Saturday, May 23, 2015

Recent Articles on Bernie Sanders, Rick Santorum, & chickens

It has been quite some time since I provided a round-up of my recent interviews and articles on  So why not now?

Here, in reverse chronological order, are the pieces I have written since October 2014, with brief excerpts from each:

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders stumps for support in Charlottesville (May 13, 2015)

White House hopeful Bernie Sanders spoke to an enthusiastic audience in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Monday, May 11, laying out his policy vision and contrasting it directly with that of the Republican Congress and indirectly to that of his opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Sanders delivered his remarks to an overflow crowd at Trinity Episcopal Church, whose sanctuary has chairs for just 100 people. Another 175 or so squeezed into a basement room and the narthex....

In what is likely to become his standard stump speech, self-defined Socialist Sanders addressed a range of issues that were only related to the budget in the sense that they are items the government spends money on, such as free college tuition for students in public institutions and a multi-trillion dollar program to improve transportation infrastructure. He decried the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case and proposed public financing for federal election campaigns.
That article about Senator Sanders' visit to Charlottesville also included this video:

Poultry industry is trade-talk pawn of South African government, says analyst
(May 5, 2015)
After a presentation about South Africa's economy at the Cato Institute in Washington on May 4, the CEO of the South African Institute of Race Relations, Frans Cronje, suggested that this “playing chicken (literally)” represents a significant and troubling trend within South Africa's policy making circles.

In an interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, Cronje -- author of A Time Traveller's Guide to Our Next Ten Years (2014) -- explained that “South Africa is recording a trade deficit with every major region and country in the world except the United States and non-energy Africa, and that's only because of the generosity of AGOA.”

In the AGOA negotiations, he said, what we saw “was the chicken producers being used as a pawn by South Africa's Department of Trade and Industry.”

Think-tank head Jason Grumet reacts to Obama's mandatory voting idea
(March 19, 2015)
Grumet described his 2014 book, City of Rivals: Restoring the Glorious Mess of American Democracy, and, in a post-panel interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, he reacted to the president's idea of making voting mandatory, under the threat of punishment, for American citizens.

“There's a constitutional issue,” he said.

Compulsory voting, he explained, is “more of an aspiration than a practical solution. Like everything, there are pros and cons.”

Grumet conceded that “it would be terrific to have greater participation in a participatory democracy” but he pointed to problems in the country identified by President Obama as a potential model.

In Australia, he said, experience has shown that “the downside is a lot of people are essentially forced to vote who have no desire to participate in the process, no information about the process, and so there's a question about whether you dilute the quality of the voter pool.”

Former Senator Rick Santorum says homosexuals deserve protection (March 8, 2015)
First, Santorum, who is well known for his socially conservative positions with regard to gay rights, was asked whether it is appropriate for the U.S. Department of State to defend the rights of homosexuals in foreign countries where their lives might be threatened by anti-gay governments.

“We have to defend human rights everywhere,” Santorum replied. “If someone's life is threatened because of race, sexual orientation, or other [reasons], I think we have an obligation to stand up and defend that human right. I don't have a problem at all, if people's lives are in jeopardy, then we have an obligation to protect all people and their freedoms.”
That article also included this video of a press gaggle with Rick Santorum at CPAC:

Lamar Alexander honored for his work promoting civics, history education (March 5, 2015)
Alexander recalled that the subject of his maiden speech on the floor of the United States Senate “was the importance of teaching U.S. history in our schools so our children could grow up knowing what it means to be an American.” He noted that the lowest test scores for high school seniors “are not in math or science. They're in United States history.”

He conceded that “there's not much the federal government ought to try to do about that in local schools” because that kind of involvement at the local level is “not a very good Republican, federalist idea.”

He explained that he was inspired to sponsor congressional and presidential academies for school teachers, one from each state, to learn more about American history and how to teach it better.

