Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Remembering Jay Scott: Twenty Years Later

My introduction to Jay Scott came rather late in his career, and in a medium other than the one which made him famous. Although I had been aware of his tenure as a newspaper film critic at The Globe and Mail, it was really only in the early 1990s, when I truly “discovered” him- but on television, not in print. At that time, he was also the host of TVOntario’s Film International, which broadcast every Friday night. His insightful introductions made me another of his many fans, and in short order, I too began reading his film reviews in the Globe's Enterainment section. Jay Scott had become my literary hero.

From 1977 to his untimely death in 1993 (20 years ago today) at the age of 43, he was one of the most influential film writers of his time. He was the rare critic to win the respect of readers, programmers and filmmakers alike, to say nothing of fellow writers. 

People read his words for their insight, dry humour and dazzling, intoxicating style: his breathtaking, paragraph-long sentences were whirlwinds of thoughts on the human condition, references to pop culture, somehow all grafted into a film review. Even more impressive is that he managed to adapt this stream of thought into a deeply personal, conversational tone that further endeared the reader. But he made writing fun; he was a brilliant scholar who still had the wide-eyed, childlike joy of discovery. His infectious tone inspired countless readers to investigate films with marginalized distribution, and his voice was also powerful enough that even distributors would be incited to capitalize on his enthusiasm. In one famous incident, Jean-Jacques Beineix's new-wave classic Diva was nearly dumped by its distributors until Jay Scott's raves became instrumental in its becoming a major art house cult classic in the 1980s.

Of all his virtues, perhaps Jay Scott's greatest gift was to show that the film reviewed, no matter how obscure, was part of the larger canvas of our collective pop culture. References to literature, painting (Rabelais was a favourite), fashion and, of course, other films (Fassbinder was a favourite), would be woven into the fabric of his reviews to give the films a greater context.

With his motorcycles, leather and earring, Scott created for himself a colourful, hip persona that lived outside his words. He transformed amazingly well to television- it was a delight for viewers to see that on camera he was as much the warm, wickedly funny and insightful human being that was communicated between the lines of his columns. Even more impressively, as the host and writer of Film International, he didn't have to compromise his prose or his tastes; neither were "dumbed down" for mass appeal.  His onscreen introductions were as full of the nuance as his printed work, and the programming extrapolated on his written agenda to raise awareness to films that otherwise wouldn't find their rightful audiences. He didn't have to pander to the lowest common denominator- he rightfully assumed that the foreign-language and independent works that he showcased would also have appeal to viewers that lived in smaller cities or towns and couldn't access them otherwise. To his mind, high art was for everyone- it didn't have to be relegated to closet admiration by a chosen few.

The early 1990s was a great period to be a Jay Scott fan, as one could enjoy his work in more than one medium. I will be indebted to Film International for introducing me to the works of Aki Kaurismaki, Paul Cox, Luis Bunuel, Margarethe Von Trotta and several others: it opened the door to a different world of cinema that I could only read about in my limited small-town resources.

But still, these were troubling times too, as his health began to decline. Although he never kept his AIDS-related illness a secret, it seemed however that we were still going to have Jay Scott for a while longer, as he was always working. In addition to his Globe reviews and television appearances, he also wrote book reviews, longer arts-related pieces for other publications, and published a book on artist Helen Hardin. However, in 1992, we began to worry when he appeared ever more frail than his already thin frame. Our concerns escalated when a month's worth of programming was guest-hosted by Kay Armatage (one hoped it was because he was on assignment elsewhere). In the spring of 1993, Film International had a couple of programs devoted to cinema about AIDS, including the independent feature Parting Glances, and the short Dead Boys Club.

