Sunday, June 24, 2012

For Three-Word Wednesday, Magpie 123 and ABC Wednesday

One of the advantages, if there are any, of having reached an advanced age is that one was alive when great historical events took place.
I remember what a shock it was for those of us in the military when they exploded the atomic bomb in ’45.
Putting aside the moral question of whether they should or should not have done so, for me, after nearly four years’ service mostly in the south Pacific, it meant that I’d finally get to go home.
A few years earlier, in the American film industry, there was also a huge explosion, almost equaling the atomic bomb in importance.
It was titled “Citizen Kane.”
As I’m sure you know, there are those who claim that this movie was the greatest film ever made.
As a guy very interested in cinema I tried to learn all I could about Orson Welles, the young genius who made the picture. I know, “genius” is a term that should be used sparingly, but the more I learned about this wunderkind the more I thought it might be appropriate.
I mean, come on. An established, and sought-after, professional theatrical producer-director while still a teenager? Responsible for wildly innovative Shakespeare on Broadway…
Not to mention his radio production of “The War of the Worlds,” the most famous broadcast in the history of radio, which scared the bejasus out of thousands of Americans who heard it and who were convinced that very unpleasant not to mention ghastly critters from outer space had come to pulverize the general population and they had landed in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey.
But topping all this was the atomic bomb I mentioned earlier, the film about Charles Foster Kane.
I studied Welles’ career for years and I have come to a reluctant conclusion. Let me explain.
In the years after “Kane,” Orson made other films. I saw them and I was puzzled.
Movies like “Touch of Evil.” When I saw his later motion pictures, I found myself asking, Orson Welles made this? Of course, I realized Welles was hampered by film industry front-office types, but even so the difference in quality was striking.
Then I had a Eureka moment, I read about how “Kane” was made.
For his first movie, Welles found a script-writer who was writing radio plays for “The Campbell Playhouse” named Herman J Mankiewicz. The idea was to write a sort of expose of – you might even call it a taunting of - William Randolph Hearst, and Orson told Mank, as he was called, to come up with a first draft of a screen play.
Mankiewicz did and Welles worked on it.
“Citizen Kane” was not an Orson Welles film; it was an Orson Welles-Herman J Mankiewicz film. Perhaps because I was a script-writer and taught script-writing for years, I was impressed that the motion picture industry accused Orson of greatly underplaying the Mankiewicz importance to the success of the movie.
Mind you, I’m still one who claims Welles was a genius. The script aside, it was he who whose distinctive directorial style created a marvelous new, for the time, film experience.
In these days when X-rated movies are considered to be almost middle-of-the-road, it may be hard to remember a time when Orson’s film style was regarded as revolutionary. There were his unforgettable camera angles and his wildly innovative use of sound (which he had learned during his days in radio). The fact that he knew little about how to make a movie turned out to be an advantage.
He wanted a long shot with the background and foreground both in focus; he was told such a lens didn’t exist. Build it, he said; and they did.
I’m with those who believe that “Kane” is one of the greatest films ever made, but it wasn’t just Orson’s movie; it was an Orson Welles-Herman J Mankiewicz co-production.
(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Magpie 122