Conservative icon Stan Evans dies at 80; remembered as 'present at the creation' (March 3, 2015)
Noting that Evans had been “present at the creation” of the conservative movement, he replied to a question about whether the movement today is more disputatious than in the past, or if it is in an unprecedented crisis.

“Other times were infinitely worse,” he said, “because we didn't have the resources or the positions of strength we have now,” noting the low point of the movement may have been the 1964 presidential and congressional elections, when Barry Goldwater lost to Lyndon Johnson in a landslide and the Democrats won their largest majority in Congress since the 1930s.

In contrast to those years in the wilderness, Evans explained, 50 year later “we have a Speaker of the House, a Republican majority in the House. There are 30 Republican governors. We have 24 states that have one-party rule, governor and the legislature of the same party, all Republican,” compared to just 12 states controlled by Democrats.

“The list goes on,” he continued, but cautioned that “we're not using the position of strength we have. We're not fighting hard enough.”

African ambassador calls for 'peace, love, and understanding' in D.C. speech (February 22, 2015)
Referring to Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker's 2012 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Ambassador Moussa-Adamo noted that “we live in the most peaceful era of human history. Not only are there fewer wars now than there were even in the recent, 20th-century past, but there are fewer violent crimes such as assault and murder.”

He added that this is true not only in the industrialized, Western democracies like Europe and North America, but also in so-called developing countries of Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Nonetheless, he said, statistics that say violence is reduced to record low levels is small comfort to the victim of terrorism or sexual assault.

Virginia General Assembly passes bipartisan bills to legalize industrial hemp
(February 12, 2015)

“The United States is the largest consumer of hemp products in the world,” says Virginia libertarian activist Nicholas Cote, “but it is the only industrialized country that prohibits farmers from growing hemp.”

Despite this, Cote is optimistic that change is on the horizon. Last week, both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly approved bills to allow the licensed cultivation of industrial hemp, following the lead of legislatures in Kentucky and North Dakota. The bill in the House of Delegates (HB 1277), sponsored by Del. Joseph Yost (R-Blacksburg), passed on a vote of 98-0. The Senate bill (SB 955)sponsored by state Senator Roz Dance (D-Petersburg), passed on a vote of 32-5.

In a recent interview, Cote -- who heads up the advocacy group, Right Way Forward Virginia -- told the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner that the bipartisan nature of the support for these bills is heartening, but he is disappointed that Virginia's congressional delegation has not stepped up to the plate.

Index of Economic Freedom shows global progress for 2015, while USA loses ground (February 2, 2015)
Florance noted that people are surprised to find out that the United States is not in the “free” category, and does not even have one of the ten most free economies in the world.

“The United States is actually twelfth,” she said, “in the mostly free category and it falls behind countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Chile, Canada, and even a very small African country, Mauritius.”

That last country, she explained, is “an island but still part of sub-Saharan Africa and it is actually ranked tenth – so a very tiny economy is actually ranked more free than the United States.”

In the past two decades, according to the annual Index of Economic Freedom, the world as a whole has become increasingly free. The United States is something of an exception in that it has become less free.

Top 10 most-read Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner stories of 2014
(December 31, 2014)

Interviews with the three U.S. Senate candidates – Republican Ed Gillespie, Libertarian Robert Sarvis, and Democrat Mark Warner, who narrowly won re-election in November – were among the top ten, as well as an assessment of David Brat's surprise victory over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Republican primary. Early in the year, conservative activist Grover Norquist correctly predicted that the GOP would gain control of the Senate.

Gay marriage, Governor Bob McDonnell's indictment on federal corruption charges, podcaster Adam Koresh's views on NSA spying, and the self-defense products sold by entrepreneur Paul Jones rounded out the top ten most-read stories by the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner.

Barry Goldwater 'absolutely' was a libertarian, his son explains (December 30, 2014)
Goldwater, who represented California in Congress from 1969 to 1983, explained that his father remained an icon of the Republican Party despite differing from social conservatives on contentious issues.

