We are now at the twentieth anniversary of September 11, 2001, the date of the worst terrorist attack in American history. As I ask of any anniversary, whether mournful or celebratory, where did all the time go? Looking back, it seemed like time just stopped even as the clock kept ticking. As with the current COVID-19 pandemic, our way of life has forever changed and will never be the same. While so much has happened between 2001 and now, it still feels like yesterday when those planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania.
I still remember this morning vividly. I was living in an apartment near the Sunset Strip and West Hollywood. At the time, I was working at Disneyland and enduring a ridiculous 35-mile commute to the park as I was determined not to let anything stand in my way, including common sense and high gas prices.
That morning, I got a call from a Disneyland scheduler. They usually call me to see if I want to start working earlier in the day or pick up an extra shift, and I usually jump at the chance to do so as I was never got enough hours when I started. Instead, the call went as follows:
“Hi, can I speak to Ben please?”
“This is Ben.”
“Hi Ben. Don’t come to the park today. The park is closed and your shift has been cancelled.”
“The park is closed today.”
This truly stunned me as anyone familiar with Disneyland knows the park never closes and is even open on holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. The only time it ever shuts down is if there is some catastrophic electrical failure or, as we have seen recently, due to a global pandemic. After a brief pause, the scheduler told me:
“You still get paid though.”
This made my ears prick up. Not having to go to work and still get paid has to be an American dream of sorts. It also put a smile on my face as there were things I had to take care of, and now I had the time to do so. Of course, I had to ask why Disneyland was closed today as I figured part of the park was flooded or something. To this, the scheduler simply said:
“Turn on the news.”
Well, after jumping up and down on my bed, reveling in the fact I was getting a day’s pay without working for it, I turned on my 27-inch JVC television. As I watched, I wondered why Michael Bay’s “Armageddon” was playing on NBC, and I was stunned to see all the thick fog in downtown Manhattan. Does it ever get this foggy in New York like it does in San Francisco?
Quickly, it dawned on me what was going on. The twin towers known as the World Trade Center in New York City had been attacked. Planes had flown into them, and by the time I had turned on the news, one of the towers had completely collapsed. No doubt about it, this was all really happening, and yet it felt so unreal. I could not fully register all of what was going on, and my neighbors, who also just got the news, looked like they couldn’t either.
The whole world shut down on this day, and I remained glued to my television set for most of it, slowly adjusting to the new reality we all had been thrust into. All of what had happened still left me completely numb, but I eventually turned off the television after I saw a man falling from one of the towers to the ground. This particular visual was just too much for me, and I needed a break from reality, however short.
I ended up taking my car, I had a red 1992 Acura Integra at the time, to a nearby 76 gas station on Sunset Boulevard to get a smog check as it was part of my registration renewal with the DMV. The attendant there greeted me, looked over my paperwork and then said, “Hell of a day, huh?” Yes, it was. Even as everyone went about their business, our hearts were heavy. Since the smog check was going to take a bit to complete, I decided to go for a walk up and down Sunset Boulevard.
I came across The Laugh Factory, and its marquee said, “No Laughing Tonight.” Got that right. The House of Blues, long before it was torn down, was closed, and The Comedy Store was understandably vacant. I picked up a copy of the Los Angeles Times which had just put out their latest issue that included everything about the attacks. It’s newspapers like these you want to hang onto as this is a moment which will forever be burned into our memories. Plus, this newspaper might be worth money someday.
The rest of the week had me overcoming my state of shock. On September 12th, I went back to Disneyland where I was an interactive host in the Tomorrowland attraction of Innoventions, and me and my fellow cast members were subjected to getting our ID cards checked over and over again before we even got off the bus. Seriously, it was a real nuisance. A couple of days later, I was standing outside the Hollywood Improv where I was taking classes at Second City, singing songs such as “America the Beautiful,” “My Country Tis of Thee,” and of course the national anthem along with my fellow classmates. These are songs I hadn’t sang in years, and some of them had me trying to remember the lyrics.
What I want people to remember most about September 11, 2001 is how it brought us all together. Divisions between political parties ceased to exist, and as Americans we were one with each other. We shared deeply in the sorrow, and we thanked all the first responders who spent day and night searching through the smoky rubble for survivors.
Perhaps this is why I am publishing this more towards September 12th more than September 11th. We have to remember how this tragic day brought everyone together and created a unity which, in retrospect, seems short-lived. In 2021, we live in a time where America has never been more divided, and I would like us all to remember how unified this terrorist attack made us. It would be nice if we were this unified today.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is one of the many films we had to wait an extra year for. But with the pandemic reaching its tail end (or so we have been told), we can look forward to “Halloween Kills,” the sequel to David Gordon Green’s highly successful “Halloween” reboot, arriving in theaters this October of 2021. John Carpenter, who returns as Executive, has told us the following about it:
“It’s brilliant. It’s the ultimate slasher. I mean, there’s nothing more than this one. Wow! Man.”
After watching the first trailer for “Halloween Kills” which was unleashed this past week, I believe Carpenter is a man of his word as what unfolds here is truly brutal. As I watched this preview, I wondered if this was a red band trailer or one which was approved for all audiences by the infamous MPAA.
When we last left this franchise, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) had left Michael Myers to burn to death in her house. But as she escaped alongside her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) in the back of a truck, they watched in horror as fire trucks rushed their way over to Laurie’s residence which had since turned into a burning inferno. But as one firefighter reaches out to another who has fallen through the floor, we know the hand he takes in his is indeed Michael’s.
Watching as Michael stepped out of the house while it was still engulfed in flames, and holding a rather sharp firefighter tool in his hands, I was quickly reminded of what Steve Rogers said to a bunch of mercenaries while stuck in an elevator with them in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier:”
“Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?”
Seeing Michael lay waste to these firefighters with their own tools, one of them a power saw, it is clear this will be an exceptionally bloody follow-up as we see the “essence of evil,” as Laurie describes him, lay waste to helpless victims with an assortment of tools, one of them a broken fluorescent light tube.
“Halloween Kills” looks to start mere seconds after the previous film ended, and it looks like the mob is out in full force as the town of Haddonfield is out for vengeance in the wake of so many murders. It feels like blood will be flowing endlessly this time around as we watch Anthony Michael Hall as Tommy Doyle, the young boy who took way too long to open the door for Laurie in the original “Halloween,” walking around town with a baseball bat. Not just any bat mind you, but one made out of metal. That’s right folks, Tommy is out to hit some balls!
There are several unforgettable images to be found here. Among them is the visual of three kids wearing those Silver Shamrock masks from “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” whose bodies lay lifeless and bloodied in a playground. Of course, part of me wonders if they got lucky. I mean, Michael got to them before they had any opportunity to “watch the magic pumpkin” on television. If they just missed Michael, their heads would have crumbled and turned to mush, releasing all sorts of pesky bugs and poisonous snakes. Haddonfield may have a solid police department, but how are they with animal control?
Also, Michael is once again unmasked in the franchise, this time by Karen who dares him to get his altered William Shatner “Star Trek” mask back. But we have been down this road before as Michael, as an adult, has had some opportunities to show us the face behind the mask, and it resulted in being nothing more than a tease (particularly in “Halloween 5”). Will the filmmakers here tease us yet again?
And yes, Jamie Lee Curtis is back in action, looking every bit as lethal as Michael does. Even after getting stabbed in the belly, you believe her fully when she tells her daughter that evil will die tonight. Regardless of how this film turns out, you can always count on Curtis giving a top-notch performance as she never disappoints.
“Halloween Kills” arrives at a theater near you on October 15, 2021. I look forward as I do to its soundtrack which will again be composed by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies. I am so excited to where I am reminding myself to keep my expectations in check. It is too easy to be disappointed in a film and for all the wrong reasons, and I want this one to live up to the hype.
WRITER’S NOTE: As the first paragraph will indicate, this event took place back in 2013.
