In the meantime, being on the road, I figured that an appropriate replacement would be this On the Road piece from Charles Kuralt about Thomas Jefferson.
And no tanks or flyovers were involved.
I had something else planned for this morning, but because of a bizarrely-slow Internet connection while on the road -- more of that Grant Park Orchestra rehearsal in Chicago -- I'll have to put it off and see if I can address it later.
In the meantime, being on the road, I figured that an appropriate replacement would be this On the Road piece from Charles Kuralt about Thomas Jefferson.
And no tanks or flyovers were involved.
Four years ago, I posted this article (with one updated-change today made for dates...). It seems thoroughly appropriate to repeat it today..
For those who like to look at the calendar for such things, today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944. I thought it would therefore be especially appropriate to post this video. It's the wonderful theme to the movie, The Longest Day, sung and performed most appropriately by the Cadet Glee Club of West Point, along with military band.
It's a particularly well-done video that begins with a minute of General Dwight Eisenhower's message to the troops before the invasion began, and interspersed with some excellent photos and archival film from the day.
By the way, the timpani you hear before the song begins is not only recognizable as the beginning of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, but more to the point, it's the Morse Code for “V” for Victory.
Also, in case you weren't aware, the main theme for The Longest Day, used throughout the film not just in the end titles, was written by pop-start heartthrob at the time, Paul Anka.
Even with the revelations of the Michael Flynn deposition about the seemingly-blatant obstruction of justice from Trump's lawyers and a member of Congress, and news of various material getting unredacted from the Mueller Report from separate judges, I don't want to talk Trump at the moment. That news will have to stand poised in its importance. Instead I want to drop several levels and bring up another disaster. The HBO mini-series on "Chernobyl."
At first I wasn’t interested, but I was visiting my cousin and his wife who were discussing if they set the recorder to get the next episode. It was nothing more than that, though I knew they were very interested in most things Russia. (His wife's name is Olga -- you do the math.) I kept thinking about it, and when I got home I figured I might as well check it out. I went to the On Demand setting and watched the first episode -- which was spectacular. Just a seriously impressive production on every level. The cast isn't well-known -- the two most recognizable actors are Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgård -- but everyone is impeccable. And all five episodes are grippingly written and directed by Craig Mazin (best known for highly-successful goofball comedies and his outspoken, public hatred of his college roommate Ted Cruz), and John Renck (who until the past few years had mostly done commercials and music videos) respectively. Their work here is substantive and rich. In fact, surprisingly (if not shockingly) subtle for its scope and epic disaster. And last night I got up to date just finishing episode #2 which was almost as good. It goes into levels that most of the public hasn't known, including how close things came to wiping out all of Europe.
If you get HBO, it's exceedingly worth checking out these first two episode before #3 airs next Monday, May 20. For other folk, put it in your Netflix queue for whenever the DVDs are released.
This trailer gives a good sense of the high quality of the mini-series and overall production, but effective as it is doesn't do it justice. A trailer by its nature quickly cuts together pieces of importance. The show itself is methodical and absorbing.
Here's a good idea of what I mean. This is the sequence where the nuclear reactor explodes. When you think "nuclear reactor explodes" and its aftermath, there are probably a lot of images that immediately come to mind. I'm guessing few to none would be put together like this, or perhaps as impactful. And it only builds from here.
After last year's event, the White House Correspondents organization kowtowed to Trump and decided not to get a comedian this year because, well, gee, comedians are so mean and it’s so divisive.
Meanwhile, Trump still didn’t show up and ordered those on his administration staff not to show up.
Instead they got historian Ron Chernow.
And Chernow was…masterful. Often as funny as a comedian. Often as scathing. And overloaded with rich substance based on historical reality.
What was interesting was reading comments about his speech on YouTube from people marveling at this guy they didn’t know – unaware that he was the person wrote the Alexander Hamilton biography that Lin-Manuel Miranda based his musical on. I haven't read that, but did read his biography of George Washington which was wonderful.
If you didn't see Chernow's speech, here it is. It's about 25 minutes and eminently watchable. Often very funny, as I said, and even self-effacing, but mostly about the historic relationship between the press and President, filled with fun and fascinating stories to support his points. He's blunt and charming, and what's interesting, as well, is seeing the people there who clearly do not like his bluntness. But he speaks with a gravitas that gives it all so much more more support.
