Sunday, December 24, 2017

Nativity Set: Fixed!

Bear Waits for Baby Jesus
Again, Merry Christmas. Bear would like to take a moment to thank all who have showed their appreciation for his efforts through their PayPal donations. Some have been astonishingly generous, but they all make the Bear happy and cover the modest expenses of our ephemeris. Some have set up a $10 per month donation. Thank you, all who have kept him in salmon, have contributed comments, or just enjoyed some of the Bear's eclectic articles.

May the Good God bless you and yours.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Merry Christmas From the Bear


The Fontanini Kitten figure (Molly) seems a little out-of-scale, but is pretty cute.

Merry Christmas from the Bear, Red Death, Christopher, Michael, Arthur; Ragsy and her husband Austin, and all the goats and chickens.

Sorry for the sporadic and eclectic posting, but Bear must busy himself putting words elsewhere for now.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Montage of Pope Video Saxophone Man Scenes

h/t "Cyrillic" for this exhaustive collection of all of the Pope Video Saxophone Man scenes, the latest of which was in the December 2017 video titled: "Don't Hate Old People, Because They're a Lot Cooler Than You Think; Well, On Second Thought, Maybe You Can Hate the Ones Who Aren't Unexpectedly Cool."

Bear thinks Cyrillic has solved the mystery. It's all about authority.

If you watch long enough, you'll hear a debate between Saxophone Man and Policemen. They try to tell his friends that Saxophone Man "isn't above the law."

Saxophone Man's friends counter, "Oh, but he is above the law. Look. He's playing to a baby."

The Bear wants to be in a Pope Video. Here's his audition tape for the recurring role of "Saxophone Bear." Prepare to be impressed!

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

(Written and directed by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, starring Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr and Anton Walbrook. Tagline: "To Beat Nazis, You Must Become Nazis" - contributed by the Bear, 2017.)

Security by Col. Blimp
a Colonel Blimp cartoon by David Low

Who Is "Colonel Blimp?"

The Red Shoes led the Bear to look for more movies by the British duo of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Before there was The Red Shoes, there was the curious wartime Technicolor film, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

Colonel Blimp was a humorous cartoon figure born in 1934 with whom British audiences would have been familiar. The inventor claimed to have been inspired by hearing British officers in a Turkish bath arguing that cavalry officers should be permitted to wear spurs inside tanks.

The opening credits suggest the Victorian origins of Colonel Blimp's character by use of a needlework tapestry in which the names of the featured players are embroidered. In the center is the rotund, red-faced mounted figure of Colonel Blimp himself, clad only in his signature Turkish towel.

The movie opens with a military exercise in which the Home Guard is to defend London from a simulated attack scheduled for midnight. A clever young Army officer decides to jump the gun by six hours, since "the real thing" isn't played by rules.

Despite the efforts of a young female military driver (English beauty Deborah Kerr in one of three roles) the dastardly sneak attack succeeds, and the aged Home Guard commanding general and his staff are captured - in a Turkish bath.

How Colonel Blimp Got to Be Colonel Blimp

The viewer's sympathy lies with the young Army officer, who has a realistic view of World War Two. The overweight General Clive Candy - in his Turkish towel - goes red-faced and sputters through his moustache about fair play, and we laugh at the ridiculous figure with his outmoded view of war.

Then the movie takes us back 40 years to see a lean and dashing officer who has won the Victoria Cross in the Boer War. Upon receipt of a letter informing him of German lies about British atrocities, he goes on a personal mission to Berlin to refute them.

Deborah Kerr in a Colonel Blimp role.
He meets a beautiful English governess who penned the letter (another role for Kerr) and insults the German officer corps in a beer hall, which leads to a duel with Theo Kretschmar-Shuldorff, played by Anton Walbrook (Boris Lermantov in The Red Shoes).

The Bear will not spoil the outcome, but we learn the reason for the General's ridiculous mustache. The duelists become fast friends and fall in love with the same governess. Candy acts as if he could not be more pleased for the couple, but then we see him at the theater with the sister of the governess.

Let's just say she's no Deborah Kerr.

During WWI, now-General Candy meets a nurse who bears a striking resemblance to his first love. When the armistice is signed, he drinks a toast with his driver and gives a little speech about how the Huns waged a barbaric war, but the British won through fair play.

He marries the nurse and is reunited with his old German friend, who is now interred in an English POW camp.