In the senior Goldwater's view (and his son's, too), “whether you're gay or a lesbian is a personal thing. It's no business of the government. And abortion, a woman who is carrying this baby – that's her decision, not the government's,” said Barry, Jr. “He was pretty consistent with his libertarian and conservative views when it came to such things as social issues.”

Cato Institute panel discusses obscure but pivotal gay civil rights case (November 24, 2014)
Although these events took place decades ago, Rauch said, “this is not ancient history. The principle is alive today.” Linsky noted that the current work of the Mattachine Society of Washington is a “testament to history itself,” because it is “giving voice to individuals who couldn't stand up for themselves.”

Noting the progress over the past several decades – including legal gay marriage in the majority of states, the end to the gay military ban, and other legal achievements – Rauch said that ONE Inc. v. Olesen is “the most important civil rights case we've ever had” as gay people and it put gay men and lesbians “on the path to freedom,” because it provided the legal foundation to talk about ideas and to “transmit those ideas at a great personal risk.”

After a series of questions and answers with the audience, moderator Walter Olson noted the importance of the discussion, which has broader applications than simply gay Americans. It demonstrated, he said, how “freedom of expression” assists the liberation of “historically marginalized groups” and their individual members and that, ultimately, suppression of speech and the press harms those groups by depriving them of their capacity to argue for their own dignity and civil rights.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe touts Virginia film industry at Charlottesville movie fest
(November 6, 2014)

Big Stone Gap was filmed entirely in its namesake Virginia mountain town and stars Jenna Elfman, Jasmine Guy, Ashley Judd, and Patrick Wilson. All four actors and Trigiani spoke at a press conference at the Paramount Theater prior to the film's screening, and Governor McAuliffe made a surprise appearance as it ended.

McAuliffe took that opportunity to boast about Virginia's film industry and the economic benefits it generates.

“We are so excited about our film industry,” he said, pointing to figures from 2012 that indicate there was “about $380 million of economic activity here in the Commonwealth,” creating 3,000 jobs.

Virginia Senate hopeful Robert Sarvis talks about U.S. policy toward Africa
(November 1, 2014)

The role of African countries as transit ports in the international illicit drug trade is something that also concerns Sarvis, and he has a solution for it.

“Our drug war has undermined the rule of law and civil society in Latin America,” he noted. “That's also happening in Africa. It's also undermined our efforts in Afghanistan over the past decade.”

Whether in Africa or elsewhere, he explained, “the problem is our war on drugs and anything that we can do to move away from our prohibitionist mentality is going to undermine the violent gangs and organized criminal enterprises that we created” through current drug policy dating back several decades.

Sarvis said that legalizing marijuana in just two states, Colorado and Washington, has already had an adverse effect on drug cartels operating in Mexico.

“We can have beneficial effects around the world by changing our policy at home on drugs,” he asserted.

Monique Luiz, 'Daisy Girl' from controversial 1964 campaign ad, speaks at UVA (October 15, 2014)
For more than four decades, Luiz did not acknowledge that she was the girl in the ad. In 2009, however, she discovered that another woman was claiming to be her and was trying to capitalize on the TV spot's notoriety. Luiz came forward with documentation that she was the authentic “Daisy Girl” and subsequently was interviewed by Mann for his book, which is how she came to appear at UVA this week.

When she auditioned for the part, neither she nor her parents knew that DDB was making a political ad. She stood out among the many little girls who tried out because of her red hair, and also because her father was persistent.

“I think it was my father who sold them” on the idea “that I could do it,” she recalled. “He pretty much said, 'I can't guarantee anything but she'll try.'”

Economist Adam Smith looks at the 'Bootleggers & Baptists' phenomenon (October 14, 2014)
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.”
A full, reverse-chronological listing of Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner articles can be found here.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Guest Post: Will Hammer on 'Judicial and Police Reform'

(Will Hammer is a candidate for the Virginia General Assembly. He submitted this opinion piece as a guest post to Rick Sincere News & Thoughts.)


