Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bonus Video: "Hot Voodoo" by Marlene Dietrich

It's completely wrong, but somehow wrong in all the right ways...

So as to cleanse my palate from the previous upheaval of earnestitude over the death of Dian Fossey - which occurred on this day in 1985 - here's a wickedly un-PC clip from the 1932 film Blonde Venus, featuring the ample talents of one Marlene Dietrich; her suave onlooker is Cary Grant.
share on: facebook

Pop History Moment: The Poaching of Dian Fossey


The received wisdom concerning the death of Dian Fossey is that she was killed by poachers; certainly, her fatal blow was struck with a panga, a poacher's weapon if ever there was one. Only here's where the story gets twisty; the panga that split her skull open was her own, confiscated from a poacher years earlier and kept as a trophy. Ironically, she was known to carry it with her as protection.

While the brutality of her death betokened the work of those soulless killers who hunt not for survival but for greed, she was found indoors; poachers would have killed her outside, likely in the same way they'd have killed one of her gorillas, given half a chance. Yet, despite a massive head wound, there was little blood on the premises, which could mean she'd been killed outdoors and bled off via natural processes during transport; something else poachers wouldn't be likely to do - they'd have just left her in the jungle. And even though her cabin was ransacked nothing had been stolen, not even the thousands of dollars in cash she kept.

Yet another faction believes it was proponents of eco-tourism - who saw Fossey's opposition to their goldmine and her increasingly persuasive reputation in the halls of power around the world as serious impediments to their future wealth - who killed her and then made a rather feeble attempt at framing poachers for it; this is the view of the naturalist Farley Mowat, who wrote the book Virunga: The Passion of Dian Fossey about her life and death.

Or maybe there was some collusion between the two; the point is, we may never know.

All we know for sure is that on this day in 1985 the gorillas of Rwanda lost their finest advocate, a passionate woman of principle whose zeal for habitat preservation was just beginning to win converts from those who had previously supported a conservation model based on game preserves and zoos, which she considered barbaric.

Many of Fossey's students at the Karisoke Research Center - which she founded in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda in 1967 - favoured eco-tourism for its lucrativity, seemingly unconcerned by the deaths of those gorillas who perished from diseases brought in by said tourists.* Fossey's desire, on the other hand, was to preserve wild places where wild animals could remain wild, a noble cause if ever there was one; certainly, the gorillas at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, for all that I love to look at them there, look amongst themselves like they'd rather be anywhere else.

Fossey was famously portrayed by Sigourney Weaver in the 1988 film Gorillas in the Mist (based on Fossey's own book, published in 1983.) Weaver's portrayal, naturally, is a heroic one; it amply depicts what Fossey's detractors have called her 'obsessiveness', reframing it as 'fervour'. Since in Fossey's mind no one else was looking out for the gorillas, she decided to do it herself; 'my gorillas' she called them, and she wasn't wrong. If anyone had the right to make such a claim it was the woman who gave both her life and her death to save them.

[* What kind of business plan is that? What could be more exploitative than taking the maximum profit on a minimal investment, before the venture itself is guilty of killing off the chief asset? Not only dangerously short-sighted but a recipe for certain extinction. Gawd, the greed on some people... ~ MSM]

share on: facebook

Carroll Spinney: The Man Behind The Grouch

Carroll Spinney, the man behind Sesame Street's legendary characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, occupies an enviable place in the world of puppeteering; having performed literally thousands of hours in an eight foot tall pile of foam and feathers - which is the kind of gig that would kill even an Australian drag queen - he must surely hold some kind of world record for endurance.

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1933, Spinney had a long career in puppetry and animation before coming to the Children's Television Workshop. Renowned as a children's educator (not to mention the co-author of The Wisdom of Big Bird and the author of How To Be A Grouch), Spinney has received four Daytime Emmy Awards, 2 gold records for his musical performances, a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, and the adoration of two generations of children.

Recently, after more than thirty years, Spinney has had to give up playing Big Bird, passing that duty off to Matt Vogel.

I must confess, though, it's Oscar the Grouch for whom I developed an early affinity; and not just on my bad days either, when the resemblance between us is eerie, but all the time. I can tell you're shocked.

Even as a kid I had the vague sense that the show I loved had a tendency toward sappiness; Oscar, on the other hand, gave the festivities a little variety. For someone who lived in a garbage can (albeit one which was easily as palatial as Snoopy's doghouse) and had to endure an endless string of people calling him a grouch - which would make anybody grouchy - he actually seemed pretty happy in his own way; Oscar's embrace of his own bohemianism led me to believe that when I was older I too could live and act the way I chose and, aside from constant reminders of how weird I was from those around me, also be happy in my own way.

Having early on embraced my inner grouch, this is exactly what has come to pass...
share on: facebook

"People Get Ready" by Curtis Mayfield

When Curtis Mayfield died on this day in 1999, the music industry lost one of its most talented practitioners - a prolific singer, songwriter, and record producer whose politically conscious work was renowned for the social justice it championed.

