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» 2007 » September

Monthly ArchiveSeptember 2007

Commentary 27 Sep 2007 06:56 pm

A surprise indeed

A teaching colleague was diagnosed recently with breast cancer. She is a plucky, courageous woman, and if I needed more proof, I just spent some time reading her blog, A Surprise Indeed.

 You need to visit her site, which is at turns as funny as it is touching, describing the loss of her hair, her chemo treatments, and the support she has received from friends and family. It’s a great site. Go there.

Movies 26 Sep 2007 07:20 pm

Here’s looking at you, kid(s)

I teach a high school class in film studies, and part of the fun is experiencing old favorites with new audiences each semester. We work our way decade by decade through Hollywood’s best films, watching a mix of genres as we go.

This year, for example, many of my students saw for the first time the Marx Brothers in “Duck Soup,” Preston Sturges’ “Sullivan’s Travels,” and the Bogart/Bergman classic, “Casablanca.”

Some of the movies go over like lead balloons. The Marx Brothers were not a hit; I was the only one laughing through most of the movie. “Sullivan’s Travels” fared better, especially the ending, when things turn very somber and serious before wrapping up on a lighter note.

“Casablanca” was especially enjoyable. My students had no idea who Bergman ended up with in the end, or if Bogart would be selfish and turn over freedom fighter Victor Laslo to the Nazis. They were genuinely surprised, and seeing the movie with such a crowd makes me see it with new eyes, too. It really is the perfect film, carefully plotted with sparkling dialogue and not a single wasted scene. I’m as immovable as granite, but I still get choked up over it.

Right now, we’re in the middle of “White Heat,” a gritty piece of film noir with James Cagney as a mother-obsessed killer. Another blast from the past that is leagues above most of what passes for popular entertainment today.

Commentary 24 Sep 2007 07:52 pm


My print column from last week has some great one-liners from Henny Youngman. You can read it here.

I like stand-up comedy, although I rarely attend comedy clubs or watch comedians on television. Too much material these days is too raunchy for my tastes. I love an off-color joke as much as the next guy, but I like it laced with wit, too. Some of today’s comedians consider dropping obscenities as a substitute for good material. I don’t.

 Youngman is from an earlier era of comedy. I like his material. It’s funny on the page, so I can only imagine it was even better when he delivered it live.

Books 22 Sep 2007 02:17 pm

Jordan passes

At the risk of turning this blog into a morbid place, I note that author Robert Jordan died Sunday, Sept. 16, of a rare blood disease.

Earlier in his career, Jordan wrote some novels about Conan the Barbarian, the pulp creation of Robert E. Howard, a Texan who took his own life at a young age. I read a few of Jordan’s Conan stories, I think, and they were OK, but nobody wrote Conan like Howard, and I stay away from other writers’ takes on the character now that I know this.

Jordan is best known for his “Wheel of Time” series of bestselling fantasy novels. I have read none of these because of a long-standing rule never to start a continuing story until the last volume is published, just in case the author dies.

The few times I have violated this rule have almost ended badly for me as a reader — and I know that makes me sound like a self-centered jerk, but there you have it. I read each installment of Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series as it was published, and King waited years between volumes and then almost get killed while walking one day before he wrote the concluding three books.

Dean Koontz collaborated with other sci-fi and horror authors on a modernization of the Frankenstein story. Two books have been published thus far. I lapped them up while on vacation one summer and was heartened to learn the final volume would be published the following year — in 2006. Koontz has published several other novels since then, but no concluding volume in the Frankenstein series. I read somewhere that he didn’t like working with collaborators and is finishing the final volume himself. I read somewhere else that because the book is set in New Orleans, the real-life destruction of Hurricane Katrina necessitated the delay in publication. Whatever the reason, I hope we get a concluding volume sometime.

Jordan’s untimely passing comes at a problematic time for his “Wheel of Time” series. The twelfth, and apparently concluding, book has yet to be published; he was working on it at the time of his death. Is it finished? Did he work from an outline? Will another writer step in to complete the story?

With the publication of the last Harry Potter book over the summer, I could now go ahead and read that epic if I choose. To be honest, though, I once picked my way through the first volume and didn’t much like it, so I doubt if I return anytime soon, even if I am guaranteed an ending.   

