Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Bright Lights, Red Coat

Earlier this year, I got my first (and possibly only) modeling opportunity. Many of you have already seen the pictures on Facebook. Now, here's the story behind my runway walk in an 18th Century British military uniform.

I’m sitting in a hallway at the audition venue, outside what’s labeled the “Great Room.” Half a dozen modeling hopefuls surround me -- young ladies and one young man. They are all staring into their smartphones, all wearing black. I plan to be wearing red.

My journey down the runway will either begin here or end here. I’m hearing dance-club music pump out of the Great Room as the audition for the group ahead of us rolls on. Smatterings of applause interrupt the beat. From the doorway outside, I can’t see who’s walking.

So far, I have rushed here after church on Palm Sunday and completed some rudimentary paperwork, which included providing my social media account handles and my “real age.” When it’s prefaced like that, I know it’s there because people have tried to fake it. Perhaps they said “29 and holding.” In my case, I could have said “247” given what I’m going to be wearing.

“Do you have a head shot?” one attendant asked.

“No,” I said, feeling I had just earned strike one.

But so far, it didn’t seem to matter.

“Fifty-one through sixty, this way!” an assistant calls out. That’s me at the end of the line, number 60.

She leads us into the Great Room and asks us to sit down in order in some chairs next to a practice runway to the side of us. At the end of the runway sits a committee of evaluators or designers or both. I’m not sure. All I know is that I have to make it past them to make it to the stage.

A poster in the back reads like the Boy Scout Law for models: “Be On Time. Be Positive. Be Prepared. Be Informed. Be Nice & Polite. Be Accountable. Be Loving. Be Proactive & Open. Be Knowledgeable. Be Fashion Forward. Be Professional. Be Private and Focused.” I don’t know about the “Fashion Forward” one, but I can at least do my best on the others.

A young man in a leopard-print jacket stands up and goes through the procedure. “Bring your number up to us, we will put some music on, and you will walk to the end of the runway and back. Look at the clock on the wall. Don’t look at us.”

Those who make the cut in my group will then be directed to sit on the other side of the room, where they will meet with a designer who will chose them to strut their stuff. It feels like a cross between America’s Next Top Model and The Voice.

Across from me, in that set of chairs where I hope to end up, is a girl who can’t be more than 15, and she is dolled up to look like she’s 28. It’s almost heartbreaking to see somebody prematurely age a person like that.

The first hopeful steps up to the runway and starts to walk.

“Slower, slow down,” says the young man.

It’s tempting to want to walk to the beat, which has all the verve of a New York City fashion event.

The next hopeful gets up. She’s a lady who looks in her tweens, but she’s having to show off a sensibility and style of someone double her age. Again, she’s told to slow down.

My strategy formulates from what I see. I’m watching every step they take, every move they make, looking for fine points and errors. I wonder to myself, “When I reach the end of the runway, should I act like I’m pulling a sword?”

* * *

About six months ago, a folk-dancer friend of mine made your servant an offer I couldn’t refuse.

“Can I make you a red coat?”

Not just any red coat, but a 1700’s British infantry uniform coat -- a Redcoat’s red coat. She was in a sewing class at Pima Community College, and she had an idea for a project. But she needed somebody to wear and enjoy it. She didn’t have to ask me twice.

She drew her inspiration from Outlander’s Black Jack, using a coat pattern with black facings and black turnouts. When she showed it to me, however, I decided I wanted a slightly different look: white facings and white turnouts with silver button trim, more like a British regular than a British officer. I later learned that design was more like a British officer. We both agreed on the modifications, and she set to work.

My friend brought the completed coat to me just before Christmas, and I instantly fell in love with it. She had made it with joy and precision, and it radiated dignity and pride. I didn’t think I would wear it on the battlefield, but I knew I wanted to wear it for a fancy ball or two… or three or four or more. I wore it for a Christmas dinner with Princess Sherri. I wore it to a Epiphany ball in California with a kilt, portraying a Black Watch highlander. It drew many an eye.

Some weeks later, I got another offer. Did I want to model it for a show at the Fox Theatre in downtown Tucson? She didn’t have to ask me twice.

I had no modeling experience whatsoever. I didn’t have a glamor headshot. I had my stint in the Tanque Verde Swap Meet commercials on my resume (which I didn’t have to submit). But I was assured I had a sponsor -- the sewing class teacher -- who would be leading me through it all.

Nothing seems certain as I step up onto that practice runway, wearing my redcoat over a dark blue t-shirt, long black shorts and knee-high socks. I at least look a little bit Colonial. I’m not walking quite to the beat, but I am looking at the clock as directed. Part of me feels lost, that dreadful moment of “What am I doing here, and why am I doing it?” Should I smile more? Or should I be radiating the aura of a focused British regular who would say, according to Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Ours is not to reason why, ours but to do and die.” I forget about pulling that air sword. I walk, I turn, and I walk back with a resolute sense of purpose, if not some sense of style. Applause greets me as I step off.

“You’re all good!” our commander directs, inviting us to sit on that other side of the room.

I have passed the audition. And now my sponsor steps up to claim me.

“I knew it was you when I recognized that red coat!”

We exchange information and pleasantries and how we got to this point. The next step will come next month, when I will step out onto that runway for real at the Fox.

“Be prepared for a long day,” my sponsor warns.

I’m ready. “How many people get to be supermodel for one evening?”

It’s not a good sign when the automated parking lot system won’t print out your windshield ticket even though you’ve fed it a credit card. I had to feed it again to get what I needed, and I hoped I didn’t get charged twice. Never do business with anything that bakes out in the sun.

I’ve made it to the Fox Theatre in downtown Tucson promptly before noon as requested. I’m already wearing most of what I’ll need for tonight, having attended a Sons of the American Revolution meeting in Casa Grande as part of the color guard. I just have to change the coat.

