Saturday, January 28, 2012

The flood this time

So. I went downstairs to do my laundry. I couldn't help notice that there was water all over the floor in various places. I wasn't going to look, but I had to. Yes, it had hit my storage unit, And it looked like it hit various spots I had previously deemed safe. Even with my back out, I spent a good 45 minutes or so digging to the back. I did, after all, have 16mm film prints sitting on the floor. Thankfully, I had put the prints in metal canisters on the bottom. The lowest can was the final 40 mins of David Copperfield (the one with W.C. Fields as Micawber). The can was soaked. It was so wet, I was surprised that slugs weren't living on it. It took a minute to get the can open. And, praise be, the reel of film itself was absolutely dry. So, I've lost a few empty boxes in which electronic things came, a blanket, the electric mattress pad, the gift wrap bag and all the pretty ribbons, the box of Christmas Cards whose design was a Metropolitan Opera snow scene poster from La Boehme (ouch), and I found a few things I'd been looking for, especially the little plastic box of push pins - yes, I've been too cheap (and broke) to buy more because I knew they were there somewhere. I'm worried about the 16mm projector, it looks like the bottom may have gotten wet. My big 32" tv (in storage only because there isn't enough room for it -and - the Hi Def one that I was given in my room) seems like it's okay - I didn't move it yet, but it doesn't feel wet around its floor space.

Of course, now I want to bring up the electronics, bring up and use the 16mm projector, check the VHS machine once more, maybe I can get it working, etc.

Bringing up and setting up the old amplifier, speakers, and tape deck was a wonderful thing, Now I want to do more, bring up and re-connect the turntable, too. I want to listen to my music again. I want to see my old films again. Basically, I'm delving into stuff I haven't been able to play with for a good number of years. They're from a different, earlier me, part of the detritus we leave behind. And I like the person I'm discovering. He definitely had good taste, at least.

I must get back to it, I left stuff all over the place down there.
And the bottom box of the DVD's looks very wet... (ominous music).

To be continued...

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Convergence

And so it begins...

In an Associated Press story on the net this morning, writer Jim Coyle notes:

"Over the next few months, YouTube, Netflix and Hulu will roll out their most ambitious original programming yet - a digital push into a traditional television business that has money, a bevy of stars and a bold attitude of reinvention. The long-predicted collision between Internet video and broadcast television is finally under way."

Well, sort of, anyway. Just as Hollywood mogul Adolph Zukor refused to panic during the 1950's audience switch from movies to television (he saw it as the same business and moved the studio into tv production), someone is going to realize that Internet TV is simply another piece of the same money making system. This isn't really a delivery systems battle, which is how it is being cast at the moment. It's the beginning of the long time coming convergence of television and the internet, computers and home electronics, performing arts and libraries, information and entertainment, government and you and me . 

Why do you think  Hollywood pressured its Washington DC funding recipients to create bills like the Stop Online Piracy Act, and the Protect Intellectual Property Act? Those two bills may have been sidelined for now (expect to see them again), but S978, the Commercial Felony Streaming Act is still out there. 

CFSA would make streaming of unauthorized material (read: copyright violations) a felony instead of the current misdemeanor. Meaning all those kids on YouTube singing Motown and other classic songs? Illegal. Jail time. No more getting famous by postings yourself singing, Justin Beiber. Unless of course, you get copyright clearance and pay the royalty. I don't want to exaggerate here for simplicity's sake, you do get to have 9 uploads of streaming video that won't get you into trouble. It's the 10th upload that does it. By that time, you're a proven serial copyright abuser. A Felony.

There are also troublesome re-writes (they use the word "upates") to copyright laws underway. (The rebuttal period for some proposed changes just ended, hearings begin this Spring.)

It's about the money, and it's about the control.

You definitely should click on this one to enlarge it. Just click in the area outside the picture to get back here.
On the money front, once upon a time, Hollywood and the music industry really didn't give a hoot about their older product. Oh, sure, the Hollywood studios would license packages of movies for showing on tv. They chose the movies for each "package", and small tv stations had to accept all the bad titles to get the good ones. When the film distribution companies used this idea for movies in theaters, it was called "block booking" and outlawed as a monopolistic practice by the U.S. Justice Department. It's the technique cable companies use today in their approved monopolies. The film distribution companies (Movie Theatre Chains) were forced by the Dept. of Justice to sell off their Movie Studios which produced the product they distributed. All of this changed again during the Reagan years, thanks to a process which became known as "vertical integration", but that is another story. The point is, Hollywood didn't care about its older product very much.

I know this is true because I got involved in film collecting in the early 1960's, just as I was entering my teen years. (Collecting was the only way to even see most silent movies then.) The films themselves were on a flammable 'nitrate' stock which could also disintegrate, or just deteriorate and give off an odorless poisonous gas. Film Collectors, seeing the losses piling up, banded together to do something about it.  The studios didn't much listen. Finally, an act of Congress created the American Film Institute, whose original mission was preservation of American films, both Hollywood and non (newsreel libraries were being very heavily hit by losses too!, etc).