Talk about distortions! Man, alive. First of all, there is NO evidence we've been presented that Trump "works late." For that matter, there isn't really much evidence that he works during the day either, especially given that we've often seen his daily schedule and it's largely empty. Sleeping late is one thing, if you are, in fact, working late. Further, the issue isn't that Trump sleeps late -- indeed, that doesn't seem to be the case -- but rather that when Trump gets up...he doesn't do anything. He just seems to lounge around, watching TV and (supposedly) reading the paper, which is more likely skimming to see if his name is written.
Second -- Churchill?? Churchill????!!! Newt Gingrich is trying to compare Trump to...Churchill?!!!!! Talk about "pathetic." Winston Churchill WROTE 30 books on history, many of them acclaimed -- far more than ace historian Gingrich has written, by the way -- and I don't know if Trump has read 30 books. And I'm not being facetious. Further, many of those books were written by Churchill while in Parliament, and several of his famous and admired books on the history of World War II were written by him while he was Prime Minister the second time, after 1951.
Additionally he was an accomplished artist and turned out many paintings while in office, and published collections of his speeches -- which he himself wrote or delivered extemporaneously.
And he lead England through World War II, and with Franklin Roosevelt helped save the world from Nazism and actually help protect Democracy.
That he took a nap in his pajamas seems a pretty reasonable thing to do, and hardly a substantive point to address, even if you were trying to making meaningless points. And further, Gingrich is wrong (well, there's a shock) -- Churchill did not "sleep late." In fact, he started his work day at 8 AM. That's the reason he took naps, by the way -- because he worked so late, and woke at a normal time, the late afternoon nap was necessary. In fact, researchers say that taking an afternoon nap is good for one's health.
Meanwhile, Trump watches TV, keeps a short schedule, and plays golf.
Distortions and pathetic, thy name is Newt Gingrich.
And so we come to the last episode of "Bag Man," Rachel Maddow's wonderful seven-part podcast about the known and (until now) unknown history surrounding the investigation and resignation of former Vice President Spiro Agnew.
If you've missed any of the previous episodes, you can click on the links below to catch up --
Episode 7: You Can't Fire Me -- I Quit
Disgraced Vice President Spiro T. Agnew officially becomes a private citizen and addresses the nation one last time... as a convicted criminal. Agnew continues his attacks on the press and the prosecutors right to the end. But his sudden resignation leaves questions-- unanswered-- that echo 45 years later. Can a President or Vice President actually be criminally indicted while in office? And if not, what sort of pressure can be brought to bear... to force them out?
Yesterday, I posted a bunch of Christmas songs from Kukla, Fran and Ollie, so I figured that it's only fitting that we give that show's brilliant creator Burr Tillstrom his due. This will sit in for today's Holiday Music Fest.
I wrote about this piece of remarkable TV history two years ago, and it remains one of my favorites. Back in my initial posting on this site about Kukla, Fran and Ollie, I wrote about how puppeteer Burr Tillstrom won an additional Emmy Award that was not involved with KF&O, but for his work on his own. It was for one of the "hand ballets" that he performed on occasion for the satirical news series, That Was the Week That Was.
That Was the Week That Was was a smart, pointed, very sharp British sketch-comedy show which was brought over to the U.S. in the early 1960s. Among other things, it introduced to American audiences one of the original British cast members, David Frost. It's also the show that introduced Tom Lehrer to most Americans. He wrote periodic songs for the series, and then recorded them for his now-classic hit album, That Was the Year That Was.
And it also brought Burr Tillstrom into the national spotlight in a way people hadn't seen or expected.
His hand ballets were little vignettes that didn't use any puppets at all, but merely Tillstrom's bare hands, using them alone to evoke some story in the news he wanted to get across. It was done with great artistry, often movingly. And one of them so artistic and moving that it won him an Emmy Award.
In 1963, two years after the Berlin Wall had been erected, a very brief concession was made. The Wall would open for the Christmas holiday and allow those in the West to travel into East Berlin and visit family and loved ones, needing to return a few days later.
This is what Burr Tillstrom did a hand ballet about shortly after. And --
-- I found the video of it. It is one of the favorite videos I've been able to find. I'm thrilled
The quality of the video is a little rough, especially at the beginning, but it's fine. And ultimately, as you watch -- one brilliant artist using only his hands -- the quality of the video won't matter one whit.
