Category Archives: Film

How Roman Polanski got us kicked off a jury


UPDATE: We removed a couple of identifiers from the case from which we were excluded to preclude just the problem that lies at the heart of the story.

Not that we wanted to be kicked off, exactly.

In all of our nearly seven decades of life, we’ve never had the opportunity of serving on a jury, so when we received a summons and drove down to the local County Superior Court Tuesday morning for the first phase of jury selection, we found ourselves in a panel selected for voir dire in a criminal case.

Good, we thought. Having spent so many years reporting on the criminal justice, we were finally getting the opportunity to see its workings from the inside, in the very heart of the process, the secret deliberations with a group of fellow citizens which would decide both the fate of the defendant and, to some degree, the credibility of those who had brought him or her before the bar of justice.

Besides, we’ve been having a record heat wave for May, and welcomed the chance to spend a few days in an air-conditioned courtroom rather than our own non-air-conditioned little home.

We filed into the courtroom, filing every seat in the spectator’s section and the jury box as well and after the swearing in, the judge explained the basics of the case.

The defendant, it seems, was a man charged with raping by threat of force his own niece while she was 12 and 13 years old. There were other charges as well, including forcible oral copulation.

Before midday we went sent hope and told to return today for questioning to determine our suitability to sit in judgment.

It was last night when then sobering thought occurred that during the questioning process — something we were very familiar with, having observed it as a reporter on a dozen or so occasions — might provoke some answers that could prove inflammatory or prejudicial.

That’s because we had testified in a case involving a very famous suspect who had been facing some of the same charges before the victim refused to cooperate with the prosecution and testify, leaving the defendant to plead to lesser offense, so-called statutory rape of a 13-year-old.

People v Roman Raymonnd Polanski

The defendant was Roman Polanski, and during the course of the legal proceedings, we were summoned to the witness stand to refute a story by a German reporter claiming that Polanski had violated the terms of a pre-trial agreement that had allowed him to travel abroad to finish arrangements for a film he was scheduled to direct for Dino DiLaurentiis [who also testified, along with Bill Farr, a reporter for the Los Angles Times who had previously and famously done jail time rather than testify as to the source of a leak in another famous case, that of Charles Manson].

Our testimony at the time [1977] was widely reported, resulting in [among other things] a call from an ex-wife who had seen us on the evening news as we left the courtroom [cameras were allowed in California courts at the time].

Our role in the Polanski case resurfaced in 2008, with the release of the documentary Roman Polanski, Wanted and Desired by Marina Zenovich, a film in which we are prominently featured, providing both background on the case as well as direct evidence of misconduct by Judge Laurence J. Rittenband, who had called us into his chambers, complained that wives of his friends from the exclusive Hillcrest Country Club [the center of his social life] were complaining about the terms of the plea bargain. And then he dropped the bombshell: “Dick – tell me. What the hell should I do with Polanski ?”

Judges are supposed to reached decision based on facts produced through the legal process, statutes, and case law. One thing judges are barred from doing by the canons of their own profession is to seek advice from reporters on sentencing and disposition.

We threw up our hands, and said “Whoa, judge, that’s your decision,” earning a scowl and a curt dismissal.

We was only able to tell the story because the judge had died a dozen years earlier, releasing me from an agreement never to reveal anything we discussed in his chambers as long as he lived.

After we had learned of Rittenband’s death a few years before we were interviewed for the film, we had contacted Polanski’s attorney to recount the story and sent along an affidavit of the account, declaring its veracity under penalty of perjury. We were told we might be called to testify, because the director hoped to return tot he U.S. at some point to lay the matter to rest.

Polanski had spent time in a state prison undergoing testing to determine in he was a mentally disordered sex offender, a legal label that would have haunted him for life. But the prison psychiatrist and the Los Angeles County Probation Officer assigned to the case agreed that Polanski should serve no more time. . .but there were those darn wives at the Hillcrest, leading to the judge’s gross violation of judicial ethics and, perhaps of more serious statutes.

[For more about the case itself and our role in it, as well as the judge’s mob ties, see our previous posts.]

Back to Judge Hashimoto’s courtroom

The release of the documentary resulted in newspaper and magazine articles as well as reports in online media, both in the U.S. and abroad, in which we were mentioned, sometimes prominently, and they’re appear if any jury happened to Google “Richard Brenneman” and “Polanski”.

And so it was last night as we were about to drift off into sleep that we suddenly realized that questioning in front of our fellow would-be jurors might evoked the notorious words “Roman Polanski,” a named which has been harshly treated in stories often poorly written and riotously inaccurate accounts both in print and online [just search for “Polanski” and “rapist” and see what sort of bilge washes up].

Just the mention of his name, much less a detailed account of our own role in the case, might inflame the jury, we decided and prejudice them against the defendant, who was already facing highly inflammatory charges.

And so this morning, we interrupted the court clerk, who then instructed us to fill out a sheet of paper outlining just why we felt we had information important for the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney to know.

After an initial round of questioning of some of our fellow jurors, everyone but esnl was instructed to leave the courtroom. After they’d departed, the judge summarized the contents of my note [which mentioned that the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, European newspapers, and other media had covered our role the case as revealed in the film just as they had reported on our testimony three decades earlier.

We acknowledged that, indeed, such were the facts.

The judge then announced that he and the lawyers all agreed that I shouldn’t sit on the jury.

The defense attorney smiled as we left.

And so here we are, sent home to enjoy the heat because of Roman Polanski.

Ain’t it a kick in the pants?

Headlines of the day: Classes, deep politics, more


First, a stunning landmark is reached. From the New York Times:

The American Middle Class Is No Longer the World’s Richest

The American middle class, long the most affluent in the world, has lost that distinction.

While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, a New York Times analysis shows that across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades.

