Monday, September 22, 2014

My Heroes Have Always Been Human

Dirk Benedict (born March 1, 1945) is a television actor who played the characters Lieutenant Starbuck in the original Battlestar Galactica and Lieutenant Templeton "Faceman" Peck in The A-Team. I vividly remember watching both shows as a kid. I remember the excitement I felt as I watched him blast the feldercarb out of the bad guys, first in space, the as part of the Los Angeles underground.

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This weekend I had a chance to meet one of my childhood heroes at Rose City Comic-Con. While giddy as my 12 year old self, I carefully prepped for the convention by writing my question for Mr. Benedict, wording it just right, and packing my Battlestar Galactica cast photo, which had already been signed by Herbert Jefferson, Jr. (Lt. Boomer).

I arrived at the Oregon Convention Center at 12:30 pm, with Mr. Benedict’s public address scheduled for 1:00 pm. After getting through the ticket line, making sense of the floor map, and finding an elevator that worked, I was afraid I’d be late and locked out. Luckily, I met Star Trek: Voyager’s Garrett Wang (Ensign Harry Kim) in the elevator on the way to Mr. Benedict’s address. Mr. Wang, being the moderator for the address, was kind enough to escort me through the staff only hallway to make sure I wouldn’t be late. Oddly enough, even though I’m a huge Star Trek fan, I’d been so focused on Mr. Benedict that it didn’t dawn on me that Mr. Wang had played the Voyager character until I returned home.

I sat for the better part of an hour listening to Mr. Benedict speak about a variety of topics. Among his reminisces of working on Battlestar Galactica and The A-Team, the man I’d come to see dropped a series of ideological bombshells, including:
  • All liberals need to grow up,
  • One should eat brown rice & veggies, avoiding all red meat, dairy, sugar, cola, and too much water, and
  • Social media is society’s new cocaine.

  • I was heartbroken. Being a liberal blogger who loves steak, cheese, chocolate, and cola, Mr. Benedict and I apparently didn’t agree on ANYTHING.

    Out in the hallway, I sat and watched the endless parade of costumed fans hurrying from one exhibit to the next and posing for pictures. Superman was photographing Wolverine, Darth Vader was posing alongside a female version of The 10th Doctor, and a Viking was exchanging notes with the Lannisters, from Game of Thrones.

    As I viewed the array of mock characters hob knobbing with one another, I asked myself why I was upset. Just like the people mingling before me, Mr. Benedict was a man with his own beliefs and quirks, who happened to have played parts I’d liked. With that in mind, I made my way to his booth, had him sign the photo I’d brought, and thanked him for his body of work.

    In the end, we’ll never share a rare steak and a Coke, or campaign for the same candidate. That’s OK though. Thirty years ago, he spent one night a week entertaining & inspiring a young boy, which is really all I can ask for.

    Friday, September 12, 2014

    Musicals, The Maligned Movie Genre

    Mayor Shinn, of River City, shakes his fists from his podium as he reminds the townspeople of how much money "Professor" Harold Hill has taken from them for instruments, uniforms, and instruction books, promising to create a boys' band. When he loudly demands to know "Where's the band?" Hill is saved by the town's boys who have

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    learned to play Beethoven's Minuet in G on their instruments. Although their technical expertise leaves much to be desired, the boys' parents are enthralled. The somewhat ragged boys' band marches out of the town hall. As they begin to march, they are magically transformed into a spectacular marching band dressed in resplendent uniforms, playing and marching with perfection. Seventy-six trombones, do indeed, lead the big parade.

    While the aforementioned scene is a fun way to end a charming family movie, I, unfortunately, know people who cite this scene as evidence that musicals are a joke genre.  They point to an entire town spontaneously knowing complex choreography, and claim musicals are nothing but corn ball drivel for the low brow masses.

    I disagree.

    OK, there's no denying that musicals deliver a certain amount of fantasy based cheese.  However, in amongst the glitz and the high steps, audiences are given access to characters inner most thoughts and feelings.