It is significant that she is 20 years his junior; his living in the past is reflected in his obsession with his first love. (After his wife dies, her portrait humorously takes pride of place in his study along with all of his other trophy heads.) Her last "incarnation" is the spunky military driver "Johnny" we see in the opening and closing scenes. She happens to be the girlfriend of the cheeky Army officer who cheated in the exercise, and one of the last things General Candy does is to make sure he doesn't get in trouble. It is as if he at least finally lets go of his obsession with the girl of 40 years before and allows her to be claimed by the next generation.

At a farewell dinner, the British dignitaries are mostly cool to the defeated German officer, but by the end, they're doing their best to cheer him up about the prospects for him and his country.

History proved them wrong, as the original audience would know, and today's audience should never forget. World War Two was the unfinished business of The Great War.

The passage of time is cleverly marked by the accumulation of wild game trophies mounted in General Candy's study. By the time World War Two arrives, the world seems to have no room for the Colonel Blimp-like General Candy, now a widower, and his quaint ideas. Once again, his German friend is in England - this time as a refugee. His wife (Candy's first love) has died and both his sons are "good Nazis."

The role for Walbrook is poignant because he really did flee Nazi Germany with two strikes against him: Walbrook was half-Jewish and a homosexual. Theo Kretschmar-Shuldorff understands that Nazis represent an existential threat to civilization, and has grown wiser with the years. We feel his pain as he must watch, from the wisdom of bitter experience, his old, naive friend face humiliation.

Nonetheless, General Candy seems to find a place in his old age: commanding the Home Guard. The movie ends with a replay of the beginning, only now the viewer has more sympathy for the obese general with his Turkish towel and ridiculous mustache.

Why Colonel Blimp is Worth Watching

It is another Technicolor feast for the eyes, although not up to The Red Shoes' visual level. This was wartime, after all, and Technicolor was expensive enough. Many scenes are shot on a soundstage before painted backdrops, but that does not detract.

The film starts with a lot of energy and the pace and patter is brisk with some laugh-out-loud moments. It seems almost to age along with General Candy as the terrible new realities of two World Wars take their toll. It is funny, even as we go from laughing at General Candy to laughing with him. It becomes more poignant and even sad as World War Two overtakes it even as it has overtaken its original audience.

Women are depicted as intelligent and capable, eventually taking their place in uniform by the end. There are some choice anti-German lines. Here is an observation by General Candy's wife (Kerr also) as they watch German WWI POWs enjoying a concert.

I was thinking - how odd they are, queer. For years and years they're writing and dreaming beautiful music and beautiful poetry. All of a sudden they start a war, sink undefended ships, shoot innocent hostages, and bomb and destroy whole streets in London, killing little children. And then they sit down in the same butcher's uniform, and listen to Mendelssohn and Schubert. Something horrid about that... 

The acting is very good. Kerr has that fair-skinned beauty that seems to be unique to the British Isles, and we are treated to same kind of set-piece profile shots we see in The Red Shoes. Walbrook plays a far more likeable character than Boris Lermontov, and Roger Livesey's General Clive Candy is humorous and convincing both as the idealistic young hero of the Boer War and the idealistic old fool of World War Two.

To Beat Nazis You Must Adopt the Methods of Nazis

Part of the reason the Bear finds this movie interesting is in trying to see it through the eyes of the British moviegoer of 1943. To the extent the message seems to justify adopting the worst methods of the enemy in order to prevail in an unprecedented kind of war, it is a little chilling. When old General Candy's BBC broadcast is cancelled, his German friend Theo tells him this:

I read your broadcast up to the point where you describe the collapse of France. You commented on Nazi methods--foul fighting, bombing refugees, machine-gunning hospitals, lifeboats, lightships, bailed-out pilots--by saying that you despised them, that you would be ashamed to fight on their side and that you would sooner accept defeat than victory if it could only be won by those methods.

Theo disagrees. He is the expert on Nazis, after all. The message of the movie is Theo is right and General Candy is wrong. To beat Nazis, you must use the methods of Nazis.

By 1943, the Germans had been turned back at Stalingrad and the Japanese defeated in the Battle of Midway. The Blitz was over, but V2 rockets were in the future. It is easy for us to say the tide had turned, but Allied victory was by no means obvious at the time and much hard fighting lay ahead, including D-Day and the conquest of Germany.

Boomers may have an ambivalent historical appreciation for dreadful exigencies like the fire-bombing of Dresden and the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but to see it unapologetically championed in a movie of that time is a little disconcerting. If General Candy were to find himself in today's world, his ideals of limited war and fair play (or at least better public relations) might find a more receptive audience.