After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans.

On of the key mechanisms of the collapse of the middle class from Mother Jones:

How Taxpayers Subsidize the Multi-Million Dollar Salaries of Restaurant CEOs

  • Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz raked in $236 million in taxpayer-subsidized compensation over the past two years.

As the fight to raise the minimum wage has gained momentum, the restaurant industry has emerged as the biggest opponent. This is no surprise, since the industry claims the highest percentage of low-wage workers—60 percent—of any other business sector. Front-line fast-food workers earn so little money that about half of them rely on some form of public assistance, to the tune of about $7 billion a year. That hidden subsidy has helped boost restaurant industry profits to record highs. In 2013, the industry reaped $660 billion in profits, and it in turn channeled millions into backing efforts to block local governments from raising pay for low-wage workers and to keep the minimum wage for tipped workers at $2.13 an hour (exactly where it’s been for the past 22 years). But public assistance programs aren’t the only way taxpayers subsidize the restaurant industry.

A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies finds that the public has been contributing to excessive CEO compensation as well, helping to widen the gap between the lowest-paid workers and their bosses. Thanks to a loophole in the tax code, corporations are allowed to deduct unlimited amounts of money from their tax bills for executive compensation, so long as it comes in the form of stock options or “performance pay.” The loophole was the inadvertent result of an attempt by Congress to rein in CEO compensation by limiting the tax deduction for executive pay to $1 million a year. That law exempted pay that came in the form of stock options or performance pay. This loophole has proven lucrative for CEOs of all stripes, but it is particularly egregious in an industry that pays its workers so little that it is already heavily subsidized by taxpayers.

More from UC Berkeley’s Robert Reich:

Raising Taxes on Corporations that Pay Their CEOs Royally and Treat Their Workers Like Serfs

Until the 1980s, corporate CEOs were paid, on average, 30 times what their typical worker was paid. Since then, CEO pay has skyrocketed to 280 times the pay of a typical worker; in big companies, to 354 times.

Meanwhile, over the same thirty-year time span the median American worker has seen no pay increase at all, adjusted for inflation. Even though the pay of male workers continues to outpace that of females, the typical male worker between the ages of 25 and 44 peaked in 1973 and has been dropping ever since. Since 2000, wages of the median male worker across all age brackets has dropped 10 percent, after inflation.

This growing divergence between CEO pay and that of the typical American worker isn’t just wildly unfair. It’s also bad for the economy. It means most workers these days lack the purchasing power to buy what the economy is capable of producing — contributing to the slowest recovery on record. Meanwhile, CEOs and other top executives use their fortunes to fuel speculative booms followed by busts.

Renting wombs to fertilized eggs from abroad via Quartz:

Wealthy Chinese are turning to American surrogates to birth their children

The familiar image of international surrogacy until now has mainly involved Americans and Europeans crossing the world to find women to birth their children. Now, wealthy Chinese couples are seeking surrogates in the US. The practice—a new version of Chinese “birth tourism”—offers a solution to rising infertility in China, a way around Chinese population controls, and even the added bonus of US citizenship for babies born in the States.

For years, pregnant Chinese women have come to the US, mainly to the West Coast, to give birth to baby US citizens who can, at the age of 21, sponsor their parents for green cards. In a new wrinkle, some are instead paying American women to carry their children—a way of getting citizenship as well as dealing with the fact that more Chinese couples are facing trouble having children. (Other surrogacy destinations for wealthy Chinese include Thailand, India, and Ukraine, but the US is still the favorite.)

Salon finds brown noses:

Welcome to Plutocrat-geddon! Obama and Thomas Friedman flatter our new billionaire overlords

  • Forget inequality! Judging by the White House and the media, the real answer is sucking up to the wealthiest

Inequality is a burning topic among economists, especially since the release of Thomas Piketty’s recent book on the subject. Many are questioning whether this is a temporary period of runaway inequality, or whether we are on the verge of an irreversible collapse into extremes of wealth and poverty. (What would we call it? The Oligopolypse? Plutogeddon?)

But numbers alone don’t tell the full story. Culture, too, is adapting to this unequal world. We idealize the wealthy today in ways that would have been unthinkable decades ago.

With the children of today’s baby boomers scheduled to inherit $30 trillion in the next several decades, politicians and the press are hard at work flattering plutocrats of all ages by portraying them as paragons of wisdom.

Another assault on the potential middle class from the New York Times:

Student Loans Can Suddenly Come Due When Co-Signers Die, a Report Finds

For students who borrow on the private market to pay for school, the death of a parent can come with an unexpected, added blow, a federal watchdog warns. Even borrowers who have good payment records can face sudden demands for full, early repayment of those loans, and can be forced into default.

Most people who take out loans to pay for school have minimal income or credit history, so if they borrow from banks or other private lenders, they need co-signers — usually parents or other relatives. Borrowing from the federal government, the largest source of student loans, rarely requires a co-signer.

The problem, described in a report released Tuesday by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, arises from a little-noticed provision in private loan contracts: If the co-signer dies or files for bankruptcy, the loan holder can demand complete repayment, even if the borrower’s record is spotless. If the loan is not repaid, it is declared to be in default, doing damage to a borrower’s credit record that can take years to repair.

And a warning to labor from the London Daily Mail:

The future of factories? Swarm of super-fast robotic ‘ANTS’ powered by magnets can independently climb walls and even build

  • The army of robo-ants can move at around 13.7 inches (35cm) a second
  • This is equivalent to a human running at just under the speed of sound
  • Each ant can be individually controlled using magnets on a circuit board
  • Swarm has already built a tower 30cm (11.8 inches) high from carbon rods

Business Insider sounds the alarm:

DAVID EINHORN: ‘We Are Witnessing Our Second Tech Bubble In 15 Years’

Hedge-fund manager David Einhorn, who runs Greenlight Capital, says we’re seeing another tech bubble, CNBC reported, citing his fund’s quarterly investor letter.

