October 16, 2007

A Top 100 Architecture Blog

Along with John Mayer and Suzanne Somers, today I celebrate a birthday. The most delightful of all b-day surprises was an e-mail I received saying that B.E.L.T. made their list of Top 100 Architecture Blogs.

B.E.L.T. comes in at #48 in the "Niche" category.

My pal Andrew Raimist also made the list for his exemplary site, Architectural Ruminations. Congratulations to him, and my thanks to International Listings for such a cool, out-of-left-field pop fly.

September 23, 2007

Death and The Camera Eye

A piece about the grand opening of the Ellis Hotel in Atlanta introduced to me the 1946 Winecoff Hotel fire tragedy. This introduced me to the riveting photo shown above, and that it could be the last photo of this lady.

Who took the photo?

While contemplating that, the iconic image above instantly came to mind, another jump from a building, this one intentional. For decades, this photo has conjured deep emotions, even inspiring a book and a song. In this instance, the photographer is known: Robert C. Wiles, but I can't find any information about him other than being credited for this shot.

Richard Drew took this photo on September 11, 2001, and it is known as The Falling Man. Debates about how inappropriate or necessary it was/is to see these images of people leaping from the World trade Center towers has continued for 6 years; how these photos make the viewer feel is the central theme.

Maybe because I'm a photographer, I relate to these images from the angle of the shooter, and always wonder how they deal with the lingering aftermath of their photo. It is understood that a photographer is instinctively reacting and recording when a dramatic moment happens; there's a pronounced disconnect between the person and their camera eye, capturing the moments on autopilot. Only later does the photographer truly fathom what was recorded.

As viewers of the photos, we can look and then look away. Certain images are burned into the mind's eye, and can be turned off and on at will. But the person who took these photos has an entire sequence to remember, or try to forget. For us, it's one or 2 frames; for them, it's a long playing memory. Yet seldom does the photographer get questioned about their thoughts and personal ramifications of being the one to freeze a flash point moment in time.

Richard Drew had captured the assassination of Robert Kennedy as well as the Trade Tower jumpers. This kind of repetitive odd timing gave him an odd notoriety and CNN talked with him shortly after 9/11. There's one thing he said at that time that reverberates hard because it may reveal the emotions felt by each of the photographers represented above:

"I don't think I captured this man's death; I think I captured part of his life."

June 06, 2007

A Farewell to The Price Is Right

Bob Barker filmed his last Price is Right, but there’s a time delay between his retirement and regularly scheduled programming. June 6th is a sad day, yet the big, bawling farewell is over a week away. It’s akin to pulling off the Band-Aid very, very slowly.

I think I’m goin’ back
To the things I learned so well
In my youth*

Making physical contact with the past can be curiously calming. Simply touching a childhood teddy bear or baseball glove can instantly transport us back to a free and happy place, a private moment of intense time travel. Anyone who has ever gone back to find their childhood homes or haunts either damaged or demolished knows the nauseous equilibrium shift that causes; it’s an erasure of everyone’s history. I feel that same kind of public sadness and discontent about The Price Is Right (TPIR) coming to an end.

It has been the only unchanging entity in my life from nursery school to this very day. TPIR is more than a game show, it’s a measure of time. It’s been like having a favorite grandma forever baking favorite cookies to take the edge off a hard day of adulthood.

Simply hearing the theme music creates a Pavlovian need for a fried egg sandwich, as my babysitter made me one to eat while hanging out with Bob Barker and Janice. Come grade school, I looked forward to the Shell Game and current Green Giant canned pea prices when home for sick, snow or holidays. Come high school summer vacations, the ending theme song meant it was time to stop sitting around getting high and actually go do something.

As a productive, organized and aspiring adult, any type of illness is treated with a medicinal viewing of TPIR. It’s my audio equivalent of, “Aw, you poor little thing. Here, this should make you feel better: A New Dishwasher!!!

Let everyone debate the true reality
I’d rather see the world the way it used to be*

We’ve all pretty much taken for granted that the show has never altered in any significant manner. Because of that, we may also not realize how bizarre the concept is: A daytime TV game show has aired for 35 years without ever really changing.

