The Sound of Their Voices

 

A documentary retrospective called Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice has been making the rounds of film festivals this summer, most recently at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was a popular offering. Linda Ronstadt came to prominence in the 1970s covering songs in a style so distinctively her own that listeners could be forgiven for thinking the songs originated with her. Her first big hit, for example, was “Different Drum”, which she recorded in 1967 with the Stone Poneys. The song was first recorded by the Greenbriar Boys in 1966, and it was written in 1965 by Michael Nesmith of the Monkees.

 

An interesting twist to the story of “Different Drum” being written by Michael Nesmith is that most of the Monkees own hit songs were written by the Brill Building songwriting team of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. One hit for the Monkees, “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, was written by another Brill Building songwriting team, Carole King and her husband at the time, Gerry Goffin. Those two wrote many hit songs for various artists during the 1960s, and after their divorce in 1969 Ms. King went on to a distinguished solo career singing her own songs.

CaroleKingHWOFDec2012
Carole King at the ceremony to receive her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in December 2012. Photo by Angela George.

Her 1971 album, Tapestry, became an enormous success, enjoyed by both men and women, but it made its greatest connection with women who came of age in the 1960s, and in the 1970s were staking claims to have their voices acknowledged and heard independently of men. The female singer-songwriters of the 1970s enjoyed popular and critical success in a music industry dominated by men, and despite the obstacles, such as male promoters encouraging them to push their sexual allure ahead of their singing and songwriting talents, they persevered and became strong, independent voices.

In this 1974 episode of the television show The Midnight Special, Melissa Manchester performed “Midnight Blue”, a song she co-wrote with Carole Bayer Sager, an alumna of the Brill Building. Ms. Manchester released an album including “Midnight Blue” the following year, and the song became her first hit. It takes skill and artistry to sustain intensity and interest in a slow song, as Ms. Manchester did beautifully in this rendition.

The list of women who made indelible marks in the popular music of the 1970s is long and would inevitably leave out some names. Not all of them wrote the majority of the songs they made famous, but in the song choices they made they exhibited an independent spirit. Linda Ronstadt, for instance, as she expanded her repertoire to include the Great American Songbook, chose songs that reflected character, strength, and respect. Melissa Manchester, who learned songwriting in a course taught in the early 1970s at New York University by another Brill Building alumnus, Paul Simon, had several hits with songs she co-wrote, and has also been a song stylist like Ms. Ronstadt and has followed a similar path since the 1970s and ’80s with distinctive renditions of standards.

Carole King’s Tapestry, with its well-known cover photo of her, barefooted and wild-haired, on a window seat with her cat, started out a decade of great music from female singer-songwriters with songs that eventually became standards themselves, covered dozens of times by other artists, male and female. Incidentally, that famous cover photo was taken by Jim McCrary at Ms. King’s home in Laurel Canyon, outside Los Angeles, and in the 1970s Laurel Canyon became the locus of much musical talent, and especially singer-songwriters.

In a 1993 concert at Bushnell Hall in Hartford, Connecticut, Carole King performed “You’ve Got a Friend”, one of the several hit songs from her 1971 album, Tapestry.

The decade closed with Linda Ronstadt, another inhabitant of Laurel Canyon in the ’70s, as the most successful female rock and pop singer of the time. Singing out throughout the time in between, and whether coming from the cramped quarters of the Brill Building in New York City or the openness of sunny southern California in Laurel Canyon, were Melissa Manchester and dozens of others every bit as talented, and all with new and interesting statements to make, creating music that expressed their unique times and has lasted beyond, affirmation of their skill and artistry in giving voice to their experience.


— Vita


A story from a February 2019 edition of the television magazine show CBS Sunday Morning.

 

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The Last Sane Man on Earth

 

“You hear the applause at the end of the routine, the people are actually applauding themselves. What I’m saying is not necessarily funny. It’s what you don’t hear that’s funny, and the audience supplies that. It presumes a certain intelligence on the part of your audience, and I think they appreciate that.”
— Bob Newhart speaking in an interview on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition in May 2014.