Media 20 Sep 2007 08:45 pm

Somers’ end

Brett Somers died on Saturday.

I enjoy watching her and Charles Nelson Reilly on “Match Game” reruns. They made a good team, and episodes where they don’t appear feel incomplete, like going to a family reunion while your parents stay home.

“Match Game” isn’t the greatest game show on Earth; point of fact, it’s rather simpleminded and silly. What makes it entertaining, though, is the sense that all the celebrities who appeared there were genuinely having fun, especially Somers and Reilly.

Reilly also died this summer. Host Gene Rayburn died in 1999. Richard Dawson is still around, but doesn’t make many appearances. 

Meanwhile, ”Match Game” reruns can still be seen often on cable channel GSN, where I watch them whenever I need a little comfort food, broadcast style.

Commentary 19 Sep 2007 04:20 am

Swab those decks!


Ahoy, matey, it’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day! Why, I can’t say. I first learned of this last year, when one of my students, not content to merely throw about some pirate slang, showed up in pirate garb.

Want to learn more? Probably not, but just in case, click here.

Commentary 18 Sep 2007 07:56 pm

Career-specific humor

I was talking with a professional school photographer today, and she told me how she and her co-workers used Photoshop to give a fright-wig hairstyle to the picture of a bald principal. “Photographer humor,” she called it.

This led me to speculate on other professions’ ideas of “humor,” and how people who didn’t have experience in those professions might not find them funny.

Do White House reporters sit up at night and make up fake, funny quotes for the president? (Not that he needs any help in that department.) Do teachers snicker over daydreams of the hardest test ever, one that would throw even the class Poindexters into a tizzy? Do attorneys giggle over drawings of the judge disrobing?

I wonder what a proctologist would find humorous? If I knew one, I would ask, but maybe he or she would tell me to just butt out.


Commentary 16 Sep 2007 07:29 pm

Column mistake leads to topic

My column last week, “Electronic collar has long leash,” contained a big mistake.

I mistakenly attributed a famous line by Henny Youngman to Jack Benny. Oops.

But in a rare example of my turning lemons into lemonade, I managed to use the faux pas as a springboard to this week’s column. You won’t get a link there yet, since it won’t be printed until Thursday. Just priming the pump, so to speak.

Commentary 13 Sep 2007 09:14 pm

Park patrol

So, what’s going on in our Alliance parks?

The cops have been working hard to clean up local park restrooms, and I don’t mean they’ve been painting them or washing the mirrors. They are catching men who are loitering in or near the restrooms, presumably for the purpose of meeting partners.

I support alternative lifestyles, but I do not support what these guys are doing in parks. They are making connections, presumably, for the purpose of casual sex — in their cars, in the woods, or maybe elsewhere.

This is not the purpose of our parks. Parks are places where individuals and families can go to walk, to enjoy nature, and to relax from work and other commitments. People should not feel reluctant to use public restrooms there for fear they will be solicited.

Plenty of places exist in the real world and online for people to schedule liaisons, whether straight or alternative. It shouldn’t happen in our public parks, which are supported by tax dollars for the benefit of all residents, not just a selfish few who attempt to hijack them for their own purposes.

Commentary & Movies 11 Sep 2007 06:21 am


Everything old is new again, including Smellovision, a short-lived attempt by the motion picture industry of decades past to introduce aroma into cinema.

Now a Boston “multisensory artist” is reviving the concept, according to an Associated Press story. She is using the smell of warm chocolate to enhance viewings of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” Presumably, that’s better than injecting the smell of dead flesh into “Evil Dead 2.”

Smellovision was one of a host of gimmicks used by motion picture studios in the 1950s to counter the effect of television, which was hurting movie attendance and revenues.  Other tricks included changing movie screen sizes (VistaVision, CinemaScope), making objects appear to jump out at audiences (3-D), and wiring seats to move and vibrate along with events on the screen (Percepto).

According to, Smellovision and its predecessor, Aromarama, were used sparingly and with little effect. Smellovision was used only once, in the 1960 film “Scent of Mystery” (1960), where audience’s nostrils were assailed by 30 different smells injected into their seats and triggered by the film’s soundtrack.

It gives a whole new meaning to the line, “This movie stinks!”

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