The movie ends on a forced, upbeat wartime note, but we are meant to see General Candy as a pitiable relic and his ideals as a thing of the past. The genuine optimism is that for all the loose social media chatter about Nazis, we did not have to become them after all.

At least not permanently.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Pope Video: Old People

It's Be Nice to Old People Month

It's Advent. Christians celebrate the birth of their Savior in less than two weeks. So naturally, this month's Pope Video dwells on the joyous mystery of the Incarnation.

Just not in our dimension.

We get Be Nice to Old People Month.

The Dalai Lama and His Band

It starts off with the Dalai Lama getting dressed. There are a few other old people of different ethnicities who wander down the street, getting jostled, spit on and knifed to death by unfeeling young people. The Pope says some nice things about caring for old people, which the Bear heartily endorses.

By the way, the Pope doesn't sit at a desk with that weird teleprompter glow in his glasses anymore. He delivers his lines standing in front of a painting, possibly even of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He has something on a chain around his neck, maybe a peace symbol; it's cropped so we can't see it and Bear can't say.

A young guy hears the Cantina music from the original Star Wars coming from a warehouse. It turns out to be the Dalai Lama and his elderly multiethnic band.

The Mysterious Pope Video Hero: Saxophone Man

Once again, we see the hero of the Pope Video series: Saxophone Man. He is accepted by the old people, and, after they've finished their rehearsal, the Dalai Lama pats him on the shoulder.

The mysterious Saxophone Man wears different faces, but has appeared in so many Pope Videos we must wonder who he is and what he represents.

The saxophone was invented by a man named "Sax," which sounds like "sex." Think about it. To give just one example, remember the famous frisky Aussies who were the keynote speakers at the Family Synod? it was 57 years of sex that kept them going through 55 years of marriage.

Two famous movies with saxophones are Airplane and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, both of which have sex. The most famous saxophonist is Bill (sex) Clinton.

Off Course, Of Course

Perhaps it is the movie Airplane that holds the key, after all. A repeated coded confession by Pope Francis.

"They could be miles off course."

"That's impossible! They're on instruments."

Indeed, they are, but not on any instruments that will help them stay "on course." Not even a saxophone.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes (1948)

(Written and directed by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, starring Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook and Marius Goring. Winner, 1949 Academy Awards for Best Original Score & Best Art Direction. Not to be confused with the Red Shoe Diaries, the less said about the better.)

Backstage Drama

Based on a Hans Christian Anderson tale about a girl who dances herself to death after slipping into a pair of red shoes, The Red Shoes is a backstage ballet drama, not that you have to be a fan of toe dancing. It recalls a couple of American classics of the 1930s: Stage Door and What Price Hollywood?

It's Ginger Roger's character from Stage Door that sounds a warning all the more poignant in that it proved true in her real life: "At least she'll have a couple of kids to keep her company in her old age. And what'll we have? Some broken-down memories and an old scrapbook which nobody'll look at."

You'll be lucky to have that once you put those red shoes on.

What these movies have in common is the hard choices made by performers. In a broader sense, they are about placing anything ahead of the life God intended for us. If the lives of computer programmers filmed as well as backstage dramas, the same point might be made, so don't think you're off the hook because you don't have an audience.

Technicolor Pygmalion Dream

Vicky can't resist the red shoes.
Technicolor was a demanding and expensive method whose fullest expression enjoyed a relatively short life. The Criterion Collection's restored print is gorgeous (streaming via Filmstruck). From Moira Shearer's glorious red hair to the titular red shoes themselves, the colors are saturated in a way you just don't see anymore. There were many famous Technicolor features (The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind) but The Red Shoes is the definitive example.

The story, like all good morality plays, is simple. Moira Shearer plays Vicky Page, a talented young ballerina noticed by impresario Boris Lermantov, who develops a Pygmalion complex toward the talented beauty. German actor Anton Walbrook brings a self-possessed continental chic to Lermontov that makes his every scene a gem. Beneath the pleasant and assured exterior, though, is a demon of his art.

He does not demand much from Vicky: just that she denies herself the comfort of human companionship and everything else normal people call "life"  in return for becoming a great dancer.

The brilliant young composer Julian Craster (played by Marius Goring) wrote her star vehicle - a ballet called "The Red Shoes," which he conducts. He challenges Lermontov for Vicky when the young couple fall in love. Vicky gives up her career, Craster pursues his to the neglect of his new wife, and Lermontov bides his time.

