Friday, December 15, 2006
A musical education
I'm surprised how little attention the death of Ahmet Ertegun is receiving. The man co-founded Atlantic Records, and -- with his brother and partner Nesuhi, partner Herb Abramson, executive and producer Jerry Wexler and producer Tom Dowd -- helped guide the careers of dozens of artists, many of them geniuses in their own right.

If you're looking for a musical education, listen to the "Atlantic Rhythm & Blues" box, eight discs of powerful music and enlightening history: Stick McGhee, Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles, the Drifters, the Coasters, Stax/Volt, Aretha. Ertegun helped make that happen.

(Not to mention Atlantic's rock roster: The (Young) Rascals, Buffalo Springfield, Led Zeppelin ...)

Music executives don't always inspire admiration, and Lord knows the music business too often forgets about music. But listen to any Atlantic record from the label's golden age and it's obvious that Ertegun and his colleagues were also music lovers. They had ears.

He will be missed.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Peter Boyle, 1935-2006
Peter Boyle is dead. The actor, best known for his role as Frank Barone in "Everybody Loves Raymond," was 71.

Many obituaries are rightly going to play up Boyle's performances in "Raymond" and the film "Young Frankenstein," but I'd like to add a plug for one of my favorite films: "The Candidate."

In that 1972 movie, Boyle plays Marvin Lucas, the cynically efficient campaign manager of Bill McKay (Robert Redford). McKay, though the son of a former governor, is a political neophyte, and it's Lucas who must guide him through the electoral maze of a California senatorial campaign.

Though Redford gives a great performance -- perhaps his best -- Boyle is the engine of the movie, a ball of energy constantly goading the ever-reluctant McKay onward. He can be blunt, he can be less than scrupulous (and he chips away at McKay's ideals, one by one), but when the election is over and McKay (spoiler!) comes out on top, even the newly minted senator knows who's in charge.

"What do we do now?" he famously asks Lucas in the movie's last line.

Unbelievably, Boyle wasn't nominated for an Oscar for "The Candidate" -- he wasn't for anything, not "Joe" or "Young Frankenstein" or "Monster's Ball" -- and despite several Emmy nominations, he only won one, that for an "X-Files" guest spot. Which only goes to show that sometimes the best performances look so easy they're often overlooked. Peter Boyle, to his credit, seldom was.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Mel, sex, and violence
Hearts ripped out of chests and held aloft in all their pulsating, graphic glory as thousands of people cheer in delirious approval. Heads decapitated and tossed as gifts to the crowd, people rushing to catch them with the same fervor and delight as a child catching a foul ball in their mitt at a baseball game.

Just two of many such violent, over-the-top, gut-wrenching, stomach-turning scenes in Mel Gibson's masterful piece of moviemaking, the R-rated "Apocalypto," which opened at No. 1 at the box office.

Now imagine a movie featuring a man and a woman madly in love -- so much in love they can't keep their hands off each other. In this movie, which tells a compelling story that is also masterful, they repeatedly make love to each other and we see them naked (as we see the Mayan tribesmen and women in "Apocalypto"). The scenes are as sexually explicit as "Apocalypto" is violently explicit and nothing is left to the imagination.

How would that movie be rated? R or NC-17?

Go see another movie to find out the likely answer. "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" is a devastating indictment of the mysterious MPAA ratings board -- a group whose methods can seem like madness, fraught with illogic and hypocrisy.

"This Film" blows the proverbial lid off the secretive MPAA, revealing its until-now shadowy members. It unpeels, layer by layer, the thick skin encasing the MPAA to reveal a thin-skinned group whose actions have tremendous financial and moral implications.

So as we struggle with morals and values -- which by their very nature are subjective -- how do we explain the following: The moral and not-so-moral majority seem willing to accept that we, as a society, have little problem with graphic violence on the scale seen in "Apocalypto." Adults feel comfortable watching it with their kids by their side, just another family entertainment outing of gorging on popcorn, pretzel bites, hot dog and Twizzlers while consuming buckets of on-screen violence.

But if you were to substitute sex for the violence, there would be apoplexy and outrage, a rush to shield the eyes. If those same parents watched with their kids as lovemaking ensued on screen, the uncomfortable seat-shifting would surely be intense enough to loosen the floor bolts that hold the chairs in place.

The double standard we allow with violence -- whether it be at the movies, on TV shows or in videogames -- can not be explained rationally. As someone once said, "Don't confuse me with logic."
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