Just beyond the doors of the restored historic entertainment palace, a crush of models is gathered around the front tables as handlers check them in, check them off the list and assign them numbers.

“Some of you will be in different scenes,” our coordinator explains, the same one who told us to look at the clock and not the crowd during the tryouts last month. “We had to split some groups.”

I’m directed downstairs to the dressing room for Scene 2. As I pass down the outer aisle of the auditorium, I notice the gigantic runway for the first time.

Downstairs, I take a seat while I wait for the crew from Gadabout to do my makeup and hair. I know what I want. I think.

“I was thinking sort of Paul Revere,” my stylist explains.

He wasn’t a Redcoat, but okay. I have ideas too.

“I’m thinking rosy cheeks,” I suggest. “Like I just stepped out of a painting. That fop look.”

Does she even know what I mean by “fop?”

She puts on base. That’s when I come up with another suggestion.

“Can you get rid of the bags under my eyes?”

I hate how time and years of squinting without wearing sunglasses has put the age into my peepers. She goes right to work on them, softening the lines.

“Do you want Chapstick?”

I don’t wear it, but I figure it’s a good idea. I go with it, and then my stylist finds she can’t find the Chapstick. She quickly finds a substitute for my lips. Then it’s time to put the rose in my cheeks.

“I don’t want to do too much,” she explains, as she gradually works it in. “Is that enough?”

I can barely see it in the mirror. “A little more.”

She works in some more rouge, but I’m having trouble spotting the effects, even in the bright lights of the makeup mirror. I want to be cautious, though.

“We can split the difference between total fop and nothing.”

After a few coats, I’m satisfied, even though I can’t see much change in my cheeks. I figure I should quit while I’m ahead. It’s not the end; another stylist insists that I get a dab of mascara on my eyelashes. Fine, but I’m not Tammy Faye.

When I hold it up to my phone for a selfie, I find the team nailed it.

Another stylist sprays down my hair and steamrolls it with the can. I think about asking for curls on both sides, but I decide to keep it simple. It will keep my frizzy head together, but that spray turns my fly-away strands into straw. Now I remember why I hate hairspray.

We are sent upstairs to sit and wait and begin the runway walkthroughs.

Walking a runway doesn’t require a lot of training, just a sense of timing and purpose. You wait just out of sight behind the scenery, walk into the opening when the stagehand cues you, and wait for the model on stage walking back to pass by the row of speakers along the edges. Then you walk.

House dance music is throbbing. It’s a nice beat, four on the floor, and it’s easy to walk to.

“Is the music easy to walk to?” our coordinator asks at one point, making sure our DJ isn’t trying to take artistic liberties too far.

When you reach the edge, halt.

“One-two-three,” our stagehand reminds us, giving us a mental count we can use. I think it should be more like “one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand.” It’s there for the PCC photographers and the press and whoever to take pictures. I turn to one side and then another, showing off the Redcoat. I’m not overdoing it. I don’t want to overdo it. I’m sticking to the fundamentals. I turn and walk off. Rehearsal completed.

One of my co-models, who has done this before, is gladly giving us style points on how to pivot at the end of the runway.

“Yeah, work it!” I say.

Everybody is encouraging each other as we go through this walkthrough and then another. This is not a competition. This is not the fashion police. This is a team coming together to make something beautiful. I like playing on this team.

At least twenty scenes are part of this show, hyphenated by some talking, I’m told. Each scene has seven to eight models and often more. Many in this cast are playing multiple roles, meaning as soon as they get done with one scene, they’re dashing down to the dressing rooms to change into a look for something still to come.

I wish lunch was coming. Those in charge have told me to bring a snack, but the impracticality of doing so given my dash from Casa Grande has ruled that out. I see a box of pizza and several plates of sandwiches go down the aisle towards the dressing rooms. Somebody has ordered in.

I need water. The weskit on my chest is holding me in like a corset and making me uncomfortable. I must get up and move, no matter what, at least to find the Necessary, as we would call it in the 18th Century.

Popping back into the lobby, the ingredients for the evening are coming together. Electronic wands for security are stacked up on a table. The prizes for the silent auction are in place with sign-up forms.

I pop down a staircase, thinking it will lead to a restroom somewhere. It leads me right into an oasis: tables adorned with sandwich trays and boxes of pizza in a corner, waiting to be devoured. Is it for us, or is it for some VIP’s who are paying extra for some mingle time before the show? I don’t know, and right now I don’t care. I’m part of the talent, I’m hungry, and I see other people have already started pillaging the loot. I help myself to a slice and a sandwich and wash it down with one of those half-bottles of water. Then I go back for seconds. And thirds.

I sit in the audience and watch the other groups take the runway, showing off formal wear, riffs on jeans and alien-inspired t-shirts -- one of which says “Abduct Me.” Family time comes midway through the show where moms and dads pair up with sons and daughters on the stage for matching looks. Pajamas are making an appearance. I’m falling asleep in my chair.

The lighting crew is getting things together, adjusting the narrow can lights so they hit the disco balls hovering above us. An operator swings the Vari*Lites and tries out a few positions. I would love it if those rotatable spots converge on us while we’re on the runway, like something out of a Genesis concert.

We have one more walkthrough to get through at 5pm. I hope I can keep myself awake. Too much pizza.

I have taken several compliments on the Redcoat, and with a courtly bow, I have given credit to Lady Nancy for sewing it, and to my sponsor at PCC for letting me model it, taking only partial nods for helping design it.

“I make my own historic clothing, too,” I say, pulling out my smartphone and showing them various photos of my pink 1700’s gentlemanly ensemble, my festive Scottish attire, my royal purple courtly dress and various peasant looks. Jaws drop open, especially when I tell people I make these things out of bedsheets and tablecloths I find at Savers.