Even so, because Jay Scott was still in the public eye, his death in the summer of 1993 came as a huge shock. (He was even writing a book review on the day of his passing.)  A huge outpour of tributes would follow in the next few weeks, not just from fellow journalists who loved his craft, but from filmmakers, and especially from fans. It seemed that everyone mourned the loss of not just a titan in film writing, but also a literary giant (as his finely crafted reviews were indeed works of art) and most of all, everyone felt they had lost a close friend, whether or not they personally knew the man- so intimate was his style with everyone.

Jay Scott’s passing was at a pivotal point in my life- just one month before I moved back to Toronto for the second and last time, to study broadcasting in college. In previous months, not fully aware of his condition, I had wondered if somewhere down the road our paths would cross, as we would both work in media, but his career ended before mine ever began.

In the months after his death, I vigilantly collected any tributes I could find in print, or on television. Film International devoted six weeks of programming to guest hosts like David Overbey, or TVO producer Risa Shuman, who knew the man and shared some of their memories. In October, The Bloor Cinema had a double-bill in his memory (which I attended)- Coline Serrau's Pourquoi Pas and naturally, a Fassbinder film (Veronika Voss). And of course, like many writers, I attempted to copy his style in the many film reviews I was writing for myself at the time.

Of the many Jay Scott stories that were shared after his death, my favourite was by David Overbey who went to visit his friend in the hospital, just one day before he passed. Scott was flat on his back in bed smoking. Overbey commented on the cigarette, and asked if the nursing staff knew he was smoking in his room. Scott replied that they probably did, as they should have been able to smell it. Overbey asked, "Have they said anything to you?" Scott replied, "Well what are they going to do, say, 'Mr. Scott, you're in big trouble?". Even in these final moments, Jay Scott had his dark sense of humour, valiantly laughing at death, and continuing to live his life as he saw fit.

Our culture has a strange fascination with celebrities who died prematurely, from Jimmy Dean to Jimmy Morrison. I'm not alone in that- Jay Scott was mine. This morbid fascination continued until my brother's sudden death in late 1994. I couldn't handle it any more- I wanted to think about life more. And for that reason, I had forgotten about Jay Scott for several years. 

Someone once wrote that Jay Scott's period (1977 to 1993) as a critic was during a time when cinema was the least interesting. That may be true, but we were blessed to have him, as one needs a trustworthy writer like him to point out the works that got lost in the juggernaut of the Blockbuster Era. It is a pity he wasn't writing during the 1960s when international cinema exploded (and to paraphrase Susan Sontag, a new masterpiece came out every few weeks), and "cinephilia" was on high (where critics like Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris became Pop Stars). It is equally unfortunate that he died just before the indie boom of the mid-1990s: one wonders what his reactions would have been to the Three Colors trilogy or a little thing called Pulp Fiction

Indeed, twenty years after his death, no real testament of his legacy exists in present form. Google searches reveal little of his work. It is a pity that no-one thought to comprehensively reprint his review columns in book form every couple of years like the several volumes accorded Pauline Kael or John Simon. Sadly, the Globe hasn't made an online archive of his work, no doubt contributing to the dearth of online discussion about Jay Scott.

Samples of his work were only collected twice- for Midnight Matinees in 1986, and the posthumous release, Great Scott!, published in 1994. Both are long out of print, but can easily be found for sale used online or at second-hand bookstores. For the Jay Scott fan (or for someone who just wants to discover him), these are both worth having.

Midnight Matinees may be the superior volume, as it also includes some longer-format pieces, including his brilliant articles on the career of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and the Canadian Tax Shelter era. The titles selected for the section of film reviews better reflect Scott’s popular image, of championing lesser-known “art house” pictures, and creating a greater awareness of them. Great Scott!, on the other hand, has more reviews of mainstream titles than obscurities, but this book is also necessary in understanding Jay Scott. His forte was to bring lesser-known films into public view, but make no mistake: he was not a cultural snob. He saw the worth in everything: popular and “niche” films could be praised or damned in equal measure. Because Great Scott! collects samples of his work from his entire run at the Globe, from 1978's The Big Fix to 1993's Jurassic Park, it is also an entertaining, satisfying collection that creates a synthesis of his consistently great style throughout the years.