First recorded in 1965 with his band The Impressions, Mayfield's civil rights anthem People Get Ready is one of the most covered songs of the rock era, with versions by performers as diverse as John Denver, The Housemartins, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo; here he's seen performing it on Lorne Michaels' short-lived syndicated show Night Music with Taylor Dayne on backing vocals.
share on: facebook

Happy Birthday David Sedaris

It's not often a person as jaded and cynical as I am finds himself so helpless with laughter he's gasping for breath; unless, that is, I'm reading the works of David Sedaris. Or, you know, there's 'something in the air' that's known to induce giggling, if you catch my meaning. A n y w a y...

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1956, and raised near Raleigh, North Carolina, Sedaris has had the ideal life to make him either a noted and versatile humourist or a sad, bitter barfly: effeminitely gay from an early age, living in the American South - in the Sixties, no less! - a former drunk and drug addict, underemployable, short, and possessed of a voice ideal for silent films... Fortunately for everyone concerned, Sedaris learned to exploit the weirdness of his persona to great end, with a perspective so skewed it's a wonder it doesn't fall off.

He first came to the attention of readers in 1992, chronicling his travails in the employ of the R. H. Macy Company, in SantaLand Diaries on NPR; it's now must-read material here at the Pop Culture Institute during the holidays. Barrel Fever appeared in 1994; a cobbling together of essays from various sources, it's more scattered than his subsequent works, anarchic in the best sense of the word (meaning it sounds better than saying car-azay!*) and almost entirely fictional (again, in the best sense of the word).

Having learned to exploit his own weirdness in print, Sedaris turned his laser-like powers of description onto his family, including noted comedian and hostess Amy Sedaris, a favourite of ours here at PCI. 1997's Naked is a tour de force of the art of memoir that will make you think twice before buying brown towels, guaranteed; the same year's Holidays on Ice will similarly make you think twice before sending out that same old boring Christmas newsletter to all your friends and family. PCI's copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000) has been inscribed by his very own hand, with a similar clunking diction as its title; I must say, he is quite charming and affable in person.

The backlash waited, though, until after the 2004 release of his latest book Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim when, thanks to James Frey and his ilk, the criticocracy decided to get its knickers all up in a snit over possible falsehoods contained in his work. First of all, if you want the truth, stay the Hell away from writers, is all I'm saying; when the larger truth is the intended target, nothing gets in the way like a whole mess of petty facts.

His most recent book - When You Are Engulfed in Flames - arrived in stores in June 2008, and was in my hot little hands mere moments later...

* That is, 'crazy', prounounced in a crazy way. ~ MSM

share on: facebook

POPnews - December 26th

[By the time Emanuel Leutze painted the allegorical Washington Crossing the Delaware in 1851, the American myth-building industry had already been at maximum production for eight decades; despite its potency, though, this view of one of George Washington's finest hours functions better as propaganda than it does as history.]

1251 - Alexander III, King of Scots, married Margaret - the eldest daughter and second child of England's Henry III and Eleanor of Provence - at York Minster.

1606 - The first known performance of William Shakespeare's King Lear was given.

1613 - Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset, married Frances Howard - inspiring John Donne to write his poem Eclogue.

1776 - George Washington's troops defeated a combined British and Hessian force commanded by Johann Rall at the Battle of Trenton, owing largely to the Americans' surprise attack following their crossing the Delaware River in the middle of the previous night.

1811 - A theater fire in Richmond killed the Governor of Virginia, George William Smith, as well as the president of the First National Bank of Virginia, Abraham B. Venable.

1825 - Officers of Russia's Imperial Army officers led approximately 3000 soldiers in a march on St. Petersburg's Senate Square against the accession of Tsar Nicholas I, who'd previously been removed from the succession when his brother Constantine spurned the throne himself; although the Decembrist Uprising ultimately lost momentum because it failed to attract widespread support from the military, it was also deserted by its leader, Prince S. P. Trubetskoy.

1862 - Four nuns serving as volunteer nurses on board USS Red Rover became the first women to serve in that capacity on a US Navy hospital ship.

1870 - Both ends of the Fréjus Rail Tunnel met, deep inside the Swiss Alps; only a devout Freudian would be able to read anything into that...

1871 - Gilbert and Sullivan's first collaboration - their lost opera Thespis - opened at London's Gaiety Theatre; while it did modestly good business, the two would not collaborate again for four years.

1906 - Charles Tait's The Story of the Kelly Gang - generally considered the first feature film - premiered at Athaneum Hall in Melbourne, the city where most of it was shot; concerning the exploits of Australia's notorious bushranger Ned Kelly, only 17 minutes of its original seventy remain.

1908 - Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight boxing champ when he defeated Tommy Burns.

1919 - Babe Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees.

1925 - The Communist Party of India was founded.

1944 - The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams was first performed, at the Civic Theatre in Chicago.

1946 - The Flamingo Hotel opened in Las Vegas.

1966 - The first Kwanzaa was celebrated by Maulana Karenga.

1982 - For the first time in its history Time magazine's Man of the Year wasn't a man (or even a person) at all, but the personal computer.

1986 - The long-running American soap opera, Search for Tomorrow, went off the air after 9130 episodes; created by Roy Winsor and initially written by daytime television legend Agnes Nixon (and later by Irving Vendig), the show had its debut on CBS in September 1951 at 15 minutes a day, went from live to tape in March 1967, began broadcasting in colour in September 1967, expanded to a half hour format in September 1968, then moved to NBC in March 1982.

1991 - The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was dissolved.

share on: facebook