“Where did you get that Coke?” I ask as a model walks by with a can.

“Downstairs,” she replies. She found a stash by the dressing rooms. I make a note of it as I get lined up for the last runthrough. I need caffeine.

I add a few touches of flair: a stomp to come to attention as I reach the end of the runway, and another stomp as I march back. I wonder if I should salute as well, but I think it’s too much.

I walk down the back stairs and find the stash that other model was talking about. A 12-pack of Coca-Cola is down to three cans inside a cooler that I gather is stocked for visiting artists -- or for us. Most of the shelves are bare by now. A cupboard next to it is a crime scene of opened tea bags deposited next to purses and cell phones.

Inside the dressing rooms, the Gadabout staff is running constantly, touching up faces and hair to help the models change their countenances as they change scenes.

Scrawled magic-marker names of bands and shows from the past decorate the walls, a visual history of who played here and when. Will we get to add our names?

I head back to the auditorium to wait while the rest of the scenes play out. I can’t find a trash can for the Coke can, so I shove it into one of the Redcoat’s generously large pockets. A trace of soda leaks out and I have to blot out a small spot in one of my coat turnouts. Fortunately for me, it’s not noticeable.

The show is supposed to start at 7pm, but the stage managers and our announcer are getting the command to hold off because people are still outside in a line which winds around the block. The Fox Theatre staff is opening the balconies. I didn’t expect this to be a sellout, but it sure feels like we’re headed there.

At 7:10, we’re still not ready to roll. People are still coming in and finding their seats. I can’t see any of it, but I can hear the soft din of the audience getting situated. My fellow models and I are queued up and practicing our walks. Our coordinator pumps us up and gives us some simple rules: “Just one foot in front of the other. Everything else will take care of itself!” He has us jump in place and wave our arms to warm us up. If I were in my kilt, I would probably dance a Highland Fling to get everybody pumped.

At 7:16, even with people still coming in the door, the showrunners decide it’s time to get going. “Ya snooze, ya lose,” the coordinator rules. We’ve tolerated fashionably-late so-called “Tucson Time” for as long as we can and sympathized with the people who have had trouble finding parking spots downtown on a Saturday night.

Our announcer tries to warm up the crowd like he’s working a Diamondbacks game. “How is everybody doing tonight?”

Some cheers, largely unhearable to us behind the stage.

“Oh, you can do better than that!”

He goes through the compulsory welcomes and thank-yous to Pima Community College and the various VIP’s and big shots in the crowd before teeing us up: “Everybody ready to see some fashion?”

More cheering. The lights come down and the music comes up.

Scene One goes through their walk and then the DJ changes tunes. I am the last model in Scene Two. We are walking out from between two flat white panels, positioned to give a stagehand a place to hide and cue us. I say a prayer, I wait my turn, and I watch the fingers of the crew lady who is cueing me into position to step into the opening and wait before starting the walk.

She motions me forward.

Instantly, I hear the crowd screaming and hooting as they see this man in a big British Redcoat and tricorn with knee breeches and buckled shoes step into the light. I can’t start walking until the previous model has cleared the row of speakers that is our cue mark.

When that time comes, the audience is loving it. I hear their excitement and yelling. I can’t see any of them with the bright lights from the balcony eclipsing any face in the crowd. I have decided not to smile, deciding that a proud British soldier should keep a dignified countenance, but with the enthusiasm of the crowd egging me on, I can’t help but add a bit of swagger.

Source: Precious Dreams Photography
I hit the end of the runway with a stomp to attention, pivoting and show that Redcoat off to the video cameras and the PCC photographers and whatever paparazzi hidden behind the light. With another stomp I pivot and march off, dignified and focused to the top of the runway, pivoting with one final stomp before I’m out of the light.

Source: Sherri Smalls
I exhale heavily. The campaign is successful. My work here is done.

The only thing to do now is wait for the show to end while basking in the afterglow. I have no other looks to model, no other clothing to display. Part of me feels wistful, wishing I could show off some of my other historic creations.

“You should have your own fashion show!” one model has said to me after I showed her my 18th Century wardrobe.

“I’d rather walk with you all.”

Saturday, December 21, 2019

What I Want For Christmas

This time of year, we all pull closer together as families. We come together for Christmas parties, dinner, movies and outings and celebrations.

And yet, some of us have been pushed away by our friends or families. We are not welcome in their homes, in their lives, even perhaps on the phone. This could be for any number of reasons, some more serious than others, and there are legitimate and sensible reasons to keep these people away if they are a danger to your family or friends. Sometimes they should be kept away. This isn't what the following words are about.

This is about brokenness and healing. This involves people who realize they have messed up in their lives, apologize, ask forgiveness, repent, and seek to heal with you as your friends and family. Part of that healing and forgiveness process involves being with you and yours during this time of the year, continuing on and fixing what is broken by rebuilding those relationships that have value.

We hear a running joke at Christmastime about the dysfunctional family gathering, that awkwardness that comes from this person and that person being around. It makes for a great holiday movie. And we also hear and dream of that perfect Christmas celebration, the one with the snow on the ground in the woods and the decorated house with piles of presents surrounding the tree. We smell the gingerbread wafting from the kitchen as our loved ones come through the door in their sweaters -- none ugly -- and embrace with bright countenances. People laugh and smile as they eat and drink and unwrap and make Merry Christmas, a scene as perfect as a Christmas Card. Nothing is wrong, awkward or imperfect. Nothing is dysfunctional, broken or sad.

We are not living in a Christmas card.

We are living in a broken world that needs healing and JESUS, who is the reason for the season in the first place.