Judicial and Police Reform Needed
by Will Hammer

The recent appalling incident that left UVA honor student Martese Johnson bloodied and arrested is yet another example of the apparent increase of excessive force used by police across the country. Unfortunately, this incident is nothing new as police brutality, especially against minorities, has been a widespread problem in this country for a very long time. Technology has just allowed for this issue to come to light, allowing anyone to record high definition video at anytime and anywhere with their phones.

Will Hammer (left) with Robert Sarvis in Buena Vista, September 2014
The news has been peppered with similar incidents over the last year, luckily this one did not end fatally unlike many of the others. While there are discrepancies with what happened leading up to the Michael Brown incident, there is no doubt that the Eric Garner tragedy was unjustified. Technology allowed us to see that Eric Garner did not aggress against the police officers who would go on to put him into a chokehold, resulting in Garner’s death. A good Samaritan filmed the altercation, preventing Eric Garner from becoming just another statistic.

Though film evidence is not available, it appears that Martese did nothing to warrant the excessive force that was used against him. He was not intoxicated nor did he present a fake ID, though, even if he did, that still would not warrant the actions of the ABC police. With that thought in mind, it makes me wonder why a regulatory agency even has law enforcement officers to begin with.

Incidents like this, and the numerous police brutality videos found online, hurt public trust in the police. Law abiding citizens feel anxious and nervous around police officers, worrying if they are unknowingly doing something that would warrant the police officer to ticket or arrest them. Last year I was pulled over for speeding. I was doing 37 in a 35 that just turned into a 25 when the police officer coming the other way flashed his lights. The police officer approached my car with his hand on his gun and kept it there the whole time, barely showing his face by leaning forward. I had my hands on the steering wheel, showed no aggression or agitation. Why was I treated like a criminal? It has become the norm and it’s abhorrent. People of all social backgrounds, ethnicities, sex, and age get the same treatment. There seems to be more and more insulation between law enforcement and the communities; the mantra “to serve and protect”, has become “to fine and arrest”.

So how do we bridge the disconnect between law enforcement and the community? We need judicial and police reform. There needs to be more transparency, less victimless crimes and finable offenses, and better training.

To create more transparency, we must take several steps. First, we need legislation requiring all law enforcement agents to wear body cameras as well as heavy penalties if the cameras, memory cards, or video are tampered. Second, internal affairs is a conflict of interest because they are not an independent department. We need to have an independent organization where citizens can report incidents involving police. Also, there needs to be legislation requiring police officers to file a ‘use of force incident report’ for every matter that requires any force, not just the use of their firearm.

It is said that the average citizen commits 3 felonies daily on average in the US. This statistic is appalling and just shows how ridiculous and numerous laws have become. About ½ of the prison population stems from victimless crimes. Peaceful citizens get locked up for longer sentences than child molesters. It is clear the system is broken. Legalization of marijuana will greatly reduce the military aspect of police, reduce spending, and reduce crime rates. Look at Colorado and the success they have had with legalization. Violent crime is down, more tax money goes to schools; it’s been a huge success.

Finally, police need to be trained and acclimated into their communities. The police officer who pulled me over seemed scared, as if he was waiting for me to attack. Police officers need to be trained to not assume everyone is a violent criminal and to not rush to use their firearms. Police need to be able to protect themselves, obviously, but not to the point where it makes everyone feel like a criminal or in danger from the officer.

In conclusion, there is a rampant issue across the US of excessive force being used by law enforcement and it disproportionately affects black males. This is not a new issue, but rather a problem that has been going unchecked and expanding for decades if not for a century. Apart from that, we have a system where just about every citizen is committing crimes. The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world because of this, about half being non-violent. We need serious judicial and police reform to bring about transparency, less victimless crimes and finable offenses, and better training for law enforcement to protect and serve, not fine and arrest.