For Three-Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday
Mad Men in the Mud
Ron: Okay, enough of this chit-chat. Remember, Phil Irving, who we hope to God is going to be a new client for us, is coming here tomorrow. Believe me, this will be sort of the Olympics for this agency – go for the Gold!
Blake: Just as background info, Phil Irving’s first name isn’t, by the way, Philip. His parents were from the old country and they named him “Felix.” Felix Irving. So he uses “Phil.” Naturally, there’s a temptation to make a joke about Felix the Cat; avoid that at all costs. He also hates the phrase “the mud guy,” which competitors call him and which we must also avoid. He markets excellent products, especially the “I-Deal Galoshes,” which happen to be very successful and profitable; they could pay the salaries of quite a few of us in this agency for years.
Ron: The “I” in “I-Deal” of course refers to Irving. As you probably know, his slogan is “Wet and Wonderful: The I-Deals, THE Galoshes for 21st-Century Mud!”
Blake: Good God, will he expect us to use that? Can’t we come up with something a bit more – euphonius?
Wendell: Well, euphonius guy I know, so you work on it. (Chuckles)
Blake: How does that help, Wendell?
Ron: There’s some bad news. He wants us to put both his wife and his - er - friend to work in the same commercial.
Wendell: Wow.
Ron: Enough of that. Now, here’s our little list of “don’ts” for tomorrow when Irving’s here. No reference to the famous Cat. No use of the phrase “mud guy.” Try to act like top professionals, not people wandering about in a fog. And let’s make an effort to show great interest in the contributions of both Mrs. Irving and Phil’s friend Miss Mullen – er, what’s her first name?
Blake: Candee; she has two “e”s at the end.
Wendell: Bet that’s not all she’s got at the end.
Blake: How does that help, Wendell?
Ron: By the way, Edna, Mrs Irving believes she has a career as a writer. She wants to write the copy for the commercials. Uh – you have anything to say to that?
Edna: As head of the copy department, I’m speechless.
Ron: Don’t worry. It’ll be a struggle but here’s how we handle it. We say how much we look forward to working with her. After you get her scripts, try – I mean really try – to use some lines of hers in what you write, so she gets the idea that she was at least seriously considered. I hope that will satisfy both her and her husband.
Edna: For me, it will be like trying to write with manacles on my wrists.
Wendell: Which we may yet get around to.
Ron: And there’s another bit of bad news. Mandee – er – Sandee..?
Blake: Candee.
Ron: Yes, Candee. She would like to be the voice-over announcer.
Wendell: Holy guacamole! How do you plan to handle that?
Ron: Oh, I have a plan. I got to be the head of this agency by knowing how to handle just these types of emergencies.
Blake: I’ve been in this business for thirty years, made hundreds of commercials. Never, and I mean never, have I worked on a commercial which had both the client’s wife and his girlfriend in it.
Kit: At any rate, I’ve put together a whiz-bang Powerpoint to show him.
Ron: Powerpoint? You’re going to present a slide-show to illustrate how we make commercials? I'm too lenient with you guys; I told you to make a sample commercial.
Kit: There wasn’t time. Hey, it’s going to be a great presentation. It will knock his galoshes off. It’s got some great music and some faux animation in it.
Wendell: I just hope we don’t wind up with a faux paycheck.
Blake: Ron, have you ever thought of just standing up to Irving and saying, Sir, we are a top professional advertising agency and we will do a great job of promoting and selling your product. We’ll continue to do a great job if we don’t have to hire a client’s relatives and friends. Have you ever thought of that?
Ron: Have you ever thought of not eating?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

For Three-Word Wednesday, Magpie 120 and ABC Wednesday

("U" is for "Ungrateful")
I was immediately reminded of someone by the above picture – the Fool.
(In Shakespeare circles, when you say “the Fool,” it usually means you’re talking about old King Lear’s personal jester.)
As I’m sure you know, back during the Middle Ages and right on up to Renaissance times, if you were big enough, politically or aristocratically – or if you were just plain rich – you usually had one of these guys in your employ.
Your own David Letterman on your payroll, cracking wise on command.
The grand personages of that day would regard the jokesters almost like pets; they were usually tolerant of anything the fools might say so often they’d say things no one else could get away with.
They were expected to make slyly quasi-insulting remarks about their masters. Queen Elizabeth, who owned a couple of them, once rebuked one of her fools for being insufficiently severe with her.
Certainly, in the vast collection of unforgettable characters Will Shakespeare created, King Lear’s Fool stands out.
You know the story. The old King, getting to the age where he knew he’d soon be cashing in his chips, didn’t just resign; he gathered his family around him (three daughters) and divvied up his kingdom so they'd all get a share. Each girl had to prove her love for him first.
He got a rude surprise when two of them, Goneril and Regan, who had spoken most emphatically about how much they loved the old guy, managed to forget all about that once they got their hands on the real estate. These two fictional characters have come to be famous over the years as exemplars of ungrateful children.
A large portion of the play has to do with what happened to King Lear after that, with his faithful Fool at his side, the jester constantly reminding him of how dumb it had been to give away his kingdom – and with it his fortress and power.
Fool: “Mark it, Nuncle. Can you tell how an oyster makes his shell?”
Lear (wearily): “No.”
Fool: “Nor I, neither. But I can tell why a snail has a house.”
Lear: “Why?”
Fool: “Why, to put his head in it – not to give it away to his daughters and leave his horns without a case.”

Old Man Lear began to get pretty irritated with the constant biting comments, but he knew that no matter how difficult things became his faithful jester would stay with him, no matter what, when almost no one else would.
Fool: “That sir which serves and seeks for gain
And follows but for form,
Will pack when it begins to rain
And leave thee in the storm.
But I will tarry; the fool will stay,
And let the wise man fly.”

As for King Lear, there’s a mist out on the heath as he wanders about, and it turns into a violent storm. He has his jester with him; the Fool is almost like a bulky package Lear carries with him every step of the way.
As I’m sure you’re aware, we have pretty much the same situation today. Leading politicians and candidates often have what might be described as jesters on their staffs, writers who are charged with providing droll remarks so the candidates will come across as good-humored, folksy types.
Lately, however, it’s almost as though they don’t understand the basic principle. From time to time these days, it’s the political candidate, not the hired writer, who acts the part of the Fool. :-)
(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings)
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