And seethes behind his continental chic.

An Entertaining, if Trippy Ballet

To show how much Bears know about ballet, the only thing this one can say is that ballerinas were not made of boiled leather and whipcord  in 1948. Moira Shearer does all the stuff you expect from a gal in a tutu at a weight class above Ginger Rogers.

Much of "The Red Shoes" ballet is performed during the movie. Forget Swan Lake - or Black Swan. It has the look of a musical, with ballerinas in period costume en pointe. The Bear isn't much for ballet, but he enjoyed this ballet-within-the-movie very much.

During her dance, however, some odd elements start to be introduced, and before long we are in Vicky's Technicolor hallucinatory experience of her performance. Pretty trippy for 1948 and it reaches beyond the technical capabilities of its time, but is still compelling and psychologically revealing.

The ballet ends with her death from exhaustion. The red shoes are removed -  to claim their next victim, we presume.

What Are Your Red Shoes?

The patience of Lermontov pays off, and Vicky returns to once more put on the red shoes. It is the very night of her (neglectful) husband's debut of his opera. The ending is probably not too hard to figure out, but the Bear won't spoil it for you, since he hopes you'll watch this lush Technicolor beauty that is not as well-remembered by the culture at large as it deserves. It is a wonderful movie for those "something different" moods and a nice "movie date night" choice.

Whether we're driven by crass ambition or a more noble sounding quest for artistic perfection, the engine is the same: pride. The Red Shoes is a simple tale beautifully filmed about the consequences of a disordered life. A life devoted to art can be every bit as disordered and destructive as one devoted to alcohol or sex.

Worse, because you seldom receive applause for those.

This movie invites the viewer to ask the question: what are my red shoes?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Judging Angels - a Perfect Christmas Gift

Christmas shopping. If you're like the Bear, you'd rather not. At best, you have good intentions, then all of a sudden it's three days before Christmas and you're anxiously looking out the window for that brown UPS truck.

Act today and take care of the readers on your list. Give them something different, as in different from anything else they've read. It takes place in a Catholic moral universe, too. Come for the casuistry and Thomistic table talk; stay for the smokin' guns and redheads.

But don't take the Bear's word for it. Check out the reviews.

Did you know you know you can make "mayhem" from the letters in "Merry Christmas?" Watch "It's a Wonderful Life." Then see how things would probably work out for the rest of us.
And, with every copy sold, an angel earns its wings. Okay, the Bear made that up. But it does put a little salmon in his stocking.

And with the next installment coming early next year, you might as well get up to speed on the adventures of the plucky Able family.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Request for Beta Readers

Work in Progress: cover art for Book 2 of the
Rubricate Chronicles, Conspiracy of Crows.
First of all, if you took the Bear seriously when he said he was not going to blogging much and are just checking in, there is some stuff you might have missed below.

It's That Time Again

As you know, the Bear is the uncredited ghostwriter for some other guy's novels. (As if anyone but a Bear could write something like Judging Angels.)

Anyway, it's time to get Book 2 of the Rubricatae Chronicles ready for submission. The working title is Conspiracy of Crows.

What Does a Beta Reader Do?

Bear's good friend says,
"Only you can help the Bear."
What does a beta reader do?

He or she just reads a manuscript and provides feedback to the author That's it. It's not editing. You don't have to be a grammar expert or have any special qualifications other than being able to read a novel written in English and provide your reactions.

It's a job for ordinary people who read books.

The Bear just wants to know what you liked, and especially, what you didn't, and why. "Oh, I'm not smart enough to do that!" is no excuse. The Bear wants the reactions of ordinary people.

You do not have to have read the first book, Judging Angels, but it would probably help.

The Biggest Obligation is Just to Do What You Say You'll Do

Mainly, a beta reader understands the job is an important part of preparing a novel for publication and is committed to following through. If for whatever reason someone decides they don't want to read the manuscript and provide feedback after all, that's fine, of course, but the Bear does expect to know where you stopped reading and why. (I hated it, I had to have gallbladder surgery, the whole feedback thing felt too much like work, just never got around to it, whatever.)

It's just a matter of simple courtesy.

Beta readers are famous in publishing for their washout rate. The Bear is looking for folks who will take the commitment seriously. And, of course, if you are accepted as a beta reader, the manuscript is for your eyes only. The Bear would get quite cross if he saw if somewhere online (not that any of the Woodland Creatures would.)

Why Beta Readers are Important

Beta readers helped Judging Angels
become an award-winning novel.
It is no exaggeration to say that it was good beta readers who made Judging Angels a pretty good novel; at any rate a lot better than it was originally.