I was one of the lucky attendees at the Fox Studios lot on January 31, 2013 where the unveiling of a brand-new mural done in honor of “Die Hard” took place at Stage 8. The action classic which stars Bruce Willis as New York Detective John McClane has now reached its 25th anniversary, and the fifth movie in the long running series, “A Good Day to Die Hard,” is about to be released. Joining Willis in this celebration were Fox Film Entertainment chair Jim Gianopulos and the cast and director of “A Good Day to Die Hard.”
I cannot begin to tell you what a thrill it was to be a part of this historic event. Like so many, I was raised on the original “Die Hard” and its sequels, and the fact this franchise has held up so well is really a testament to the character of McClane and Willis’ portrayal of him. Before McClane, all movie action heroes were indestructible superhuman armies of one who obliterated every single bad guy while barely getting hurt in the process. McClane, however, was a different kind of action hero because he was like the rest of us; vulnerable, easily wounded, scared, and far from ever being indestructible. Gianopulos made this clear when talking about the character and his enduring status.
“While John McClane describes himself as the ‘fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench, the pain in the ass,’ I’d like to think his appeal is just that he’s the everyman who just has this uncanny way of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and who never, ever says die,” Gianopulos said. “So, however you try and categorize him, John McClane will live on for audiences in our hearts and the studio’s legacy and so will his ‘yippee-ki-yay…’ Well, it’s a family thing so I can’t really say it.”
Gianopulos also rightly pointed out how, unlike Batman or James Bond, John McClane has been played by the same actor in all five “Die Hard” movies. The crowd was thrilled to see Willis show up for this mural unveiling, and he looked genuinely happy to be there and to see us so excited.
“This is really very nice, really nice,” Willis said of this occasion. “I worked on this lot. I started on Stage 20 here and I moved on to bigger things here at Fox, and I just couldn’t be more pleased that you all came out here. It has been a big, great, fun time doing ‘Die Hard’ for the last twenty-five years and living to talk about it.”
Afterwards, Gianopulos gave Willis a device which looked like a detonator to a bomb and, after the 20th Century Fox Fanfare was played, he pushed the button on it. What followed were some loud pyrotechnics and the dropping of the curtain to reveal the 35- foot “Die Hard” mural which was designed by muralist Van Hecht-Nielsen and painter Fernando Cepeda. It depicts the scene where McClane makes his way through an air vent and pulls out his cigarette lighter to see what’s ahead. This of course led to one of Willis’ famous quotes from the movie:
“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”
I personally got a huge kick out of the whole presentation as did everyone else, and it was greeted with thunderous applause from the onlookers as well as many car alarms which were inadvertently set off by the pyrotechnics (I guess they had to have their say as well). Then again, “Die Hard” did get its name from a car battery, so the irony is hard to ignore.
Following the mural presentation, we were invited to a screening of “A Good Day to Die Hard” held at the Zanuck Theatre on the Fox Lot. Introducing the movie was its director, John Moore, who added he hopes his funeral looks like this and with so many excited people in attendance. He also pointed out while this was a special screening of the new “Die Hard” movie, he also called it a “nerd screening” because of a new sound system being utilized for it.
“This is an Atmos screening of ‘A Good Day to Die Hard,'” Moore said. “To explain what that is, Atmos is a new three-dimensional sound system that Dolby is rolling out over the next few years, and this is only the eighth film to be mixed in Atmos. If I could director direction to the ceiling for a moment, you can see there is an array of nearly 40 speakers, and this creates a three-dimensional sound that’s gonna role of you like nothing you’ve ever experienced… Or since the last time something’s rolled over you.”
But for many of us, the biggest treat of the evening was when we were invited to the 21st floor of the Nakatomi Plaza where the original “Die Hard” was filmed… Okay, it’s really called Fox Plaza, but to us “Die Hard” fans it will always be known as the Nakatomi. The lobby in the building has changed only so much since 1988, and while the lighting inside was different, it still looks the same as it did back then. You should have seen us when we got into the elevators though because they looked exactly the same as they did in the movie. My friend Phillip was practically hyperventilating from all the excitement of being there, and he later claimed how he almost died of “sheer awesomeness.” We all definitely shared in that feeling, and I had a great grin on my face for the rest of the night.
The 21st floor was decked out with a DJ and food that ran from cheese and apple blintzes to bigger dishes like beef stroganoff and egg noodles, perhaps to reflect how “A Good Day to Die Hard” takes place in Russia. I loved how the floor resembled the one McClane hid out on when he set off the fire alarm and was waiting for the fire trucks to show up. This had a lot of us going up to the windows and looking out while repeating our favorite lines from “Die Hard” such as “c’mon baby, come ta’ papa, I’ll kiss ya’ fucking dalmatian” or “you macho a-holes! No! No!” We didn’t bang our hands on the windows though as that likely would have gotten us into trouble.
Actually, some of us got a really nice security guard to take us up to the 30th floor where the Christmas party in “Die Hard” took place, but it looks nothing like it did in the movie. In fact, much of what we saw in “Die Hard” was done on a soundstage, and the real 30th floor was full of empty office spaces still waiting to be occupied. We were hoping to go up to the roof where the helipad is so we could imitate the scene where McClane shot his machine gun into the air to get the hostages to run downstairs, but unfortunately the guy couldn’t do that for us (he was very nice about it though).
Still, we got to see the front parking area where Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) drove around in circles before going inside, and we also got to see the place where a terrorist stole a Nestle Crunch candy bar while waiting for SWAT to break into the building. It’s all those little details which got us so excited.
Seriously, this was one of the best evenings I have had in a long time. To be a part of it was an honor, and it was an amazing thrill to go inside the Nakatomi/Fox Plaza and see where “Die Hard” was filmed. I came out to Los Angeles to be a part of the movies and to be close to those involved in their making, and this was an occasion which allowed me to do just that. I’ll never forget this evening, and I look forward to having many more of them.
Wow! This brings back so many memories! I still vividly remember watching these Peanuts specials when I was a kid. Sitting in front of the old Zenith television set in my pajamas, because I had to go straight to bed immediately after they ended, it was always a major event when Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang made an appearance in their latest animated special. Of course, you could always count on Snoopy to steal the show from everybody no matter what holiday was being celebrated.
Sadly, we can only dream of ever having a dog as cool as Snoopy in our lifetime. Can you think of another dog that can cook dinner, be as enraged as John McEnroe during a tennis match, drive a motorcycle, or fly a doghouse in pursuit of the nefarious Red Baron? Cujo comes to mind, but he would be too busy terrorizing humans.
“A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” is one of those specials I had not seen in the longest time, but on Thanksgiving evening in 2008, the show was passed on to another generation as my brother and I got his daughter to watch it in all its animated glory. She was originally more interested in watching some show on Nickelodeon which looked infinitely lame if you ask me, but we successfully managed to wrestle the remote control from her and turned it to ABC. She got a big kick out of the episode, especially when Snoopy and Woodstock are fighting with each other over preparing for Thanksgiving dinner. Then again, the three of us were in utter hysterics when a certain wooden chair began to attack Snoopy with a vengeance. It’s always great when people of all ages can appreciate the same material at the same level.
“A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” is sandwiched between two of the most famous Peanuts specials, “It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” As a result, it tends to get lost in the shuffle of other specials, but is still somewhat easier to find on television than “It’s The Easter Beagle Charlie Brown” (until 2020 anyway). This special revolves around Charlie Brown having to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner of sorts for his friends before he has to go to his grandmother’s place to have a more traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Peppermint Patty has somehow invited herself and her friends, Marcie and Franklin (the lone African-American character in the Peanuts universe), over to Charlie’s place, expecting a huge Thanksgiving dinner in the space of about an hour or so, as if such a thing were even remotely possible! My dad spent at least eight hours preparing our most recent Thanksgiving feast. Who does Peppermint Patty think she is anyway?