And if anyone ever wonders where the humanity of Kukla, Fran and Ollie came from, to bring such life into puppets, now you'll know.
When I posted this last year, I got a perturbed note from a reader who found nothing worthwhile about the video, and took me to task for wasting his time. In the spirit of the season, I will refrain from anything ad hominen. I will just say that I feel completely comfortable in recognizing the legend of this piece, and anything else is an understandable matter of personal taste. Wherever that may lie. I say this knowing that it's not just my opinion on this, but the members of the of the Television Academy who voted Tillstrom the Emmy Award.
But to be fair, I guess I should add a disclaimer. If anyone doesn't like old black-and-white video or just looking at hands for three minutes, or politics and history, or quiet, thoughtful, emotional storytelling with the sparsest of action or jokes, centered instead on pure artistry, by all means avoid this.
For everyone else, here it is.
A week ago, I wrote here about a new documentary that has been getting overwhelmingly spectacular reviews, They Shall Not Grow Old. It's from Peter Jackson, who directed the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and focuses on the British foot soldiers in World War I, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the armistice.
The film, which uses material from the BBC and Imperial War Museum archives, was made for the BBC and originally intended as a 30-minute piece, but grew from the wealth of material and ultimately had such a profound effect that Warner Bros. is releasing it in very-limited release theatrically, And by "very limited" I mean there are two days scheduled.
I say this because I saw it yesterday, and that means there's only one other day left to see it for certain, and you will do yourself a great disservice by missing it. Yes, it's that tremendous.
(By the way, what I wrote in an an earlier version of this article is that I suspected that the studio was hoping for an Oscar nomination -- and win -- but it turns out that since this was never originally intended as a theatrical film, Warner Bros. missed the October 1 deadline for submissions and so the film is ineligible. However, the box office, even for such a profoundly-limited presentation, has been massive and so discussions are underway for a possible, full theatrical release.)
I'll keep this description reasonably short because of a bonus that goes along with the documentary. I'll dive in a bit more when getting around to that. But as for the documentary itself, what makes it stand out so much is how Jackson physically crafted it. Using the latest technology, he and his team restored the footage to a quality so remarkably pristine that it almost looks like modern-day footage. Additionally, they manipulated the speed of the film so it doesn't look the way old silent movies generally do, sped-up and jerky, but instead is all fully natural. They colorized it using the highest quality efforts so, although the process is often controversial, here is completely justified and all looks fresh and lifelike. Perhaps most fascinatingly, they brought in expert lip-readers to determine what soldiers are saying in the footage, and then dubbed the voices to add a sense of realism to the material. They also converted the old material to 3D in a way that doesn't get in the way with anything splashy, but brings subtle depth to the landscape so that at times you almost feel you are there on the battlefields. And much more. And making it all the more touching is that there are no historians or WWI experts narrating -- instead, all the narration is from archival interviews that soldiers did 40-50 years later.
It's really quite remarkable.
Which brings us to the bonus. Following the 90-minute documentary, there is another half-hour film that runs afterwards with Peter Jackson explaining and showing all the amazing work that they put into crafting the film and bringing everything to life. In some ways, it's surprsingly almost as moving at times as the documentary itself. And if They Shall Not Grow Old does get a wider theatrical release at some point, I wouldn't think it would be with this special half-hour featurette. It seems like that was solely for this limited theatrical release. (Or the DVD, assuming one gets released.)
Here's an example of the level of detail and effort the filmmakers went to. When they dubbed the soldiers, they team tracked down which divisions the men were in, and they found actors who spoke in that same dialect, to make it authentic. Also, they often found footage that all other WWI documentaries most-certainly ignored because the footage had degraded, or was deeply underexposed or overexposed and therefore unusable -- but they were able to restore it, and much of what they ended up with was a treasure.
Jackson also explains the decision to colorize the footage. He said that the focus of the movie was on the foot soldiers and their experience, how they saw the war. And they saw the war in color. He notes, too, that had color been available at the time, there's little doubt that the original filmmakers would have used it. He explains, too, that the quality of colorization depends in large part on the time spent on the process, and so they devoted a great deal of time getting it to look right and natural.