 

Happy 90th birthday to comedian and actor Bob Newhart, who was born in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb outside Chicago, on September 5, 1929. Anyone who has ever enjoyed Mr. Newhart’s comedy knows he doesn’t talk down to his audience, and neither does he go way over their heads. His best friend, another comedian and actor, Don Rickles, placed Mr. Newhart’s appeal best when he nicknamed him “Charlie Everybody”.

Newhart show cast 1977
A June 1977 publicity photo of the cast of The Bob Newhart Show. Standing, from left: Bill Daily (Howard Borden), Marcia Wallace (Carol Kester), Peter Bonerz (Jerry Robinson). Seated, from left: Bob Newhart (Bob Hartley), Suzanne Pleshette (Emily Hartley).


Bob Newhart portrayed Major Major Major Major in the 1970 film Catch-22, adapted by Buck Henry from Joseph Heller’s novel, and directed by Mike Nichols. Norman Fell portrayed Major Major’s orderly, Sergeant Towser.

Bob Newhart has made a career of understatement and staying sane while quirky characters and peculiar events swirl around him, and his style allows his audience to come along with him rather than merely spectate. His straight man “Charlie Everybody” reactions heighten the comedy by letting absurdity seep in and speak for itself, and that requires a delicate sense of timing and a feeling for the oddity in everyday life, a talent he has that is neither as easy to come by nor as simple to share as he makes it seem. Hi, Bob, and happy birthday! Thanks for helping us laugh, and feel good, too, remembering the first is a passing reaction to an event or situation, while the second lingers with us long after the laughter fades.


— Ed.


Bob Newhart remembers his best friend, Don Rickles, in this August 2017 interview with Conan O’Brien. Don Rickles died in April 2017, and the two had been friends since their days as entertainers in Las Vegas in the 1960s. Seated on the couch with Mr. Newhart is Peter Bonerz, one of his co-stars from The Bob Newhart Show and, earlier, from Catch-22. Warning: foul language.

 

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You Guessed It!

 

Being good at trivia contests or general knowledge quizzes requires an excellent memory every bit as much as having learned widely. Without a memory capable of storing and retrieving vast amounts of information, a person cannot have learned well, though he or she may have studied widely. A strong capacity for memory is dependent partly on genetics and partly on the interest a person has in learning a thing. The lack of one factor or of both explains why some people can go through 16 or more years of schooling and not appear to have retained much knowledge beyond what would allow them to pass the next exam, while others can cite obscure facts from their reading years later, with or without having picked them up in a formal school setting.

 

The latter skill is often dismissed as nothing more than a parlor trick by jealous people who don’t possess the skill themselves. They are unwilling to give credit when credit is due by recognizing that some or all of the ability to recall bits of knowledge from a large store in memory may come from studious application of the individual to the hard task of learning, and that may be in addition to, or without benefit of, the gift of a genetically strong memory. These personal dynamics can be evident during a gathering of friends or family to play a game like Trivial Pursuit.

Trivial Pursuit
The board and pieces for Trivial Pursuit, the 1981 classic game. Photo by Pratyeka.

The flaw in a game like Trivial Pursuit, as popular as it has been since it made a splash in the board game market in 1981, is that in a contest between unevenly matched opponents, as is often the case in informal gatherings of friends and family, time and again there will be the same winners and the same losers. The winners may think there’s nothing wrong with that, but in a short time they will probably have trouble getting a game up, and then only with dispirited and half-interested opponents. And the losers go away either feeling stupid or defensively rationalizing that being able to dredge up trivia is merely a cheap parlor trick and doesn’t indicate true intelligence. That’s no fun!