It’s interesting to reflect on how I viewed this special as a kid, and of how I view it now as an adult. I remember feeling sorry for Charlie Brown because I thought he was doing the best he could under terribly difficult the circumstances. Besides, he had Snoopy to back him up, and Snoopy buttered the toast as if he were a blackjack dealer opening a fresh pack of playing cards (the sound effects pretty much gave that one away). These days, he reminds me of myself when I was a teenager. Self-pitying and often quite hopeless, Charlie Brown is his own worst enemy. Watching him give in to Peppermint Patty’s demands makes me want to shake him and tell him to grow some balls. Stand up to Peppermint Patty. She may kick your bald ass at baseball, but not in the kitchen. But when it comes to Peppermint Patty, I think Charlie said it best:
“You can’t explain anything to Peppermint Patty!”
Indeed, Peppermint Patty has a one-track mind and cannot be easily reasoned with if at all. When she wants something, she seems to get it no matter what. At the same time, she can be so rude and oblivious to things she like good manners. Where does she get off inviting herself to other people’s houses? Why does she expect everyone to serve her needs? Doesn’t she have a clue? Inviting yourself to someone else’s house threatens to be rude and inexcusably imposing among other things… Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realize I was kind of like that as a kid. I did invite myself over to a friend’s house when I was 7 or 8. I wasn’t really thinking about how my friend might think. It’s kind of embarrassing to think about now. Well, judge not lest ye be judged!
Of course, you can always count on Linus to make everyone see the true meaning of the holidays. As in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” he tells everyone how Thanksgiving Day came about when the Pilgrims and the Indians came together for a feast, and of how thankful they were for the strong friendship which formed between them. You have to be impressed with the amount of knowledge Linus had at his age. Maybe he had some sort of cheat sheet in that blue blanket he always carried with him. You don’t actually see his blanket here in this episode, but maybe Thanksgiving was one of his most favorite holidays to where he needed no reminding of what it was all about. Linus was always a great friend to Charlie Brown, and it was nice to see Charlie always had him as a friend who could help him through those tough times.
But you have got to love Snoopy in this animated special. He saves the day by making a Thanksgiving dinner of popcorn, buttered toast and pretzel sticks among other things. He also inhabits the funniest scenes as he and Woodstock have to get a table and chairs together for all the guests, and they get caught up in playing table tennis, something Snoopy fares much better in than real tennis, until Linus reminds them they have work to do. Then Snoopy ends up getting into a fight with a rouge folding chair which seems to have a life of its own. They fight each other over which way the chair should be set, and the fact that the chair wins is not a surprise.
There’s one other thing I have to point out in this special. At the end, Snoopy and Woodstock are left alone at Charlie Brown’s house as everyone else goes to grandma’s house, and this is despite the fact Snoopy seemed every bit as excited about going as well. Snoopy goes into his doghouse and constructs a wooden table and chairs for him and Woodstock, and he manages to cook a Thanksgiving turkey (why he didn’t do this earlier is best left unanswered) for the two of them, and they both sit down to eat it and even break a wishbone. Now here’s the thing; a turkey is a bird, and Woodstock is a bird as well. So, by eating the turkey, doesn’t this in fact make Woodstock a cannibal? I mean, he is eating his own kind! Doesn’t Woodstock even take this into account? What would his parents think? Plus, how does he get the better half of the wishbone? How can a little bird manage to overpower a beagle’s strength when he does not have as much to work with? This is the world of animation for you! Making the impossible seem possible even if it defies reasonable logic.
As I write this in 2020, the networks decided not to air “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” or “A Charlie Brown Christmas” for the first time in decades. This seemed sacrilegious to many, and after a major uproar from millions of people, both specials are now being aired on Apple TV and PBS. It would be unthinkable for either of these animated specials to not be broadcast for all to see. Then again, they are available on DVD, Blu-ray and assorted digital formats, so they are never easily out of our reach.
With “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” I remembered of how certain things from childhood can remain ever so innocent from one generation to the next. Even if the Thanksgiving holiday is now seen much differently than before as people believe the Pilgrims laid waste to the Indians or instead observe this holiday as one where Native Americans (the Indians, mind you) fed a group of undocumented illegal aliens (the Pilgrims), this is still a celebrated time when families come together for a great feast. It’s all about togetherness, and this is one of the many things “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” preaches to great effect. Be sure to give this animated special another look when you get the chance. I don’t care how many times you have watched it because it is always worth watching again.
WRITER’S NOTE: I wrote this article exactly ten years ago in the year 2010.
It was just another day at the office for me, staring at a computer and taking calls, when I got a message from my good friend Shane whom I hadn’t seen for a while. He informed me our acting mentor from Diablo Valley College, Jim Kirkwood, had passed away at 5 a.m. this morning. For the past year or so, Jim had been fighting cancer and had to endure an operation to remove a tumor which lasted several hours. Hearing this news was a blow to me and everyone else who had the unique privilege of having taken an acting class taught by him.
Right now, my heart feels so heavy and I am wondering why tears are not coming out of my eyes. I want to feel this loss fully for Jim had such a profound effect on my life and so many others in Northern California. For many years he was an acting teacher at Diablo Valley College, and I enrolled in several of his classes during my time there before I transferred to the University of California at Irvine. Much had been said about him and how hard it was to get into his classes, and that he had studied with some of the greatest acting teachers including Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler. For those truly serious about acting, you could not pass up any course he taught.
When it came to my first class with Jim, I was nervous to say the least. The man was treated like a legend in the area, and it felt incredibly intimidating to be in his presence. Giving out grades was never a priority for him, and his one rule which stood out among others was if you missed three of his classes without informing him as to why, you were out. This was back in the day when those strict guidelines actually unnerved me.
Anyway, I came to this new place of learning straight out of high school where I did many plays and considered myself a really good actor. Of course, the whole thing about acting back then is that when you’re onstage and you have nothing to say, get off. That first day with Jim, he immediately gave you a sense of what acting was really about. It was about living in the moment, acting with purpose and having an objective in mind. You could not think too much about the outcome of the scene you’re in because it would just take away from the thing you are fighting for. Every character has something to go for, and this is what empowers the actor through the entire show. Even when you are onstage and have nothing to say, he made you see listening is a big part of performing as well.
Among the lessons I remember the most from his classes was when he explained you did not need to have preconceived ideas of how to play a scene or say a line. It was never about pushing for some grand emotion which spelled out award-winning to the audience; it was about letting the emotion come to you while you pursue your objective. To just deliver a line in a preconceived way would just kill the moment. You would just come across as lifeless and vacant, and your scene partner would suffer as a result.
Jim demonstrated the danger of preconceiving what you will do beforehand by giving different readings of the line “get the hell out of here!” The first one was angry, the next was dismissive, the one after that had him laughing like he was talking to a friend, I think he made it look like he was crying in another and so on. By the end, everyone in the class including myself were laughing because he made it all look ridiculous, and it was. By getting stuck in this way of acting, you were never really connected to the scene or those you are working with onstage.
Sooner or later, we came to see that we get our performance from the other actor in the scene. While this became more abundantly clear to me years later while I was a student at Second City, this lesson really originated in Jim’s classes. There was no “me, me, me, me, me, me” in his class because we were all put on the same level. No one was necessarily better than the other, so no prima donnas were ever present (thank goodness for that by the way).
For those new to Jim’s classes, his regimen was to break us down and get rid of all those high school emoting habits many of us had been stuck with for far too long. He could be brutally honest with you, but it was never in a Simon Cowell kind of way (I would have dropped out of his class were it the case). He wanted you to see what you did wrong and how you could improve on it for next time. Feelings did get hurt from time to time and our self-confidence took several direct hits at what seemed like point blank range, but it was never done out of spite or cold-heartedness. Simply put, we had a lot to learn and the road we were on was designed to be a long one and for good reason.
Of couse, he was quoted one time as saying the following, “Getting talent out of this person is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic!”