One of the more fascinating things of the featurette has nothing to do with the war, but the filmmaker himself. It turns out that Peter Jackson wasn't approached merely because of his acclaim as a director, but rather both that and because he is a true, massive aficionado of World War I. When talking about the impossibility of getting some footage for the movie of hand-to-hand combat, Jackson says he remembered that he had a few copies of old war magazines he'd collected as a kid that had original drawings from the time which might be useful -- and when he went to check, he found out that he didn't still have a few copies, but several hundred. Also, when they did the colorizing of all the old uniforms of the many divisions, their efforts were made significantly easier because...Jackson had his own collection of old World War I uniforms, which got a growing chuckle from the audience. But what got the biggest laugh is when Jackson (who clearly found it a bit bizarre himself) said that they wanted the sound of the artillery movement and explosions to be authentic and so -- yes -- in a bemused voice said, "I had my own collection of WWI artillery...as one does." And so the featurette shows them rolling out Jackson's own canons and other artillery out to fields to be properly operated.
Both of these films are showing one more time, for certain. That will be on December 27. If this is even of remote interest to you, try to see it. It's very special. Here is the page where you can enter your zip cod and see where it's screening in your area. Just click this link.
And here's a very brief trailer, which I posted before. It doesn't begin to do the documentary anything close to justice -- but -- it absolutely gives you a touch of an idea of how unique this is.
Continuing with our re-posting of Rachel Maddow's excellent 7-part podcast, Bag Man, about events surrounding the resignation of former Vice President Spiro Agnew, here's Part Five.
(If you've missed any of the earlier episodes and want to catch up with it, here's Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 and Part 4.
Episode 5: Double-Header
With his own Justice Department on the verge of indicting him, Vice President Spiro Agnew attempts a last-ditch effort to survive. A Constitutional crisis-inducing argument that even if prosecutors have evidence of his crimes, he can't be indicted anyway... the power of the White House protects him. With President Nixon himself about to go down in Watergate, it's now on one man's shoulders-- the Attorney General-- to come up with a way to remove a criminal Vice President... before he ascends to the Presidency
I want to bring to your attention a little-known, upcoming documentary that has been getting massively-wild praise for a while. It's called They Shall Not Grow Old, and is directed by Peter Jackson, he of the Lord of the Rings movies. Apparently, it started as a small project, intended for a very to be released for television, I believe, as a way to honor the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. Jackson got access to rare material in the archives of the BBC and the Imperial War Museum -- but it turns out that he did such an amazing job that the studio, Warner Bros., is putting the film in limited theatrical release, not just for the audience but in hopes of getting an Oscar nomination.
By all accounts, he and his team did technological wizardry. Using the latest techniques they brilliantly restored the footage (in fact, they restored 100 hours of material from the Imperial War Museum and donated it back to them for free), and colorized the material and added a voice track -- with the assistance of lip readers for what the soldiers are saying -- that seems to have given it all it remarkable freshness. Though colorizing old black-and-white material remains controversial to this day (though somewhat more accepted now), every article I've read on this particular film has said it's shown the benefits of colorizing when done impeccably right, under the right conditions. And he added 3-D, as well.
Here's a passage from a glowing article on the documentary from The Guardian in London, which overlaps with many articles I've read on the film --
"The effect is electrifying. The soldiers are returned to an eerie, hyperreal kind of life in front of our eyes, like ghosts or figures summoned up in a seance. The faces are unforgettable.
"Watching this, I understood how the world wars of the 20th century are said to have inspired surrealism. Thirty or so years ago, there was a debate in film circles about the sacrilege of colourising classic black-and-white movies. This is different. The colourisation effect is artificial, as is 3D (as is monochrome, too, of course), and the painterly approximation of reality presents a challenge to what you consider “real” on film. After a few minutes, I realised that force of cultural habit was causing me to doubt what I was seeing, because colour means modern. The colourisation, and everything else, is a kind of alienation shock tactic as well as a means of enfolding you in the experience. It is an indirect way of reminding you that this really did happen to people like you and me."
The film played in theaters across England last October for one night only. I mention this because there is now an official date for it to play in the United States -- two days actually: December 17 and 27.
This is the Fathom Events website that lets you put in your zip code and find out what theaters (if any) will be playing it your area, and book tickets. Just click here.
This is short trailer -- and if you aren't awestruck in just these 40 seconds, you aren't trying.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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