There may be a kernel of truth to the opinions of all the players, and yet there should be a better way for everyone to shine and have fun. The habitual losers of a board game like Trivial Pursuit, or of home viewing play along sessions while watching the television quiz show Jeopardy!, are not necessarily stupid people, any more than the habitual winners are geniuses. A good game dynamic should welcome in a variety of personal strengths so that most players can be competitive. It appears former Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings, along with game development partner Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering, have recognized the flaw at the heart of many trivia games and tried to overcome it in their new game called Half-Truth.

A scene from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin.

Half-Truth calls on a player’s capacity for deductive reasoning and strategic thinking as well as the usual ability in trivia games of being able to tap into a personal well of knowledge. Expected release for the game is this year’s holiday season. Like all but a few trivia board games and pub trivia nights, using smartphones to look up answers will probably be against the rules. Leveling the playing field by incorporating more ways for more players to remain competitive rather than relying on the one and only way available in standard trivia games seems like a good plan for a game that will become popular and get played more than a few times and not soon forgotten on a closet shelf like many other trivia board games, and that will lead to sales of additional sets of question cards, the great recurring source of revenue for trivia game makers. In the old days, a player could cheat by memorizing the information on cards played over and over again; now they cheat by sneaking a peek at their smartphone, the handheld virtual encyclopedia.
— Techly

 

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The Empathy Generator

 

Roger Ebert, the great movie critic who worked primarily in Chicago, Illinois, and over the course of his career garnered respect and influence internationally, believed movies were “like a machine that generates empathy”. By that he meant a well-made movie encourages viewers to lose themselves for a time and step into the shoes of others. There were more movies like that being made 50 years ago than there now, in the current era of comic book special effects franchises.

Stanley Kubrick - Chicago Theatre cph.3d02346
Stanley Kubrick took this photo in 1949 for LOOK magazine. Mr. Kubrick was a staff photographer for the magazine from 1947 to 1950, and he then went on to direct many great movies, becoming a model for other filmmakers of the New Hollywood. The Chicago Theatre was one of many movie palaces built around the country in the 1920s, and after renovations in the 1980s, it remains a popular venue for film exhibitions and live performances.

 

Mr. Ebert became the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper in 1967, about the same time as the emergence of New Hollywood filmmaking, an era lasting roughly from 1965 to 1985 when Hollywood studios financed character driven films made by directors like Mike Nichols, Bob Rafelson, and Francis Ford Coppola, who came from backgrounds in theater, television, or film school. Filmmakers in Old Hollywood often came up through the ranks, and many of them were refugees from Europe, escaping the fascist regimes spreading throughout the continent in the 1920s, ’30s, and early ’40s.

Old Hollywood was vertically integrated, meaning the studios controlled production and distribution and held talent under long term contracts. All that started to fall away in the 1950s when the federal government forced the studios to divest themselves of most of their wholly owned distribution channels, which had behaved as a cartel, and as television poached audience share from the movie industry. Some star actors and directors cut themselves loose from the major studio system, forming ad hoc film companies which sought limited input from the big studios. Finally, in order to compete with television, studios more frequently rolled the dice on big budget spectaculars such as Ben-Hur or Cleopatra, and those high stakes gambles either saved financially unstable studios or sank them nearly to insolvency.

By the late 1960s, the movie studios primarily served as film financers and weren’t as heavily involved in production and distribution as they once were. Along with discarding the Hays Code of movie censorship, a relic of Old Hollywood, the changed paradigm of filmmaking allowed greater freedom and creative control for directors, actors, and writers. The result was the flowering of small to medium scale films that became the hallmark of the New Hollywood, films such as The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde, both released in 1967, and continuing with other great films made for adult sensibilities through the 1970s.



Jack Nicholson had a breakout role as an alcoholic civil rights lawyer in the 1969 film Easy Rider, directed by Dennis Hopper, who also starred in the film along with co-writer Peter Fonda. In taking on multiple tasks in the making of Easy Rider, Mr. Hopper and Mr. Fonda were more typical of New Hollywood than they were of Old Hollywood, where vertical integration assigned discrete tasks to different individuals within the studio system, and auteurism was discouraged by studio bosses who were leery of the practice ever since Orson Welles made Citizen Kane in 1941.