Another great lesson he taught us which has never left my mind was when he did the “pick up the pen” bit. With this, he went back to when he was an acting student himself and being taught by Lee Strasberg. Now Lee instructed him to pick up a pen which was laying there on the stage. Since he did not tell Jim how he should pick it up, Jim just walked up on stage like he was doing a happy skip across the park and just stumbled upon the pen. We were all laughing hysterically as he looked at the pen with a giddy look on his face, playing up the emotion of the scene as he picked it up.
Lee, however, was not impressed, and Jim said he was made to put it back up on the stage and pick it up again. This time he moved stealthily around and looked like he was about to steal the pen. In this moment, he made it look like he was waiting for the perfect moment and then found it by absconding with the pen just like Indiana Jones took off with the golden idol in the beginning of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Lee again shook his head and told Jim he was still doing it wrong and to do it again.
Now Jim came onto the stage as if his leg were broken, and he was limping over to the pen. At this point, he tried, and failed, to make it look realistic when he was struggling to reach for the pen despite the injury he was faking miserably. Once again, he got the pen and went offstage. It was at this point that Lee was really losing his patience with him:
“Jim, did you hear anything of what I just said?!”
“Yeah, but what am I doing wrong?”
“I told you to pick up the pen!”
“Well I didn’t tell you to go all over the place doing this big act around it, did I?”
“So, what do you want me to do?”
“JIM, JUST PICK UP THE PEN!!!”
So, Jim just walked straight up to the pen and picked it up, and then he walked off the stage as quickly as he got on it. After that, the audience of his fellow students, one of whom was James Dean, applauded him loudly. Jim said he did not understand what the big deal was, and Lee, who also applauded, explained it to him:
“You followed through with the objective. You didn’t think about it, you just did it and with the same level of energy. You didn’t need to put on a big show, you just needed to just pick up the pen. In that moment, that was your only objective. This is the difference between a good performer and a great actor.”
This last sentence has stayed with me to this very day. It is easy to get up and put up a big act just to get laughs from all your friends, but it is another thing to be the character instead of just playing one. You never play the emotion, you play the action, and the emotion will come to you.
I went through a rollercoaster of emotions throughout my time in his classes. Back then I was trying to get all my general education courses out of the way so that, when I transferred to a four-year university, I could concentrate solely on my major. As a result, I did not always give his classes my full-on attention, and it did lead to me having a nervous breakdown one day. It felt like I was failing the class and myself, and while my fellow classmates were there to console me, I was a complete wreck. Jim took pity on me though, gave me a hug, and he always had everyone give their scene partners a hug before and after a scene, and urged me to not be so hard on myself.
But in the end, through all that emotional agony, we each came into our own and got to have that one moment where all the training and character work we did paid off. We had gotten to where we had studied the scene and memorized our lines so many times, we were no longer thinking about what we were doing. All that mattered was we went after our objective. Nothing else mattered. Getting a compliment from Jim was not always easy, but when you got it, you knew you damn well earned it. When we each got that moment, it wasn’t just a victory for us, but for the class as well. Each of us wanted the other person to succeed.
On the last day of Jim’s Advanced Acting class, we all chipped in and got him a plaque thanking him for all he had done for us. He looked at it and immediately burst into tears. It meant so much that we did this for him, and it was a symbol of the kind of people we were becoming thanks in large part to the time we spent with him. Everyone in the class came around to give him a hug, not wanting him to cry. Another guy, I can’t remember his name, offered him a bottle of scotch but then realized he had already drunk it.
In the end, Jim’s classes were never about becoming a star or a celebrity. His classes were about how an actor must live life to the fullest and be serious about their art and their individual craft. It was about getting better and taking on new challenges throughout our lifetimes, and to never be complacent as artists. The life of an artist, be it an actor or director, is never meant to be an easy one. But then again, how else could you learn and grow? It’s like what my brother keeps telling me, “If life were easy, no one would bother showing up.”
I loved how I got to make Jim laugh. I was in his directing class and did this one scene where I used magazine covers with gorgeous women on them as stand ins for a couple of characters. He got a kick out of the fact one of them was an issue of Playboy Magazine with Pamela Anderson, and he jokingly asked me if he could borrow it. Being the embarrassingly literal-minded person I was back then, I thought he was being serious and handed it to him earnestly. Along with the class, he was in utter hysterics.
Then there was another time where we were working on scenes and voicing out what was going through our minds in order to keep us in the moment. Be it if you didn’t know your line or were frustrated and had to vent it somehow, we needed to be there fully and not let all these distractions cloud our ultimate goals. For me, my chief distraction involved a comedy album I bought a few days earlier from a nearby record store. It got to where I could no longer resist it:
“DAMN IT!! I GOT STEVE MARTIN’S NATIVE AMERICAN SINGING GOING THROUGH MY HEAD!!!!”
Jim got a kick out of that and would never let me forget it. It’s nice to have such memories of him this way.
Now Jim is gone, and this loss is deeply felt by all those who were lucky to be in his presence. I write this with a heavy heart, and it will still take some time to accept the fact I won’t get to see or talk with him ever again. It didn’t matter how old he was, he left us way too soon. The last time I saw him was at a Christmas party with friends from his class, and he dropped by and was endlessly interested in what we were all up to. His words of kindness meant a lot to me and I will never forget them.
I thank him for all those lessons on character development, understanding a script and the character’s place in it fully, and of the passion he brought out of all of us. We did not just come out of his class as better actors; we came out as better people. Much of what he taught still comes back to me every once in a while, so I know I am still growing as an artist.
I miss you Jim. Why did you have to leave us now? Leonard Cohen was right; this is no way to say goodbye. But what you taught will live on through all of us for you touched so many lives, and everything you taught will be passed on to future generations. You will live on with us always.
I still wish you were here though. It feels very empty here without you.
I did not become aware of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” until its first sequel, “Psycho II,” was released back in 1983, 23 years after the original. Of course, I didn’t watch this sequel at the time as I was just a kid, but I do remember its movie trailers and the title cracking up on the big screen as it played before the feature presentation of “Return of the Jedi.” This image really freaked me out, and it was just as well I didn’t see the classic film which inspired it until many years later. When I rented and watched it on VHS with my older brother, we did not see what the big deal was as we had long since been spoiled by the “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies with all the blood and gore a hormonal teenager could ever want or endure.
Well, it turns out watching it once was not nearly enough. Whether or not you think “Psycho” is Hitchcock’s best movie ever, it is often the one he is remembered best for making. After 60 years, it remains a great study of how a director can maintain suspense throughout the entire running time of a movie, and of a master playing the audience all the way up to the last frame. This becomes even more apparent when you watch it for a second and third time. Hitchcock puts you into the mindset of Marion Crane as she drives out of town after embezzling some money, and then he completely changes the dynamic of the story once Norman Bates arrives.
With “Psycho” now at its 60th Anniversary, we have another chance to go behind the scenes to see how this horror classic was made. It also represents another opportunity for Universal Pictures to release a new digital edition of the movie so they can fleece a few more dollars from our wallets. There has already been a Blu-ray release which made it look exquisite, and there has got to be a 4K Ultra HD version at some point. Anyway, looking back at the history of this classic proved to be one of the most interesting research projects I have taken on in years as there is much to be said about what went on behind the scenes.
“Psycho” originated as a novel written by Robert Bloch which itself was based on Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, a man whose horrific exploits would inspire many horror movies to come. Hitchcock acquired the film rights through his agent for $9,000, and he chose to film it after two projects he was working on for Paramount Pictures, “Flamingo Feather” and “No Bail for The Judge,” fell through. But Paramount did not want to help Hitchcock out on this one either as they were quoted as saying they found Bloch’s novel “too repulsive” and “impossible for films.” The executives refused to finance the production, and they even went as far as telling Hitchcock their soundstages were unavailable because they were being used for other projects. Of course, this proved to be a bold-faced lie as their production schedule was already in a slump at the time.