“Now there is a clear consensus that we are witnessing our second tech bubble in 15 years. What is uncertain is how much further the bubble can expand, and what might pop it,” Einhorn wrote in the letter (PDF) posted online by @Levered_Hawkeye.

Clicking away your rights from the Christian Science Monitor:

General Mills drops arbitration clause, but such contracts are ‘pervasive’

Consumer advocates warn that clicking ‘I agree’ to online contracts can crimp buyers’ legal rights, if a contract requires arbitration and nixes class-action lawsuits. The practice is spreading, though General Mills encountered a backlash.

When consumers click “I agree” to online contracts, two things can happen: They may give up their right to pursue a class action lawsuit if something goes wrong, and they can seek damages only through arbitration, an out-of-court legal process that many experts say weighs against the harmed consumer.

From the Los Angeles Times. Another landmark:

Supreme Court upholds Michigan ban on affirmative action

The Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban on the use of racial affirmative action in its state universities Tuesday, ruling that voters are entitled to decide the issue.

The 6-2 decision clears away constitutional challenges to the state bans on affirmative action, which began in California in 1996.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, speaking for the majority, said the democratic process can decide such issues. “This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved,” he said. “It is about who may resolve it. There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this court’s precedents for the judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.”

Kochs go Latino, via Reuters:

Conservative Koch-backed group uses soft touch in recruiting U.S. Hispanics

The conservative advocacy groups backed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch are known mostly for spending millions of dollars to pelt Democratic candidates with negative television ads.

But this year, one Koch-backed group is using a softer touch to try to win over part of the nation’s booming Hispanic population, which has overwhelmingly backed Democrats in recent elections. The group, known as The Libre Initiative, is sponsoring English classes, driver’s license workshops and other social programs to try to build relationships with Hispanic voters in cities from Arizona to Florida – even as the group targets Democratic lawmakers with hard-edged TV ads.

Taking a cue from liberal groups that have been active in Hispanic neighborhoods for decades, Libre says it aims to use these events to build support for small-government ideas in communities that typically support big-government ideals.

From NPR, a reminder from Mother Nature:

California’s Drought Ripples Through Businesses, Then To Schools

Nearly half of the country’s fruits, nuts and vegetables come from California, a state that is drying up. , the entire state is considered “abnormally dry,” and two-thirds of California is in “extreme” to “exceptional” drought conditions.

Earlier this year, many farmers in California found out that they would get no irrigation water from state or federal water projects. Recent rains have helped a little. On Friday, government officials said there was enough water to give a little more to some of the region’s farmers — 5 percent of the annual allocation, instead of the nothing they were getting.

>snip<

Economists say it’s too early to accurately predict the drought’s effect on jobs, but it’s likely as many as 20,000 will be lost.

That might not sound like a lot, but many of those workers are already living paycheck to paycheck in communities that depend on that work.

Via the National Drought Monitor, the current state of affairs in California, ranging from lightest [abnormally dry] to darkest [exceptional drought]:

BLOG Drought

After the jump, the latest from Europe [including spiking austerian suicides], Asia’s Game of Zones, an American Nazi whose work inspired a French film, spy games, and muich more. . . Continue reading

Once upon a time, there was this stuff, film. . .


From BuzzFeed Yellow, a surprisingly insightful primer for folks familiar only with the digital:

Film Photography Explained To Modern Kids

Program note:

The past was not that long ago.

Blast from the Past: Mr. Potter was a hero


Yep, the villainous bankster portrayed by the inimitable Lionel Barrymore in It’s a Wonderful Life was really a hero. Or so says a report [PDF] by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as part of its investigation of communism in the film industry:

vbgb001.tmp

Here’s the film’s famous confrontation between Barrymore’s Potter and Jimmy Stewart’s George Baily:

Quote of the day: Trans-Pacific Partnership ills


From an examination of the contents of the draft intellectual property section of the pending Pacific Rim trade pact by Carolina Rossini, at the Internet project director for the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute Governance and Human Rights Latin America Resource Center, and Burcu Kilic, legal counsel for Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program, writing in Al Jazeera America:

Since Wikileaks made the intellectual property (IP) chapter public, multiple organizations have provided extensive and detailed critiques. According to these analyses, the text demonstrates U.S. preference for increasing protections on existing copyrights and patents over balanced policies that promote global innovation, creativity and political freedom. The disclosures especially suggest the inordinate influence of the motion picture and pharmaceutical industries. In the first brief interview commenting on the leak, the U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman defended the proposal saying it is within the bounds of U.S. law. He happened to make this comment while touring Paramount Pictures studios in Los Angeles.

Further analysis of the IP chapter shows that it violates international consensus on several important issues. First, the U.S. is pushing provisions that conflict with the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Development Agenda, which requires that development concerns be a formal part of global IP policy. Second, the chapter also takes a controversial approach to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Doha Declaration on the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and Public Health. TRIPS sets the standards for intellectual property protection in the world today, which are binding on all members of WTO. The Doha Declaration affirms that TRIPS signatories should interpret and implement TRIPS in a manner supportive of their own rights to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all. Although the IP chapter makes explicit reference to the Doha Declaration, the IP chapter is designed to narrow its scope, thereby limiting access to medicines and restricting what governments can do to protect public health.

Third, U.S. proposals also contradict the current policy discussions on access to medicines and on research & development at the World Health Organization and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Fourth, the TPP chapter also jeopardizes the flexibilities guaranteed under fair use doctrine by pushing for strict enforcement of copyrights online.