 

Jack Nicholson was the actor who became the face of New Hollywood filmmaking, simply because he was in more hit movies than anyone else during that time. His face, voice, and acting style and choices personified the New Hollywood era. Starting with Easy Rider in 1969, Mr. Nicholson was in one successful movie nearly every year, and in some years more than one, through the 1970s and into the ’80s. He has of course been in many successful films since then, and what is remarkable in retrospect from today’s vantage point when big budget sequels and reboots of franchises are Hollywood’s major output is that he has never repeated himself nor acted in one of those kinds of movies.

Since the demise of New Hollywood filmmaking, Jack Nicholson has chosen to stay with character driven films, though the number available for his participation diminished over the years, as he related in a 1995 interview with Roger Ebert. Even Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman, in which Mr. Nicholson played The Joker, can be seen as character driven despite its comic book origins and inclusion of special effects. It was the first film of its kind to take the source material seriously, and it was well-made by some exceptional talents.

In a later scene in Easy Rider, Jack Nicholson’s character, George Hanson, discusses the state of the country with Dennis Hopper’s character, Billy.

Unfortunately the endless variations on Batman in the 30 years since its release have grown wearisome. But the movie that started the push for a return to blockbuster filmmaking came out 14 years earlier, in 1975, when Steven Spielberg’s film Jaws appeared in theaters that summer and set box office records. Jaws was followed in the summer of 1977 by Star Wars, a film created and directed by George Lucas that started a media franchise which continues to this day. Those films, too, were well-made by exceptional talents. In the years since their release, however, those kind of films and their lesser cousins have increasingly crowded out the kind of smaller, character driven movies Jack Nicholson and the New Hollywood were known for, the kind Roger Ebert described as generators of empathy. In times when we are in need of empathy generators perhaps more than ever, we are largely left to project ourselves onto special effects beclouded superheroes.
— Vita

 

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A Salute to Stan Freberg

 

Stan Freberg and Gong
An ABC television publicity photo of Stan Freberg and a gong. This photo promoted a February 1962 special, Stan Freberg Presents the Chun King Chow Mein Hour: Salute to the Chinese New Year.

Stan Freberg ( 1926-2015) was an innovator in radio production in the 1950s and later in television advertisements, and his achievements were in technique as well as in content. He wrote, produced, and acted in his own works and contributed to those of others. His radio skits in particular were well designed soundscapes which were ahead of their time at the same time that they were the last of their kind. With his short-lived radio show of the late 1950s, Mr. Freberg rang out the end of radio’s golden age of original programming.

The technical limitations of most radio playback equipment of the 1950s probably did not do justice to the skill of Mr. Freberg and his colleagues at evoking an ambience capable of putting listeners in an imaginary, but convincing place. The care Mr. Freberg and crew took in production helped set up the listener for off kilter and absurdist content, making it all the funnier. Where their professionalism truly shined was in the stereophonic comedy albums they produced, which stood a much better chance of being played back on equipment capable of faithfully reproducing every nuance of sound effects and comic voice acting than the radio shows.


Probably Stan Freberg’s best remembered work is the 1961 album Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America Volume One: The Early Years. This track is “Declaration of Independence: A Man Can’t Be Too Careful What He Signs These Days”, with Stan Freberg as Benjamin Franklin, Byron Kane as Thomas Jefferson, and Colleen Collins as Sylvia, a fictional character.