    In Grease, when, tough girl, Rizzo belts out the lines,
    "I could hurt someone like me,
    Out of spite or jealousy.
    I don't steal and I don't lie,
    But I can feel and I can cry.
    A fact I'll bet you never knew.
    But to cry in front of you,
    That's the worse thing I could do,"

    the audience understands the depth of the emotional facade she's been hiding behind in order to protect herself.

    Even more poignant were the lines,
    "The rain can't hurt me now,
    This rain will wash away what's past,
    And you will keep me safe,
    And you will keep me close,
    I'll sleep in your embrace at last,"

    sung by Eponine as she dies in the arms of the man who never knew she loved him, in Les Miserables

    Of course, this seen stirs the same feelings as when West Side Story's Tony lay dying in Maria's lap while she gently tells him,
    "There's a place for us,
    Somewhere a place for us,
    Peace and quiet and open air,

    Wait for us,

     knowing it to be a lie.

     With the possible exception of the narrated hard-boiled mystery, typical movies don't give viewers a glimpse into characters' motivations and thought processes, to the extent that musicals do.

    What's our favorite musical?

    Sunday, August 24, 2014

    I Want To Live In Springfield

    As I write this, FOX owned FXX Network is running every chapter of "The Simpsons" -- all 552 episodes, plus the movie -- in a 12-day marathon. What began, in 1989, as a series of family based animated shorts for The Tracey Ullman Show

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    has evolved into a 25 year chronicle of the, fictional, town of Springfield. While I haven't watched the entire marathon, needing at least enough time to catch the premiere of DOCTOR WHO's 8th season and True Blood's grand finale, I've caught enough stretches of the marathon to know that I want to live in Springfield.

    While many of its inhabitants are simplified  caricatures of societal stereotypes, Springfield seems to work somehow.

    First, everyone has a productive roll to play, and no one is treated like an outcast.  Even Otto, the town stoner, is employed as a bus driver, and Barney, the town drunk seems to have an automatic spot on any sports team the town puts together.

    Equally impressive is the glaring lack of hard core crime in the town.  Sure, Nelson is the school yard bully and Fat Tony is the local mob boss, Springfield never sees 17 year old boys raping & killing 6 year old girls.  Crimes in Springfield are more benign and easily solvable.

    Most alluring though, is the long term maintenance of the status quo.  Babies can be fawned over for decades, childhood never ends, friend today are friends tomorrow, and family units are stable.

    Of course, such a place doesn't exist.  Freezing time with photos, journals, and cherished memories may be as we can get to living in Springfield.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2014

    This Is Mork Signing Off

    I won’t rehash his biography, or list his extensive library of cinematic roles.  NBC Nightly News has already done that.  I’m not going to talk about his struggle with addiction, speculate on the causes of his depression, or try to discern the motives for his final solution.  A special episode of 20/20 will undoubtedly do that.  All I can do here, is to record my reaction to the August 11th suicide of, the comedy genius, Robin Williams.

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    In 1980, my father organized the parking garage for the, then brand new, Marriott Hotel, in Portland.  As a job perk, dad was given a suite, for our family, for a three day weekend.  Part of the package were tickets to the double feature, Flash Gordon & Popeye.

    The ten year old me loved the Star Wars-esc action of Flash Gordon, but I remember also being enchanted by the music and comedy of Popeye.  Seeing the man, I knew as Mork, play E.C. Segar’s classic character was a treat for my young eyes.

     His unpredictable wit has entertained me for decades.  I enjoyed his improvisational wit and his willingness to step, even leap, outside of the box for a laugh.  Meanwhile, I found myself inspired by his charity work for organizations such as Comic Relief, the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, the LiveStrong Foundation, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and more.

    Robin Williams’ talent, humor, and compassion literally brought joy to millions of people.  Keep in mind, I’m also a huge fan of Maverick and The Rockford Files, but I don’t think the recent death of James Garner hit me nearly as hard as the death of Robin Williams.

    By ending his own pain, Robin Williams chose to stop spreading joy by denying his talent to the world.  He chose to quit making millions of people happy; that’s the part that stings the most.

    R.I.P. Robin Williams.