To my fellow fans of tweaked reality, I ask: what is the ultimate magic trick? Is it David Copperfield sending the Statue of Liberty into a temporary netherworld? David Blaine bending the laws of logic and physics two inches from a spectator’s nose? Jim Belushi keeping his garbage sitcom on the air for eight whole seasons?
When I was a kid, before the sombrero of skepticism had planted its weighty brim upon my cranium and killed off much of my wondrous buzz of rapturous imagination, I used to gape over the illusions that would court the most danger. Saws, swords, sickles – the puncture of flesh and the damning of imminent destruction, only to reveal that – whew! – Doug Henning’s mystical mustache and frilly mullet were safe after all. I hadn’t yet developed my appreciation of up-close street magic. To me – and I credit my mother for conveying to me this belief, even in the present – it was all magic. And like any young boy who swam in Star Wars and targeted Space Invaders with the subtle nudge of a joystick, danger was king.
The bullet catch fascinated me. Could someone snag a full-speed bullet in their hands or between their teeth without being blown to shreds? Of course the answer is no – like anything else performed by magicians, it’s not real (except for David Blaine – I’m convinced that guy is deep down the rabbit-hole of the dark arts). It’s just a magnificent magic trick. Sorry – illusion.
No article about magic is complete without a GOB shot.
The first recorded grab of a bullet from the air came courtesy of a French magician named Coullew of Lorraine, sometime in the late 16th century. Reverend Thomas Beard told the story in his book, Theatre of Judgment. This was the same tome in which he related the death of Christopher Marlowe, whom he’d dubbed the first modern atheist. In a similar moralistic twist of one who would challenge God’s laws, Reverend Beard explains how Coullew of Lorraine was ironically clubbed to death with his pistol by one of his assistants. Read more…
While an inherent nobility may lie in ‘art for art’s sake’, occasionally we should lease a dollop of contemplation for art for the sake of someone else’s art. Film posters serve the purpose of sufficiently piquing our minds (and wallets) to lure us into a theatre. But the best of the medium can take on its own artistic statement. I grew up watching the cartoonish caricatures of the Animal House and American Graffiti casts mounted on my wall, carrying on like the inhabitants of an unusually clean R. Crumb illustration. Luke Skywalker’s intense stare behind the barrel of his blaster nudged me to our Betamax almost daily for a re-airing of my childhood’s holy trilogy.
A brilliant film poster should shimmy the soul. Despite the fandom’s collective verbal vomit of scorn eventually spewed upon George Lucas’s prequel trilogy, we all let loose a squeal of unfettered anticipation when we saw the teaser poster for The Phantom Menace. A movie poster delivers more than a glamorous depiction of our favorite stars and it should do more than inspire our hunger to see the film it promotes. A great movie poster can legitimately aspire to be a piece of art in itself, much like the pinnacle of any room in the grand old house of advertising.
Alternately, it might elect to simply show Matthew McConaughey leaning against someone. He does that a lot.
Throughout the golden age of cinema, film posters were intended for theatres and no one else. Fans weren’t slapping promotional material for Chaplin’s The Kid on their living room walls, and one had to leave their homes to swoon at a life-size photo of Douglas Fairbanks. The posters were all produced by a company called the National Screen Service, and when a theatre was done with a film, the posters were to be returned along with the prints. Movies stayed in circulation for years at a stretch, so when Cleveland had had its fill of Casablanca, the posters would travel with the film reels to Pit-Scratch, Kentucky for their next run. Read more…
The secret to business success lies in making good decisions. I have no doubt that thousands of qualified individuals could offer monumentally wiser business advice than this, but in that most general, inarguable, obvious-even-to-a-schmuck-like-me way, it all comes down to decisions.
Some culture-shaping decisions were outright brilliant, like JVC and Microsoft spreading VHS and Windows around numerous manufacturers while Sony and Apple kept the Betamax and Macintosh systems to themselves, leading to one’s demise and the other’s miniscule 1990’s market share. Other business decisions, like my choice to devote at least two hours of each of my days over this thousand-day period to producing articles for free public consumption online – not so much.