 

Had Stan Freberg been in his prime during the current age of podcasting he no doubt would have found the new medium well suited to his comic and technical skills. Similar limitations would apply for playback equipment, however, in that listeners using a smartphone without stereo ear pieces would not get the full effect of his satirical skits. Be that as it may, we are fortunate to have Mr. Freberg’s original recordings, and now with more ways than ever of listening to them. His brilliant satire shines through any medium, and his spirit of poking fun at our pretensions and reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously is the true Spirit of ’76, not any of the militaristic nonsense currently going on in the nation’s capital.
— Techly

An animation of “Yankee Doodle Go Home (Spirit of ’76)”, from Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America Volume One: The Early Years. Stan Freberg as Yankee Doodle and as Bix, the Hip Fife Player, Walter Tetley as the Young Second Drummer, and Shepard Menken as the Officer. Paul Frees was the Narrator.

 

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Nearly as Good as New

 

The past thirty years have been a golden age of film restoration, starting with the 1989 restoration of the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. Robert Harris led that work, and he has had a hand in restoring many films since then, including Vertigo (1958) and My Fair Lady (1964). It’s a shame that great movies need restoration at all, a state of affairs principally due to neglect by the very studios that made them, often at a cost of millions of dollars. Hollywood studios were far less concerned about art or historical preservation than they were about business, and movies retained little value for the studios after their initial theatrical release.

Peck Moby Dick
Publicity still of Gregory Peck from the 1956 film Moby Dick. Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers.

 

Indeed that was the situation for movies until home video opened a new and lucrative avenue for the studios in the 1970s and 1980s. Until then, to the extent the movie studios kept original film elements at all, they kept them in slipshod conditions which allowed the films to deteriorate to one degree or another. By the time demand returned for some of the better movies, restoration was necessary to have a salable product. VHS (Video Home System) tapes could skate by with no restoration because of the low resolution of the format, but laser disc was several steps above VHS in quality and created the first push to restore old films.

Laser disc never caught on the way VHS did, however, and its appeal was limited to cinema buffs. The biggest nudge toward film restoration came in the 1990s with the popularity of DVD (Digital Video Disc), an improvement in quality over VHS at about the same price for content and playback equipment. With that change in the market, movie studios saw the value in packaging their backlog of films in the new format, creating a greater need to restore at least some of those in highest demand. Since the turn of the century, high definition televisions and further improvements in home video resolution have brought the home theater experience into the mainstream, and the demand for quality restorations of old films is at a peak and will probably stay on a plateau hereafter.

There is a limit to how much detail the human eye can discern in the limited space of the typical home theater. DVD was a huge improvement over VHS, and Blu-ray was almost as big an improvement over DVD. 4K resolution is not quite as great an improvement over Blu-ray as numbers alone would suggest, simply because the law of diminishing returns starts to take effect. In the confines of a home theater, even using the best equipment, viewers are less able to discern the finer detail there on the screen. 8K resolution is overkill for all but the most dedicated home video enthusiasts with deep pockets.

Another reason for home video improvements driving film restorations less in the future is the switch by consumers from owning content on physical media, such as a Blu-ray disc, and streaming content in a rental agreement over the internet. Already the rollout of 4K discs has slowed to the point that many good old movies may never be remastered for the format. The potential sales aren’t high enough to interest the major movie studios. As to streaming 4K content, that is subject to the vagaries of the consumer’s internet connection. Some of the 4K content may not be as advertised because of the huge bandwidth requirements, and streaming true 8K content would probably require a 5G internet connection and an actual unlimited data plan from a viewer’s Internet Service Provider (ISP).


In any event, these are good times for fans of old movies. Some classic films, like director John Huston’s 1956 version of Moby Dick, which have long deserved restoration but were nonetheless neglected for whatever reason by the major studios, have been restored by smaller distributors of home video content who have determined it would be worth their time and effort. The movie studio Paramount last year restored It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and remastered it in 4K, though in a sign of the times they have released the new version only for streaming and have not pressed discs of it. Another classic film, Life with Father (1947), awaits true restoration, and viewers should meanwhile beware the versions for sale which trumpet digital remastering or restoration.

Life with Father (1947)
Screenshot from Life with Father (1947), with Irene Dunne and William Powell. Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers.