* * * * * *

Will Hammer is a resident of Staunton. He ran for US Congress last year and is currently seeking the Libertarian Party nomination to run against Dickie Bell for the VA House of Delegates, 20th District.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

America Asks: When Does Daylight Saving Time Begin?

In the spirit of my February 2014 post, "America asks: What time is the Super Bowl?," today I help Americans who inquire about the start of Daylight Saving Time.

The answer, according to iDigital Times:

The spring Daylight Saving Time change in the United States begins on the 2nd Sunday in March. This year, that date is Sunday, March 8, 2015 at 2 am. Therefore, Americans in most of the 50 states should prepare spring forward, setting their clocks forward one hour at 2 am on Sunday, March 8, 2015
For the answer to a different form of the question -- when did Daylight Saving Time begin? -- let's turn to Backstory with the History Guys (Ed Ayers, Brian Balogh, and Peter Onuf). In an episode of the radio program rerun this weekend to coincide with the onset of Daylight Saving Time, they discuss the origins of the concept, by Ben Franklin in Paris:
BRIAN: That’s exactly right. I mean where did daylight savings time come from in the first place? I mean I don’t think it was around back in my time, where we were in perfect synchronicity with the world around us. So why did you guys invent this?

ED: Well, I think we’ve got to throw that to Peter because we know who came up with the idea for daylight savings time.

PETER: Well, it was that visionary Ben Franklin. He was all over daylight savings time.

In 1784, in the Journal of Paris, he was writing about well, the way they kept their time in Paris. And what they did is to sleep all morning because they were up all night. And Franklin did one of these calculations, a characteristic Enlightenment thing. And he’d count the number of candles that had to burn to sustain this misuse of daylight. And it would be an immense savings to the French people.

And they were going into debt at this period, badly into debt. And it led to the French Revolution. So no French Revolution, if they had had daylight savings time.

ED: And they might not have sold Louisiana to us if they wouldn’t had to pay for those candles.

PETER: Absolutely.
... and the origin of the practice, in the early 20th century:
ED: Franklin was the first to admit that he didn’t have the means to implement daylight savings time. So Karin, let’s put it Ed out of his misery. Daylight savings time in the United States started in 1918.

And there’s one thing that consistently in the 20th century got the whole country to go on daylight savings time and that was war. It was actually the Germans who first started daylight savings time in 1916.

BRIAN: So if we were going to fight, then we had to be on the same streets.

ED: Exactly.

PETER: Because you show at a battle and they wouldn’t be there.

ED: Well quite literally, the British did go on daylight savings time, a month later or very shortly after. The real point, Karin, is that Germany, Britain, the United States, go on daylight savings time because we can save energy. It was all about well, where are we spending most of our money on energy? And a lot of it was being spent on lighting when daylight savings time was first introduced and even during World War II.

Then we have this thing called air conditioning that comes along. So that when Richard Nixon, at the height of the energy crisis in the early 1970s, calls for extended daylight savings time, it’s not so clear that we’re really saving that much energy because people have started air conditioning their homes. They come home after work and if they’re in Dallas or Houston or Jacksonville, they turn on the air. And that uses a lot of energy.
When I was younger, Daylight Saving Time began in April and ended in October, so it was about (or a bit less than) half the year. Now it begins in March and ends in November, so Daylight Saving Time actually makes up a greater part of the year than Standard Time. By that standard, so to speak, shouldn't the period of the year now known as Daylight Saving Time be called "Standard Time" and what's now called "Standard Time" be called "Winter Time"?

