Saturday, December 20, 2014

Director Barry Levinson Talks About Making 'The Natural'

Movie director and screenwriter Barry Levinson is in the entertainment news pages these days because he is making his debut as a musical theater writer. He is now adapting his 1982 film, Diner, into a musical play at Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre in Arlington.

Levinson's collaborators on this world-premiere musical version of Diner include Signature artistic director Eric Schaeffer and composer-lyricist Sheryl Crow, who is also writing her first score for a book musical.

In a feature by the Washington Post's Nelson Pressley, Levinson acknowledges that he's not a big fan of musicals but he's dived into the genre to create this new version of Diner for the stage.
Levinson’s been reading theatrical memoirs and marveling about great numbers written under the gun on the road, even though in his early days he met weekly deadlines as a TV writer for Marty Feldman and Carol Burnett. This was just after he studied broadcast journalism at American University and interned at a Washington TV station, working on the morning puppet show and eventually directing the evening news – just like the protagonist in “Sixty-Six.”

But he’s never been particularly crazy about musicals. He enjoyed “Book of Mormon” and laughed at “The Producers,” by his old mentor Mel Brooks – Levinson helped write “Silent Movie” and “High Anxiety” – but he rightly categorizes them as comedies first, with music. What he really admires is the sturdy melodic stuff, like “South Pacific.”

He can talk “Guys and Dolls” and “Carousel,” [director Kathleen] Marshall says, and Crow says he easily refers to everything from early rockabilly icon Eddie Cochran to “High Society.” But at the diner, he seems wary of the dark mark of the frivolous Broadway show.

“I’m not precious about the material,” he says. “But it does have to be a dramatic comedy. There are dilemmas. Shrevie and Beth don’t share common interests, and they’re desperately trying to connect. You can’t just pull that out and make it a fluffy piece.”
Last month in Charlottesville, Levinson came to the Virginia Film Festival, where he discussed the making of his 1984 baseball film, The Natural, with New York Times journalist Mike Tackett.  Over the same weekend, the director also presented his newest film, The Humbling, which features Al Pacino as a late-career actor in a panic.  The Humbling is based on a novel by Philip Roth.

Based on a novel by Bernard Malamud, Levinson's film version of The Natural starred Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs and a supporting cast that included Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Barbara Hershey, Robert Prosky, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Richard Farnsworth, and Darren McGavin (uncredited).

Here is video of that conversation, recorded at the Paramount Theater on Charlottesville's downtown mall on Sunday, November 9:


Other celebrities who spoke at the Virginia Film Festival this year included actor Richard Roundtree (Shaft) and novelist Adriana Trigiani (Big Stone Gap), as well as political scions Barry Goldwater, Jr., and Skip Humphrey.






Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sanctions: South Africa, Libya, and the Cuban Embargo

Today's announcement from Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro about progress toward normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba and the possible end of the 55-year-old embargo on trade with that island nation reminded me of a time, long ago, when I was testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee subcommittee on Africa.

The topic was sanctions against South Africa, with an aim of ending apartheid there.

I testified that sanctions were a futile gesture and never worked the way they were intended.

The subcommittee chairman, Howard Wolpe (D-Mich.) identifying me as a conservative -- I was testifying alongside Alan Keyes -- tried to trap me by asking whether I also opposed sanctions against Libya or Cuba. I said yes. He was surprised but commended me for my consistency.

Here's a clip from C-SPAN of that hearing on November 5, 1987:




Here's the entire three-and-a-half hour hearing, which includes testimony from Chester A. Crocker, Assistant Secretary, Department of State-African Affairs; Thomas Reilly Donahue, Secretary-Treasurer, AFL-CIO; Nicholas Haysom, Deputy Director, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg-Centre for Applied Legal Studies; Alan Keyes, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute; James Mndaweni, President, National Council of Trade Unions; Thokoana "James" James Motlatsi, President, South Africa-National Union of Mineworkers; Patrick J. O'Farrell, Executive Director, African-American Labor Center; Richard Sincere, Research Associate, Ethics and Public Policy Center; Damu Smith, Executive Director, Washington Office on Africa; and Peggy Taylor, DirectorAFL-CIO-Legislation.