Like It’s a Wonderful Life, Life with Father had also fallen into the public domain; unlike It’s a Wonderful Life, Life with Father has not attracted anew the attention of the major studios. While Paramount has lavished care on restoring It’s a Wonderful Life, slapdash outfits have been appropriating Life with Father for the sales catalog, offering horrendously bad versions of it and relying on the phrases “digitally remastered” and “restored” to dupe the ignorant. They hope naive consumers will infer that “digitally remastered” means “improved”. It means no such thing; it means only that the film has been scanned to a digital format, a necessary step in making analog movie film available for home viewing on a DVD, Blu-ray, or 4K player. “Restored” is a relative term and can mean the absolute minimum amount of work was put into it, as is usually the case with the shadier outfits.

Robert Harris worked on this 2014 restoration and remastering of the 1964 film My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.

Check reviews online, preferably not on Amazon because the reviewers there rarely get to the nitty gritty about the quality of the transfer, and instead prefer to bloviate about the movie itself, seeing it as their chance to be an authoritative movie reviewer like Roger Ebert. Better are the reviews on news sites or websites specializing in film industry or home theater matters because they generally do mention the quality of the transfer, though consumers still have to take some of those reviews with a grain of salt when they include affiliate links to sites selling copies of the movie. Be wary during research and you’ll have less chance to regret a purchase and better enjoyment of a great old movie given the attention it deserves.
— Techly

 

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Getting Flaky

 

Snow has always been more problematic for movie sets than rain, but when the filmmakers and their special effects people do it well it creates an atmosphere for viewers that suspends their disbelief to the point of not noticing smaller details, like how the snow fallen on performers doesn’t appear to melt quickly when they go indoors, where it is presumably warmer than it is outside. All sorts of obstacles dictate the use of fake snow for movies rather than the real stuff, from warm weather outdoors to shooting scenes indoors on sound stages. Real snow also compacts underfoot, making it impracticable for filmmakers to get more than one or two takes in one spot outdoors even when they go to the trouble of brushing over footsteps to make the snow appear fresh for retakes. As expensive as it is to make a movie, it makes sense to use fake snow.

 

In the early twentieth century, filmmakers created fake snow with bleached cornflakes, salt, flour, cotton wadding, asbestos, or combinations of those materials as well as others. All posed problems either of realism or health and safety. Cornflakes crunched underfoot and were difficult to use once sound came into movies; salt was corrosive; flour congealed on exposure to moisture; cotton was a fire hazard, and its replacement, asbestos, was a health hazard. Filmmakers experimented with many materials, but it wasn’t until Frank Capra’s 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life that they came upon a winning formula which was realistic and safe.

Snow in the City - Six Summer Saturdays - Fake snow in Chamberlain Square (6014608196)
Fake snow attracts visitors to Chamberlain Square in Birmingham, England, in August 2011 as part of the Six Summer Saturdays festival. The fake snow was supplied by Snow Business, an English firm that has also used the material on many movie sets. Photo by Elliott Brown.

For that film produced by the studio RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum), special effects supervisor Russell Shearman helped create a mix of foamite – a fire extinguisher material – with sugar, water, and soap flakes. Mr. Shearman’s snow effects were so convincing that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave him and his special effects department a Technical Achievement Award for their work on It’s a Wonderful Life. Watching this Christmas classic over 70 years later, after special effects have made huge advances in duplicating reality, and noticing how at the end of the movie the “snowflakes” on Jimmy Stewart’s shoulders take a long time to melt when he comes indoors to a warm reception from his family, friends, and neighbors, should not detract from anyone’s enjoyment of a great cinematic moment or the filmmakers’ expert creation of George Bailey’s (Stewart’s) snowy odyssey one long Christmas Eve in the fictional New York town of Bedford Falls (or its nightmare alternative, Pottersville). Movie magic at its best suspends the viewer in another world for a time, and on the few occasions when the artifice shows through, it’s charitable not to be too picky and to brush them off.
— Vita

Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, and Vera-Ellen in the 1954 film White Christmas, directed by Michael Curtiz, and with songs by Irving Berlin, including “Snow”. The performers take the train from Florida and eventually arrive in Vermont, where snow doesn’t fall until Christmas Eve.