Undaunted, Hitchcock was still determined to bring “Psycho” to the silver screen, and he even offered to defer his normal director’s fee of $250,000 in exchange for 60% ownership of the movie’s negative. Still, executives would not grant him the financing he desired, so he continued to go through several different cost-cutting measures before getting a budget of no more than $1 million to make the movie his own way. Hitchcock had planned to make the film fast and cheap anyway, and he employed the crew members of his television series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” who were already skilled at doing the same. He also succeeded in casting proven stars Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins at a quarter of their usual salaries.
Bringing down the budget also meant shooting the film in black and white, but this was fine with Hitchcock as he wanted to film it that way as to make the shower scene come across as less gory, and he was also a big fan of “Les Diabolique” which was also shot in black and white.
Like “Psycho,” “Les Diabolique” was remade many years later. Unlike the originals, both were filmed in color. Even more unlike the originals, they received mercilessly scathing reviews upon their separate releases.
In filming “Psycho,” Hitchcock started off by making it as objective an experience as possible, and we feel what Marion goes through as the voices in her head fill her with guilt and doubt over what she has done. To help emphasize this effect, Hitchcock shot much of the movie with 50 mm lenses on 35 mm cameras. By doing this, the camera was said to mimic normal human vision. As a result, you are not just watching the movie, you are experiencing it. This even goes on after Marion has gone and the story turns its focus to Norman Bates. When he pushes her car into a nearby swamp, you share in his anxiety when it does not completely sink. That’s the thing; like Norman, you want the car to sink, and it makes one feel like a voyeur just as Hitchcock intended.
Then, of course, you have the famous shower scene, and after all these years it remains one of the most talked about and heavily dissected moments in cinema history. I am sure you all know the details regarding it: it was shot over six days from 77 different camera angles, and the scene features around 50 cuts in the three minutes which it lasts. Not much is shown as you never see the knife penetrating Marion’s flesh, and there is no gore other than the blood (chocolate syrup was used) going down the drain along with the water. Indeed, it is what you do not see which makes the scene feel so violent. Like Spielberg later did with “Jaws,” Hitchcock dared the audience to use their imagination in regards to what they thought they saw here. This is one of many reasons why this scene has stood the test of time, and it was also the first time a director killed off his leading lady in the middle of a movie. Back in 1960, audience members could not help but wonder where things could possibly go from there, and shower curtain sales have never been the same since.
I also cannot go on without mentioning the infamous score composed by the great Bernard Herrmann, and it remains one of the scariest pieces of music ever applied to a motion picture. Throughout his career, Hermann proved brilliant in composing film scores which really captured the psychology of the characters. This proves to be as true about “Psycho’s” score as it was with Hermann’s work on “Cape Fear” and “Taxi Driver.” It was a surprise to learn how this score almost didn’t come about as Herrmann balked at Hitchcock’s request to take the job on a reduced salary. Somehow though, Herrmann agreed to the terms and ended up writing music for a string orchestra as opposed to a full symphony which would have included brass and woodwind instruments. This is now clearly seen as a masterstroke on his part as the screeching of violins captures the sheer terror which overtakes Marion and the audience during the infamous shower scene.
Although “Psycho” is now recognized today as a classic, it actually received mixed reviews upon its release. Some admired the buildup of tension, but others questioned the psychological elements as being less effective. It even made one critic, C. A. Lejeune, so offended to where she walked out of the movie before it was even over, and she soon after resigned from her position as film critic for The Observer. Looks like Norman’s mother did not just claim victims onscreen!
When you look at the history of cinema, it is important to keep in mind how movies we see these days as classic were not necessarily treated this way upon their original release. It is over the passing of time where movies get re-evaluated or seen in a different light, and none can ever truly be perfect (although some do come very close to it). “Psycho” was a game changer as it came about during the Motion Picture Production Code which was heavy in its censorship of violence and sex in American films. With “Psycho,” Hitchcock flirted with showing nudity as well as gore, and this later opened up doors for filmmakers to exploit these elements with far more detail. Without “Psycho,” there may never have been a “Halloween” which by itself inadvertently sparked a whole wave of slasher movies. And without “Halloween,” there certainly would not have been a “Friday the 13th” as Jason Voorhees, like Norman Bates, also had serious mommy issues.
The cultural impact of “Psycho” lasts on to this very day. There are only so many movies which could have a sequel made to it several decades later. “Psycho III” followed a few years later, and a prequel came about because some just thought it would be a good idea to show how Norman Bates got to be the shy psycho we know him to be. There was even a failed television pilot called “Bates Motel” which starred Bud Cort as Alex West, an asylum inmate who befriends Norman and later inherits the motel and the house where mother lived (Anthony Perkins wanted nothing to do with that one). It also inspired a shot-for-shot remake by Gus Van Sant which seemed almost every bit as odd as Norman himself. The only purpose of it seemed to be proof of how remakes will never be able to recapture what made the original so good. But if they make money, the studios will clearly not mind the critical bashing even if it proves to be justified.
Television would later take another shot at the “Psycho” franchise with another version of “Bates Motel,” and this one starred Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates and Vera Farmiga as his mother. This version ended up lasting five seasons and proved to be very compelling as our fascination with the dark side of human nature is always stronger than we ever bother to realize. While some may have said enough already with “Psycho,” this show proved there was more life to it than we cared to initially realized.
Even today, you cannot hear screeching violins and not think of “Psycho.” Filmmakers reference it today like Wes Craven did in “Scream,” and there are dozens of movies out there which have done the same. That shower scene has been spoofed lord only knows how many times, my favorite being on “The Simpsons” where Maggie ended up attacking Homer with a mallet after watching one Itchy & Scratchy cartoon. Another great one came about during one of Billy Crystal’s Oscar montages where he was in the shower and ends up getting accosted by Kevin Spacey who plays his “American Beauty” character of Lester Burnham. Turns out it was not the same shower Marion got stabbed in, but instead the one where Lester often experienced the highlight of his day.
Leigh never looked at taking showers the same way again, and it would be ages before she ever took one. Perkins would forever be typecast in roles similar to Norman Bates, but he said he would still have done “Psycho” even if he knew this would be the case. Many filmmakers (Brian DePalma especially) have tried to use the tricks Hitchcock employed in this and his other films to varying degrees of success. Still, there is no topping what Hitchcock did with this classic 1960 movie, and it remains the one so many other suspense and horror movies are judged by. Hitchcock’s powers of manipulation remain very hard to duplicate after all these years, and this illustrates what he meant when he was quoted as saying, “I enjoy playing the audience like a piano.”
Looking back at time as a student at Monte Vista High School in Danville, California, it felt more like a prison sentence than anything else. Nevertheless, many years have passed (to count how many is terrifying) since I went there, and I somehow find myself becoming nostalgic for certain things about it. Considering how I could not wait to graduate from there, this is almost surprising until I am reminded of one of my favorite teachers from this institution which was once considered one of California’s Most Distinguished Schools: Chester Farrow.
Chester, or Chet as his students liked to call him, taught many classes at Monte Vista High School including TV Productions and electronics for 32 years until he retired in 1999. In addition to teaching, he was also the scoreboard operator for the Oakland Athletics (a.k.a. the Oakland A’s) for even longer. On top of that, he was a well-known concert promoter who succeeded in bringing such music acts like Journey, Greg Kihn and Huey Lewis and the News to the Al Gentile Theatre on the Monte Vista campus. With the money he made from those concerts, he and his students built a production studio which came to be known as Rainbow Studios, and it became a place of refuge for many students including myself. Looking at this, you have to wonder how Chet found the time to do all of this. While most teachers need a second job to get by financially, much of what he did was out of a love for music, baseball and hanging out with teenagers who were desperately trying to find their way in a harsh adolescent landscape.
Chester Farrow died Sunday morning, May 24, 2020 at the age of 77 after a long battle with cancer. This was not a big surprise as many of us knew of his terminal diagnosis for some time, and he was determined to spend his final days at his home in Walnut Creek. His longtime girlfriend, Wendi Leyba, organized a fundraiser on GoFundMe.com to help pay for his part time health care which was said to be very expensive and not covered by his insurance. The fundraising goal was $10,000, but more than two months later, the total reached $31,150. If this does not describe the strong loyalty Chet’s students had for him, what will?