How much feedback is expected? Enough to be useful. The best provide real-time reactions chapter by chapter, or even scene by scene. The Bear likes beta readers who will send him an email after each reading session, or chapter by chapter. That not only helps him meet his deadline, it lets him know you're still engaged in the process.

What does the beta reader get out of it?

It's a favor to the Bear. Perhaps a way of showing your appreciation for all the free, eclectic articles he provides on a regular basis - 1,431 one of them to date. The best get included in the acknowledgements, if they want to be, under whatever name they wish. All get to look at a published novel and say, "I helped make this happen."

If you've read this far, maybe you're interested. The Bear is thinking some of the regular commenters, like Nancy, for example, might help out. If so, email the Bear. Please put "Judging Angels" in the subject. (That way it doesn't get lost in all the spam.) And please let me know under what name you post, if you are a commenter.

You may sign your commitment in blood on your own and keep it where it will remind you that your Bear and the literary patrimony of Western Civilization depends on you.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

What is "B-Roll" in Film?

B-Roll Made Simple

Sometimes you hear film types talk about “B-Roll.” In fact, it came up in the comments to the last article. No, it has nothing to do with B-movies. It’s just extra stuff that’s filmed to be edited in with the main subject. It might be anything: an exterior location, people milling about, whatever might be useful to help illustrate the main story. It can even be “stock footage.”

Stock Footage and B-Roll

Stock footage can be B-Roll, but isn't usually. Stock footage is archival film that is sold to filmmakers. Let’s say you’re making a Western. It’s expensive and difficult to shoot a stampede. You might just buy stock footage of one. (That's why those stampedes always look familiar.)

As an example, here is stock footage of a Bear from Abobe. It wasn't cheap: $89. The Bear bought it some time ago and figured it would come in handy.

But, usually, B-Roll is shot along with “A-Roll,” which is the film of the main subject.

Perhaps its origin and examples will best explain it.

The Strike at the Widget Factory

It comes from the early days of television news - the ‘50’s and 60’s. They didn’t have the technology to record video on location (i.e. outside the studio). They used 16mm film cameras.

Let’s say there was a strike at a widget factory. As a television reporter, you were to interview the owner of the company and also the leader of the striking workmen. That’s your A-Roll. But watching some guys talk makes for a pretty dull story visually. This is where B-Roll comes in.

Your B-Roll was a collection of different shots, any one of which might or might not be used, but would be available to be combined with your A-Roll of the interviews. Almost always, B-Roll didn’t have sound, since it was meant to be cut in as a visual while somebody’s talking.

So, you got a shot of the gate to the widget factory showing the name (Acme Widgets). There are strikers marching with signs. Maybe widgets on a conveyer belt inside the factory. You still had to be sensible and good B-Roll wasn’t and isn't “filler.”

Back at the studio, the A-Roll and B-Roll would be set up on two different projectors pointed at screens in front of two different giant television cameras. So, after the announcer introduced the strike story, they would project The A-Roll of the interviews and shoot the projected footage with the television camera. Into the ether it was broadcast.

During the interview, they would intercut the silent B-Roll and broadcast it by switching to the other giant television camera in front of the other screen. That would show the factory sign, the widgets, and whatever else they decided to use, while the A-Roll audio of the guy talking was still playing underneath. Then they would cut back to the A-Roll interview film.

You see this technique today so often you don’t even notice it. Look for it next time you watch your local news broadcast.

Present Day Example: Interview with the Bear

Whenever the Bear was interviewed in his office for television, a reporter would show up with a cameraman lugging his equipment. They would hook the Bear up with a tiny lavalier microphone then tape the interview - the A-Roll.

Then they would get their B-Roll. They always got the the reporter in a shot set up over the Bear's shoulder. sitting pretty and nodding as if listening. They could edit brief cuts of that into the interview, which is great for seamlessly editing out the Bear’s rambling digressions without an awkward jump in the picture.

They would always want him to "do lawyer things” for the B-Roll: typing on his computer; close-up of his paws on the keyboard; leafing through a file; forging exculpatory statements - you get the idea. That was to be used during a voiceover by the reporter.

Then, the two kinds of shots would get edited into the segment for broadcast. Much less clumsy than the old method from which we got the name "B-Roll."