When Jay Scott left this world, the Internet was still a few years away from becoming the dominant medium.  He had managed to move effortlessly from print to television without having to sacrifice his style, and one wonders if he would have adapted to the electronic age with equal ease. Would have he embraced it like film critic Roger Ebert with his own website, blog, and Twitter account? Would he continue to have a voice that stood apart from the countless online movie blogs?

Cinema and media distribution has changed significantly in the past twenty years. In this current climate of mega-billion-dollar superhero franchises that continue to eclipse smaller works that demand our attention, we need someone like a Jay Scott again to chart a course.  When film criticism (or entertainment journalism in general) is being squeezed out for celebrity scandal trash, and newspapers are endangered species, would he have become a trailblazer in the new medium, or would he, now 63, be chuckling to himself and thinking of calling it a career?

I'm tired of griping about the present. I'm simply grateful that some of Jay Scott is still with us. I'll be cracking open his books with some red wine. It'll be good reuniting with an old friend. Good night, and thank you.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Richard Matheson: NOW YOU SEE IT....

The 1994 novel by the recently-deceased author and screenwriter Richard Matheson shows him still at the top of his game in spinning a yarn of fantasy and suspense. This tale of deceit and illusion is told in first person by Emil Delacorte, an octogenarian former magician, despite that our "narrator" is unable to move or speak due to a stroke. In the years since his misfortune, his legacy as The Great Delacorte has been carried on by his son Maximilian. As this novel begins, however, Max is having trouble sustaining his career in changing times (the story is set in 1980), and is pressured by his agent Harry to start "modernizing" his traditional, old-fashioned magic show by playing cheesy Vegas lounges and adding a little sex to the act. Max's second wife, the cold calculating Cassandra (who is also sleeping with Harry), her cloddish brother Brian, and his agent, are all in some ways manipulating Max's life and career. The illusionist uses his talent and a little Grand Guignol to stage an elaborate revenge plot in order to regain control. This story takes place almost entirely in a single location, The Magic Room, a chamber in the Delacorte mansion which acts as a shrine to the elder magician's legacy, replete with set props that figure into this labyrinthine tale. Emil spends most of his invalid days sequestered in the corner of the room, gazing at the many props and pictures, to remind him of his legacy. In this instance, he is also an unwilling voyeur to all of the ensuing carnage, and is helpless to intervene (much like the reader, who only ever sees this tale from his vantage point). Naturally the scheme doesn't work out as planned (or does it?), as each new chapter commences with one new twist or double cross, and the reader constantly wonders who is the true puppetmaster of this plot. One is exhausted by the end (as much as Emil of course), and by its deliberate prose endlessly foreshadowing that "you haven't seen anything yet", complimenting the stage patter of a showman. Matheson's bouncy rhythm adds to the dark comedy, as does the inclusion of the bumbling Sheriff Plum, who shares our wonderment in what the hell is going on. This funhouse of a novel escalates into a horrific climax, even more excruciating in that the reader is a helpless spectator, much like the audience at a stage performance, and like Emil, whose agile mind is trapped in a useless body. It is to Matheson's credit that this story also depicts a vivid portrait of a stroke victim. Even though things don't always appear as they seem, and that characters don't stay dead, this virtuoso act is made credible as we see the flawed, venomous characters amidst the smoke and mirrors. Now You See It.... is a compulsively readable tale of a fantastic revenge plot that is also an interesting study of a magician's vernacular, and the mechanics involved for an elaborate stage act. And what a show Emil, Max and Matheson have put on for us.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sunday Night Movie Corner #0

Welcome to Sunday Night Movie Corner. This column is an attempt to force myself back into regular film writing, with capsule reviews of every movie that the G Man has seen within the past seven days. If the spirit inspires me enough to write a longer, more detailed review, it will be featured at one of my other blogs, Unreeling in the Dark or TV Movies of the Week. Enjoy!