And still Hollywood wasn't much interested, even in preserving its own classics which they could re-release. My first time seeing Gone With the Wind was in a release which was reformatted for cinemascope. I did not like the movie, and failed to understand what all the fuss was about. (Until I saw it years later at the Elgin Theatre in NYC in a real IB Technicolor print, in its proper frame ratio and I realized what an immense accomplishment it really was. And it played better as a movie, too. Well, at least the first half. ) If it wasn't for the work of film restorers, and the miracles made possible by computers, Gone With the Wind might not exist today in its original form.

And then there was BetaMax. And lo, the Hollywood Business Community was shakeneth to its core. People videotaping movies over the air and watching them for free? Oh, no. No, no. Several of the studios, dollar signs forming on their eyes like characters in 1950's cartoons, brought forth a lawsuit.

While the lawsuit was progressing through the court system, something happened. People started buying video cassettes of movies on both Beta and VHS. Much of what was available were titles in the public domain. Cut to the chase - there was money to be had. Maybe not Big Big Money, but Good money.

Since that time, the studios have been positioning themselves for greater control over everything they own. And what they own now, after the deregulation of the Reagan and Bush years is - a lot. Want to see Casablanca again? Okay. You just have to pay.

Same thing goes for the printed word. Save paper, go digital. (Problem one, digital can be manipulated and changed). Made available for your tablet - for a small fee.

The music industry got in on the act, too. Big time. Depending on where you live, there are laws which make it illegal to play recorded music (any format) as background in a cafe or restaurant. Unless you pay royalties, of course. It was the recording industry that went ape shit bonkers over downloading music from the internet. Remember people going to jail for downloading music?

Of course, if the song, book, movie or tv show you want to watch, read, or listen to is available all is well. But, there are lots of titles that aren't available. It doesn't  matter that the item in question was created as something which would either be sold to, or exhibited to, the public.

Case in point. At the beginning of the AIDS crisis in New York City, an all night movie special was held as a fundraiser at the 8th Street Playhouse. Everything was donated. Every cent would go to the cause. There was one problem. The ad mentioned the movies to be shown, one of which was "This Is the Army", one of those big patriotic flag wavers from WWII which was based on Irving Berlin shows. The film is in the public domain. You can make copies of it, you can sell it, you can watch it anytime you damn well please. What you can't do is show it in public - Irving Berlin owns all of the music, and he (or his lawyers at the time) didn't want the film seen. Berlin didn't care if he got paid. He didn't want the film exhibited publicly. Period. Needless to say,  it was withdrawn from the benefit.

So, imagine how much of our culture, how much literature, movies, and music can and will go missing when all of the delivery systems have merged into one business. That's where this is all headed. When you're born, you'll get your internet user ID along with your social security number and birth certificate. Probably all on a chip. Maybe implanted. Your phone is your tv is your computer or internet access portal. You pay for everything, pretty much the way you do now, except everything is digital. Access goes to those who have money and can pay. Even then, if, say, Justin Beiber were to grow up, own all his own music and decide he didn't want any of it heard or seen in videos ever again, well, you'd be out of luck. Yes, I know that's a bad example. I used it on purpose. 20 years from now, you want to examine his effect in and on the music industry and the public consciousness. Too bad, not allowed.

How long that control might last is currently set at the life of the creator, plus 70 years. Or plus 120 years if it's a corporate authorship.

And it will once again be up to the underground collectors to preserve our cultural heritage.
And possibly knowledge. A few days from now (February) is Library lovers month.
It's not too far fetched to think of a world where libraries are held by rouge collectors.
Stand up for them now, while we still have them.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Just now, ABC News (this coming political season, I think they're going to push Obama - they're owned by Disney and he'll make a great audio-animatronic) just had an off the cuff interview question to Newt Gingrich, who is supposed to be talking about Mitt Romney:

"How can somebody run a campagin this dishonest and think he's going to have any credibility running for president?"

Pot, Kettle.

A few from The Vaults

While making file folders and organizing various graphics, I felt like it was time to share again...

Here's an old fave from the exploitation movie poster files. (Did I ever mentioned that I worked for Sam Lake back in the late 1970's or so? God, and I'd finally managed to forget that one, too. Shipping porno trailers to states in the American South labelled as "machine parts"! Really, I'm not making this up.) Okay, be here now, from 1961, a.k.a. "V.D."... the story of a high school track star, his girlfriend and the new girl in town...

of course, there was a little something else that became a plot point. Here, from my WPA art files:
(The Works Progress Administration, a Federally funded program which hired artists during the Depression)

Arrruuugggghhh. I can't believe I forgot to post this one on the appropriate date:

and, from the Early Disneyland (and other Amusement Parks and Arcades and that sort of stuff) files, Tomorrowland in 1957!

and finally for today, a reminder that February is Library Lover's Month:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Before going off to work

Another before I go off to work note: Found on the web this morning:

The following would have been posted yesterday, but I just couldn't post it considering the story I was telling. This has got to be one of my favorite headlines of all time. I didn't purchase a copy of the paper back when because I thought the headline pandered to the worst in all of us, and was too far over the top. Now I wish I had it (I still cherish my copy of the New York Times'  "Nixon Resigns" - I kept the whole paper. I used to have the Kennedy assassination, but it went missing over the years, I think my father threw it out.) Anyway, this bizarre story is back in the news because the murderer involved was seeking parole (Charles Dingle's parole was, thankfully, denied.).

