Faye Dunaway, and Clyde Barrow (though handsome in his way) was no Warren Beatty. Okay, fine, I can accept that. Clearly this film is a star vehicle, and as such it's anything goes with regards to casting. But witnesses to the actual Bonnie & Clyde are invariably unanimous in reporting that Bonnie Parker 1934 never picked up a gun; Bonnie Parker 1967 sure does. Various other discrepancies abound, which exist mainly to compress the scope of the storytelling. Their actual betrayal was by the father of a member of their gang, but that gang member isn't in the film, for instance*.

The real story of Bonnie & Clyde is interesting enough, but is used here mainly as a parable for... Well, take your pick: civil unrest, feminism, a shift in social mores. More than anything else, though, it's a comment on the late 1960s through the oft-used lens of the early 1930s. Watched on its own, the movie is fine, but watch it alongside the A&E Biography of Bonnie & Clyde for the real story and you'll never look at the movie in quite the same way again.

Only time will tell if a new version of their story - The Story of Bonnie and Clyde starring Hilary Duff and Kevin Zegers, to be written and directed by Tonya Holly - will get it any better...

*Gang members W.D. Jones and Henry Methvin were composited to create the character of C. W. Moss, portrayed in the film by Michael J. Pollard.
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"The Story of Bonnie & Clyde" by Bonnie Parker

It's a little known fact that Bonnie Parker was a gifted writer, and may have even followed that path if circumstances had been different; here, then, is her own take on her exploits with Clyde Barrow including what must have seemed like their inevitable result, following the wanted poster that was used to dog them...


You've read the story of Jesse James--
Of how he lived and died;
If you're still in need
Of something to read
Here's the story of Bonnie and Clyde.

Now Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow gang.
I'm sure you all have read
How they rob and steal
And those who squeal
Are usually found dying or dead.

There's lots of untruths to these write-ups;
They're not so ruthless as that;
Their nature is raw;
They hate the law--
The stool pigeons, spotters, and rats.

They call them cold-blooded killers;
They say they are heartless and mean;
But I say this with pride,
That I once knew Clyde
When he was honest and upright and clean.

But the laws fooled around,
Kept taking him down
And locking him up in a cell,
Till he said to me,
"I'll never be free,
So I'll meet a few of them in hell."

The road was so dimly lighted;
There were no highway signs to guide;
But they made up their minds
If all roads were blind,
They wouldn't give up till they died.

The road gets dimmer and dimmer;
Sometimes you can hardly see;
But it's fight, man to man,
And do all you can,
For they know they can never be free.

From heart-break some people have suffered;
From weariness some people have died;
But take it all in all,
Our troubles are small
Till we get like Bonnie and Clyde.

If a policeman is killed in Dallas,
And they have no clue or guide;
If they can't find a fiend,
They just wipe their slate clean
And hang it on Bonnie and Clyde.

There's two crimes committed in America
Not accredited to the Barrow mob;
They had no hand
In the kidnap demand,
Nor the Kansas City Depot job.

A newsboy once said to his buddy:
"I wish old Clyde would get jumped;
In these awful hard times
We'd make a few dimes
If five or six cops would get bumped."

The police haven't got the report yet,
But Clyde called me up today;
He said, "Don't start any fights--
We aren't working nights--
We're joining the NRA."

From Irving to West Dallas viaduct
Is known as the Great Divide,
Where the women are kin,
And the men are men,
And they won't "stool" on Bonnie and Clyde.

If they try to act like citizens
And rent them a nice little flat,
About the third night
They're invited to fight
By a sub-gun's rat-tat-tat.

They don't think they're too smart or desperate,
They know that the law always wins;
They've been shot at before,
But they do not ignore
That death is the wages of sin.

Some day they'll go down together;
They'll bury them side by side;
To few it'll be grief--
To the law a relief--
But it's death for Bonnie and Clyde.
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Now Showing: "The Death of Bonnie & Clyde"

When it comes to slicing and dicing history for the purpose of serving it up as entertainment, few do it as well as the History Channel; although often ridiculed (occasionally even by me) as the Hitler Channel, occasionally they manage to veer off of the subject of World War II long enough to cover the rest of history. Regardless, it is a reputation the Pop Culture Institute hopes to one day garner for itself, and learning what not to do is just as important as learning what to do.