Like I said, the news of Chet’s death was not very surprising, but the void his passing has left is what really hit me hard. Chet was a titan in the Easy Bay of Northern California, and his influence on the lives and careers of many of his students is utterly profound to say the least. Those who knew him best have made it clear he will never be replaced, and I imagine Monte Vista is still on the lookout for a teacher like him ever since he retired back in 1999.
I was a student of Chet’s TV Productions class during my junior and senior year, and I became eager to enroll in this class after watching the cable access show “Just for You” which he produced at Rainbow Studios. Chet had produced this show for many years and, having just discovered a deep love for acting and performing, I was eager to become a part of it.
During my first year in Chet’s class, I found him to be a very intimidating presence, and I know I was not the only one. When we filmed an episode of “Just For You,” we initially did it live, and he demanded a level of professionalism we had no reason not to give him. Granted, this resulted in many stressful moments for him and his students as not everything came together in a perfect way. If he had problems with something you had written for the show, he would tell you straight out. There was always a no bullshit attitude about him, and he never hesitated to tell you what you needed to hear. Sometimes it hurt to hear his thoughts on your work, but the kind of honesty he gave us was hard to find elsewhere.
The second year, my view of Chet evolved as my classmates and I came to really respect his way of doing business. As time went on, he had a warm presence about him, and it became clear he liked talking to us instead of down to us like other teachers did. By this time, we were already working on Monte Vista’s annual video yearbook, and a couple of students neglected to film a lunch the freshman students were having at Oak Hill Park. To put it mildly, he was pissed.
“Okay people, there was a freshman lunch today which students in this class were assigned to film for the video yearbook, and they didn’t bother doing so. If this happens again, FUCK YOU, OUT OF THE CLASS! Now folks, I am not a happy pup…”
At the end of Chet’s rant, we all applauded him. Whereas these rants seemed frightening at times, we came to appreciate them because, hey, we were given a task to complete. If we didn’t get the job done, he had every right to get super fucking pissed at us. If you put in the hard work, it did eventually get recognized by him and he would point out your strengths to the rest of the class.
As I am sure you can tell by now, Chet did use a lot of profanity in the classroom. He never seemed to be ashamed of it, and he always felt free to express his opinions the way he wanted. Granted, this upset many parents who could not appreciate his unorthodox teaching methods or him going against the conservative grain most high school teachers were expected to work under. For the record, my dad was on the school board during this time, and he told me many of his colleagues wanted to see Chet get fired. My dad, however, liked Chet for the same reasons they did not as he felt every high school needed someone like him to shake things up, and I agree with my dad wholeheartedly on this.
Among other things, Chet taught us the power of promotion and of getting the word out about something you wanted to sell. This came about when he talked to us about putting the idea of the video yearbook into everyone’s head at Monte Vista. You always had to be talking about wherever you went:
“Hey, what are you doing out of class? Video yearbook. Say, do you know classroom the music department is at? Video yearbook. Hey, what are you doing smoking cigarettes by your car? Video yearbook…”
There was also the time when of his most prized students, Ian Williamson, was going through Chet’s old collection of tapes and discovered one in which he did a commercial about rock concerts which had, shall I say, a highly subliminal quality as a voice was droning in the background saying, “see you at the concert, see you at the concert, see you at the concert, see you at the concert…” Listening to it years later, were rolling on the floor with laughter, but I bet you it got a lot of people to attend those shows.
Granted, there were many times where he didn’t teach us but talked instead about things on his mind and of lessons we needed to learn sooner rather than later. After a time, it felt like we were in the presence of a wonderfully profane stand-up comedian who was polishing up his act with us. I will never forget when he took his kids to Disneyland, “the happiest place on Earth,” and the blank expression on his face perfectly illustrated the typical tourist who arrived there only to find things are more profit driven than magical. Then there was the time he was fixing a fellow teacher’s VCR, and once he figured out what was wrong with it, he quickly started doing the moonwalk while singing the chorus from the Beatles song “Come Together.” More often than not, he had us in hysterics, and you could usually count on him to put a smile on your face.
While Chet could be hard on his students, he loved hanging out with us and was always interested to hear about what we were up to. I came back to his classroom many times after I graduated, and he was always quick to tell me, “You are always welcome here Ben.”
Here are some testimonials from students of his:
Trevor Boelter: “Chet – I want to thank you for the philosophy of E.T.C — I think about that day working late in Rainbow Studios, cleaning the heads of the tape machines and having a private audience with you as you shared this piece of wisdom. I have always thought about this and have shared it with many people over the years. I wish I could embody this daily, but some days, I do and it always makes things better. If I have no EXPECTATIONS, due to not having CONTROL, my TEMPERAMENT will always be COOL. It was/is/always will be profound.”
Ian Williamson: “It’s important to me to say that Chester was an incredible person who over the years influenced so many people, including myself. He not only put me on the path my life has gone, but he was absolutely instrumental with the start of my career and the successes and happiness I’ve found along the way. I don’t think there has ever been anyone who believed in me as much as he did. To me he was an absolute giant among men, and more to my heart, he was like a father to me.”
Kenneth Hunter: “Hands down the best and most influential teacher I ever had the pleasure of knowing. What a great man he was! Love you long time Chester Farrow! You were not only a friend, a teacher, a mentor, but you were part of my family. Thank you for being such a great influence in my life.”
Laura Lamson: “I’ll always remember the Bammies! You were like a father figure to me. Even when I looked like I was down, you knew just what to say to brighten my day! I’ll always love you for that! I will miss you. You will always be in my heart!”
Michael Coats: “He and I had a 48-year relationship starting in 1974 at Monte Vista High School in Danville. Chester was the hippest, the best teacher many had. He will be missed. We love and thank you buddy, and may fair winds and following seas carry you on.”
Michele Goodrich General: “I loved him so much as a teacher. If it’s wasn’t for him, our lives would be so different.”
Laura Lamson also took the time to email the current principal of Monte Vista High School about Chet’s passing, and this was the principal’s response:
I am very sad to hear of Mr. Farrow’s passing. While he was at MV long before I arrived, I have heard quite a few stories about his time at Monte Vista. He was definitely an amazing teacher who truly cared about his students and his colleagues. . . and from reading your email, they loved him back. I have shared the news with our staff and will follow up with another announcement at tomorrow’s staff meeting.
Dr. Kevin Ahern
Monte Vista High School
Dr. Ahem also included the following quote in his email:
“What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” – Charles Bukowski
Chet, as much as I do not want to relive my high school years during which I was afflicted with psychological disorders which were not yet diagnosed, anxiety and depression, your classes made going to Monte Vista worth the trouble. The first day of school always had me on the verge of tears as I wondered if I could endure another year of adolescent bullshit, but then I arrived at Rainbow Studios and found myself with a smile on my face. I remember when I was a senior and you made your entrance for the TV Productions class. Everyone there was quick to applaud your entrance, and few other teachers at Monte Vista could ever elicit such a response.
I thank you for laughing when I said “yo” instead of “here” when you actually took the time to take attendance. I used to say this or some variation of it like “yes man” or “here dude,” and while other teachers were annoyed with my choice of words, you were quick to laugh before my fellow classmates did.
Thanks for encouraging me to bring props for my “Just A Thought” segments on “Just For You.” Thanks for your at times brutal honesty because you always told us what we needed to hear. More importantly, thanks for being there for us when we were down and for relating to our struggles. Thanks for giving us reasons to rise above our miserable lives and giving us compliments when we flat out deserved them. Thanks for giving us a solid path to travel down which came to define our lives in a very positive way.
Godspeed Chet. You will be missed.
Here are some articles about Chester Farrow worth checking out:
Chet took the time to upload many Rainbow Studio videos which include episodes of “Just for You,” several volumes of the Video Yearbook, concerts and rock and roll recitals. Click here to check these videos out.