That’s okay, I can live with it. So what if this project floats gratuitously among the ether, leaving no significant residue upon my personal net worth? It’s art. Art that is smattered with Cliff-Claven-esque trivia and poop jokes, so the best kind of art. And besides, as far removed from savvy fiscal acumen as I may be, at least I can pride myself on not having made the bonehead decisions these folks did.
Meet Dick. Dick was a successful producer in the 1950’s. By 1962 he was a proud A&R man (that’s ‘Artists & Repertoire’ – the guy who screens potential acts) at Decca Records in England. On a blustery New Year’s Day, Dick sat in the studio as a hopeful young quartet from Liverpool tried to dazzle him with their sound, one which had already billowed many a swoon into excitable young women (and even men) in the northern towns. Those men were John, Paul, George and Pete Best, and they proceeded to make Dick famous.
Famous for flubbery, that is. Dick Rowe told the group’s manager Brian Epstein that guitar groups were “on the way out”, and he turned them down cold. It would take a few months for the Beatles to become the biggest group in the country and years before Dick was able to scrape away all the solidified egg from his face. Read more…
For those of you who are already sick of hearing Star Wars news, I’ve got bad news for you: that incessant buzz is only going to get louder over the next 22 months. Also, what the hell is wrong with you? It’s Star Wars! My inner 8-year-old, the one who was allowed to cut school in the third grade to see Return of the Jedi at the old Westmount Theater will remain clasped between the sweaty palms of anticipation and hope until the opening swell of John Williams’ score blasts into my ears on opening night.
After that moment, it doesn’t matter. The prequel trilogy taught me that nothing is going to match the quasi-religious power those initial three films had on me as a child. And if you take out that floppy-eared Gungan and the insipid discussion of how sand gets everywhere, there’s a lot to enjoy in those prequels: the three-way lightsaber duel in Part I, watching Yoda kick some ass in Part II and the devastating Jedi slaughter in Part III for example. And J.J. Abrams has already given me the Star Trek films I always wanted to see – taffy-thick with action, thrills and explosions.
So I will line up for Episode VII tickets, and I will do so without expectation that it will bump in front of The Empire Strikes Back on my all-time list. I offer no apologies to you philistines whose eyes are straining mid-roll as I add to the noise of the pre-pre-pre-film hype. I’ve waited a long time for this.
While shooting the first film in Tunisia in 1976, George Lucas confided in Mark Hamill that he planned to shoot four trilogies. Lucas had already spliced his initial script into three movies, and had received a guarantee from 20th Century Fox that he’d get to make the two sequels for them. When Mark asked what his involvement would be in the later films, George told him he might have a cameo role as Old Luke in Episode IX, which George anticipated might shoot around 2011. Read more…
In traditional French haute-cuisine (which is defined as French food that is neither fries nor onion soup nor yellow bottled mustard), sauces are the most crucial part of the dish. If you think of your entrée as Star Wars, the sauce would be John Williams’ indelible score. French food without sauce would be like Italian food without tomatoes, Chinese food without rice, or traditional American hot dogs without anus-meat and scads of unpronounceable chemicals. It just isn’t done.
Any great tradition in gastronomy deserves a semblance of order from which the chaos of creativity may embark. The first man to attempt to reconcile the numerous sauces in which French cuisine was swimming was Marie-Antoine Carême, who was very much a male despite ‘Marie’ being his first name. Carême was a celebrity chef in the early 1800’s who concocted hundreds of liquid pleasures in which he could smother his chicken, beef, or whatever. His kitchen-mate, Dennis Leblanc, summarized Carême’s work into four primary sauces.
The Mother Sauces.
