The Super Bowl is over, and Minneapolis is bursting with pride because no one died of exposure. Also, we looked pretty damned good in the flyover and downtown cityscape beauty shots; if you knew nothing of this place, you might be surprised: all that? Up there? An actual downtown with skyscrapers? Huh.
Parties, concerts, art shows, pub crawls, all the events - at the end it’s just me and the Giant Swede watching the game, two latter-middle-aged guys judging commercials and second-guessing officials and eating well-done pizza and drinking stern coffee and saying a last good bye to the season. We didn’t get in - but this was my favorite football year, i think. When I first drove to his house to watch the games in early autumn I imagined the green trees going brown; weeks later I saw the gold and thought how they’d be bare, how then there’s be snow, and then the snow would seem eternal, and the Super Bowl would end and we would all stagger out into an indifferent Monday that had no more diversions to offer.
And that’s okay. Back to work.
The sequence of events can be described thus.
Man notes the destruction of a building that once housed a neighborhood theater, and thinks the paper should write something about it. He sends an email.
Editor asks writer, being me, if this is something I’d like to do. It’s a Scapes, but it’s a second. (Meaning, it’s a Streetscapes column, but it wouldn’t be a lead piece with big art; probably a secondary feature with art on the jump.)
Writer, being me, says sure, because I have a standing policy of saying “great! Yes” when editors suggest I do this or that. Don’t want to be the primo dunno who says “nope” to everything. Save the “nopes” for those special moments when you need them.
I check out the theater on CinemaTreasures, and discover the usual residue - some great old photos, bare details, and a comments section . . . whoa. There’s a thick long paragraph loaded with details that elevate the story from “bygone relic” to “charming reminder of the early days of this little village before it was annexed by Prosperous Edina.”
Now the story has blossomed. Here's the theater:
And here's the site in its last days.
So we have a story, but I cannot reprint the comments; I can’t even paraphrase them. I need to talk to whoever left the comment. Once before I tracked down a Cinema Treasures commenter, and he was understandably confused and somewhat beligerant - who are you? Why are you calling me? How did you find me? (He was in Florida, and I found him through his daughter. Once he calmed down, he told great stories, but there was still this element of “what the hell, why the hell, who are you” to the whole chat.)
So I click on the commenter’s profile. He used what looked like a real name, and there was a profile pic: professional headshot, formal dress. Described himself as a broadcaster, Americana student, and so forth. Well, let’s google the name.
Ding! Several hits for a radio show in Wisconsin. The description of the show seems to fit with the bio - history, bygone things, nostalgia. I find the website for his radio show, and find the station’s telephone number. I call it.
The phone rings. And rings. And rings. I am suspicious: there should be someone at the front desk picking up. Then the line switches to the studio feed, which raises my suspicions. KRRRSSST, the tell-tale sign that you’ve gone from Hold to Live.
Hello, James, you’re on.
Ah - what? I actually say “Am I on the air?” which is the stupidest thing you can say, at least in the listener’s mind, but it’s a legit inquiry at this point. I say my name and who I’m looking for, and the host makes a show of trying to find that guy, he’s around here somewhere, okay, here he is, and it’s him.
I look at the radio station’s webpage: the man on the air right now is the guy whose contact info I wanted.
I am on the air with the guy who wrote the comment on the website.
I lay out who I am and what I’m after. And he knows who I am. He used to hear me on the radio. I mean -
Holy, jeezum, crow. So! I soon discover this guy is Mr. Knowledge about all the things I love - old theaters, movies, radio, and we are off to the races. It turns into a half-hour chat, and now I am the guest. Here’s an example of how much hella heck gosh darn fun it was:
As we’re closing up, he says he will indeed call me back to talk about the Westgate theater, and he won’t bring his sample case of Amway.
Well, you can bring Paul Harvey if you like. (Because Paul was an Away spokesman.)
Chat about Paul Harvey; I mention I had discovered where Paul got his schtick, namely, Bill Stern.
Lou knows this, of course, and in less than seven seconds brings up the Bill Stern sponsor ident. C-O-L-G-A-T-E
I am in awe. I’m pretty damned sure that this was the first time the words “This is James Lileks of the Bleat” was ever uttered on the air in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
As I say from time to time, with pleasure: it’s a damned odd life.
Either this is an anthology, or it’s going to be really confusing.
No, it’s definitely an anthology.
Let's meet our host. You have to have a host to tie the tales together, don't you?