Headlines of the day II: Econo-Enviro Meltdowns


The shakeout continues, as manufacturing flees from the not-so-First World into the realms of the Second and Third, and there’s no sign of a let-up.

We begin with Business Insider, catching on:

Here’s The Evidence That The Tech Sector Is In A Massive Bubble

Ditto for MarketWatch:

Cloud hangs over U.S. economy, hiring plans

Job creation in October likely weakened in shadow of government shutdown

Business Insider again, with the elite cashing out, at least till bubbles burst and bargains await:

CITI: Rich Families Are Hoarding Cash

Wealthy families have about 39 percent of their assets in cash, according to a recent poll of more than 50 large family office representatives from 20 countries conducted by Citi Private Bank.

Keeping it goin’, via the South China Morning Post:

Fed inaction greases path for equities and other risky assets

Gorge on Halloween candy, Thanksgiving turkey and risk: the Fed has declared an early and extended holiday.

From The Guardian, an institution in its death throes:

Is the album dead? Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and Elton John hit by dramatic US sales slump

As artists speak out over rise in streaming, industry tries to adapt to new habits of digital consumers

From the Contributor, business as usual:

CA Water Action Plan Greenwashes Corporate Water Grab

State officials [Friday] released the California Water Action Plan, an obvious attempt by the Brown administration to win support for construction of the peripheral tunnels by proposing water conservation and ecosystem restoration measures to greenwash the highly-unpopular Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Off to Europe, with more central bankster ploys from Reuters:

ECB may soon join the flight of the doves

Even as the euro zone economy shows faint signs of stirring, the European Central Bank is likely to send a dovish message this week that more monetary help will be on the way before long.

Britain next, with BBC News covering a yearning:

UK businesses ‘want to stay in Europe’

Businesses in the UK would prefer to stay in Europe and reap the benefits rather than leave, according to the CBI lobby group.

The Independent brings us a story that reminds us of a certain very famous movie scene:

UK farms sore over French oyster herpes

British producers are struggling with demand as foreigners snap up stocks

And the Telegraph notes the fall of industry and the rise of the British service [serf] economy:

UK economy: it’s rebalancing – but not as we know it

We should not give up on the idea of the rebalancing of the UK economy. It has been happening – but not in the way policy-makers originally expected

The Irish Independent covers terminal woes on the Emerald Isle:

Coffin up to bury a loved one can leave you deep in debt

ONE of the more mean-spirited cuts in last month’s Budget was the axing of the €850 bereavement grant. As a funeral bill can easily run into tens of thousands of euro, the loss of this allowance will be a blow to anyone who has to cough up to bury a loved one next year.

The paper even offers a graphic suggestion of how to hold a funeral designed for austerian times:

BLOG Coffin

Germany next, with a notable recovery a billion euros of what Hitler once dubbed “degenerate art,” via Deutsche Welle:

German authorities reportedly discover 1,500 paintings seized by Nazis

A private collection of 1,500 paintings seized by the Nazis, including works by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, has been discovered, according to a German magazine. Authorities discovered the art in a Munich apartment.

From France, austerian blowback from Europe Online:

Anti-layoff, -taxes protest in France prompts arson, stone throwing

Demonstrators protesting layoffs and rising taxes set a toll bridge on fire and threw stones at police Saturday in north-western France.

Spain next, with a journey to the East on the agenda from TheJournal.ie:

In Spain, even toddlers learn Chinese for job hopes

Parents are being encouraged to improve their children’s chances – from the age of three – in a country with high unemployment.

While thinkSPAIN covers a revolt in the making, with the socialists [PSOE] targeting the reigning neoliberal Popular Party

Ex-Judge Garzón, Complutense University Dean and others offer support to PSOE to ‘overthrow the PP’

NUMEROUS well-known personalities in the legal, political and academic world have written to socialist leader Alfredo Pérez-Rubalcaba offering their support in ‘bringing down the right-wing’.

Greece next, with a retailert revolt against the easing of ancient blue laws, via euronews:

Greece: Small businesses protest against new laws allowing Sunday trading

Shop owners, unions and the Orthodox Church have marched through the streets of Athens, united in protest against a law allowing shops to open on Sundays for the first time in a century.

The London Telegraph muses on murder:

Golden Dawn killings ‘could be act of revenge by far left group’

Greek authorities raise concerns over tit-for-tat violence following fatal shooting of two members of extreme right group

After the jump, more on the Greek murders, Russian oil, Brazilian news, the latest from India and China, plus the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

And now for something completely different


Madeleine Kahn was one of the all-time comedic greats, as well as a singer endowed with a magnificent soprano.

Best known for her work as part of Mel Brooks’ ensemble and featured in films ranging from Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles to Nixon and A Bug’s Life, she was equally at home on stage or screen.

She won Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, Golden Globes, and more, and she could sing an aria as easily as a barroom ballad. But the one thing she could always do was make people laugh.

Here’s her debut on the silver screen, as Sigfrid in a 1968 short, satirical take on the films of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman [the subject of endless coffeehouse discussions amongst 1960s college students, esnl being one]. George Coe, a co-director of the 1968, stars as Viktor.

From vlogger TbirdsOf1965:

Madeline Kahn – DE DUVA (The Dove) – 1968 Funny!

The program notes:

Very short film directed by George Coe (who plays Viktor), and Anthony Lover. It was Madeline Kahn’s first film and was written by Sidney Davis. Great parody of some of Ingmar Bergman’s best known films, including Wild Strawberries (Smultronstaellet) and The Seventh Seal (Det Sjunde Inseglet). Couldn’t find this on youtube, and thought it deserved to be here!

His Girl Friday: From Bromance to romance


Via Public Domain Movies:

His Girl Friday [Howard Hawks, 1940]

One of our favorite films, Howard Hawks transformed a stage play based on the banter between two male journalists into a romance — and all because the director liked the way his secretary recited the lines in a reading.