Has It Been Ten Years Already?

Today marks the tenth anniversary of my blogging life.

Starting here on December 17, 2004, this writing platform has expanded to include Book Reviews by Rick Sincere, Where Are the Copy Editors?, Bearing Drift, and the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, with a few smaller projects along the way. The orbit of this blog includes three YouTube channels (see the sidebar to your left).

By coincidence, I produced several interesting blog posts on December 17, without making explicit reference to its being a blogoversary.

By far the most popular of these has been one from last year, headlined "Obligatory Dylan Sprouse Nude Selfie Blog Post." To date, that report on the former Disney Channel star's naked mishap and his deft handling of it has been viewed 4,723 times, which is a pretty good rate.  It's remarkable how interested people are in seeing a celebrity's genitals.

On this date in 2007, I noted that that was the ten-year anniversary of the blog itself.

Quoting Kai Ryssdal, the host of the public radio show, Marketplace, at the time:
The blog is celebrating an anniversary today. Ten years ago a guy named Jorn Barger coined the term "weblog" to describe his website Robot Wisdom. It was shortened to "blog" two years later by someobody else.

Back then only about 23 websites were properly considered blogs. These days, whether you write them or read them, blogs are a pretty common pursuit.

Estimates are that 120,000 new ones are created everyday. No word, though, on how many are actually read.

There are a lot more than 23 "weblogs" today, that's for sure.

The most-viewed post on this blog was "Snowpocalypse!," a collection of photos from the big snowstorm of December 2009 -- published, coincidentally, on December 18.

The second most popular post is an oddity: "Shirtless and Circumcised," which traces strange search terms that lead readers to this blog.

Other blogoversary posts have included "Christmas Carols: The Odd and the New," a review of the Daily Telegraph Book of Carols, also from 2009.

On December 17, 2006, I took the Washington Post ombudsman to task for sloppy writing in "Small Pool."

Two years later, I reported on the progress of the breathtaking recount in the razor-thin race between then-Congressman Virgil Goode (R-Rocky Mount) and future former Congressman Tom Perriello (D-Ivy) in "Fifth District Recount Continues."

Only once, nine years ago, in 2005, did I make an explicit commemoration of the start of my blogging in "Anniversary Waltz." In fact, for a long time, I thought my blog-start was on December 22. I had to look up the correct date as I prepared for this post!

Let's hope I have at least ten more good years of filling this space with compelling words arranged in sentences and paragraphs.

Cheers!





Saturday, December 13, 2014

12/13/14

It's December 13, 2014 or, expressed another way, it's 12/13/14.

Numerically successive dates only occur twelve times each century. The next time we'll encounter one is just over 88 years from now, on January 2, 2103 (or 1/2/3).

The other dates like this we've seen so far this century include February 3, 2004; June 7, 2008; and November 12, 2013.

People whose birthdays fall on these unusual dates include gangster Pretty Boy Floyd (February 3, 1904), American football player Weeb Ewbank (May 6, 1907), actress and singer Betty Noyes (October 11, 1912), Brazilian nurse Ana NĂ©ri (December 13, 1814), and English historian Alan Bullock (December 13, 1914).

Notable deaths that happened on these dates include those of French painter Jean-Baptiste Greuze (March 4, 1805), Italian general Nicola Calipari (March 4, 2005), singer-songwriter Gene Pitney (April 5, 2006), actor-director-screenwriter Curtis Harrington (May 6, 2007), sportscaster Jim McKay (June 7, 2008), Chinese martial artist Huo Yuanjia (August 9, 1910), Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (August 9, 2010), Oscar-winning actor Cliff Robertson (September 10, 2011), French singer Frank Alamo (October 11, 2012), Polish astronomer Konrad Rudnicki and English composer John Tavener (both November 12, 2013), and Charles-Joseph, 7th Prince of Ligne (December 13, 1814).