ABOVE: The Dave Clark 5 in Get Yourself a College Girl 

This week: Casa G-Man unspooled some teen and-or counterculture films from the 1960's. I've always had a soft spot for these kinds of pictures: even if they are square, egregiously squeaky-clean or outdated, I love them anyway. At the very least they are fascinating time capsules of a youth that we didn't have, and that probably didn't exist, but that we romanticize about anyway.


The Girls on the Beach
(1965, William Witney)
All one really demands of a beach party movie are some cute girls and boys frolicking on the beach, some dumb jokes, some musical numbers (incidental to the plot or otherwise), and maybe, just maybe, some basic film grammar or storytelling? The familiar premise, featuring the girls of Alpha Beta needing to raise ten grand in two weeks to save their fraternity, is serviceable enough, but the heavy subplot, where some preppy twerps pretend that they know the Beatles in order to make it with the girls, becomes its major undoing. This astonishingly cruel joke takes its toll, as the girls plan a fundraising concert with The Fab Four as headliners! In the meantime, Lesley Gore sings -no, lipsyncs- three numbers ("Leave Me Alone," "It's Gotta Be You," "I Don't Want to Be a Loser"), The Beach Boys feature "Girls on the Beach", "Lonely Sea" and "Little Honda", including a sequence on the beach with crummy day for night. The okay cast (including the ubiquitous blond beach movie beefcake Aron Kincaid) benefits from amusing cameos by Dick Miller as a smartass waiter, and Bruno VeSota as a telegraph officer. Director William Witney has made dozens of B-movies and serials, and knows how to tell a story with little means, but one senses that his creative input ended once the film was in the can, and less experienced hands assembled it. The movie feels unfinished as the impending Beatles lawsuit is shrugged off, and lacks a satisfying climax where the boys get kicked in the nuts (or in those more wholesome times, slapped on the cheek), and its comic timing is awry, as in the scene where the girls wonder aloud if they're being spied on is followed by a shot of someone ogling them with a telescope not one, but three shots later. With the girls so active in raising money through beauty pageants, crossword contests and bake-offs, one wonders how these dorky boys ever thought they'd have the time to make it with them.

Beach Ball
(1965, Lennie Weinrib)
Edd ("Kookie") Byrnes must keep the instruments of his band The Wrigglers from being repossessed, so he tugs at the heartstrings of finance committee member Chris Noel to obtain a loan. That plan backfires once she discovers it's to keep his evil rock and roll band afloat, and he must wheel and deal to keep ahead of the repo man before their big gig at a car show. This amusing fluff has a pretty good joke at its core, which is to make squares cool: Chris and the other equally prim and proper girls on the finance committee who nonetheless decide to tag along with the boys to learn how to be hip, and even the uptight bespectacled collection agent gets, uh, liberated by Edd's randy beach bunnies. This mild good time also features The Hondells ("My Buddy Seat"), The Four Seasons ("Dawn") and the Righteous Brothers ("Baby What You Want Me To Do"), and The Supremes, just before they hit the big time, entertaining at the car show with "Come To The Beach Ball With Me" and "Surfer Boy". Chris Noel (whose career of beach movies and biker epics epitomized the light and dark aspects of the 1960s) is appealing in a role requiring her to be both bookishly reserved and a hip happening chick. The cast includes Aron Kincaid (again!) and Don Edmonds (later the director of Ilsa movies!) among Byrne's friends.  Best of all is Anna Lavelle as one of Kookie's beach girls: she was a natural talent whose career never took off- this was her only substantial role. Dick Miller is one of the two cops who show up repeatedly, and chase The Wrigglers all over the car show before their big act. This movie is two for two this week where guys have to go in drag to get out of a tight spot. Director Lennie Weinrib was a former comic who later became the voice of Scrappy Doo, Fred Flinstone, Yogi Bear and many cartoon characters. As a director he's no auteur (as seen in the overemphasis on running chase scenes in silent film speed), but did make two other teen pics that warrant investigation: Wild Wild Winter (featuring much of this film's cast), and Out of Sight.