This Christmas, many of you are bound to face tough choices as you plan your gatherings about who will and won't be part of your lives at that moment. I challenge you to think beyond hurt and brokenness and consider the lives and the hearts of those whom you might choose to shun because of fallings-out, political differences, or some other pain they may have caused. If those people are willing to ask forgiveness of you, clean up their acts, and mind their words and behaviours, they should be welcome at your gatherings.

JESUS came into this world to wipe away our sins, and heal our hurts and brokenness, provided we give HIM our choice and the opportunity. We follow in that example when we decide that our relationships mean more than our grievances and pain, and we make the choice to forgive when it is asked for, to heal and not to hurt.

If you are not a person of faith, consider this from the perspective of honour. An honourable person realizes that grudges and pain are hypocritical to the theme of a season of love, joy, and giving. Continuing patterns of dysfunctionality do not make this world more honourable at Christmas. We might as well just admit the commerciality of it, as in that line from A Charlie Brown Christmas: "It's run by a big eastern syndicate, you know."

Christmas is a time of coming together. This is a time when we celebrate our SAVIOR and also our relationships. This is a time to rebuild what is broken, just as OUR SAVIOR was sent into the world to do. Let that be on your Christmas list.

Be Blessed!

This post originally appeared on my Facebook page.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Merry Hatey Christmas

You can decide for yourself whom you believe after watching yet another uptight, histrionical, serious yet silly, and anything but bipartisan impeachment inquiry hearing. But I know this: Santa ain't stopping in Washington, D.C. this Christmas. He doesn't need to. Everybody has plenty of HATE under the tree.

This isn't about whether the inquiry is legitimate. It is. We as a nation cannot shrug off the allegations against the guy in the Oval Office, not if we want oaths of office to mean what they say. Those folks in the two houses swear they will uphold and defend the Constitution and the law. If we are now in the business of attacking people for doing what they swore they would do, then forget draining the swamp; let's just have a crowned head of state and end all this. I sincerely believe a lot of people really want a king when they elect a president anyway.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went ballistic on a reporter who asked if she HATED the president. Mind you, this came from a reporter who has pushed her buttons before with provocative questions, and it was a question designed to yank her chain. "I don't HATE anyone," she said. "I pray for the President all the time." Again, I'll leave it to you whether you believe that because I'm not in the mood to debate to asphyxiation. Your servant is trying to enjoy the Christmas season in spite of everything people are doing to louse it up.

It doesn't matter whether Nancy Pelosi HATES anybody, not as long as a multitude of people out there can do the HATING for her, either on the left or the right. Worse, they take pleasure in it. Christmas has come early as they seethe and snark and divide to conquer. A serious, legitimate Constitutional crisis now has extra added emotion and anger on top of what is already a divisive and disheartening state of affairs, all of it starting four years ago.

We shouldn't be acting like this at any point in the year, much less Christmastime. This unfolding narrative should play out like a funeral in our hearts and minds, not like Friday Night RAW. We should be drawing closer to people we love. We should shine as lights in this world rather than embracing the dark. We should strive to make new friends instead of treating our circle of influence like a gigantic Facebook page, unfriending and blocking and telling people to deport themselves.

Sadly, we have people who love HATE. They embrace it because it works. It gets what they want. It gets people elected. It gets rid of people they don't want to deal with. It strengthens in all the wrong ways for all the wrong reasons, but hey, as long as the goal is achieved, who cares how the ball got in the net?

Don't HATE all over the place and tell me you love this country. HATE didn't build it. We had Pilgrims and Puritans who loved the LORD and each other so much some of them were willing to try a form of socialism. That didn't work out, but live and learn. We had Quakers who stood against slavery and built that city of Brotherly Love (along with Action News and great cheesesteaks), Philadelphia. When our patriots were successful against incredible odds, they didn't christen our new nation with the blood of any Tory they could find. Love is not vengeful.

Every year after the holidays, we find ourselves in the post-noel blues. After this rotten predicament in Washington is over, we'll be in the same funk. Now what? Was the HATE worth it? Did it fit? You know, you can't take it back after Christmas.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Francis' Favorites: #1 - The Blues Brothers

Here we are at the top -- the film I consider the most influential on my life, as well as my favorite. The Blues Brothers is mishmash of music and mayhem, with some of the most memorable movie action sequences thrown alongside a cavalcade of classic rhythm and blues.

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Like so many great films, it's hard to fathom how this film got made, given the totality of what it does. Besides its two title stars, it gets the legendary James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Cab Calloway. It also features John Candy and Carrie Fisher (in her most memorable non-Star Wars role). It features some wild, over-the-top car chases. And it trashes a mall.

I could devote an entire blog post to the difficulty and danger of this one sequence, which added millions of dollars to the film's budget. (The film's total cost ended up around $30 million.) The mall torn up was an actual mall, the former Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, Illinois, which had been closed for about a year when the producers needed it. They were able to get many of the original tenants to come back and redecorate the storefronts, and they borrowed cars from a local dealer to fill the lots. Under the deals they worked out, they only had to pay for the things they broke.

The number of cars trashed in this movie is a testament to innovation and grindstone work. The production ran a 24-hour body shop to repair prop cars that were used over and over again, having been picked up cheaply in the first place.

If you love rhythm and blues, you'll love this picture. But my favorite number is an unforgettable rendition of Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man."

I know people who can quote just about every line in this film. I'm one of them. I also met another while working at Six Flags Over Mid-America. Many people call this a classic cult film. I can't say that about a film that made more than $100 million at the box office despite production difficulties, budget overruns, and racism that kept this film from playing in wide release in the south. It's a film I never get tired of seeing. For me, it doesn't have any throwaway scenes -- except for the extended cut that came out on DVD with bonus material, proving some things on the cutting room floor belong there.