In our accelerating entertainment culture, TV shows are constantly being dickered with, and we accept new sets, new theme songs and new cast members as part of the deal. But aside from subtle redesigns of the Showcase Showdown podiums and Barker’s hair and weight, it has looked the same for 4 decades. Meaning, every M-F, there are millions of people between the ages of 3 and 93 watching repetitive actions take place on post-psychedelic department store décor from 1972, and it feels perfectly natural.

Surely at many points, some up-and-coming CBS hotshot suit has begged for a cosmetic update to appeal to (insert that season’s hottest demographic). Yet, it defiantly remains the same. Reporter Ken Smith wrote a nice piece about his day as a contestant hopeful in the audience. This part filled my heart with love:

“The first thing I noticed is how vintage the set looks, with its old-school light bulbs and glitter paint. I could clearly see the silver paint peeling off the giant “$1000000” sign they hang during the ‘Million Dollar Spectacular’ episodes, and the place even had a certain musty, old theater smell to it. While it’s comforting to know that the show hasn’t changed much in 35 years, I wasn’t expecting it to appear quite so lived in.”

Oh, that’s exactly how I imagined the set to be! It breaks my heart to be told it’s all really true because I lay you odds Barker’s town car had barely left the parking lot for the final time when producers started trashing the parts of the Styrofoam Fruity Pebbles set that weren’t stolen as souvenirs. Woe onto those impatient dismantlers, for the karmic wheel can become the Showcase money wheel always landing zero, and thanks for playing.

In a world of volatile programming, TV formats are constantly being altered for ratings. TPIR has danced with fellow game shows and soap operas, ignored Jerry Springer nation, waited out Oprah and judge shows, and remained standing as the only daytime game show. Week after week, decade after decade, the show goes on as if nothing has really changed, or changing just enough to avoid creepiness.

I’m confident that this fly-in-amber oddity is due to the resolve and power of Bob Barker. Obviously, the game show has always made piles of money for the network, so much so that it’s not worth a CBS CEO’s life to spar with Barker and his winning formula – his cleverly low-overhead formula. In the process of defining and defending his lucrative territory, Barker created a kingdom, and much like Henry the 8th, King Barker had many Queens.

But thinking young
And growing older
Is no sin*

One of the things that endear Barker to us is his good-natured irascibility. He came up when many game show hosts were sarcastic, flip and snickering, but Bob never converted to rice pudding to keep viewers. It’s this consistent personality trait that has me totally believing every story of affairs, pinching and parties that went on backstage between him and the Barker’s Beauties.

A few of his Beauties filed suit against him, and those were taken care of with a minimum of fuss and/or enough money to make them drop suit. He never denied what was true, but also never called a press conference to discuss it; his generation still follows a chivalrous code toward women. With chivalry in mind, I think it’s worthwhile to look at the Beauties from another reality.

Unlike being a Playboy Playmate, there are only about two handfuls of Barkers Beauties. This prestigious club has so few members that they couldn’t fill a short bus. It is also the only modeling gig with any measure of job security, because Barker is attentive to his ladies long past the industry’s typical sell-by date.

Janice Pennington, one of the original Barkers Beauties, is a brilliant example of rising above a “this year’s model” mentality. She was a 30-year old former Playmate when the show began in 1972, and reigned supreme until her dismissal in 2000, at the age of 58. That dismissal was not because of age – if that were really an issue she would have been gone a decade or so earlier – but because the Queen was disloyal to the King. Janice sided with the banished Holly in a court case. Previous to Holly’s dismissal (and subsequent legal battle with Bob) she worked with them for 18 years. I’ve never held one job for that long, have you?

Relatively speaking, TPIR must have been a great place to work, because no one ever wanted to leave. Show announcers only stopped working because of death (Johnny Olson and Rod Roddy), and death need not stop your billing on the show.

I can still hear Johnny say, “This has been a Mark Goodson/Bill Toddman Production.” Toddman died in 1979 but they kept using the production tag line until 1983. Goodson died in 1992, but “For the sake of tradition, and through special permission…The Price Is Right continues to use the Mark Goodson Productions name, logo, and announcement at the end of each episode, even though the original company no longer exists.”

“For the sake of tradition,” is the peculiar aspect of the shows longevity and success. In the malleable, superfluous world of entertainment, Barker was defiantly steadfast, upholding a tradition until we noticed it was a tradition. His unique business practices also created a sense of permanence, like families or the neighbors on the block where you grew up.