It’s a classic newsroom story, set in the days when print was king.

Starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell [who only got the part after Ginger Rogers, Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunn, and at least three others turned it down], the film revolutionized on-screen dialogue, both for the speed at which the words were spoken and because it’s the first film where actors repeatedly spoke over each others’ words.

Based on The Front Page, a stage play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, the script was adapted for the screen with the help of Charles Lederer — though some of the best lines were delivered as ad libs.

Gray, who plays editor Walter Burns, is arrested at one point and told by the mayor, “You’re through,” to which he responds, “Listen the last man that said that to me was Archie Leach just a week before he cut his throat.” The name of Grant’s birth certificate is Archibald Leach.

In another scene he tells Russell her finance “looks like that fellow in the movies — Ralph Bellamy.” The actor playing the role was Bellamy.

So nuke some popcorn, sit back, and be prepared to be entertained. . .

Quote of the day: Robert Duvall on America


In addition to being a world class dancer of the tango, Academy Award winning actor Robert Duvall is also a scholar, and in that role he’s the subject of an interview by Federico Grandesso of New Europe.

Here’s an excerpt, in which we took the liberty of correcting some minor linguistic errors:

I come from America, which was for a long time the place where second sons went because there was no future in Europe, a revolutionary country that gifted the world with one system that respected mankind more than any other. After this bright period, I see that this American system is failing so dramatically now. So anything that will help to bring back the idea, that this is something to be cherished, is a good thing. I started about 10 years ago to put acting to one side and I went to Oxford to develop a civic centric CV from public schools. Then 10 years ago I read a book in US called The Machine That Would Go by Itself, and later I wrote to the author of that book saying that I thought that that title was wrong. On the contrary, America is now a machine that doesn’t run by itself and it needs desperately work

So, you went to study civics in Oxford?

Yes, I was senior research adviser and I studied the damage done by the absence of teaching civics. Then when I came back home I started to speak to people about that. I spoke to almost 75,000 citizens and I never had even one person disagree about the fact of teaching civics to the young generations.

After that I went to Washington and didn’t find even one organisation representing all those people, willing to say that they were in favour of teaching civics. It is incredible and disgraceful. This is going to be terribly missed when it’s gone. In America, no matter what your political ideas are, you get intellectual and creative reach and after that come the rewards. Now the system that replaces ours will never give you the reward and will tell you what to invent. In the past we were a truly revolutionary nation because we changed the course of history — away from where it had been languidly going — and changed our goals, direction and the values of the entire western world. Now we are being told that we don’t have to pay attention about all that. This is ignorance.

Q: Sometimes we say that Europe has a lot to learn from America. Do you think this is it still true?

On one side, Europe has thousands of years on America in how to oppress the poor. They were doing that for a longer period. But they were shocked during Hurricane Katrina when they watched the American government abandoned a city which had been the victim of a natural disaster.

Read the rest.

Quote of the day: Howard Jarvis, Tea Party patriarch


And with added graphics!

Michael Stewart Foley has just been appointed Professor of American Studies at the University of Groningen. An American-born scholar with a doictorate from the University of New Hampshire, he previously taught American history at England’s University of Sheffield. He’s a founding editor of The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics, and Culture, and has written several books. He also served as an advisor to that iconic and much-honored television series Mad Men.

Today’s QOTD comes from a Salon excerpt from his Front Porch Politics: The Forgotten Heyday of American Activism in the 1970s and 1980s [publication date Tuesday] which looks at “a wide range of grass roots campaigns in that period, all of which were connected by a similar impulse to mobilize based on personal experience.”

Salon’s excerpt focuses on the critical importance of the campaign run by  Howard Jarvis to sell California voters on a measure designed to destroy the very supportive [for Anglos] state-supported commons, one that included superb modern roads and streets, solid community services, a generally excellent public education system, and the country’s finest public university system.

But Howard Jarvis hated government, period.

And he created a timebomb, a piece of legislation to cap property taxes to an artificially low level be capping all property values at levels before the real estate bubble sparked by sparing inflation in the latter half of the 1970s, then capping annual increases at a maximum of two percent.

Jarvis was a master rabble-rouser, cynically and masterfully playing to crowd.

What he created was Proposition 13, slayer of government funding.

We met him during the campaign before its passage, and described the encounter in a piece we wrote while on staff at the Berkeley Daily Planet:

Following a 1977 speech to the Malibu Rotary Club, an inebriated Howard Jarvis—the 74-year-old co-author and prime mover of Proposition 13—told this writer that he had created the landmark California initiative “to demolish local government and eliminate all the bureaucracy.”

Soaring real estate prices matched by rapidly escalating taxes spurred California voters to pass Prop. 13 the following year. As a direct result of the initiative’s mandates, property tax bills fell by an average of 57 percent in the next year.

A one-time Utah newspaper publisher, Jarvis made no secret of his anti-statist beliefs, which he passed on to numerous recruits. One of his earliest and most passionate converts was a libertarian and major Santa Monica property owner named Arnold Schwarzenegger.

During his run for the governorship almost three decades later, Schwarzenegger rebuked his own campaign economic adviser, billionaire investor Warren Buffet, after Buffett called for reforms to the Prop. 13 provisions in order to provide an increase in California property taxes. “Mr. Buffett doesn’t speak for Mr. Schwarzenegger,” declared campaign spokesperson Rob Stutzman, who then told the press that Schwarzenegger admired Jarvis “and has referred to him as the original terminator.”

Read the rest.

Jarvis as Godfather of the Tea Party

All of which brings us to our Quote of the day, that excerpt from Salon, published under the headline, “The Tea Party’s inspiration: A tax revolt that destroyed California; An anti-tax referendum in California started the ‘mad as hell’ brigade — and led to the current faux-populists.”