Beyond News

“B-Roll” survives as a term, even if we’re not using actual film. In general, it’s anything other than the main subject that can be edited into a film later for some purpose. You want to have enough good B-Roll. (In comments to the article below, the filmmaker explains why Bird Feeder Bird got so much screen time: insufficient B-Roll.)

So, now you can impress your friends by saying things like, "By Jove, that's some ripping B-Roll."

Avinu Films Shorts - Filmmaking Secrets Revealed

Some Short Movies from Avinu Films

Today, the Bear would like to share a couple of short films from Avinu Films. That is the film company of the Maltese-American polymath Marcelle-Abela who is the publisher of the Bear's novels and apparently as sleepless as the Bear.

The two films the Bear wants to share this time have been chosen as very different examples. He thinks one is better, and will say why. You may be surprised to learn how much there is to unpack from such short films.

Rather than just link to them, the Bear would like to use them in a broader conversation about filmmaking basics to aid in appreciation for those who are interested. You can skip directly to the short features at the next blue text, or accompany the Bear as he stalks his subject with the deliberateness that has tried the patience of readers for almost million-and-a-half page views.

In both the Avinu Films Marcelle was scriptwriter, editor, colorist, and producer.

Intro with Bear's Two-Minute Trailer: Montage, Quick Edits & Use of Score

The Bear's trailer for Judging Angels cost the price of a royalty-free music clip and whatever a pack of construction paper and small bottle of Elmer's Glue runs. It is offered as an introduction to the basics of editing, montage, pacing, and how editing can make the images and score work together. For example, note how the "snip" - cutting Alice out of George's life - is done on the beat. It is a fair representation of the story and its mordant humor.

We will be looking at these same elements in the two Avinu films. They are basic to any filmmaking.

Part of the motivation for doing it on his own was that, frankly, the Bear did not like the "house style" of the trailers that were being released for Hope and Life Press books at the time. The Bear brings that up only as a baseline for the huge improvement in Marcelle's filmmaking since.

"I Cried When I Wrote This Song, So Sue Me If I Play Too Long"

Readers know the Bear must own the awful-sounding title of "film buff." You probably imagine him wearing a black turtleneck and smoking Gauloises between features at the local arthouse while discussing French New Wave Cinema with his feminist friends.

Like buffs of every stripe, he is no doubt boring to normal people when he talks about his peculiar enthusiasm. The Bear promises he would paste on a polite smile and listen to you drone on about your stamp collection for ten minutes, then start tearing up your kayak.

Lady, the Bear hopes you were on an island and
that kayak was your only means of
returning to civilization.

The Bear has the insight to realize all that, though, which makes his film blogging all the more inexcusable.

Half the time the Bear feels like he's singing Steely Dan's Deacon Blues: "I cried when I wrote this song, so, sue me if I sing too long." The story of Carnival of Souls does indeed move him, which is why he wrote the previous piece and mentions it again now. As for the Post-Mortem on the West and chronicles of Pope Francis, he'll gladly trade traffic for a mental/spiritual health break.

The Amazing Medium of Film

Film is an art we share as a culture like no other. We read different books and watch different shows, but nearly all of us share memories of great films.

If you've ever learned to play the piano because you wanted to, you know it helps you appreciate recordings or concerts, even if you never got any good at it. In the same way, learning about what makes films good or bad helps you gain a deeper appreciation than "I liked it" or not. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that. It's a personal option.

The stories behind films are often as interesting as the films themselves, and teach a lot about the craft.

For example, the last article on Carnival of Souls is an inspirational story disguised as a B-movie horror film review. It's for anyone who aspires to rise above their workaday world and do something remarkable, even if it doesn't quite work out and the only thing that keeps them from sinking back into obscurity is that they never rose above it in the first place.

And Carnival of Souls itself is worth more than one viewing as a horror movie that relies on psychology and atmosphere instead of grossness or weird-for-weird's sake. It is also a clinic in guerilla filmmaking.

Echoes can be found in the later work of George (Night of the Living Dead) Romero and David (Twin Peaks) Lynch. The former admits it but if the latter has, Bear missed it. Carnival is worth any three of M. Night Shyalaman's movies, especially if the trio includes the similarly-themed Sixth Sense.

Filmmaking is Necessarily a Cooperative Exercise

Writing is a solitary exercise. Kurt Vonnegut said, "Writers have one break, at least. They get to treat their mental illnesses every day." Movie folk may be mentally ill, too, for all Bear knows, but they at least have to be able to refrain from assault and battery long enough to complete a project, although in 1947 Henry Fonda beat the crap out of Jimmy Stewart over the McCarthy hearings. And the feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford was epic.