And it's my #1 favorite movie.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Francis' Favorites: #2 - Ghostbusters (1984)

Seeing Ghostbusters was not my idea, nor was it my Mom's idea. That came from kid brother Michael, who was just itching to see it, and we were along for the ride. The Royal Father wasn't there; he was off on some business trip that nicely took him to a nice resort in the Ozarks without the rest of the family.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.

I'm now counting down the
films that left the biggest marks.
"I hope you're taking me to a good movie," the Queen Mother said in 1984 as we went to one our favorite movie houses in the Kansas City area: The Blue Ridge Cinema (now defunct and vanished into movie history).

What we didn't understand yet was that we were about to see one of the funniest movies of the decade, a movie that would leave a tremendous cultural landmark and propel the red circle-and-slash international "no" symbol to new popularity. Dad didn't know what he was missing -- yet.

But Ghostbusters did even more than that. It perfected the sci-fi action comedy. Men In Black, Guardians of the Galaxy, and to some degree, Iron Man all have the power of the proton packs in their DNA. You could be both highbrow and lowbrow with special effects added in.

I ended up seeing this film at least three times in theaters. The second time was with Dad, when he finally got back from that so-called business trip and we filled him in on what we saw.

I couldn't wait for this movie to make it to home video. Some relatives bought it, and we made a copy for ourselves (in a time when everybody who had multiple VCR's was doing that). I watched it while it copied, and then I rewound it and watched it all over again.

Halloween of 1984 had me dressing up as a Ghostbuster, complete with a toy machine gun and an emergency light flashing in a backpack wedged into a cardboard box for my proton pack, uniformed with my Dad's old Kansas National Guard attire.

My brother and I also got those famous "no ghosts" logo t-shirts. I wish I had held onto mine. I'm still looking for another one.

In the meantime, Ghostbusters is #2 on my list of favorites.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Francis' Favorites: #3 - Any Which Way You Can

I was in the first or second grade when this film came out in 1980, and kids in my class who had seen it were saying, "You know when they were trying to kill Clint Eastwood? The money was manureing in all the cars!"

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That's something Roger Ebert picked up on right away in his review, which called this film a free-association exercise of several different elements. Not that I care; I like it that way. As Ebert notes, it still has charm to it, and I will tell you that's because it's a goofy drive-in flick, disparate elements and all. It's the kind of movie you can easily see yourself watching on a Saturday night sitting under the stars.

Let's leave the form and talk about the content. I love this film because it has some hardcore bare-knuckle fights, including this one in a bar:

This film, like many Clint Eastwood films, makes heavy use of what has become a trademark of any Clint Eastwood fight scene: a lot of shots of him punching into the camera and also from his perspective, something also found in this film's predecessor, Every Which Way But Loose.

I didn't care for Every Which Way.... I thought it was too serious to be a comedy, and too heavy in places to be fun. The sequel, just as the trailer promises, is faster and funnier. And we get a huge fight scene at the end which winds all over the town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I imagine people still visit and remember all the places they saw during that climatic fight scene.

Of course, Clyde steals the show.

Because of the the action, all the fun and all of it watchable over and over again, Any Which Way You Can ended up as number three on my list of favorites.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Francis' Favorites: #4 - Tootsie

When my parents took my brother and your servant to see Tootsie in 1982, I went in thinking it was going to be one of those romantic comedies that the adults would get and kids my age would not. (The term "chick-flick" had not yet been invented.) Happily for me, I was dead wrong. I not only got it, I laughed out loud at Dustin Hoffman dressing up as a woman to get work on a TV soap opera and doing it so seamlessly and convincingly.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.

I'm now counting down the
films that left the biggest marks.
Tootsie is one of those films where I remember whole chunks of dialogue from memorable scenes, like this one played between Hoffman's character, Michael Dorsey, and his cantankerous agent, George Fields, played by Sydney Pollack -- who also directed. Dorsey has just learned a role he was up for on a Broadway show has been taken by someone else, and he wants answers from his agent.

I love that line: "Who told you that, the agent fairy?"

Of course, Michael gets the role and then he has to break the news to George. And here they have another classic exchange in New York City's famous Russian Tea Room, the place where entertainment power brokers and stars go to wine and dine and make deals, all while being served by people in lovely blouses.

And I can remember times when I don't know what I want to wear to a historic ball, and I remember this scene in front of the closet.

The American Film Institute lists this film as one of the greatest screen comedies of all time, and I don't disagree. What's ironic is that Sydney Pollack had never directed a comedy before this one. Yet he created a classic that holds up so well over time, and it even spun off a smash Broadway musical. Tootsie is a movie I can watch over and over again and still laugh, and for that reason, it's in my top five favorites.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Francis' Favorites: #5 - Ray

I remember seeing Ray on a Friday night after work, a late show at the Foothills Loew's here in Tucson. I remember how deep, emotional and musical it was, and how Jamie Foxx (who would win an Oscar for his performance) disappeared into the role of Ray Charles so completely. As I pointed out in my original 2004 review, the film deserved better treatment from the beginning, having taken years to get made because of financing difficulties.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.

I'm now counting down the
films that left the biggest marks.
But when it did get made, and with Charles' blessing and cooperation, it turned out to be a highly musical, highly watchable breeze through this legend's life and times. It didn't gloss over the warts: his drug use and his womanizing. I also enjoyed -- even if the Arizona Daily Star reviewer didn't -- listening in on Charles' business savvy which had him owning his own master recordings and controlling his sound, mastering the piano and overcoming blindness. That control enabled him to glide effortlessly into country from soul and R&B. The only thing that wore on me was the film's surrealistic flashbacks to the death of Charles' brother as they were growing up in Georgia.

As the late, great Roger Ebert pointed out, Ray would be watchable alone for just the music and how Jaime Foxx nails Ray Charles' mannerisms and voice, even though he's mouthing Charles' original recordings on the soundtrack. It's so much more than that, however, and it's an inspirational film for me because of its soulful journey -- on more than one level.