So here it is:

The allure of Proposition 13 lay in its simplicity. As written by Jarvis, Proposition 13 would roll back property assessments and freeze them at 1975 levels; the values could then be raised by only 2 percent a year (to account for inflation), and properties could be reassessed only at the time of sale or transfer. All property would then be taxed at a flat 1 percent of its new value, whether based on the annual 2 percent increase or on its recent sale price. Maybe most important (and perhaps most overlooked), Proposition 13 would prohibit any government body—local or state—from raising any new taxes without a two-thirds vote of the governing body. In effect, this new system would mean that an average Los Angeles homeowner paying $2,200 on a $70,000 home in 1977 would see his taxes rolled back to $700 a year, only to rise thereafter at 2 percent per year. That kind of math appealed to a lot of anxious California homeowners.

By brushing off criticism, Jarvis largely succeeded in obscuring the fundamental unfairness of the initiative. He slapped away charges that Prop 13’s biggest beneficiaries would be landlords and business property owners who anticipated a savings windfall of $3.5 billion out of a total loss of local tax revenue of $5.5 billion. That is, homeowners, on whose behalf the initiative had allegedly been written, stood to save only $2 billion of the total $5.5 billion in savings. Moreover, since residential properties change hands more frequently than business properties, reassessments at market value were much more likely to happen on homes than on commercial property. Such revaluations of homes, critics pointed out, would also lead to blatantly inconsistent taxation of homeowners living in the same neighborhood where one house might be taxed on its 1975 value, but the house next door, recently sold to a new neighbor, would be taxed on its new market value. Finally, few Californians seemed to grasp that with less property tax to deduct on their federal income tax returns, a significant chunk of their property tax savings would be flipped to Uncle Sam in the form of higher income taxes. Jarvis dismissed any such critique as a “crock of manure” and called his opponents “liars,” “dummies, goons, cannibals or big mouths.”

Read the rest.

Catch that last bit, the bullying bombast. He’d fit right in on Fox News today, the medium that gave coherence to the Tea Party, then covered it, as my Kansas farm-town father would’ve put it, “like flies on shit.”

Note the Tea Party link to Jarvis’s “smash government” agenda captured in this Los Angeles Times cartoon by David Horsey, accompanying an essay headlined:

Tea party Sen. Ted Cruz is eager to force a government shutdown

BLOG Horsey

The Koch Brothers are Jarvis writ large, deploying precisely the same cynical strategems in the interests of institutionalized and unencumbered rapacity.

Jarvis, the old atheist vodka-drinking corporate libertarian from Utah, would be very pleased to see the outcome of the strategies he pioneered. He was, after all, a very patient man, the very character he portrayed opened and closed and ended a very famous comedy, 1980’s Airplane!

To quote from an earlier post,

He opens and closes the film, a taxi driver who catches a cab driven by the protagonist, who simply starts the meter and leaves Jarvis to rush into the airport, hope a flight, save a doomed airliner, reconcile with his true love, then fly back to Los Angeles, where Jarvis is still waiting patiently in the curbside cab as the meter keeps running. And now the Prop 13 meter is doing just what Jarvis intended.

And Roll em!

Sponsor of Prop 13 Howard Jarvis at the airport

M: A German Expressionist cinematic classic


One of the greatest films ever made, with a H/T to Open Culture:

M, directed by Fritz Lang, 1931

Notes from vlogger Bloody Rare Theater:

Director: Fritz Lang
Writers: Thea von Harbou and Fritz Lang
Release Date: August 31, 1931
Genre: Crime Thriller

Synopsis:

This thrilling drama of crime, pursuit, and vengeance has got to be on anyone’s list of all-time greats. A psychotic murderer of little girls terrorizes, and enrages, a large German city. Although the police conduct a thorough investigation, they remain baffled. But their search so disrupts the city’s underworld that the criminals decide to hunt him down themselves. More efficient — and fascistically brutal — than the establishment, and aided by a network of colorful beggars, they catch the murderer (“M”). During the subsequent mock trial, their fierce thirst for revenge bursts forth, leading to an exciting climax. Aside from being an engrossing manhunt melodrama, the film is a fascinating semi-documentary on scientific deduction methods, and astute study of schizophrenic mind, a thoughtful meditation on justice and capital punishment, and a downright chilling reflection of German society’s confusions, anxieties, and violent tendencies on the eve of the Hitler era. Add to these Fritz Lang’s customary excellence at expressionistic camerawork, lighting, and symbolism, creating a claustrophobic nightmare from which the killer, his victims, and audience can’t escape. Watch for the dizzying high angles and geometric spaces that turn the streets into terrifying mazes; or the shot in which “M,” framed by a circle of knives in a cutlery shop’s window, suddenly seems trapped by his own weapons of destruction. Peter Lorre manages to make the fat, bug-eyed little psychopath both frightening and pathetic; his half-whimpered, half-screamed plea for mercy turns the character into a tragic victim of uncontrollable instincts. And Lang turns his first attempt at the new sound medium into a tour de force, using dialogue and sound effects to bridge locations and scenes, and orchestrating ingenious sound-picture counterpoints. A mother’s desperate cries for her missing daughter reverberate off screen while we see unforgettably poignant images of the child’s ball rolling down a hill, and her balloon entangled in telegraph wires — a violent death made horrifying not by gory special effects but by our imagination. “M” ultimately gives himself away by haunting Grieg melody he compulsively whistles before killing; just hearing that tune is enough to turn our blood instantly cold. A masterpiece of visual and aural expressiveness — and an absolutely first-rate suspense drama! In German with English subtitles. 99 minutes.