 

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Cursing the Darkness

 

There are some people who are so afraid of change that they would rather curse the darkness of their current situation than light a candle to change it. Such people curse an onerously expensive Comcast or Charter cable television and internet bill and the infamously poor customer service of those companies, and yet when they are presented with alternatives they hem and haw and drag their feet about contacting a competitor to the large cable television and internet providers. Part of the problem is fear of change, and part of it is the desire to continue having all of everything, all at once.

 

People living in or near cities have choices of providers for their television and internet services, while choices for people living in the countryside are far more limited. Nevertheless, while choices may be limited, they are available to people everywhere in the United States who are willing to forego having daily access to obscure specialty channels on cable television or to hundreds of GigaBytes (GB) of data each month for streaming content over the internet. People have to be willing to give up the passivity of slouching on their couches and letting Comcast do everything for them. If that’s what they want, then fine, but don’t expect everyone else to be sympathetic to complaints about high monthly bills for lousy service. Curse the darkness to yourself if you’re unwilling to light a candle to help yourself.

Paris - A waiter lighting candles in a bar - 3418
A waitress lighting candles in a bar in Paris, France, in 2008. Photo by Jorge Royan.

For everyone else, there is research to be done, most likely over the internet, a job for which it is very well suited. Research options for internet service providers other than the large companies. You may have to make sacrifices in one way or another when changing to a local, small scale provider, but that is part of cutting the cord. It’s like changing from buying most of your groceries at a national or regional chain grocer to buying them from a local farmers’ market or independent grocer. City dwellers will of course have more options when it comes to technology than country folks, but the important thing to realize is that there are options, as long as people ditch the idea of having all of everything done for them all at once.

The same thing applies to television service, which starts with cutting the cord without bothering to find a new cord provider. Get an antenna! Local television stations are adding digital subchannels every year, and receiving them with an antenna costs nothing. The two key things to remember in buying an antenna are that there is no such thing as a digital or high definition television antenna (an antenna is an antenna, built to receive electromagnetic frequencies regardless of whether the content of those signals is analog or digital), and that resolving digital television content requires a slightly more powerful antenna than in the old days of resolving analog content. Where a rabbit ears antenna may have done the job before, today an outdoor antenna may be necessary for adequate reception.

A nice story from the actor, Jamie Farr, about his early days struggling to make a living in Hollywood. Documentaries like this are much easier to find now on the internet than on cable television.

Some folks who are fortunate enough to have hundreds of GigaBytes of internet data available each month at a reasonable price can do away with cable or antenna television service altogether, and instead use their internet service for viewing television. Do your research! Ask questions of yourself first about what it is you watch most and can’t do without. How many different ways are there to receive that programming? Chances are there are multiple ways of receiving your favorite content, and continuing to rely solely on companies like Comcast and Charter is a disservice to yourself and a way of continuing to curse the darkness. To take documentaries – serious documentaries, that is, not Shark Week documentaries or anything involving Guy Fieri – as one example, it is obvious that cable television offerings have been replaced in the past ten years by what’s available for free on YouTube and by subscription on services such as Netflix. Don’t keep sitting in the dark – light a candle, just don’t expect it to vanquish all the shadows in your life.
— Techly

 

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No Room for Argument

 

Instant replay started in 1963 as a way of enhancing television viewing of sports contests when the initial action might have been too quick for sports fans watching at home to catch, or if they had been called away from the television momentarily. In the 1980s the National Football League (NFL), always the most technocratic of the major sports organizations, adapted the technology of instant replay to the sidelines of games, where referees could review controversial plays and possibly overturn the call on the field. It seemed like a good idea at the time because fans had always enjoyed second guessing the calls of officials in all sports, and since fans had access to instant replay and the ability to validate their second guessing, it seemed only natural and right to make the technology available to officials in order to set things right on the field.