Get Yourself A College Girl
(1964, Sidney Miller)
Here's another film that should've ended with the girl kicking the guy in the groin. The ravishing former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley makes an appealing film debut in this innocuous comedy of manners, as Theresa, who pays for her college tuition as a songwriter of randy rock and roll lyrics that upset the geriatric board of directors at Wyndham Girl's College. In order to keep her academic good standing and save the college's ultra-conservative reputation, she agrees to avoid any further scandal while in Sun Valley with her girlfriends during the Christmas break. But that's so hard when her publicist Chad Everett tries to get her noticed, resulting in a silly scandal with the senator, who is the grandson of the Wyndham lineage. This Sam Katzman quickie was made to cash in on the Watusi craze, but when the fad died out even before the ever reliable "Jungle Sam" managed to rush this into theaters for a quick buck, its original Watusi-themed title was dropped, and the dance-themed angle was largely brushed over, save for one scene where the senator happens onto some gyrating Watusi-ing college kids at a dance, and his reaction shots are intercut with stock footage of African tribal dance. On the surface, this sequence is tasteless, but it precisely sums up the xenophobia of the white family unit who felt the influence of black-oriented music was a threat to their children. This is a film made by and about old fogeys who didn't understand the young generation. There is some fun to be had with Ms. Mobley's female co-stars: Chris Noel is a college ballet instructor who puts on a rock and roll 45 as soon as the board member leaves her class; Nancy Sinatra spends most of their winter getaway in bed with her husband (lucky guy). Of all these square 60s movies attempting to be hip, this film probably has the most eclectic musical lineup. First-billed (over the actors!) Dave Clark Five ("Whenever You're Around"; "Thinking Of You Baby"), The Standells ("Bony Maronie", "The Swim") and The Animals ("Blue Feeling", "Around and Around") perform some great rock numbers; Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto do their bossa nova hit "The Girl From Ipanema"; and the Jimmy Smith Trio contributes some great R&B jazz with "Comin' Home Johnny" and "The Sermon". This flick isn't a lost classic, but it's good fun, with better production values than one usually associates with this genre.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Second Time Around

For the rest of the year, this blog will intermittently feature pieces serving as testing grounds for a longer format project I'm working on, featuring my experiences as a youth in 1983, for future publication in book form. This is one of them.

ABOVE: "Second Time Around" was located in the center storefront
of this historic building, as it looks today.
My friend Todd had called me one morning in the summer to give a heads up about some old comic books that were for sale in a new second-hand store downtown. This call came in the twilight years of my avid comic book collecting, before my interests switched to film (appropriately enough, another media that told stories within a frame). In addition to haunting the town's variety stores for the new issues, I would act like a bounty hunter on my steed, The 10-Speed Medalist, on Saturday mornings, dutifully searching for old comics at garage sales. (Friday nights were often spent carefully planning a route for the following morning, based upon whatever sales were listed in the newspaper classifieds.) But I especially wanted to find stuff cheap!

After I tethered my horse and sauntered inside this store, appropriately called "Second Time Around", I discovered that they were selling a stack of old Classics Illustrated issues from the 1950s... and not for as cheap as I was used to paying at yard sales. The prices weren't unreasonable mind you, but more than what my five-dollar-a-week budget would allow, especially since it had to cover old and new comics. Anyway, I told the lady I would think about it, and left. I returned later that day... not for the comic books, but for something else that caught my eye.