Now there's more to do
Than watch my sailboat glide

And everyday can be

My magic carpet ride*

So Barker’s retirement feels like losing my teddy bear just as the bulldozers come to demolish my childhood home. It’s a bit weird to feel so emotional over a game show, but The Price Is Right was a weird, magical adventure that transcended beyond several different realities.

Sure, the show will go on with a new host (who better not dare use the tall, skinny mike) and a new set with the prerequisite Battlestar Gallactica décor. There will be dry ice, silicone sister merchandise models, and contestants hamming it up in hopes of becoming the next celebutard. Considering the Barker Legacy, the producers had better not be fool enough to simply insert a new host into the 35-year old blueprint.

So catch me if you can
I’m goin’ back*

Bob Barker has certainly earned a rest, because 35 years of keeping an unwavering enterprise alive is hard work, even though he made it look easy. I hope our profound sadness does not ruin his triumphant farewell, and may he have a long and satisfying retirement. Thank you Mr. Barker, and help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered. Goodbye everybody.

* “Goin’ Back” by Gerry Goffin & Carole King

May 28, 2007

Farewell, Charles Nelson Reilly

As Bob Barker's retirement is just days away, I've been wallowing in nostalgic television research, which naturally brought Charles Nelson Reilly into the equation. I'm just a tad freaked that as I've been remembering how much laughter he brought me as a kid, he then ups and leaves this mortal coil. I have promptly ceased all thoughts of Brett Somers and Richard Dawson, hoping to avoid a Dies-In-Threes Match Game smack down.

From Horatio J. Hoodoo on Lidsville, to Match Game to Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In to my beloved Love American Style, Charles Nelson Reilly was like a 1970s prototype of Where's Waldo? He constantly popped up everywhere on TV, and it was always a treat when he did. Just like Paul Lynde, there was true humor for everyone of every age and awareness, and that's how it's supposed to work. A sad and fond farewell to a true entertainer.

April 19, 2007

Sanjaya, The Possibilities Are Endless

Even before Sanjaya got the boot, I was thinking of his future possibilities. My first thought had been reviving Dan Rowan & Dick Martin's Laugh-In for the 21st century. The update would be:
Donny Osmond & Sanjaya's Laughin'
Topical humor, skits and songs with a regular cast including Jessica Simpson, Kimberly Stewart, Stephen Dorff and George Hamilton. Andy Dick as the new Artie Johnson.

We're overdue for the variety show format's return. Networks have picked apart each component of it to make new formats, so now it's time to bring them all back together. Plus, it would provide gainful employment for all those cyber-celebrities who don't have a valid reason for their notoriety.

But only last night, with tears of sadness rolling down my cheeks as he said goodbye, did the truly brilliant idea hit me:

Sanjaya and his sister Shyamali are the 21st century Donny & Marie!

For the pilot episode of San & Shy's variety hour, just dust off any Donny & Marie Show script and perform verbatim, with all songs, banter and costumes left intact.

Come today's post-loss press conference, Sanjaya seconds my thought with allusions to "a wide-ranging career that will probably include performances with his sister, Shyamali."

To network television producers, this idea is my gift to you (and if it actually happens, I'll be looking for a "creator" credit, naturally). To kids' book publishers, time to hop on the following:

Post Script: Only this morning did I learn that Donny Osmond & Sanjaya did a bit on Leno last night, mere hours after posting my Sanjaya variety show pitches. I am the Showbiz Nostradomus!

April 15, 2007

Premiere Magazine: A Toast at the Wake

I’ve finished reading the final issue of Premiere magazine. Upon hearing it was laid to rest, my first reaction was, “Hey, I paid for a 2 year subscription!” My second – and lingering - reaction is sadness. The death of another magazine is disturbing on so many levels.

On a personal level, my mother’s movie magazines are some of my first memories (especially being spanked for scribbling in her stack of Photoplay). Upon learning how to read, magazines became babysitters. What has always been a sentimental, tactile and informational attachment could become an historical artifact rendering me a bewildered fossil.