At one point in the film, Charles says: "When I walk out that door, I walk out alone in the dark."

Your servant has felt that darkness, more times than I would like to remember. Perhaps that's why Ray has ended up on my list of five favorites.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Alive... It's ALIVE!

I love 1974's Young Frankenstein because it's not just a very funny movie -- it's also a very enlightened parody of a classic monster movie, even using some of the same props as the original. Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder starting working on this movie together as they were finishing up Blazing Saddles, and between the two of them, they came up with scenes and dialogue that is impossible to forget.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
"That's Frank-un-STEEN."

"Walk this way."

"Elevate me."
"Here? Now?"

And a stylish production number...

But let's admit it. You can't wait to whinny every time her name comes up...

Monday, June 24, 2019

Push The Button, Max

A favorite film of the Royal Father, the Royal Grandfather and Dear Auntie is this 1965 epic comedy, The Great Race, directed by the great Blake Edwards. In the tradition of great films, this one nearly didn't get made.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
The script called for shooting on three different continents, dozens of classic turn-of-the-20th-century cars, hundreds of period costumes (by the great Edith Head, no less), a huge bar fight, the biggest pie fight ever filmed, and an automobile race connecting all of it. It's not hard to see why a studio would pass on it, but United Artists took it only to pass it to Warner Brothers when costs spiraled beyond the original $6 million budget.

A large amount of cash went into that pie fight. Let's take a closer look at it.

Still, with Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Natalie Wood attached to the picture, it had to be a surefire hit, right?

Despite all that money, all those stars, all those cars, and all those pies, The Great Race was a great disappointment -- even though it grossed double its negative cost of $12 million. Audiences found everything just too over the done, including the length: the film clocks in at 2 hours and 40 minutes.

When I was in the sixth grade, our teachers showed this movie at a rewards assembly. I had seen it at least twice before then, and I was the only one generally interested in it. All those other kids probably would have preferred Footloose.

About 15 years later, I had Tony Curtis on a 5:00 newscast I produced, live in the studio. I was stuck in the control room while our anchor got to ask him questions about his storied career. I never got to meet him or shake his hand... much less ask him about The Great Race, all those pies, and all those cars.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Beware The Flying Cannon

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching a standoff unfold in Los Angeles on live TV, and the news helicopters had the perfect vantage point to spot a suspect who had fired shots at the cops, lit a house on fire, and thrown fireworks out the window of another home.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
"Where's Blue Thunder when you need it?" I said.

In 1983, Blue Thunder was the coolest chopper movie I couldn't see due to its R rating. I later sneaked a look at it on cable. Not only could it blast the heck out of everything, it could see through walls, pick up the slightest whisper, stare down at you from 1,000 feet and get information on anything and anybody through its computer terminal -- years before Google and smartphones.

About a year later, a sanitized version of the movie (which still borrowed a lot of shots from the film) became an ABC series, starring -- among others -- Dick Butkus, Bubba Smith... and a then-unknown Dana Carvey in a serious role.

TV Guide said that the similarly-themed series Airwolf flew circles around this show. But I still give my vote to the Blue for all the cool AV gear.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Eastbound And Down

When Burt Reynolds passed away last year, I immediately knew I wanted to run a clip from Smokey And The Bandit in my newscasts, particularly the one showing Sally Field's runaway bride character tossing a bag into Bandit's Trans Am after he pulled over and said, "I don't want to get married."

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
"Great, that makes two of us," Field replied before asking Bandit to unzip the back of her dress and adding, "Does this thing move?"

"Oh yeah," Bandit replied before speeding off.

I couldn't find that clip, but I did find one that I thought summed up Reynold's prolific film career.

I saw a documentary on this picture where Reynolds read the script and thought it was awful. But he still agreed to do it, and he had a lot of fun doing it. For Reynolds, it really wasn't so much about the money or the glory as much as it was the fun, and Reynolds seemed to have more fun making movies and TV shows (Evening Shade among them) than anybody I knew in Hollywood.

It's not just Reynolds who makes this picture work. Jerry Reed is unforgettable as the good-ol-boy trucker who can't hit the road without his basset hound friend Fred. But it's Jackie Gleason's bigoted, dimwitted sheriff Buford T. Justice who steals the picture.

I didn't get the full breadth of his foul-mouthed tirades until I saw the unedited picture instead of the version that aired on NBC which substituted "Scum Bum" in place of a more colorful term.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Men In Tights And The Ladies Who Love Them

We recently lost the great Franco Zeffirelli, whose colorful and lusty 1968 version of Romeo And Juliet is what I think of every time somebody quotes from this play. I saw it complete for the first time in high school, although it was an ABC Sunday Night Movie version which removed about 30 seconds of Romeo's bare buttocks, and one second of Juliet's bare breasts.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
My English teacher explained before pressing the play button on the ancient U-Matic VTR (what schools were using years before VHS took root) that you could tell who the Capulets were because they were "the real flashy dressers." She added, "Yes, the men do wear leotards."

Yes, in a way. They're wearing Renaissance-era Italian hose, multicolored tights with prominent codpieces.

"Hey, you gotta protect the goods," a colleague remarked when I explained how the movie aimed for historic accuracy in the crotch. But I don't think protection was the goal as much as showing things off.

And you know, any time there's a beautiful ball scene, I'm on it.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Puff And Stuff

Days before a Scottish dance in Flagstaff, I caught the end of Brigadoon on cable's TCM. Needless to say, I've never been more stoked to wear a kilt ever since.
A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.

And above all things, I wanted to get a Highland shirt with extra puffy sleeves. And as the clip below shows, it wasn't enough for me to pine for merely that. I had to have some in different colors.