Here as part of their investigation into the deaths of notorious gangsters Bonnie & Clyde, is Edward Herrmann narrating the story of the shirt in which Clyde Barrow was killed...
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Pop History Moment: The Death of Bonnie & Clyde

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow's notoriety became immortality on this day in 1934, when they were shot and killed on a lonely stretch of road near Black Lake, Louisiana...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Shortly after 9 AM they had stopped to visit the father of one of their gang members, Henry Methvin; unbeknownst to them, his presence was a trap. Shortly after their arrival four officers from Texas - Frank Hamer, B.M. 'Manny' Gault, Bob Alcorn, and Ted Hinton - and two from Louisiana - Henderson Jordan and Prentiss Oakley - opened fire, riddling the pair and their stolen Ford V8 with over 130 bullets, killing them instantly.

Tiny, loquacious Bonnie and handsome, angry Clyde had captured the public imagination in the last two years of their lives, even though competition for attention was fierce during the the so-called Public Enemy Era. The glamour of their image set them apart, but was belied by the increasing squalor of their situation. For the one-third of the populace trapped by the Great Depression, a life on the run - no matter how dangerous - proved a powerful thrill, even vicariously.

More than thirty years after their deaths, enough mystique still clung to the pair for them to be portrayed by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty - at the time two of the most beautiful and popular actors in Hollywood - in Arthur Penn's 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. That they bore little or no resemblance to the historical figures they portrayed was irrelevant, since their presence in the film conjured up the glamour of their lives - even if it had originally been squalor tarted up as glamour.

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POPnews - May 23rd

[I know, I know - I published this picture only recently - but given the type of person I am it's practically porno to me... For Girolamo Savonarola's defiance of God in his judgemental approach to the glories of the Renaissance, for his slavering homophobia and misogyny, for conducting of the Bonfire of the Vanities and for generally being an all-around creep who proved the maxim that 'Hell is other people' I hope he's burning still.]

1430 - Joan of Arc was captured by a Burgundian soldier named Lionel (who was known as the Bastard of Vendôme) while leading an army to relieve the Siege of Compiègne; she was in turn released into the custody of the Count of Ligny and thence to Philip III, Duke of Burgundy, who imprisoned her at the Chateau de Beauvoir near Paris before turning her over to the English at Rouen.

1498 - Girolamo Savonarola was burned at the stake in Firenze's Piazza della Signoria on the orders of Pope Alexander VI.

1533 - The marriage of King Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon was declared null and void by Thomas Cranmer.

1568 - Dutch rebels led by Louis of Nassau, brother of William I of Orange, defeated Jean de Ligne, Duke of Aremberg, and his loyalist troops during the Battle of Heiligerlee, opening the Eighty Years' War.

1618 - During the Second Defenestration of Prague, Vilem Slavata of Chlum and Jaroslav Borzita of Martinice (governors of Bohemia duly appointed by Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II) along with their scribe Philip Fabricius were tried and found guilty of violating the Letter of Majesty only to be thrown from a high window at Prague Castle; even though all three survived their fall, landing in a dry moat filled with manure - which Catholics claimed was due to divine intervention but which Protestants called horse-shit - the action precipitated the Thirty Years' War.

1701 - Having been convicted of piracy and of murdering one of his crewmen, gunner William Moore, Captain William Kidd was hanged at London's Execution Dock.

1706 - At the Battle of Ramillies a French army under Marshal François de Neufville, duc de Villeroi, was defeated by John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough.

1813 - South American independence leader Simón Bolívar entered Mérida, leading the invasion of Venezuela, at which time he was proclaimed El Libertador, or 'The Liberator'.

1873 - The Parliament of Canada established the North West Mounted Police, the forerunner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

1900 - Slave-born Sergeant William Harvey Carney became the first African-American to be awarded the Medal of Honor, for his heroism at the Assault on the Battery Wagner during the War Between the States.

1923 - Belgium's SABENA airline was launched.

1934 - The Auto-Lite Strike culminated in the so-called 'Battle of Toledo' - a five-day melee between 1,300 troops of the Ohio National Guard and 6,000 picketers with the American Federation of Labor - in which two strikers died and more than 200 were left injured.

1939 - The US Navy submarine USS Squalus sank off the coast of New Hampshire during a test dive, causing the death of 26 sailors; the remaining 32 crewmen and one passenger were rescued the following day.

1945 - Heinrich Himmler, formerly head of the SS, committed suicide while in Allied custody, as the so-called Flensburg government under Reichspräsident Karl Dönitz was dissolved when its members were captured and arrested by British forces at Flensburg in Northern Germany.

1949 - The Federal Republic of Germany was established, and the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany was proclaimed.

1960 - Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announced that Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann had been captured.

1970 - An outbreak of fire occurred on the Britannia Bridge over the Menai Straits in north Wales, contributing to its partial destruction and amounting to approximately £1,000,000 worth of fire damage.

1995 - What remained of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building following the Oklahoma City bombing was imploded.

1998 - The Good Friday Agreement was accepted by voters in Ireland and Ulster, who each got their own referendum on the matter.
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