On July 8, 1709, Tsar Peter I of Russia defeated King Charles XII of Sweden at the Battle of Poltava. Ninety-nine years earlier, on August 9, 1610, the first Anglo-Powhatan War began in colonial Virginia, while on the same date in 1810, the Emperor Napoleon annexed Westphalia. On October 11, 1912, The Greek army liberated the city of Kozani during the first Balkan War.

Meanwhile, today is celebrated as Acadian Remembrance Day, Republic Day in Malta, and the Christian feast of St. Lucy (commemorated in Scandinavia and Italy), and the national independence day of St. Lucia in the Caribbean.




Friday, December 05, 2014

'Bootleggers and Baptists': An Interview with Adam Smith

Over on Book Reviews by Rick Sincere is a recent interview with economist Adam Smith of Johnson & Wales University.

Smith is the coauthor, with his grandfather Bruce Yandle, of Bootleggers & Baptists: How Economic Forces and Moral Persuasion Interact to Shape Regulatory Politics, which was published by the Cato Institute in September.

The two authors gave a presentation about their book at Cato in October. Afterward, I spoke to Smith about the book and its title. Here is an excerpt:

Smith explained that the term “bootleggers and Baptists” originated during alcohol Prohibition in the 1920s, when “you had bootleggers and Baptists with aligned interests” even if they did not realize it.

Baptists, he explained, proclaimed “Down with legalized distribution of alcohol!” because they saw drinking as morally detrimental. Bootleggers, too, proclaimed “Down with legalized distribution of alcohol!” because Prohibition raised the price of illegal liquor and fed more profits to the bootleggers.

“It was a boon to the bootleggers,” Smith explained, “and the Baptists were kind of oblivious to that situation.”

Broadening the concept to include other kinds of regulations, Smith said, “what we see today in our modern political economy [are] many, many manifestations of the same kinds of strange bedfellows.”

More and more, he said, “we're seeing that those bedfellows are recognizing one another and coming together to form even more powerful would-be bootlegger/Baptist coalitions.”

There is also a relationship between “bootleggers and Baptists” and “crony capitalism,” when government grants preferential treatment to certain, well-connected businesses.

Smith said that, in the book “we call it 'bootlegger/Baptist' capitalism instead of crony capitalism.”
Read the whole thing here.





Thursday, December 04, 2014

Shaft: Richard Roundtree at the Virginia Film Festival

Richard Roundtree at UVA
After a screening of the 1971 Gordon Parks film, Shaft, at the 2014 Virginia Film Festival, actor Richard Roundtree (who created the role of detective John Shaft) was interviewed by University of Virginia historian John Mason, who also fielded questions for Roundtree from the audience.

Although Roundtree is rightly associated with Shaft -- he also starred in the sequels Shaft's Big Score and Shaft in Africa, as well as a TV series of the same name -- his TV credits include Roots, A Different World, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and Desperate Housewives, while his film roles have included turns in Earthquake, Killpoint, Se7en (with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman), and Young Warriors, among others.

For those unfamiliar with the film -- which has been unfairly included as part of the 1970s' "Blaxploitation" genre -- one of the synopses on IMDB explains:
Private detective John Shaft is hired by Harlem mobster Bumpy Jonas to find his kidnapped daughter. Bumpy has no idea who might have taken her but isn't as forthcoming as he could be about his situation. When his first lead peters out - he thought it might be Black power advocates who took the girl - he acts on information from NYPD Lt. Vic Androzzi that outside mobsters are in town and might be trying to take over various illegal businesses in Harlem.
This conversation took place in UVA's Culbreth Theater on the opening night of this year's Virginia Film Festival, coincident with the November 6 world premiere of Big Stone Gap at the Paramount Theater downtown. 

The screening and ensuing discussion also coincided with an exhibition of Gordon Parks photographs at the University of Virginia's Fralin Museum of Art, which Mason and Roundtree viewed earlier in the day.


Roundtree talked about making the film in a wintry New York, the value of the film's music score (by Isaac Hayes, who won an Academy Award for the theme song), and advice for young actors getting their start in show business.

Sadly, my camera's battery died about five minutes before the discussion ended, but the bulk of it is preserved in this 35 minute video clip.