Among the two or three bookcases of used paperbacks for sale was a copy of Bounty Man Kildoon, a western novel by Robert Eagle. The eponymous hero of this story was a bounty hunter who collected his money by bringing in the severed heads of the desperadoes on the "Wanted" posters. I had gravitated towards this book because during this period I was positively mad about western movies, especially those about bounty hunters (having recently been enamoured of Lee Van Cleef in For a Few Dollars More). At around this time, my garage sale routes included western paperbacks in their searches. This particular 25-cent purchase began what would become a past time and (hopefully) a friendship that would last almost two years.

"Second Time Around" was owned and operated by John and Paulette, a married couple who also had two boys a few years younger than me. Much of their inventory consisted of second-hand clothing sold on consignment, which took up the first half of the store (mostly all that was visible from the sidewalk). In addition, they would sell antiques, as well as the second-hand staples of knick-knacks, LPs, and -you guessed it- paperback novels.

For the rest of the store's remaining months, I would often drop by after school or on Saturdays to look for western paperbacks, and later, crime novels (when my tastes began to include hard-boiled fiction). Although Louis  L'Amour, Max Brand and Zane Grey were the most common authors I would buy, I would also sample anything that looked interesting or was the basis for a movie (such as Clay Fisher's The Tall Men, which was adapted to a Clark Gable movie I had seen on TV at the time).

In time, I discovered there was a rival customer for their westerns: we were known to each other, but never met (perhaps he only visited during school hours). An older gentleman who lived at the hotel down the street would also buy novels, and sell them back after reading them with his huge magnifying glass. He would also complain to them that I never brought back whatever I removed from the store. No, anything I acquired was in a plastic bag slung over the bed post, the same place where Dennis the Menace kept his toy pistol. Admittedly, I wasn't reading the novels with nearly the ravenous pace: it mattered more to me at the time that the stuff was in my possession, so I had an instantly accessible library to read at my leisure.

ABOVE: A 1983 photo in
"The Ottawa Citizen"
accompanying an article
on "Black Bart"
For at least a year, the storeowners never knew my name: I preferred to liken myself to "The Man With No Name" in spaghetti westerns, which I often alluded to in conversations with John about western movies. When I mentioned that I was a huge Lee Van Cleef fan, John replied that on the side he was doing a woodworking project for a Mr. Jim Flett, who had done stunts for the actor. In addition to doing stunts and bit parts for television, Mr. Flett was also at the time appearing at shopping centres as a quick draw artist under the name of Black Bart. The next time he appeared at "Second Time Around", he had learned about me, and wanted to invite me out for a coffee, but they had no contact information for me. As a consolation prize, Mr. Flett left an autographed picture for me the next time I visited the store. (Sadly, that photo is now lost- that was too many moves ago.)

I had always loved "old stuff": the design of antique cars, appliances and architecture; the sounds of big band music (something else to alienate me from my rock and roll loving peers); and of course, old movies and TV shows. The time spent at "Second Time Around" merely crystallized that adoration, plus an adherence to old-fashioned values. The store opened at the height of the 1980s' recession, and its clientele was largely blue-collar workers who had become disenfranchised by the economic downturn, and would have a few more dollars in their pockets thanks to buying or selling used goods. Here was a life lesson not being told in school: these were impressionable, vivid snapshots of townsfolk just doing whatever they needed to get by. The people and the overheard conversations gave me a glimpse of the real world out there, largely masked by the shell I had been living in.

Indeed, "Second Time Around" wasn't just a nostalgic trip down memory lane, it was also a reflection of a lifestyle. While their store inventory represented remnants from what was collectively considered "the good old days",  John and Paulette adhered to an old-fashioned value system of family and spirituality, which I found touching. (These qualities are especially eroding today, as family time often consists of everyone singularly playing with their gadgets.) As time progressed, I saw that John especially was becoming more openly spiritual, as he often played Christian rock in the store, and was more judicious of what would be for sale (after sorting through a recently acquired box full of paperbacks, the horror novels went into the trash).

