Category Archives: Blog

hitchcock in directors chair

… he was utterly appalled by “the real thing.”

“In 1945, Hitchcock had been enlisted by his friend and patron Sidney Bernstein to help with a documentary on German wartime atrocities, based on the footage of the camps shot by British and Soviet film units. In the event, that documentary was never seen.”

A truncated version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Holocaust documentary was aired on Frontline in 1985 under the name “Memory of the Camps”, but now the restoration work on the film is nearly complete and set to be released later this year.

The film is “much more candid” than other documentaries, and Hitchcock himself was reported to have been so disturbed during production that he stayed away from his studio for a week(Full video of “Memory of the Camps” is inside. Given the subject matter, disturbing content throughout.)

The editors Stewart McAllister (famous for his work with Humphrey Jennings) and Peter Tanner, working under advice from Hitchcock, fashioned an immensely powerful and moving film from the hours and hours of grim material at their disposal. The documentary isn’t all about death. We also see imagery of reconstruction and reconciliation. There is footage of camp inmates having their first showers and cleaning their clothes. The film-makers show the painstaking way that typhus was eradicated from the camps.

Haggith speak of the “brilliance” of the original cameramen at the camps, who were working without direction but still had an uncanny knack for homing in on the most poignant and telling images.

“It’s both an alienating film in terms of its subject matter but also one that has a deep humanity and empathy about it,” Haggith suggests. “Rather than coming away feeling totally depressed and beaten, there are elements of hope.”

Photo by Stan Osborne.
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camel nude

In reply to your request, please find that I hereby protest

Nude is a concept album released by English progressive rock band Camel (wiki) in 1981. It was their eighth studio album. The album (lyrics) is based on a true story of a Japanese soldier (Hiroo Onoda) marooned on an island in World War II who doesn’t know that the war is over. ‘Nude’ derives from his family name ‘Onoda.’”

My personal favorite bit from the album is the gorgeous song “Drafted,” which starts at around 5:07 in the video below.

Hiroo Onoda died last month in Tokyo at the age of 91.

220px-Dan_Fogelberg_1974

That Old Familiar Pain

On a December evening six years ago, there was a knock on my front door. It was a sweet lady named Lyn, who lived down the street and was mother to one of the boys my kids played with. She is a fellow music lover, and was a fan of the radio station that at the time I was the morning host for. There were tears in her eyes.

“Dan Fogelberg died,” she said, “and I need to talk to somebody.” Continue reading

Breaking Bad as inkblot test: Some post-mortem thoughts

The final episode of Breaking Bad aired this past Sunday night, and I haven’t been able to get it off my mind ever since. I think we were all (those of us who watched it, at least) witness at the creation of one of the great works of modern art, and I’m still processing the intricacies of it.

I’ve also been reading a lot of theories about it online, particularly at my favorite online hangout, the erudite community blog Metafilter, and I’m struck by the breadth of ideas and messages people have been able to glean from this show. And it occurs to me that Breaking Bad is nothing less than a Rorschach inkblot test, and like the Bible or the Constitution or any other creative work this multifaceted, you can approach it with virtually any narrative of your own and find that narrative within.

This should go without saying, but here I go saying it: Spoilers within. Continue reading

Radio theater: This is a casting call

This is something I’ve been thinking about and planning for years, and now it is a thing that is happening. And if you’re so inclined and are one of the right persons for the task, you can experience it with me. We are going to restore to its rightful glory the magnificent thing that is radio theater.

Do you see these people? This is Orson Welles and his wonderful Mercury Theatre, rehearsing for their 1938 production of “Treasure Island.” They were at the absolute top of their game, telling stories using only their voices and a few sound effects, and they had people on the edge of their seats, week to week. Several weeks later, this group of people would cause the listening audience to collectively wet themselves when their little production of “The War of the Worlds” was perhaps too convincing, and Mr. and Mrs. North America really thought the Martians had landed.

Radio used to be the killer delivery system for great storytelling. And I think it can be again. I believe, that in a society saturated with screens and tablets and 3D this and IMAX that, the sound of human voices can tell a story better than anything else. I have had this thought banging about in my head for years now, and it’s finally time for me to do something about it. It’s time for kids to beg to stay home on Sunday evenings, decoder rings at the ready. It’s time for adults to sit back and close their eyes and listen to an amazing story. It’s time to make radio theater again.

So, with all that lovely fanfare, the O.S.T. Repertory Theatre is now accepting applications for players. We are looking for a diverse batch of voices, and although acting experience is desirable, it is not required. What is required is a passion for storytelling. Also required: The commitment to rehearsals one night per week, time and location to be determined. Our finished product will take a couple of forms: There will be live performances, but there will also be recordings, podcasts, and other things that are also to be determined.

If you’re interested, please email me (james.bickers@gmail.com). Let’s make radio magic.

You should watch “The Singing Detective.” Let me tell you why.

Singing_Detective_PosterFor the past week or so, I’ve spent an awful lot of time laying on my couch, with a bag of frozen peas on my belly. You see, for the past two years or so, my body decided that it wanted to grow a golfball-sized rock in my gut, so it helpfully did, perhaps thinking it was giving me some of the joy I would never experience since I had not been born a woman who could grow a child instead in that near vicinity. Helpful. But the rock (and the gall bladder that birthed it) came out several days ago, and I’ve been laying around ever since.

During this time, I got to watch a fair amount of television. With some great recommendations from friends, I discovered some new favorites: I’m one-third through an amazing Canadian TV show from 2003 called “Slings & Arrows,” notable for being a very early role for Rachel McAdams, who had to be written out of the show because she hit the big time. It’s some seriously great television, in that sweet spot that is funny and poignant and sad, all at the same time.

But I also watched the 1986 BBC miniseries “The Singing Detective” during this time, and it was a deeply memorable experience. It washed over me like a six-hour fever dream, spread out over several days, and I still find myself thinking back on it.

Here I find myself challenged with how to describe this miniseries. I don’t want to tell you very much about it. I want you to have the experience I had. I watched it with zero expectations and next-to-zero knowledge. I knew that it was considered one of the great achievements in British television. I knew that people within the television industry considered its writer, Dennis Potter, to be a storytelling visionary. I knew that it starred a young Michael Gambon (Dumbledore the Second). And I knew that it was, as the title suggests, a musical.

It is indeed a musical, but there are no singing cats or lions or French people. It created a genre that is woefully under-used, the television musical. If “The Singing Detective” didn’t exist, then neither would “Blackpool” or “Cop Rock,” and that would be a terrible shame. Nor would there be a thing called “Glee.” I understand that one is quite popular with the kids these days.

It is a somewhat hallucinatory story, told backward for most of its length and revealing its secrets slowly. It has bits of film noir and it has dance numbers and it has wonderful music from Cole Porter and The Ink Spots and Bing Crosby and Vera Lynn (does anybody here remember her?). And at its core, it is a profoundly sad story of a father and a son, and maybe that’s why it resonated so strongly with me.

I don’t want to say any more about it, I just want to implore you to watch it, if you are at all intrigued by this little tease. It is currently not available on any on-demand services that I know of, but the discs are in the Netflix by-mail inventory, and it is of course available on Amazon. Would love to hear what you think of it.