Yes, this day was coming, but I did not think it would come this soon. Back in 2015, Amoeba Music sold its Hollywood location on the corner of Sunset and Cahuenga to developer GPI Companies for a reported $34 million, and it is set to be turned into yet another high-rise building in Los Angeles. I read the store would be open through the end of 2020. But then we were all hit by the global pandemic known as Coronavirus/COVID-19, and “non-essential” businesses like Amoeba were forced to close the doors temporarily. There was hope Amoeba’s Hollywood location would re-open again soon, but then co-owner Jim Henderson made the following statement:
“The massive impact from the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the closure of our iconic Hollywood location at 6400 Sunset Blvd. With no reasonably foreseeable opportunity to re-open in our current location, we are instead focusing on hopefully opening in the fall in our previously announced new home at 6200 Hollywood Blvd. This situation has been forced on all of us, and we feel this decision is the most responsible and practical one.
“This is heartbreaking for us. We never envisioned not being able to give the store the send-off it deserves, to give you all a chance to say goodbye. We had so many events planned to celebrate our history at 6400 Sunset, but we are facing too many mitigating circumstances that simply won’t allow for it.”
Having read this, I understand and respect Amoeba’s decision not to re-open its Hollywood location. All the same, this is a real heart breaker for me as I looked forward to visiting this store again at least a few times before it closed, but now this will not happen. Like the Second City theatre, Amoeba Music was like a second home to me in Los Angeles which I visited frequently. Walking out of there empty-handed could feel criminal, but I could always find a certain CD, DVD, Blu-ray, cassette tape or vinyl record worth adding to my terrifyingly enormous collection (my dad says I have more CDs and DVDs than God).
Having grown up in in Northern California, I often visited the Amoeba stores in Berkeley and San Francisco quite often, and this was back in a time where downloading music digitally was far from ever becoming a reality. Upon learning they were going to being opening a store in Hollywood, I became infinitely excited at what it would have to offer. Anyone familiar with the average Amoeba Music store knows they are far bigger than the normal record store. In fact, they are like warehouses which look to contain anything and everything you could ever hope to find. I was lucky enough to attend this store’s opening night back in November of 2001 and was in awe of just how big it was. If you were unable to find what you were looking for there, you had to wonder what was wrong with the world.
One of my biggest thrills in recent years was introducing my parents to this particular Amoeba Music store when they visited me in Los Angeles. They were flabbergasted at just how big this particular store was, and they were quick to grab their hands-on stuff like a Monterey Blues Festival t-shirt. This was also around the time of my birthday, and they got me Shout Factory’s special edition of “Creepshow” on Blu-ray, and that’s even though my dad was horrified at the price on it, and the soundtrack to “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” While I was unable to introduce my parents to New Beverly Cinema during their recent trip, I am ever so glad they got to check out this particular Amoeba store while it was still operating.
The following are some of my most memorable purchases I made at this particular Amoeba Music store.
I was lucky enough to visit this store on the day it opened back in 2001, and the DVD to “Killing Zoe” was the first thing I ever purchased there. Written and directed by Roger Avary, it stars Eric Stoltz as a safecracker named Zed who joins up with his longtime friend Eric (Jean-Hugues Anglade) in Paris to rob a bank on Bastille Day. I had just discovered this movie on IFC and was absolutely enthralled by it. The acting all around was terrific, and Anglade in particular was phenomenal as a man fully determined to go out with a bang. I also really dug the film score composed and performed by Tomandandy which proved to be as hypnotic as it was propulsive, and I have since become a big fan of their work.
But yes, “Killing Zoe” is especially worth watching for the gorgeous and beguiling Julie Delpy who wows us fright rom her first appearance as Zoe. Whether she is in bed with Stoltz or wielding a heavy-duty machine gun, you cannot take your eyes off of her for a second.
Because this was the first thing I ever bought at this particular store, I assure you I will never get rid of it.
The Best of Siouxsie and the Banshees
One time while I shopped here, this compilation album was playing on the store’s speaker system. I was already aware of Siouxsie and the Banshees thanks to their wonderfully bizarre song “Peek-a-Boo” which has an equally bizarre music video, and also “Face to Face” which proved to be a fantastic addition to the “Batman Returns” soundtrack. As this album played, I started to wonder why I didn’t give this British rock band more of my attention years ago as I suddenly became entranced by their songs “Cities in Dust,” “Dizzy” and “Kiss Them for Me.” to where I soon went over to the front counter to see what specific album was being played. I walked out with several items that day, but “The Best of Siouxsie and the Banshees” is the one I find myself still playing quite often.
“We Are Night Sky” by Deadboy & the Elephantmen
As with any other Amoeba Music store, the Sunset Boulevard location played host to many singers and bands who performed there in support of their latest releases. I was fortunate enough to be at the store when Deadboy & the Elephantmen performed in support of their second album, “We Are Night Sky.” Led by singer and guitarist Dax Riggs who was accompanied on bass and drums by Tess Brunet, the band was often compared to The White Stripes, but they really stood out on their own. As they played songs like “Stop, I’m Already Dead” and “Blood Music” with sheer abandon, I quickly became a fan and bought the CD. Other great tracks on this album are “How Long the Night Was” and “Misadventures of Dope.”
What a shame it was that this band came to a permanent end just one year later.
“Send Your Love to Me” – a P.J. Harvey live bootleg CD
The lady at the register warned me the sound quality on this disc was not great and that it sounded like someone recorded this show from the audience. I appreciated the warning as it prepared me for a recording which was clearly not done on a professional level. Still, I found it interesting to hear Harvey’s music from this vantage point, and at one point you can even hear one audience member tell another how she is going to be playing herself in the next “Batman” movie (I’m guessing he meant “Batman Forever”). Having seen Harvey perform live years ago at The Wiltern, listening to this bootleg made me feel like I was right back there again as songs like “Meet Ze Monsta” and “Down by the Water” are so invigorating to take in with an audience of fellow fans.
“Sorcerer” soundtrack by Tangerine Dream
At my previous day job, a friend of mine named Richard shared my love of film scores and movie soundtracks. One his big favorites was Tangerine Dream’s score to William Friedkin’s “Sorcerer,” and he complained about how he could never find it at any record store in Los Angeles or any other city. Sure enough, I did find a copy of it at Amoeba on Sunset. Surprisingly, it was not in the soundtrack section, but instead in the New Age section where all the other Tangerine Dream CDs could be found. You should have seen Richard’s face when I showed him the CD. Seriously, he looked like Donald Sutherland at the end of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” as he was completely stunned to be holding any copy of this particular soundtrack. I also agree with him about how this is one of the most unique film scores ever composed, and it opened up doors for Tangerine Dream in Hollywood as they went on to create more unforgettable scores for films like “Risky Business,” “Firestarter,” “Near Dark” and “Thief.”
“Heartland” by Client
While searching in the electronic music section for the latest CD by Hybrid or Juno Reactor, I came across a sign which said, “If you like Goldfrapp, then check this band out!” The band this sign was referring to was called Client, an English electronic music group from London which had just released its latest CD, “Heartland.” Would I have bought this CD in any other store? Well, it seems a bit unlikely as other places may not have been as quick to promote a band or artist Americans were not the least bit familiar with. Thanks to this sign, I got to check out this album which contains such terrific songs like “Lights Go Out,” “Zerox Machine” and “Someone to Hurt,” and these are songs I still never get sick of listening to.
“Adventures in Babysitting” t-shirt
As soon as I saw this t-shirt which featured Elisabeth Shue’s famous line of dialogue from the 1987 teen comedy film, I knew I had to have it. However, there was one slight problem: where could I possibly where it? Any shirt which says “don’t fuck with the babysitter” is not exactly the kind you can wear it if you live near an elementary school. But with all the social distancing currently going on, perhaps I can get away with wearing it as it can be hard to make out certain words when others are six feet away from you. At the very least, it will give some a reason to laugh during a time where it feels like the world is bordering on Armageddon.