The reveal might not mean anything to you, but it meant something to the audience. Eamonn Andrews. He was, I suppose, the Howard Cosell of his time. Known mostly as a sports commentator, but also did game shows. Everyone was supposed to know him when he unmasked, and I expect that everyone did. Laughter in the theater! Old Eamonn, he's a right bloke.
The first story is about a painter. He breaks into the museum where one of his works is kept, so he can make alterations. The music tells you it’s a comic-type tale, which of course no one who paid money to see something called “Three Cases of Murder” wanted. But the painter soon shows an intense and disturbing manner inconsistent with the wacky-caper vibe.
And then it’s a supernatural thriller complete with Dutch angles, and it is NOT ABOUT A CASE OF MURDER. It turns into a Twilight Zone ep. You need to know no more than that. But let's take a look at this painter chap:
Alan Badel, who died unexpectedly in 1982 at the age of 58, had a distinguished military record dating back to his wartime service with the 13th Parachute Battalion. He took part in Operation Overlord, the D-Day landings in 1944. He fought with distinction as a platoon commander and saw action in the Normandy and Ardennes Campaigns and the subsequent advance through northern Germany. After VE Day, he was posted to the Far East as part of the 6th Airborne Division for a projected invasion of Japan, which never took place due to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Badel spent some time in Palestine, until he was demobbed in June 1947.
Was a British paratrooper and liaised with the French Resistance in World War II; being half-French, he did a lot of work behind enemy lines with the Resistance and claimed he had killed several men in hand-to-hand combat. His World War II skills proved valuable when, many years later, he found two delinquents breaking into his car. When they saw him approach, they produced flick-knives and might have killed him, but he was able to disarm both of them and contrived to break all four of their wrists.
Damned fine actor in this one, too. Then there’s this fellow in the same sequence:
I'll let you click the link to make the connection, if you care. Enough to say that this film is on the other side of The Wall, as we've come to understand it here. Everything on one side seems distant and more grown up; everything on the other, familiar and less adult.
The story concerns the people who live in the paintings, and have their own culture and habits. It gets pretty damned odd and dark - and what do you know, there is a murder. Jolly Good!
The second story concerns two long-time friends who fall for the same woman; its exposition holds mild interest, its conclusion mild surprise. Let’s get to the third one, introduced in a very English way:
Really gets your heart racing, eh? Well, meet Lord Mountdrago:
He feels compelled to address the rhetoric of a fellow who’s just made a populist speech in the House of Commons.
Same actor; he had roles in all three stories. Let's humiliate the firebrand a tad, shall we?
Thus demolished, the man's political career is ruined. Montdrago has nightmares about him, which drives him to seek out a psychoanalist. A summary:
Audlin presses his patient if there is any reason why Griffiths might actually be hostile toward the Lord, or that he (Mountdrago) might feel guilt regarding Griffiths. Eventually Mountdrago is forced to admit that on one occasion when Griffiths made a speech proposing a change in foreign policy, Mountdrago crushed him. Using his very considerable oratorical skill, Mountdrago tore Griffiths apart and held him up to ridicule. This, in turn, ruined Griffiths' career. Mountdrago hadn't initially thought of the affair since Griffiths was beneath contempt and deserved to be crushed; as such, he had no reason to hold a grudge against Mountdrago.
The psychoanalyst suggests that the only way Mountdrago can free himself from the dreams is to apologize to Griffiths. Mountdrago angrily rejects this, but then goes out and commits suicide. In the end we learn that Owen Griffiths dies the same night, presumably by suicide.
Well . . . okay. But was he haunted in his dreams by Griffiths' malevolent thoughts?
Oh, perhaps. It's one of those psychological thrillers that relies on the late 19th/ earth 20th century fear of going mad. The fear itself was supposedly sufficient to create tension and anxiety in the audience. No more. Once that feat lost its power, we moved along to graphic disemboweling.
Welles, as ever, was great, and there's nothing I love more than watching a movie and discovering he's in it. Why I had no idea! And you always think: he was probably broke and trying to get a paycheck to fund some interesting movie he could never finish because he ended up an odd, tragic, irritating, brilliant heap of irresolute ambition.
One more thing:
A female director? You didn't see that very often. A long career, starting as a child prodigy. In short, lots of talented, well-regarded people worked on this, and only Welles is remembered by many today.
That, too, will pass. But not for quite a while.
Here we go with a new week! Meaning, the same old stuff. But different!