Auguste Escoffier, who rolled into food-fame a full century later, altered the list and proclaimed there to be five Mother Sauces from which all other sauces would derive. Escoffier is the architect behind what we now call French cuisine. He invented a number of dishes, from fraises à la Sarah Bernhardt (strawberries with pineapple and Curaçao sorbet, and how the hell did I just type that without drooling?) to plain ol’ Melba toast. But his epic tome, Le Guide Culinaire, left his strongest fingerprint on the edible art of French cooking – those amazing sauces.
Béchamel sauce, named for the marquis de Béchamel, is a white sauce made from a roux of butter and flour cooked in milk. Béchamel was the chief steward to Louis XIV. I don’t know what that means, though I suspect it has nothing to do with bringing him wine or grabbing him an extra pillow from the overhead compartment. It was an honorary title, as the marquis was a successful businessman and patron of the arts. In French society, having a vineyard or a province named after you was alright, but a rich creamy sauce? That’s top-tier respect, baby. Read more…
Do you recognize this man?
Probably not, but if you’re over 30 he probably had a thunderous impact on your childhood. That’s Marvin Glass, concoctor of toys, brewmaster of amusement, mixologist of mirth. Marvin Glass & Associates was a fiendishly clever company, foregoing the tedious chore of peddling their goods to every toy merchant in the land, and instead focussing on creation. License it out to Hasbro or Kenner or Milton Bradley – let them do the filthy work of shipping this crap all over the country.
Let’s just make some good crap.
And oh did they make some astoundingly bodacious crap. Toys that spurned obsessions, toys that became icons. For a few marvelous decades in the 20th century, back before every toy needed a synergetic tie-in to a movie franchise, book series or procession of idiotic movies, Marvin Glass’s goods reigned supreme.
It all started with a set of chattering teeth. Marvin’s employee, Eddy Goldfarb, came up with a concept so ludicrously simple and noisy it had to be a hit: the Yakkity-Yak Talking Teeth. This windup novelty put Marvin Glass & Associates on the map in 1949. The dentist community was finally rewarded with the desktop gimmick they’d craved for centuries. Overnight, the world was a happier and more peaceful place. Read more…
Good morning children. I know what you’re thinking – you’d rather be outside, frolicking in the gumdrop sunshine, knocking a hoop down the street with a stick or catching a picture show at the local nickelodeon, but this will only take a minute. You see, you don’t yet realize that before long your cultural choices will come to define an era. Your era. That’s right, your tastes will set the font and lighting for the legacy your generation will hoist upon the world.
And that’s a big responsibility.
Before the 20th century – so here we’re going back beyond your great-grandparents’ time – nobody kept track of generational labels. People were born, they worked in the mines or the factories or the fields, then they died of scurvy and the world moved on. ‘Cultural milestones’ were almost unheard of. But the more we became connected to one another, the more we sought to define ourselves in grand, sweeping terms. Generalizations that could redact our forefathers and eventually us and our children with the economical swipe of a single brush.
So listen up. Your future – or more importantly the way your time on earth will be judged by the rest of us – is on its way. It would serve you well to learn a little something about the crowds that swarmed these streets before you.
The Lost Generation includes everyone who kicked off from the starter’s block in the late 1800s and came of age around the time of the first World War. I don’t want to depress you kids, but every generation seems to have a war or two to pin on its chest, so you’d best start watching the news now so you’ll know who to hate when the time comes. Gertrude Stein allegedly passed the term ‘Lost Generation’ on to Ernest Hemingway – it came from an outburst by a garage owner yelling at a young mechanic who had failed to properly repair Stein’s car. It was an early exclamation of “these kids today”, something you’ll probably hear your parents grumble when they discover what fluff-pop crap you’ll listen to as a teenager. Read more…
In my lifetime I have been fortunate enough to witness the birth and subsequent collapse of a handful of markets. I watched the dot-com bubble explode from my own safe little corner of the internet (no, not only on porn sites, but thank you for thinking so highly of me). I saw the home video world puff out its chest, cough up video stores into every local strip-mall, then wheeze out the back door, leaving a debris-pile of empty retail space and stripped-bare yellow signage.