Goodbye Amoeba Music on Sunset Boulevard. While I look forward to the opening of its newest location, to see this one shut down sooner rather than later really breaks my heart. So much of my money was spent here, and I have long since lost track of all the CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays I managed to trade in there for store credit.
Hopefully the new store will have a bigger parking lot.
The founders of Amoeba Music, Dave Prinz and Marc Weinstein, have since created a fundraising page on Go Fund Me to help offset the costs associated with the COVID-19 shutdown. With all Amoeba’s locations currently closed, they are struggling to survive and are doing what they can to pay their bills and take care of their employees’ health insurance. Their fundraising goal is $400,000, and to date they have raised over $230,000.
While “Goodfellas” introduced me to the filmmaking brilliance of Martin Scorsese and became my all-time favorite movie, it was “Taxi Driver” which really shaped the way I view movies today. Before seeing it, I always tried to avoid those movies which would make me sad or were too dark. This was a result of my parents having to carry me out of “Star Trek II” and “E.T.,” both of which I cried so hard over to where others wondered if I was okay. I promised myself I would never put my family through such embarrassing situations ever again, and this was especially the case with my brother who was constantly annoyed at my emotional outbursts.
Unlike “Goodfellas” which was immensely entertaining and had great comedic moments, “Taxi Driver” is dark, dark, dark. There is nothing the least bit glamorous to see here as we watch the main character of Travis Bickle (played by Robert De Niro) get continually sucked into a corrupted environment he deeply despises. I kept hoping for him to achieve sort of redemption and maybe, just maybe, have another chance with Cybil Shepherd’s character of Betsy whom he had a memorable first date with. But as we reach the movie’s bloody conclusion, I realized there was nowhere for Travis to go but down. While the reaction to his actions may have been surprising, we all know the truth about Travis and realize something will set him off again before we know it.
Once the end credits went up, my dad asked me what I thought about “Taxi Driver.” My initial reaction was it was not exactly enjoyable. My dad’s response to this has always stayed with me, “Not all movies are meant to be enjoyed. Some are meant to be experienced.”
Looking back, I see what he meant. Look, there are a lot of reasons to not make a movie about someone like Travis Bickle; he’s seriously nuts, not a good date if you want to go to the movies, and watching him lose his mind is painful. But the thing about “Taxi Driver” is people like Travis exist, and turning a blind eye to their existence does us no good. We need to understand why people do the things they do. It’s like what Roger Ebert said in his review of the film:
“Scorsese wanted to look away from Travis’s rejection; we almost want to look away from his life. But he’s there, all right, and he’s suffering.”
With “Taxi Driver,” I came to see how you need these kinds of movies just as much as you need the average escapist entertainment. Some movies need to shine a light on the darker parts of human nature to remind us we need to acknowledge we have a dark side and realize we have more in common with Travis Bickle than we would ever care to think or admit.
Since watching “Taxi Driver,” I have become completely open to movies which disturb me or take me on a journey I would not necessarily want to endure in real life. I can’t stand to watch films in a passive manner. I want to be moved by what I see, be disturbed and shaken, and even weep. Movies are too powerful an art form to be made just for the sake of entertainment. There are so many things about the human existence which deserve to be captured on celluloid, and I believe audiences crave these kind of cinematic experiences as they do the next Marvel movie.
“Taxi Driver” is my second favorite movie of all time, right behind “Goodfellas.” It is a movie I admire above so many others, and I still watch it from time to time. There are many I get sick of watching, but this is one I will never tire of sitting through.
WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2010 when this controversy occurred. I am publishing it here because I loved writing it, and I thought I had lost this article forever until recently.
This past week, the producers at “Sesame Street” decided to cut out Katy Perry’s scene with Elmo where she sang a version of her song “Hot N Cold” which was easily more family friendly than the original. However, it appears a number of parents spent more time looking at Katy’s cleavage than they did looking at her playing sweet with Elmo. As a result, they thought their kids would be staring at her breasts for far too long as well, and they demanded Katy be censored for the show.
Now I did take the time to watch the “Sesame Street” clip with Katy and Elmo on YouTube where it has found an even wider audience than it would have on PBS. By taking the segment out, it got more attention than it would have received had it stayed in. Parents may think they are protecting their kids, but I honestly think they are overreacting to this. Their demands to have Ms. Perry censored on “Sesame Street” has them pouring gasoline on an already raging fire without even realizing it. It was a sweet moment and a tolerable one for those who can stand Katy Perry’s music.
What she wore in her scene with Elmo was nowhere as risqué as some of the stuff she wore for her Rolling Stone photo shoot. Now those photos were very hot, and I enjoyed those in ways I’d rather not get too in depth about here.
When I was four or five years old watching “Sesame Street” and reveling in the antics of Kermit the Frog along with Ernie and Bert among others, I was never really focused on women’s’ breasts. I mean, if you ever saw a female celebrity making out with Kermit or perhaps Big Bird at that age, you would be saying, “EEEEEWWWWWWW!!!!!!!” Not only that, you would be saying it way too loudly.
It would take a lot to corrupt our fragile little minds back then. In our preschool days, kissing was just gross! We were not in a hurry to discover the opposite sex, and we stayed away from them and hung out with our own gender. No woman with breasts the size of basketballs was going to fill us with thoughts of sex back then. We all had to wait for puberty for that to take effect, and by then we weren’t even watching “Sesame Street!”
Seriously, this could have been much worse; Katy could have been wearing more than a bra and panties while chasing after Elmo. She could have taught this red creature who likes to be tickled endlessly the joys of masturbation, but no one involved with one of Jim Henson’s many creations would have dared to allow such a thing to happen. Last I checked, they went to Katy instead of her fiancé Russell Brand of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Get Him to The Greek” fame. How horrifying would it have been to watch Russell teaching Elmo, or perhaps Grover or Cookie Monster, how to shoot heroin into their veins? Granted, they are hand puppets, but even they could get some rubber tubing to wrap around their furry little arms!
What did parents really think Elmo would do with Katy Perry? Did they think she would teach Elmo the joys of breast feeding?! Can you imagine that high pitched voiced character singing a slightly altered version of the song we all heard from Kelis?
“Oh, Elmo loves Katy’s milkshake!
Damn right, it’s better than Ernie’s!
Damn right, it’s better than Bert’s!
Damn right, it’s better than Big Bird’s!
I could teach you, but…”
Even if Elmo loves his milkshake as much as he loves being tickled, I somehow doubt he will be sharing this with your children. Was anyone ever making complaints when Dolly Parton appeared on “Sesame Street?”
So far, Perry has taken this all-in stride as she has tweeted on Twitter how she can “totally tell you how to get to Sesame Street,” and she knows no one can deny that she and Elmo did hang out in front of television cameras. Of course, she made light of the moment on the season premiere of “Saturday Night Live” when she appeared on the “Bronx Beat” sketch with Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph while wearing a very tight shirt with Elmo’s face on it which made her breasts all the more noticeable. Somewhere, Mr. Roger’s is indulging in a good dose of black humor he could never practice on PBS by asking his audience:
“Can you say double-D? I knew you could!”
Look folks, Katy Perry has a pair of breasts just like all other women. Stop trying to hide it because your kids have gotten to experience what they offer not too long after they appeared out of the womb. Whether or not they remember if they were breast fed or not is a whole other story. There are so many other things you could worry about instead of this. What about Newt Gingrich coming on “The Muppet Show” to tell Sam the American Eagle of how important the Bush Tax Cuts are, especially for the wealthy? Do you think you would ever see Marilyn Manson singing his version of “Rubber Ducky” or “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” to Ernie or Oscar the Grouch? How about Nine Inch Nails singing “Closer” with Big Bird and Mr. Snuffleupagus? Kids are too busy learning the alphabet than in observing what Katy wore, so stop worrying, okay?! Elmo wants her back on the show, and are you going to deny him the chance to laugh happily with Ms. Perry the way he does when you tickle him mercilessly?