Nostalgia is a selective process: when we think of "the good old days", we blind ourselves to the hardships experienced along the way. While I have nothing but the fondest memories of John, Paulette, and the many hours there, I do not wish to time portal back to this period. In 1983 especially, life was a nightmare: at school, I was the social outcast (by circumstance and design); domestic strife was compounded with my grandmother's death, my mother's losing her job and resentment over my father's remarrying. This era was a painful time, though necessarily so, as I was changing as a person (although only in hindsight was I aware of this). At the time I had no real close friends -never truly hung out with anyone after school hours- and consequently had no-one I could really confide in (not even at home, since there were enough problems). However, I was slowly coming out of my shell, and in some ways "Second Time Around" helped me with this.

They instilled within me a feeling of self-worth that I otherwise lacked. Indirectly, I learned that it was okay to march to a different drummer than that of my peers, and to appreciate others' individuality. At the same time, people were beginning to cease their hostilities towards me, as they likewise accepted that I was different. (Maybe it was simply called "maturity".)

Early in 1985, "Second Time Around" suddenly closed without any advanced notice. It re-opened around Easter weekend with the same name and inventory, however this time run by an older couple. The new owners were nice people, but the vibe wasn't the same. This new incarnation would also close in a short time. Oddly enough, I never saw John or Paulette again- not even around town, despite seeing their names in the paper every now and then. One summer however, I believed to have seen him drive by my house in his beat-up hatchback, while Christian music played out the open windows.

In a sense, this transitional period where I learned to become more extroverted lasted in exactly the same timeframe as the existence of this second-hand store. In that year-and-a-half, John became a surrogate "big brother": even though our talks never went below a surface level, I'm sure he would've been responsive if ever I wanted to discuss personal things in my life. It was simply that he accepted me as a human being during those times is for what I will be eternally grateful. Thinking of their sudden departure recalls the theme song from Sunset Carson's PBS series, Six Gun Heroes, which we watched at the time: "No goodbyes / Just so long for a while". In that sense, this time was like living in a western movie.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Nostalgia Isn't What It Used To Be

ABOVE: James Mason in A Star Is Born
Last night, while flipping channels, I had caught a few minutes of a standup act on The Comedy Network's  Just For Laughs. The fellow onstage did a spot-on impersonation of James Mason. He positively nailed the actor's rhythm of speech and identifiable voice. The theatre was silent, save for a few polite titters. No, the audience wasn't a tough crowd- it was simply that the people didn't know who he was! (One assumes that those few who giggled were among the minority who got the joke.)

Now, come on. James Mason had a movie career spanning nearly fifty years- he worked right up until his death in 1984. Among his prolific output were the cinema classics Odd Man Out, Julius Caesar, and the 1954 version of A Star Is Born (in which, for my money, he stole the film from Judy Garland). Even if the audience consisted of people in the 30 to 40 range, had no one watched reruns of his later films when they were younger? The Verdict? Heaven Can Wait? Anybody?

With each generation, pieces of past pop culture understandably slip away to make way for the new. But James Mason? It's not like he's doing Ish Kabibble!

This sorry incident reminded me of an article I read a few years back about the writers of TV's Saturday Night Live being instructed to limit their pop cultural references to things of the past five years. Sheesh! My youth's pop culture contained allusions to things that were forty or fifty years old. And even if we hadn't seen, say, Casablanca or Laurel & Hardy firsthand, they had so much been imbued into our cultural baggage that we still understood references like "Play it again, Sam!" or "Here's another fine mess you've gotten me into."

In this information age, one has more access to knowledge than any other time in history. Why then, is this generation's cultural baggage so small? At the risk of sounding like an old fart, I don't want to just blame it on today's youth: it could be oversimplifying to say that they don't care. Is this generation really apathetic about anything from before it was born, or is the media controlling its ignorance? As Sir Francis Bacon said, "Knowledge is power...."

Oh. And after that, the comedian did a Clint Eastwood impersonation to thunderous applause.