Silly observation of the day: doesn't the woman who heads the IMF (International Monetary Fund) look a lot like actress Tilda Swinton (a stevil fave)?

and last, but not least, one of the reasons this country has gotten so fucked up that it actually entertains the notion of Newt Gingrich emerging from his hidey hole and running for president, this from NYC:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bingham Ray

This morning I became unstuck in time again.

Work today doesn't start until 3:15pm, so I was enjoying a leisurely click through fest of the news , my recent eye problems making it difficult at times to read, when I clicked my way right into the news that Bingham Ray had died.

Bingham was just a few years younger than I am. He was out in Utah where he had just attended a conference and was about to attend the Sundance Film Festival. I called my old friend and something of a mentor in the film business, George Mansour right away. Bingham had had a little stroke and Richie Abramowitz drove him to the hospital. Everything was fine. Until the next day.

These are names from my past, years ago in film distribution in New York City. Bingham managed the Bleecker Street Cinema (after John Pierson, I think...). He became a booker for Walter Reade for awhile, and if I remember correctly, it was Bingham who was responsible for saving a little art deco cinema called the Metro, which was way uptown on Manhattan's West Side (99th Street). It had originally been the Midtown, and was one of those little jewels of the movie theatre biz.

At the time, revival and repertory were all the rage. People had discovered the joys of seeing old movies on big screens again after years of late night showings on television. I've often mentioned that my opinion of John Ford as a director changed completely after seeing his movies on a big screen as opposed to tv.  The movies of that era were thought out in terms of 20+ foot high screens. It would take too long to explain what I mean, so here's a quick, not very good example, a scene from the 1939 "Stagecoach", in the wrong frame ratio to boot.

Kind of impressive looking, eh? Ford liked to film in Monument Valley. Well, click on the image and blow it up until it fills your screen. It's not the same image anymore, is it? Ignore the soft focus, I didn't have time to find a good hi res still. Even the point at which your eyes naturally focus shifts.  Big screen. The Metro had a decent sized screen. It was a joy to see old movies there. They felt at home. It wasn't as big as a screen as at the Regency, the leading revival & repertory house, but I liked the theater a bit better. Bingham and I used to trade potential double bill titles. He was kind enough to run several of them. One (at least, in memory it was my suggestion - after all these years, I wouldn't swear it wasn't his) was my favorite, a pairing of two film noirs, The Big Sleep and In a Lonely Place - now forever known as "Gloria in excelsis" for Gloria Grahame who appeared in each. (I also once ran a theatre bookstore that used to sell her her scripts and sound effects for year yearly summer tour in The Glass Menagerie. We had just gotten one year's materials in when she died.)

Ms. Grahame and Bogart "In a Lonely Place" a story of a washed up Hollywood screenwriter and his neighbor.

His management of the theater was so successful, in an out of the way neighborhood, that it was twinned and turned in to a first run house. It seems to me that he booked the Film Forum for a little while before he moved on into film distribution, but my memory of those years is getting a little fuzzy and takes a while to sort some things out. The Metro was bought and sold, and closed shortly after the nearby Olympia kept a date with a wrecker's ball. It was slated to become a supermarket, but that deal fell through after the exterior was awarded landmark preservation status. Then it was going to be a trendy clothing shop. Then an apartment house. Last I heard, it was still there, sitting idle, most of the interior gone.I believe it is now slated to become a performing arts school. I hope it has survived.

Details from the interior like the following, however, are long gone:

Bingham made quite a name for himself in the world of independent movies, and was co-founder of October Films (still around after being bought and sold several times, now under the name Focus Features). Bingham is one of the people who built the market for, and took the chances on financing, serious art films in this country. For a couple of years, he even headed United Artists, when it was a specialty division of MGM. Some of the movies he championed include Bowling for Columbine. Life is Sweet. Secrets and Lies. Breaking the Waves. The Last Seduction. There are many, many more.

And I'd go on and on if I could, remembering when there were so many theatres where one could go and see art films and old movies and third and fourth runs, the St. Marks (what a pit! One never wanted to put one's feet on the floor in that place), Theatre 80 St. Marks where Howard Otway used to show 16mm movies in rear projection, The Cinema Village, the Paris, the Walter Reade, the 57th Street something or other where the Chaplin movies played, I'd go on, but I must leave for work.

Take care, Bingham Ray.
As my friend Austanspace would say, Ya did good.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Image find of the morning while dreading the necessity to get ready to go to work.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Perfect for a Sunday morning

As I head off for the 45 minute walk to work, and see that it is -4 (F) out there, this just warms my heart. Thank You, whomever is responsible. Please do Newt and Mitts next, then we'll talk about people in my everyday life...