We'll have an extra hour to think about it next fall.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Robin Williams remembered by 'Dead Poets Society' producer, screenwriter

According to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, actor-comedian Robin Williams' suicide last summer prompted the largest number of Google searches during 2014. It was also one of the top-ten topics on Facebook.*

The tragic and untimely passing of Robin Williams in August made for the most Googled term of the year. The actor’s name ranked No. 1 on Google’s most searched list of 2014. Last week, Facebook released data around the most-talked about topics on the social-networking platform, and Williams ranked No. 4. Needless to say, this moment was one of the biggest of the year.
This year also marked the 25th anniversary of the release of Dead Poets Society, the 1989 film that brought Robin Williams his second Oscar nomination for best actor in a leading role. (He later won an Academy Award for best supporting actor for 1997's Good Will Hunting.)  Dead Poets Society also earned Williams a Golden Globe nomination for acting.

To commemorate the movie's quarter-century and to pay tribute to Williams, the Virginia Film Festival screened the film and brought its screenwriter, Tom Schulman, and one of its producers, Paul Junger Witt, to Charlottesville to participate in a conversation about the making of Dead Poets Society. The discussion was moderated by film and stage director Mitch Levine, president of the Film Festival Group.

In addition to Dead Poets Society, for which he received an Academy Award, Tom Schulman's screenplays include Honey I Shrunk the Kids (with Rick Moranis, 1989), Medicine Man (with Sean Connery, 1992), and Welcome to Mooseport (with Ray Romano and Gene Hackman, 2004). His producing credits include Indecent Proposal (with Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson, 1993) and Me, Myself, and Irene (with Jim Carrey, 2000), and he directed 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag (with Joe Pesci, 1997).

Paul Junger Witt has produced more than 60 movies and TV shows, ranging from 1960s TV series like Occasional Wife, The Second Hundred Years, and Here Come the Brides to The Partridge Family and Soap in the 1970s (a decade in which he also produced the award-winning TV movie, Brian's Song with James Caan and Billy Dee Williams) to Benson, The Golden Girls, Empty Nest, and Blossom in the 1980s.

Levine, Schulman, and Witt discussed Dead Poets Society and related topics on Sunday, November 9, the closing night of the 2014 Virginia Film Festival at the Culbreth Theater on the grounds of the University of Virginia.

Paul Junger Witt at the Virginia Film Festival
Asked by Levine whether Robin Williams was the first choice to play John Keating, the unconventional English teacher at a boys' boarding school in 1959 New England, both Schulman and Witt nodded their affirmation.

Director Peter Weir, Witt said, “got a performance from Robin that we hadn't seen before.” For the younger cast members (including Robert Sean Leonard, Josh Charles, and Ethan Hawke), “most of whom were green, were inexperienced, Robin actually became that figure [of an inspiring teacher] because he was so generous and so patient with the kids and kept them so loose and kept them laughing and inspired. They adored him, much the same way, as characters, they adored their teacher.”

Before Dead Poets Society, he noted, Williams “had done a couple of turns as a serious actor and he had an energy that we believed audiences would find believable in terms of a teacher who is inspiring.”

Schulman added that “we encouraged Robin to bring as much of himself as he could to the part. Dinging the bell and things like that, that's Robin, his comedy.”

Levine suggested that what he finds “remarkable” about Williams' performance as John Keating “is that he doesn't do – forgive me – the 'Robin Williams shtick,' with the performance. It's so subtle and so nuanced that even when he's imitating Marlon Brando, it's with reason and truth and intent and complete believability. For those who, at that moment, only knew him from the funny stuff, it's a remarkable tribute to him as part of this collaboration.”

Schulman agreed: “It seemed to me the essence of his character was to reach these boys and Robin gave of himself in that way. You can feel the connection.”

Witt agreed, as well: “And they adored him. If any of them could have made it this evening, they would have. Most of them are working, which speaks to how well it was cast. They just adored him.”

Recalling Williams' unexpected passing last August, Levine said that “one thing I was particularly struck with when we learned of his death was [the] outpouring of public and private mourning and grief for a man who was a public figure and not part people's lives in an immediate way, for most of us – yet people grieved as if they lost one of their own. I think, for me at any rate, he was so lacking in guile. That's so rare. There wasn't an evil molecule in him and for him to offer a performance like this” in Dead Poets Society, “it's for the ages, and we have it for the ages, which is a fact.”