So now, I have extra-puffy shirts in white, blue, green, grey and brown. I'll get around to red, eventually.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Oh, If I Could Lift Your Burdens, My Lady!

You knew somewhere in this series I would have to talk about a historical movie or two. Here you are. The Duchess is a beautifully-adorned movie that shows how rotten 18th Century life could be when it came to power, privilege and marriage. When I reviewed this film in 2009 after seeing it on DVD, I lamented the burdens of the title character played so well by Keira Knightley and how she could take so much sludge surrounded by so much beauty. My friend Lady Elizabeth reminded your servant that ladies of the time married mainly for security, not love. True, but still unfair and sad.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
A fellow re-enactor put it to me this way: "Isn't it great we can grocery-shop the 18th Century?" For us here and now, yes. For them, they had no choice.

But shop, your servant will. I find it so ironic and hypocritical that gentlemen bowed to their ladies in this period while treating them like property. When I bow in my historical exploits, I mean it -- especially on the ballroom floor. And fortunately, this film has some beautiful dancing:

And here's another look at the dancing in this behind-the-scenes feature:

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Don't Call Me Shirley

Airplane! is one of those surrealistic comedies that takes a few moments for you to understand the very first time you see it, because it's a non-stop barrage of jokes akin to a TV sitcom or a sketch on the Carol Burnett Show. But once you figure out the formula, you sit back and enjoy the ride.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
I first saw Airplane on HBO when cable came into our home in 1981. For a PG-movie, it flirted with some very risque humor, in clips I can't show you on a blog that is determined not to make it into anybody's family-safe filters.

One of those scenes involves a very brief scene of a topless woman passing side-to-side through the frame. I remember seeing this with Grandma Lawson, who deadpanned, "That woman needs to put a bra on."

And who can forget Barbara Billingsley, Beaver Cleaver's mom, speaking jive?

Monday, June 17, 2019

"Ladies Are Unwell -- Gentlemen Vomit"

My Favorite Year ended up as one of my favorite movies the first time I saw it on HBO. It's a sidesplitting tribute to Hollywood's golden age and classic 1950's TV comedy. It's the kind of film Mel Brooks could've made -- and he did. He produced it, and although he didn't direct it, it's modeled after his time as a writer on Your Show Of Shows, with King Kaiser (Joseph Bologna) standing in for Sid Caesar, and the Errol Flynn-esque Alan Swan (Peter O'Toole) as a boozy guest star under the watch of young writer Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker, before Perfect Strangers).

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.

The film works so well because it breezes through so much of its material. Its characters are both funny and likable. The gags are fast and furious. The whole film feels like it could have been an extended version of Your Show OF Shows.

And it's not just the dialogue that's funny, as in this scene where a union boss confronts King Kaiser about the mobster parody sketch on his show.

I can still hear the Royal Father laughing his tail off when he heard the car horns.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Twisting The Screen Away

Twister is the only movie I recall getting a PG-13 rating for "intense depiction of very bad weather." And boy, is it intense, right from the prologue showing what it's like to go through a tornado warning at night. I remember having to go into the basement several times as a child when we heard the sirens blow in the Kansas City area.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
If I was excited watching severe weather coverage on TV, watching this movie changed all that. So did nearly getting hit by a twister on I-70 while driving through central Missouri.

I don't think I would ever want to chase a tornado on my own, not without some trained meteorologists in the car with me who knew what they were doing. I seriously considered taking a chase vacation a few years ago, before YouTube and live streaming made it easier to just peek in from the safety of home. What the movie doesn't show you is that bust chasing days can be as common as a thrill ride with a funnel in your rearview mirror.

Once you've seen the live coverage over the net, Twister starts looking more than a little hokey, especially with scenes like this.

I've seen roofs tossed around in news footage. Cows? Never.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Not For The Kids

I wanted to see Beverly Hills Cop as soon as it came out in the Christmas movie season of 1984. I thought it would be a scream. My parents thought otherwise, given the "R" rating.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
The closest I got to seeing it in theaters was on a Boy Scout trip to Omaha in January 1985. In addition to staying in a gym for the weekend at an Air Force base, with all the basketball we could play, we took a few side excursions -- mainly to the mess hall. We also decided to go see a flick. The base cinema was showing Supergirl, a dog of a film, so we went into town and found the nearest multiplex. While the guys who were 17 or over, or close enough, saw Eddie Murphy, I had to settle for seeing Jeff Bridges in Starman.

That "R" rating was mostly for nudity and probably some language, as Murphy and company checked out a strip club. If it had been for just violence, the Royal Father probably would have given me a pass. I also wanted to see what Murphy's Axel Foley did to the tailpipe of a car.

And it had action, a lot of it, including this over-the-top sequence that led off the movie:

I eventually would see this on cable more than a few years later. The wait was worth it.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Shall We Play A Game?

Next to Tron, the geek movie I liked to play over and over again on the VCR was 1983's WarGames, starring Matthew Broderick as a hacker who accidentally nearly starts World War III while trying to find software from a game company. Real-life hackers quickly dismissed this film, and NORAD reassured people it couldn't happen because their machines weren't tied to phone lines in the pre-home-internet cyberworld.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
That didn't stop amateur computer hobbyists from deciding they wanted to try a little online breaking and entering. (I wasn't one of them.) Now we had a new category of crime that the law hadn't caught up with. In the earliest days of illegal online computer use, the authorities could do little more than charge somebody with wire fraud, something might not cover things like, say, launching a Titan missile out of a silo in Nebraska.