On a fan level, after the sad and pointless content change of the once-genius Movieline magazine (it was to movies what Creem was to music), Premiere was the only American populace movie magazine left. Rather than concentrate solely on trivial aspects of celebrity, it was only about movies and the people who made them. I deeply appreciated this last serious holdout landing in the mailbox each month.

On an objective level, I’m one of those people whose “consumer behavior” has been radically altered by the internet’s easy and instant access to information. Yet, that subscription assured me at least one good meal a month amidst all the on-line celebrity junk food. So, I didn’t directly contribute to the magazine’s demise, but I do contribute to the culture that killed it.

Unlike Movieline, there’s a nobility in their decision to not cave in and follow the easy money that lowered standards can net. Their decision to be a web-only presence means they are still alive, and if Libby Gelman-Waxner can be persuaded to finally join them on-line (so far that column is absent), then I will make sure to regularly visit. But the stinging truth is that the internet has forever changed how we gather information and how long we wait to get it, and if Premiere wishes to be viable competition on those terms, then the cave in of previous standards is a prerequisite.

Paper vs. Plasma: What We Lose In Translation

This article from Daily Variety is an accurate telling of why Premiere had to die. One paragraph in particular brought understanding into sharp focus:

“In a universe where misinformation travels swiftly over the Web, Universal Pictures publicity executive Michael Moses would like to see studios enter the blogosphere and provide information directly to consumers.”

While the Internet basically killed my lifelong music magazine habit, the trade-off is bands being able to talk directly to listeners with much less music business hype and manipulation. Plus, the point is supposed to be the music itself, so jumping straight to hearing it means no more money wasted on records that didn’t live up to a dynamic review. So, if this sea change applies to selling music then, yes, it applies to selling movies, too.

With technological advancements, there is no going backwards (except during power outages), and I can no longer live satisfactorily without them (as proven during power outages). But the potential demise of the magazine saddens me because:

No More Layouts
Have you ever browsed an article you wouldn’t normally read because it looked so fabulous? Exceptional graphic design can lend substance to insubstantial content, and elevate the worthwhile to awesome. An art director gives atmosphere and impact to a magazine; as of yet, websites just can’t replicate or advance the art of graphic layout and design. Compare a feature layout in Entertainment Weekly to its web counterpart (above) to see the vast difference. I fear for the grand tradition of the visionary art director.

Diminished Photography
Have you ever spontaneously ripped a photo from a magazine because it was so arresting? Right-clicking, saving and sending a 72 dpi photo to your crappy printer just doesn’t cut it. Not that photographers need worry about job security in the face of magazine obsolescence, but it will become more difficult to see their work any larger than half your monitor size (on those websites that care enough to provide a larger pop-up version). Compare 9 x 12 inches to 100 x 200 pixels and understand the negative impact the web has on the art of photography.

The All-Important Cover
No matter the industry, “landing the cover” is the ultimate achievement. It is magazine covers that make the news, catch our eye in the grocery line and signal when someone has arrived. The coveted cover can be a classic Hollywood horror story, a graceful show of power, or a deal breaker when it’s denied. Websites just can’t do covers, and they need to develop some new form of prestige to take its place.

Bathrooms & Waiting Rooms
What will we read in those places? Do people actually use laptops while sitting on the pot? And if magazines disappeared, what would be left on our coffee tables for guests to browse through?

Frickin’ Ads Everywhere!
Most magazines adhere to a format of ads in the front and the back, with only a few placed between features. This keeps advertisements from gunking up the layouts and content in the heart of the publication. On-line, there is never an escape from ads, and this means there is never a truly attractive or contemplative webpage layout.

No Chance To Linger
The Internet delivers tons of information real fast, so I’ve developed the skill of speed skimming to take in as much as possible before my eyes spazz out. A magazine can be like the cool down after cardio kickboxing. A magazine is like savoring a good meal, while the Internet is like gobbling fries in the car. I need the balance of both options.

Two-Timing the Print & Cyber Entities

Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Entertainment Weekly are magazines with a concurrent and strong web presence. I subscribe to VF and EW, and have barely thumbed through an issue of RS in the 21st century.

Even though they continually promote it in the magazine, I’ve visited the Entertainment Weekly website maybe once. The kind of celebrity gossip they provide is done better elsewhere on-line. Their more in-depth print articles are either not on-line or very hard to find, and then they don’t look as nice, so why bother?