Witt added that he had worked on a second film with Williams, the Christopher Nolan-directed Insomnia, which also featured Al Pacino.

“It was a tough shoot,” he said. Pacino's acting style “is very different than Robin's but they blended perfectly and Robin kept, as he could, the entire set loose. He even managed to make Al smile a couple of times. He was just an extraordinary talent and a really good guy.”

On the set of Dead Poets Society, Schulman recalled, “As soon as you'd call cut, he would start doing his thing and at a certain point you'd just have to send him away because you couldn't get any work done.”

Witt also remembered how one of the key shots in the film had to be done on the morning of New Year's Day, because the weather conditions were just what were needed.

“We couldn't take a break between Christmas and New Year's,” he said. “We had the school [St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Delaware] and we could use it completely because the students were home” for the holidays.

“There was one shot that Peter had planned but there was never enough snow” to do it, he continued.

On New Year's morning, “after an evening of debauchery, the crew came together with [cinematographer John Seale] and they went out and got this one extraordinary shot and gave it to the director as a gift because it was on their own time, on a holiday, [with] no charges to the production because it would have been triple [time] or whatever.”

That was the shot in the snow when the students have learned about their classmate's suicide.

At Levine's request – because it was a show he grew up with – Witt talked a bit about his experience producing The Partridge Family, the 1970-74 ABC-TV sitcom about a musical family led by mom Shirley Jones and featuring David Cassidy, Susan Dey, Danny Bonaduce, and Dave Madden.

“I wish I could tell you a happy story,” Witt replied. “It was a kind of a nightmare. The business can, – and especially a series – can be very hard on kids. I did the pilot and the first year and I walked away from a hit because of what I was seeing and could not stop. I was never sorry. I never again did a series that featured kids that young. And we chose the kids, the children we worked with very, very, very carefully in areas beyond their talent. It's tough and that show was painful for me in that respect.”

Screenwriter Tom Schulman
An audience member noted that “Robin Williams humor seems so organic,” almost like rock and roll. “Did he seem to suppress it during filming?”

Schulman said no, he didn't.

“In fact, I remember the first day Robin showed up for a shot. He was going to be there for a day and he was going to go to New York for two weeks to be in a play. And he seemed almost too on-book, so literal in the way he was delivering the lines that it worried me. I wanted more of Robin's humor and Peter [Weir] agreed and said, 'Well, we've got two weeks to think about it.'”

When Williams came back to the set, the director “did an improv with Robin. He said, 'What would you like to teach the class? A little Shakespeare, maybe read to them?'”

Weir told Williams he would shoot the improvs, just to see what happened.

“And Robin came in and did that improv, he did the John Wayne thing, he did a reading from that book, and something connected. Robin realized, 'Even though I'm doing all the talking, it's a dialogue, I'm getting something from these kids.' It changed his performance right away and from that day on, Peter never said another word about Robin's performance. Robin just got it. Peter called him 'Robin Keating' – Robin and the character became the same guy. It felt to me that whatever wacky humor Robin used, say on Mork & Mindy or in his improv, he never used that” during the filming of Dead Poets Society. “It was all blended into the teaching” of the character, John Keating.

The entire conversation among Mitch Levine, Tom Schulman, and Paul Junger Witt can be seen on this YouTube video.

*For what it's worth, here's the entire top-ten Google search list for 2014:

1. Robin Williams
2. World Cup
3. Ebola
4. Malaysia Airlines
5. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
6. Flappy Bird
7. Conchita Wurst
9. Frozen
10. Sochi Olympics

I have no idea who or what “Conchita Wurst” is, and I imagine a lot of people asking “What is Flappy Bird?”

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.