Many hackers, as I knew them, were just tourists: people who got in, looked around, maybe played a little with the system, and then logged out without leaving any trace. I know this because I was a tourist on a computer bulletin board system devoted to hacking: The K.C. Hack Shack. But under an alias, I saw a lot more than hacking. Many people were there to illegally pass codes for long-distance telephone systems which, unlike today, were not unlimited and not free. Many people also engaged in something called "carding:" stealing credit card information and using it to fraudulently order things (usually computer gear), which would then usually be sent to an abandoned home to be picked up later. "Phreaking" was also common: hacking your way around AT&T's phone network to get free long distance, conference calls, and who knew what else. Occasionally, I'd hear about somebody changing grades, just like in the movie:

That computer Matthew Broderick is using is a tricked-up IMSAI 8080, a 1970's-era machine that originally didn't come with either a monitor or keyboard, so it was already obsolete by the time WarGames was released. However, it looked bulky and nerdy enough to fit the character of a hard-core hacker, so the choice made sense. What you don't see the star doing is actually booting this system up -- something complicated by the fact that the keyboard needed a bootloader!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Geek Free Or Die

Tron is one of my favourite nerd movies. You'll see another later in this series, but I liked it when it came out in 1982 because it wasn't afraid to be geeky in terms of a story arc where an operating system is portrayed as an evil overlord enslaving programs -- perhaps a premonitious dig at Windows?

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
It also innovated in a lot of other gloriously geeky ways. Several sequences were rendered with graphics from a supercomputer, making the film one of the first to extensively make use of CGI. Other sequences had to be painstakingly laid out using optical mattes and backlit animation, a process that means a lot of passes through a film printer with a high potential for error.

But when it worked, it worked.

A warning to parents: don't let your kids drive a Recognizer.

Disney made this film as it was trying to segue into more adult-oriented entertainment, away from those wacky myriad movies starring Dean Jones. Their first attempt, The Black Hole showed promise, but turned out to be a dud. Tron performed substantially better, begetting a sequel in 2010.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Inside Story

Nothing will have you talking like Raquel Welch being attacked by antibodies. And this film has a lot to talk about, with so many special effects and sets resembling arteries and veins and capillaries. I first saw this film complete on WGN in the 1980's, after the Royal Father taped it. I would watch it again and again and again because I was fascinated with so much of it, especially the matte (bluescreen) techniques that put a miniature submarine inside a human body.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
The film follows the adventure of a surgical team aboard a submarine shrunk down to "about the size of a microbe" and injected into the body of a scientist left comatose by a blood clot from a failed assassination attempt. That scientist holds a powerful secret the Soviets want -- or at least want kept secret.

Brother Michael hadn't seen a frame of this film when he finally got around to watching it, and he was wowed by the antibody attack. I thought they looked more like seaweed than antibodies, but who cared?

One innovative touch: the title sequence, which is not accompanied by music -- just a rhythmic score of sound effects.

An interesting sidebar to this movie is that renowned sci-fi writer Issac Asimov penned the novelization at the urging of Bantam Books. Asimov wasn't thrilled with the screenplay, and he found it was full of plot holes. But with his clout, he was able to do the book his own way, fixing the problems in the process. Because of production issues on the film and Asimov's quick pace -- churning out the draft in less than two months -- the book hit stores before the movie did.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Here's Your Freebie (Just Don't Get Beaned)

People will tell you Lethal Weapon perfected the cop-buddy movie. That movie wouldn't have existed without this one, Freebie And The Bean from 1974, starring Alan Arkin and James Caan. The two are consistently over the top in a free-for-all of action scenes loosely tied to some plot about cops trying to bust a mob boss.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
Watching this film, it's amazing to see how it got made at all, given the number of crazy chases and go-for-broke stunts. Both Arkin and Caan threatened to quit the production because they thought too many stunts were getting in the way of their character development. In the following clip, we see a dangerous jump over a train, a marching band mowed down in the street, a chain reaction crash, and a run off a bridge into an apartment building.

No sane film insurer would sign off on a picture like this today unless CGI was added to take the risk out of the equation. Back in 1974, the only way to pull off stunts like this was to actually do them, and I scratch my head at why this film has gotten lost in the annals of action movies when it does so much of it so well. Perhaps it's because of a highly politically-incorrect plot element involving a cross-dresser, but again, that's a guess.

Monday, June 10, 2019

I Think A Monster Is In Here Somewhere

The Legend Of Boggy Creek is a cult film I first saw on local television, a Sunday afternoon movie on KMBC in Kansas City, back when that station had an extensive movie library -- and film projection systems to show them all. It has this grainy, authentic 16-millimeter look to it, the stuff of documentary films -- perfect for its faux-documentary format. Although it claims to be a true story, and it's inspired by true events, you can clearly see somebody in a gorilla suit doing their best in a freeze-frame at 1:31 in the above trailer.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
The legend behind Legend that an ad salesman borrowed $100,000 from a trucking company to help make the film, which has gone on to rake in more than $20 million at the box office, and probably a little bit more on DVDs. What's even more interesting is that this movie, with all its scary elements, still got a G rating and broke box-office records in its initial release.

This film also used to be available for free on the internet, but with the film going through a digital restoration, those sources have disappeared.

However, you can get a pretty good sense of it from the trailer. It's one of those low-budget horror films that doesn't look low-budget. You can make a great film for less than $2 million -- ask the producers of Rocky. You can make a stinker for $33 million -- ask Michael Cimino.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Have Guns, Will Film

Word of mouth still works for promoting movies. That's how the Queen Mother and Royal Father found out about Silverado, Lawrence Kasdan's 1985 western featuring your classic good-guys-versus-bad-guys matchup. Our next door neighbors saw it and recommended it. Then we stepped into the theater.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
I never had much affinity for Westerns as a kid, but this one at least held my attention. That's even though so much of this film seems to wander around. And when a Western does that, the action had better be good.

Fortunately, it is, right down to your skivvies.

You can watch it all -- with some commercial interruptions -- here on Crackle.