 

30 or more years and many thousands of humdrum hours later, has all the insistence on exactitude done anything to improve sports over what it was before the intrusion of technology? The officials are given the opportunity to rectify calls, but at the cost of slowing athletic contests down to a crawl and boring the casual viewer to the point of changing the channel or not attending a game in person ever again. Some percentage of viewers, perhaps a minority (it’s hard to say, since statistics aren’t available), are satisfied that the official calls are correct, and everyone else could not care less. Meanwhile, the progression appears to be for adoption of instant replay in the officiating of more sports.

Jeff Isom arguing with an umpire
In a 2012 minor league baseball game, Jeff Isom, then the manager of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, argues with an umpire over a close call. He was later thrown out of the game. Photo by Wisconsin Timber Rattlers team photographer.


“I Wish”, by Stevie Wonder, from his 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life, is about his childhood in the 1950s and early ’60s.

Video technology is a useful tool in areas that really matter in people’s lives, such as the interactions between police and citizens, but it’s overuse for trivialities like sports shows a lack of perspective in our society. Most people are casual fans and do not live and breathe on the outcome of an official’s call in a sporting contest that ultimately means nothing in their lives. For the sake of satisfying the fanatic interest of a minority of die-hard enthusiasts, the major sports leagues are choking off the interest of casual fans. The leagues seem to understand this, but are determined to milk as much merchandising income from their devout followers as possible and that means keeping them happy at the expense of losing peripheral fans. Major League Baseball (MLB), the most traditional of the sports leagues, must have known this when it discarded almost all daytime playoff games a generation ago, and with that decision discarded cultivating the interest of youngsters who couldn’t stay up until midnight to watch a game stretched out to three or four hours. Arguing with parents about bedtimes has for many young sports fans replaced arguing about the minutiae of the games with their peers.
— Techly

 

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Thumbs Up

 

BBC Radio 4 this month is airing a new, sixth series of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, 40 years after the broadcast of the first series in 1978. Fans in the United States might have an easier time downloading the podcast from a client based here rather than trying to listen directly from BBC Radio 4. The Stitcher podcast client, for instance, offers several BBC Radio 4 programs, among them Comedy of the Week. Enthusiastic fans of the series will find a way to listen.

 

The complete first series from BBC Radio 4 is available for listening, and it truly does the best job with the material of all the different formats, radio or television or print or motion picture. Douglas Adams wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the 1978 radio presentation, and the other formats followed. The BBC made it into a very good television program in 1981. The 2005 motion picture was not popular. In this country, public radio rebroadcast the BBC Radio 4 series, and public television did the same for the BBC television adaptation.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, english
A representation of the personal electronic device used by Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Computer graphic by Nicosmos.


From the 1981 BBC television adaptation of The Hitchihker’s Guide to the Galaxy, protagonist Arthur Dent meets the planet designer, Slartibartfast.

Rebroadcast in this country of original BBC radio programming is nothing new now, but in the 1970s and 80s it was fairly novel because at that time there was still some original programming being produced for radio by American public broadcasters and private outfits. There was Earplay on NPR, which were dramas based on original material and adaptations, and there was the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, a program of thrillers. Those American radio programs shut down in the 1980s, and since then very little original programming has come out of America. Britain, on the other hand, has a comparatively lively radio program production lineup, and as proof there is the sixth series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (with a cameo by renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking no less), airing in March 2018, forty years on from the first series. Fans of the show on this side of the Atlantic are glad the BBC radio crews are still at it, and if the latest series is anywhere near as enjoyable a listen as the first series, then their efforts will have been well worthwhile.
— Techly

 

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