Filmmaking is a cooperative process. Part of the allure of Hollywood's Golden Age is the sheer improbability that a star factory like MGM (still less a near-Poverty Row RKO) could crank out wonderful features as a business despite egomaniacal directors, dipsomaniacal stars, dictatorial management and budget-conscious producers.

And fistfights between Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda.

There is no movie so devoid of artistic merit that it does not command at least a little respect from the Bear. No one wakes up and says, "I'm going to make a bad movie." All of them, even Ed Wood's pathetic efforts, represent a cooperative effort that at least made it to a distributor. Some of them remain our personal treasures as long as we live.

Today, talented filmmakers can do quite a lot with sophisticated consumer resources and direct distribution, operating outside of any system.

And, Now, the Short Films.

Ballade des Animaux

Our first one stars A Bear, although not The Bear, since it is just a little Black Bear, not a magnificent brown Ursus Arctos. Let's watch! Running time 3:08.

First of all, the Bear loves the title. Frederic Chopin wrote some distinctive one-movement pieces with the title "Ballade." They are, in the opinion of the Bear, the crown jewels of piano music (and considered among the most difficult pieces to master). The Bear has posted an old Alfred Cortot recording of  Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23 at the end because everyone should experience that piece, and he loves how Cortot interprets Chopin.

Let's talk about immersion.

This looks like a nature documentary, but is shot on location at a zoo. The Terry Devine-King score is very nice: energetic and cheerful, and goes perfectly with the scenes of different animals, some more active than others, which makes a nice variety. There is a technique called "Mickey Mousing" where the score is matched to the action to comical effect. That's old hat and the Bear is glad she has avoided that.

The film is "for children." The Bear thinks they would enjoy it; he did. The editing is mostly brisk and well done. It made the Bear smile. Even though it really starred baboons.

Post-Production Quibbles

His quibbles here involve post-production, i.e. the stuff that happens after the shooting. It's a fact: moviemaking happens during editing. Before the magic of post-production in a feature, all you've got is hours of raw fim. Even a short film depends on good post-production work.

The Bear assumes the sort of golden tone in the opening shots of baboons and, later, the lion drinking, is a post-production effect. It's quite pretty, but calls attention to itself and does not quite fit with the rest.

Any time a person appreciating art is taken out of that moment, it's probably not a good thing.

We've all experienced being immersed in a film and suddenly thinking, "that's some bad acting," but also, "that's some good acting," or "there's a great piece of dialogue." Of course, we want good acting and memorable dialogue, but we don't want to be thinking about it while we're watching the movie. That's for later, when we're savoring the film on our own or discussing it.

Then there's the dead otter.

One of the hardest parts of any artistic endeavor is putting yourself in the place of every reader or viewer and looking for off-the-wall reactions. The scene of the otters or whatever disturbed Bear since one of them is clearly dead. (Okay, looks like it, since it is lying motionless and unblinking.) Bear found himself watching only the dead-looking otter to see if he ever blinked. (He doesn't.)

Maybe you never noticed.

Finally, and most importantly, the Bear believes it would be a better short film if it were shorter, or had more animals with a consistently brisk pace. This is about editing. It used to be done by physically cutting raw footage and splicing pieces together. Now, some very good editing can be done with iMovie on your MacBook, or more sophisticated programs.

Some of the scenes go on a bit too long, making the pacing seem a little off. The composition of the three penguins is admirable, but everything comes to a halt as we watch them standing around before they begin walking. There are not only more scenes of baboons than anything else, too much time is spent on the one eating the apple.

These may sound like nit-picky points, and they are. And maybe baboons are your favorite animal in the whole world. The film is enjoyable. The Bear can only see through his eyes and offer a few little illustrations. Short films, like short stories, are very unforgiving.

But, other than some editing and color issues children would not notice, this is a very nice little film whose score is exceptional.


The next one runs 2:29. It is much different in tone.  As a by-the-way, the Bear recommends removing the explanation on the Avinu Film site. The film stands on its own, and I think Marcelle should trust the viewer to experience the story and make of it what he or she will. Let's watch and see what you think the story is.