Cast:

Peter Lorre …….. Hans Beckert
Ellen Widmann …… Frau Beckmann
Inge Landgut ……. Elsie Beckmann
Otto Wernicke …… Inspector Karl Lohmann
Theodor Loos ……. Inspector Groeber

Elmore Leonard, 87, a hard boiled paragon


Elmore Leonard, like Raymond Chandler, wrote like a slumming angel.

His first words for hire were Chevrolet commercials, but he loved the hard-boiled stuff, the tersely worded, hard-hitting stories that filled the pulp magazines once so beloved of kids who read by flashlight under the covers.

He started out writing Westerns, then moved his characters into the present, and always somewhere in the background were directors, hungry for spare, cinematic visions.

Like all good writers of the hard boiled genre, Leonard knew just how to insert tongue in cheek, ensuring there were always laughs to accompany the shudders.

Elmore Leonard’s gone now. He died today, ending a solid 87-year run.

We’ll miss him, both at the movies and under the covers.

We leave with images and words:

Elmore Leonard on Writing

From vlogger Nettoyeur71:

Mr Majestyk’, ‘Stick’, ‘Cat Chaser’, ‘52 Pick up’ – just some of the colourful, clever and very exciting thrillers penned by Mr Elmore Leonard. Here he talks about his career to date, and gives us a lil insight into his writing methods.

This is a 2006 interview repeated recently which I managed to grab off the iplayer.

Elmore Leonard At the Movies Compilation

From vlogger Gregg Sutter:

A compilation of Elmore Leonard’s movies assembled to honor his 75th Birthday, It was shown at the Telluride Film Festival at a Variety event in the year 2000.

From the Criterion Collection:

Elmore Leonard on 3:10 to Yuma

A pair of blasts from the pasts: Price & Newhart


Back when esnl was a lad, during the first years of the baby boom, Vincent Price was a familiar figure to anyone who’d ever spent Saturday afternoons at the movies.

Back in Abilene, Kansas, a quarter would get you a ticket, a soda, a small popcorn, and a jawbreaker, plus two feature films, a short, and a half dozen or so cartoons — while giving mom and dad time of their own. All in all, a solid deal.

Saturday matinee films tended come in three flavors, western, comedy, and scary, with the occasional war film thrown in.

Scary films in those days weren’t today’s graphic gore-fests, and the actors often tended a bit toward the hammy. One staple of Boomer scary film fare was Vincent Price, he of the arch features and delightfully lugubrious manner of speaking. If Price was on screen, you were certain to be entertained.

We only ecountered Price once, when we did a freelance photo shoot of the pilot for a weekly television poetry series that never got off the ground. But we got to heard Price, Leonard Nimoy, and a half dozen other stars read some of the greaters, as well as their own compositions.

Here’s Price reciting the same poem on another occasion:

Another figure from Boomer childhoods is Bob Newhart, who gave up accounting for standup, most famously telephone routines in his early years.

Our high school honors history teacher played some of Newhart’s historical sketches to spark some interesting and iconoclastic discussions.

Newhart moved from standup into television sitcoms, starring in four of them.

Newhart’s humor is dry, relying more on wit than shock to evoke laughter, and managed to include a slightly subversive edge. His shows were always reliable for a least a chuckle or two, and lots of smiles.

On 22 May 1995, Newhart appeared before the National Press Club, an appearance that almost co-stars the club president, a journalist who sounds like Harvey Firestein and possessed the chutzpah to steal one of the comedian’s routines.

Here’s the video of the appearance, coming near the end of Newhart’s career in weekly television comedy. Enjoy:

From Journeyman Pictures: Consumed


A British documentary charting the strategies used to turn our own instincts against us to enrich those who don’t have our best interests at heart.

Consumed, 52′ 00”, 2011

The program notes:

Consumerism has become the cornerstone of the post-industrial age. Yet how much do we know about it and what it is doing to us? Using theories of evolutionary psychology to underpin a bold narrative of our times, this film takes a whirlwind tour through the “weird mental illness of consumerism,” showing how our insatiable appetite has driven us into “the jaws of the beast.” Both an apocalyptic and redemptive view of the human condition.

More about the film here.

Le Ballon rouge: Fantasy from another era


We were ten when The Red Balloon debuted, and in the 57 years since, Albert Lamorisse’s 34 minutes of cinematic magic have lost none of their charm [though Paris, sadly, has lost some of its own].

Filmed by Edmond Séchan in the Ménilmontant neighborhood of Paris, the film has virtually no dialog, nor does it need any. The short won an Oscar for Lamorisse’s screenplay, a Palme d’Or for best short, and a BAFTA Special Award — among others.

The boy with the red balloon, Pascal, is Lamorrisse’s son, and the little girl with the blue balloon is his daughter, Sabine.

Pop it up to full screen, then sit back and enjoy and invocation of a time and an age when we all seemed so much more innocent!

Don’t bother looking for the charming old apartments when you next visit the City of Lights. “Urban renewal” claimed almost all of them in the decade after the film was released. We hope someone preserved those magnificent doors.

From Forbes Infotainment™, fictional money


“If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.” — Dorothy Parker

The line between journalism and fiction vanishes in this little gem from Forbes featuring the richest characters in fiction , cast as an interview/conversation BLOG Kane editbetween Forbes staffers Michael Noer and David Ewalt.

Under the premise of the list, the author-created wealth of fictional characters is tracked through contemporary price movements to give a net worth used for rating the top fifteen.

The list draws mostly from contemporary fiction — though it includes Charles Foster [Citizen ] Kane — and the choices are peculiarly limited to the instantly familiar and highly commercialized/financialized by folks who are nonfictional candidates for a real-world rich list.