Mine was the first generation to plug in to the home video game market. I also saw it plummet into a dark, ugly void before rising from its ashes in a flutter of plumber-leaps and hedgehog spikes. But there was a period of about two years, while Mario and his Nintendo friends were still stretching their legs and warming up for the North American market, when the entire floor beneath the home console world just about collapsed.
I’m not talking about a dip in profits that forced a few executives to hold off on reupholstering their yacht couches. This was roughly a 97% dip in the market, which is more a light-the-damn-yacht-on-fire-and-collect-the-insurance-money situation. A crash the likes of which we haven’t seen since. So what the hell happened?
For those who haven’t been keeping track, we are up to the seventh generation of video game consoles, with the eighth already pulling its car into the parking lot outside and looking for a space (actually, the Wii U crashed the 8th generation party a little early). The first generation included the Magnavox Odyssey and Pong. An excessive number of clone machines that could Pong it out as well as the brand-name consoles led to the first video game crash in 1977, leaving only Atari and Magnavox in the market. Read more…
Had I planned ahead as a child and buried a time capsule to be opened when the heavy cloak of middle age officially snuffed out the last remaining candle of my youthful jubilance, I suspect I know what I’d have dropped in there. A copy of John Williams’ Star Wars score would have made the cut, as would my knock-off Tony Dorsett jersey. I’d have tossed in some Lego, my cherry-red 1983 Corvette (Hot Wheels toy, of course), some green army men, maybe a Transformer, and hopefully a bottle of pre-high-fructose-corn-syrup Coke.
There wouldn’t be a lot of surprises in that thing. That’s the problem with a lot of time capsules – they don’t separate their bury-dates and their open-dates with enough years to let the fog of forgetfulness slip in. They become kitschy, not historical.
For the real spirit of the time capsule, we’ve got to go back where it all began. Back to the Crypt of Civilization.
The idea kicked off with a guy named Thornwell Jacobs. Thornwell, or ‘Thorny’ as his friends used to call him (probably), served as a Presbyterian minister before becoming president of Oglethorpe University in Brookhaven, a suburb of Atlanta. The school had opened in 1835, but was shut down after the Civil War. Thorny is credited for having brought the institution back to life in 1915, seven years before making an expedition to uncover the lost burial place of General James Edward Oglethorpe, the school’s original founder.
Thorny had a soft spot for 18th century British officers, I guess. Read more…
In my household, my memory skills are legendary. I can pull an entire scene of dialog from Star Wars and perform it between our salt and pepper shakers, while my wife watches in awe, questioning her choice of mate. A couple months ago, my fingers successfully air-guitared the entire solo of Phillip Bailey and Phil Collins’ “Easy Lover”, despite my not having heard the song in probably twenty years. Yet at the same time, I forget my phone in the other room, forget we need to buy dog food until five minutes after the store has closed, and forget what day it is on an hourly basis.
My brain may be defective – albeit in a charming way – but for the most part, it gets me by. I know I’ll never match up to the titans who participate in the Mental Calculation World Cup. This is the Super Bowl for memory athletes, and there’s no doubting that the rigorous training and conditioning these people go through is right on par with the workout regimen of a Joe Flacco or an Ed Reed.
It hurts my brain a little just thinking about it. Fortunately – and I blame this on my becoming a 3-hour expert on a new topic every day – I’ll probably forget all about this by tomorrow.
That’s Naofumi Ogasawara, the star of the 2012 World Cup. The competition has taken place every two years since 2004, and has featured some of the most mathletic brains on the planet. The challenges posed in these games are not for the faint of mind. Ogasawara was handed ten ten-digit number additions, which he computed in 191 seconds. He won the race to calculate the square roots of ten six-digit numbers. And he also beat the rest of the pack when handed five ‘surprise’ calculation tasks. Read more…