Monthly Archives: March 2014

Play Ball!


…Two of the most beautiful words in the English language. It may not be a grand and glorious baseball season in Chicago this year, but this is the day when everyone is tied for first place, and hope springs eternal. And, eternal hopes for spring, which we can all use after this past winter. Play ball indeed!


Lost and Found —

This is great news for the dwindling number of silent movie fans: a sizable trove of silent films thought lost have been uncovered in Amsterdam. Here are the details.

The vast majority of silent films are gone. Lost, deteriorated, gone forever, and a big chunk of our art, history, and culture is gone with them. Others are in such bad shape that they can’t be publicly exhibited. And some of these are pretty significant movies, including Lon Chaney’s iconic London After Midnight and Laurel and Hardy films like The Rogue Song, Hats Off, and parts of Battle of the Century.

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None of the films discovered appear to be as important as these, but we’ll take what we can get. At this point, nearly every person who appeared in a film during the silent era is gone. We owe it to them–and us–to preserve their shadows.



Special Message for Sydney Only–

The rest of you can just ignore it. But if you’re going to be near Sydney anytime from April 8 through April 16, you will be able to see a rather tall, somewhat elderly British friend of mine avoiding doing anything remotely close to Silly Walking. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be laughing. In fact, it may be one of the funniest evenings you’ve ever spent in a theatre.


Are you still with me? Then you’ll probably want to click here for tickets and information.

Happy birthday Eric!

…Eric Idle turns 71 on March 29, and is getting a brand new Python reunion for his birthday this year. It’s hard to believe they’re now all in their 70s, and even harder to believe that they waited until now to reunite for the stage show.


I’m happy to say that he is busier than ever, organizing, producing, and in general planning for this massive production. Oh, and he’s also getting ready to re-release Monty Python Sings on CD with five new tracks, as well as releasing a single from it. Oh, and overseeing the various road productions of Monty Python’s Spamalot. Yes, he’s a busy man.

Eric and the others have influenced my life more than I have time to write about, but here’s one small example, stemming from one off-handed remark that I’m sure he doesn’t even remember.

Many years ago, I was with a group of folks, including Eric, although I wasn’t talking with him at that moment. There was a brief lull in the conversation of the group I was with, and I heard Eric say, casually, “Oh yes, I owned a tie once.” Something about the way he said it, and knowing he never had to wear a tie or deal with all that it entails, spoke to me loud and clear. I decided to embrace the idea, and avoid ties whenever possible. I haven’t been able to avoid it as much as Eric, but it struck me as a noble goal.

Of course, even Eric wasn’t immune to ties, although I can count the number of times on one hand since then that I’ve seen him wear a tie. Hopefully, today is not one of those days.

Happy birthday Eric!

Close-Up with Python

In the early 1970s, the Pythons did a few industrial films, not meant to be seen by the public. If you saw the Bird’s Eye frozen peas video I posted a few days ago, then you know that they’re loaded with typical Python humor. This one for Close-Up Toothpaste even features a Gumby. Enjoy.

Movie Time

Rented Spike Lee’s Oldboy last week. I don’t do a lot of movie reviews on this blog, but the fact that I’m still thinking about it probably means it’s worth mentioning. It came and went from theatres so quickly that not too many people apparently saw it, but it’s one of Spike Lee’s best recent movies. Warning: it may make you think! And it’s not always easy to watch, nor is it for everybody, but if you stick it out to the end, I think you will be rewarded. 

As someone who watches a LOT of movies, I can tell you I’ve never seen this movie before. Just don’t watch it if you’re not ready to think.


Building Walls or Burning Bridges…

This week, the Ottawa High School Board voted to end their Building Trades program and let the teacher go at the end of the year. Since their Monday night meeting, there have been a week of protests, a sit-in, and a lot of controversy. I’ve refrained from writing about the situation at Ottawa High School this week for a few reasons.

First of all, it’s usually a good idea to wait till the dust settles so that the resultant rumors, gossip and mis-reporting can be corrected.

Secondly, I’m a friend (or at least an acquaintance) with several of the principals on all sides of the situation, from administration and school board members to Dave Keely–the much-admired Building Trades teacher who will apparently lose his job in May (he has constructed the amazing sets for our summer plays every year). I’ve sat on a smaller school board (and was even president for a time) and I have at least some idea of how complicated the whole situation is.

And thirdly, there’s not a lot of light I can shed on the whole situation, which is addressed here and here and here.

The basic facts are simple, and there are two issues being discussed.

The High School District is about $3.5 million dollars in debt, and has been looking for ways to cut costs. Everyone understands this. However, according to most news reports, the Board voted the administration a 5% pay increase and approved a three-year contract extension for them two months ago. Many in the community are incensed that a teacher and a program are apparently being sacrificed, while the administration doesn’t seem to be suffering.

The following morning, a group of students, as large as 300 by some reports, staged a sit-in. The administration tried to disperse them, but eventually took stronger measures, and a group of 100-200 students ended up across the street, where they have been protesting the rest of the week, joined by parents, and community and union members; many of these students received suspensions, but how many and for how long is still not clear.

The Chicago media have been down here, and a few national figures have been writing about this on various social media. The Save Dave campaign is apparently shutting down while the students and parents regroup. The protests ended this (Saturday) afternoon and the group intends to seek a meeting with the School Board.

So it appears that, for now at least, the active demonstrations are over, and I’m left with a few thoughts.

First of all, while everyone agrees that the School Board needs to take action to address the debt, it’s a little difficult to take them too seriously in the face of the administration raises.

Secondly–and I say this without knowing exactly what punishments have been doled out to the students–when you’re trying to teach 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds to stand up for what they believe in, you shouldn’t be too surprised when they do. And, maybe think twice when leveling punishments against those young people.

Thirdly, cutting a program like Building Trades may not be the best way to save money, and the community may end up paying for it one way or another. This is a program that teaches students very practical skills, ones which will serve them immediately upon graduation. A lot of these students are not necessarily college bound, and Building Trades may be the best hope they have for a solid future. Take away Building Trades and we may be seeing an increase in unemployment and an increase in the Dropout Rate, and the community will pay for both of these.

I’m hoping cooler heads prevail over the next week, the School Board will sit down with them, and the “Save Dave” group will have a productive meeting with the Board. If they don’t, Ottawa, Illinois will be the loser.


Monty Python Oddity…

…Here’s something completely different. In 1971, Bird’s Eye decided to re-launch their line of frozen peas. Naturally, they turned to Monty Python to write and star in a 25-minute promotional film about the relaunch that they could present to their employees, distributors, wholesalers, and retailers. It has rarely re-surfaced since that time, but it turned out–well, see for yourself how it turned out.


Python Sings (Again)…

It’s official. There will be a reissue of the 1989 CD Monty Python Sings, with five new tracks, one of which will be launched for free on Youtube. The Pythons will also release a single in May, leading the way for the Python Reunion show in July at London’s 02 Arena.

The first time I saw the Monty Python Sings album was at the Python 20th anniversary party in London. Graham had passed away just a couple of months previously (in an unsuccessful attempt to poop this particular party), and I was delighted to learn that one of the tracks on the album was an extended version of “Medical Love Song,” which Eric had helped Graham record shortly before his death.

Monty Python Sings is, essentially, a Python Greatest Musical Hits album; if you have a favorite song from Python, there’s a pretty good chance it’s on this album. And as of May, there’s an even better chance of a brand new favorite.