Pouring over an issue of Vanity Fair is a luxurious contact sport. Their website is rather nice (below), and they go out of their way to respect the photography they are known for. But I only go there in hopes of finding an on-line version of an article to e-mail to someone.

Somehow, I receive Rolling Stone’s weekly e-newsletter (above). I do look at it because it’s loaded with lots of quick information, yet I only click one or two headlines before getting sidetracked. I’m incapable of applying past behaviors with the print version to the web version.

There’s the gist of the situation: The sporadic nature of the Internet is at odds with the continuous nature of magazines. A 13-year old may have a hard time hanging with the commitment a magazine requires, while a 70-year old might not want to keep up with the motion of the web. I’ve got a hand in both camps, and so know them as two distinct entities that socially mingle about as well as a 13- and 70-year old. I appreciate having both options, and often get drunk on the plentitude. The demise of Premiere magazine feels like a court-ordered 12-Step program. The hint of a diminished presence for all magazines feels like the threat of Prohibition.

February 10, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith Is Not Marilyn Monroe, She's Jayne Mansfield

Other than my next door neighbor just securing a ticket for the Anna Nicole Baby Daddy Sweepstakes, I have nothing new to add to the Dead Anna media saturation.
But I do have a complaint:
The Marilyn Monroe comparisons are just plain wrong, and lazy.

Trying to make a shallow connection between Anna & Marilyn is insulting because it disses Jayne Mansfield. It was the masterminds at Guess evoking Jayne Mansfield that first brought Anna to our attention.
Here's a page of Jayne to explain
why the Anna Guess ads were so compelling.

A few years later, we all began to learn that she was a walking hillbilly disaster who's main gift was following art direction orders well. She went from strength to strength when she earned her John Waters Merit Badge in September 1996 for exploding implants.

By the 21st century, she was the benchmark for quality reality TV.
During our weekend of national mourning, I keep wondering about Anna's former assistant Kim (above), the person who loved Anna the most. I wonder if Kim's friends are laying flowers around her tattoo, in memorial.

Jayne Mansfield got her start as the exaggerated Marilyn Monroe clone, so Anna being made the clone homage was a brilliant move. Trying to draw parallels between Anna & Marilyn is just retarded when the life parallels between Jayne and Anna are so eerily exact. For starters...

Jayne died on June 29, 1967
Anna was born November 28, 1967
Making Jayne's Reincarnation as Anna a genuine metaphysical possibility.
They both died in their 30's, and the agony they felt in their final days was reflected in their hair.
Those are enough "embodiment" highlights to get the dedicated conspirators on the trail, which then might make up for the heinous oversight of Jayne, via Anna.

Anna lived a tragic life, allowing herself to be scuttled and muddled about, and death does not solve that aspect of it, the poor dear. This is probably where the Marilyn comparison comes from, because other than the eyebrows and a brief hairstyle or 2, it's the only thing Marilyn & Anna have in common.

We had Jayne Mansfield Reincarnate, and most were too distracted to fully appreciate the gift, and now they're disrespecting Jayne yet again. Because when Jayne and her Chihuahua died (while Mariska and her siblings survived) in a gruesome car wreck, most every obit got the "poor man's Marilyn Monroe" in by the first paragraph. Even in death, Jayne is forever second-billed.

So it would complete the karmic wheel spin if Anna was forever second-billed to Jayne. But karma's wicked fey, Marilyn is the unwitting scene-stealer for a cliché-ridden media, and not a single gal in this Peroxide Trinity gets to rest in peace.

January 14, 2007

Eddie Izzard & Judi Dench

New issue of Entertainment Weekly
First Thought at First Glance:
What is Eddie Izzard doing on the cover with Mirren & Streep?
Second Thought:
Oops, that's Judi Dench.
Third Thought:
Probably the first and last time we'll ever see ladies with their natural, aging faces on the cover of this magazine.

But here's proof that present-day Dame Judi and mid-period Eddie Izzard do share a certain look.
The inside photo of Dench is even more Izzard-esque. Which is far from an insult to either performer. From my perspective, Dame Dench resembling Eddie Izzard gives her a certain cool cache I'd never attributed to her before. And casting directors should take note of this for any future British Mother/Son casting needs.