The Richest Fictional Characters

Imagine taking the category of “richest fictional characters” at face value. Well, to an adherent of one exclusivist faith, that category would include all the deities of all the other religion, existing throughout all time. Considered as fictional characters who hold dominion over the entire universe, they’re hard to top when it comes to rich. And there a lot of them, numbering in the billions in Hinduism alone.

If you exclude deities, then what about absolute rulers, the Hitlers, Stalins, Czars, Emperors, and others who commanded armies to loot nations, even continents?

So the Forbes list is totally arbitrary, created solely to entertain and draw attention of a demographic of eyeballs attyractive to their advertisers and their audience.

Makes you wonder about their other journalism, no?

From Bloomberg, a word from our sponsor


Q: When is a movie not a movie?

A: When it’s one long commercial.

From Bloomberg:

‘Man of Steel’: Most Product Placements Ever

The program notes:

“Man of Steel,” the new Superman movie, set a record before even one ticket was sold: It had the most promotional tie-ins ever, with more than 100 companies paying around $160 million to get close to the man in blue. Bloomberg’s Rachel Crane reports.

B-Day: Chant de guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin


Since it’s Bastille Day, some renditions of the song otherwise known as La Marseillaise, since 1995 the French National Anthem. [Lyrics and translation here.]

It’s a powerful piece of music, and one can only feel grateful the U.S. counterpart is so miserably unsingable and unmarchable.

So Happy Le quatorze juillet, y’all, and on with the show.

How can we not offer the most cinematically rousing performances ever, in Casablanca, a film initially cast with Ronald Reagan in the role played by Humphrey Bogart. The musical confrontation sparks the political confrontation, transforming Bogie’s character from an observer into a participant. And there are those wonderful lines, leaving us shocked. . .shocked:

Casablanca, La Marseillaise

And while we’re doing things cinematic, here’s the rendition from the 2007 Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose with Pauline Burlet as the ten-year-old Piaf:

La Marseillaise from La Vie en Rose

And here’s the real Piaf:

Edith Piaf — La Marseillaise

And a tribute from another nation forged by revolution and bloody civil war:

La Marseillaise — Red Army Choir

And, finally, the operatic version, performed by Placido Domingo:

“Chant de guerre pour l’armée du Rhin, ‘La Marseillaise’”

A video excursion: From Hamlet to frozen peas


The ghost of Hamlet’s father as the pivotal and greatest role in Shakespeare’s most famous play?

So argue two of the greatest actors ever to grace the stage in this fascinating excerpt from a conversation conducted 50 years ago.

Orson Welles and Peter O’Toole on Hamlet

From vlogger TextundBuehne, who writes:

This is an excerpt from the program “Monitor” (recorded in October 1963 at the BBC). Right around this time O’Toole was playing Hamlet at the National Theatre, under the direction of Laurence Olivier. Also in the conversation are Huw Wheldon (the host) and veteran actor Ernest Milton.

And another take on Hamlet, with Shakespeare, confronting every writer’s nemesis, the pedantic editor, and played by two brilliant comedians.

Rowan Atkinson & Hugh Laurie — Shakespeare and Hamlet (1989)

From vlogger Nathaniel Brechtmann, who writes:

A sketch called “A Small Rewrite”, performed by Hugh Laurie (aka House) as Shakespeare and Rowan Aktinson (aka Mr Bean) as the editor.

For a radical change of pace, we return to an older, more embittered Welles, venting his critical wrath as he is forced to support himself reading 1970 voice-over ads for British frozen peas.

The rant has achieved cult status in “the industry,” and has been the subject for a raft of homages. Here are two of them, both animations.

First, from the animated series Pinky and The Brain

Yes, Always – Pinky and the Brain Parody of Orson Welles Rant

From vlogger CaptKirby 18:

This is an intelligent adaptation of an angry real life rant by Orson Welles from the Animaniacs run of Pinky and the Brain. It mostly mirrors the rant, although it replaces some parts like “go down on you” with “make cheese for you,” both for censorship and humor purposes. It makes it funnier, in my opinion…

Overall, this is an example of a good adaptation that definitely proves the show’s mousy worth! The art (movement) of the human involved is awful, but it does not detract tooooo much.

And then there’s this from vlogger Keith172:

Rosebud Frozen Peas

The program notes:

This is a clip from the animated series ‘The Critic’ featuring Orson Welles (voiced by Maurice LaMarche) advertising Rosebud Frozen Peas. The title of this episode is “Eyes on the Prize”.

Mickey Mouse In Vietnam, subversion from 1968


A blast from the past and one of two great iconic animation shorts that came out of the late 1960s, Mickey Mouse in Vietnam subverts a cartoon icon in a sudden, dramatic, and absolutely final way.

Vlogger Sandip Mahal writes:

In 1968, an underground, anti-war short film was produced by Lee Savage and Milton Glaser called Mickey Mouse in Vietnam.

The short (unofficially) starred Mickey Mouse in a one minute animation that depicted the Disney icon travelling to Vietnam in a boat, entering the country, and being immediately shot in the head. The film was shown to associates of the creators in 1970 and onward. It is rumoured (though unconfirmed) that Disney tried to destroy every copy that they could get in their possession.

Until recently, the only known copies available for public viewing were one owned by the Sarajevo Film Festival (although the last time it was played there was in 2010), and one included on the Film-makers’ Coop’s 38 minute, 16mm collection reel titled For Life, Against the War (Selections), available for rental at $75 (though only to members of relevant organisations). The only pieces of hard evidence of the short’s existence available online were a few screenshots (all but one found in a 1998 French book entitled ‘Bon Anniversaire, Mickey!’).

Savage was an animation painter and Glaser a graphic designer whose most famous creation is the “I ♥ NY” logo.

As for the other cartoon? Here tis. . .a 1959 creation of Marv Newland subverting yet another Disney icon.

Bambi Meets Godzilla