The Importance of the Musical Score

The score by Paul Mottram is perfect, and features a simple repeating plucked theme over a brooding river of a composition that never reaches a resolution. Richard Wagner shook the musical world with his famous "Tristan Chord" at the beginning of Tristan und Isolde:

 F, B, D♯, and G♯

Here, the composition is much less dramatic, but the sense of an aching lack of resolution is the same, with an added sense of restlessness,

We often forget just how important a score is to a film. Even silent films weren't silent. They were accompanied by live music. Can you think of Star Wars without hearing John Williams' stirring theme? Or how about a Fellini film without Nino Rota? A Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western without Ennio Morricone's sort of loopy scores with that chanting? Avinu Films are noteworthy for consistently excellent music.

Indeed, the score largely tells the story. Imagine a different score, maybe something like the one in the previous film. It would be a completely different story, wouldn't it?

Telling a Story Economically

It opens with a scene of traffic in a city. The visuals don't seem to go with the music, but that's on purpose and creates a sort of expectant, almost uncomfortable tone. The traffic is coming at the viewer, passing close by from the point of view of an empty bicycle lane. The feeling is edgy.

Then the location changes to the country. We see some beautifully shot scenes of an odd, but wonderful house (where is that?) surrounded by birds of different sorts. (Are those Guinea hens?) The border collie is pretty, but he seems to be waiting for something, even as he snaps at gnats. The pacing of the editing is better, in Bear's opinion, setting a slow and consistent rhythm that goes with the story. Note how the shots change close to the changes in the music. Not precisely, but Bear thinks, whether by accident or design, the slight lack of precision in that regard adds to the unsettled tone.

The score does not change with the new location, and it doesn't go with the irenic scene any better than it did with the opening shot of the city. Why? Why are we uncomfortable? What's going to happen?

We see a male hand writing a note. We're not meant to know to whom the note is written, or what the character has to say. It's all left up to our imagination. "Hello, I just wanted to..." One nice trick is we are permitted to hear the scratch of the fountain pen on the paper. That is a very intimate touch; it collapses the distance between the viewer and the images-with-music.

What have we learned now?

There is a beautifully framed shot through a rustic door into a space occupied by a small table, It looks desolate, though. The wind stirs branches that are overgrown, and while the lake view is beautiful, a gray cloud hangs over everything. The Bear notices the wonderful textures in which Avinu films seem to luxuriate.

Even accounting for their differences, this is the better of the two films in the Bear's opinion.

Use of Archetypes

Near the end, in a beautifully composed shot using poppies that converge into the distance, we see a young man with a backpack walking away from us, the house, the birds, with the dog leading, like the dog in the book of Tobit, or, if the Bear may draw on another tradition, the dog who accompanies The Fool of the Tarot deck, who is also on a journey.

The young man setting out on a journey, perhaps leaving home, and the dog, are archetypes. The dog is in many a painting as a symbol of unquestioned loyalty.

Artists of all sorts use archetypes. Whether or not you want to go all Jungian, archetypes are cultural fixtures that seem to endure from age to age. They seem hardwired into us. Star Wars is full of them. It too, has a boy on the cusp of manhood who is stirred to leave his familiar home, although Luke has robots, instead of a dog. Luke meets the Wise Old Man who initiates him. The Bear could go on, but you get the idea.

Archetypes are different from tropes in that archetypes seem to have some deep and persistent presence in a culture, whereas tropes are just common (the connotation is overused) situations and characters that television and other writers use.

The film ends with the city, again.

The Bear is not going to tell you the story. This is a marvelous short film that tells a rich story very economically. It is a fine piece of work. What do you think the story is?

Two Minor Quibbles: Starring "Bird Feeder Bird," and the Title

The Bear has two quibbles.

First, "Bird Feeder Bird" would get top billing if this were a Golden Age Hollywood movie. Yes, it's nice, it's pretty, it establishes the bucolic setting, and represents one of the nice things the human character may be giving up. But, the Bear was taken out of the film a bit wondering "So, like, what's up with all the screen time for this bird in the feeder?"

Perhaps some other element of the peaceful country life could have taken the place of the second Bird Feeder Bird appearance. It was sort of like the baboons in the first one. The Bear would ever-so-gently suggest a finer sense of what elements might be getting overused during the editing when something different but similar might be serve just as well and maintain interest slightly better.

This is especially true since the photography is always so very good - we have only two or three minutes, and we want more examples of those luscious textures and beautiful compositions, not too much time spent on the same bird eating in a bird feeder.

In a short film, as in a short story, everything has to be there for a very good reason. There is no room for Bird Feeder Bird's two lengthy scenes unless it has some symbolic meaning Bear is missing. You can get a little sloppy in a novel. Less so in a short story. Even less in a poem. Then there's a Tweet. If you're going to do short, you must accept its unforgiving nature.

The other quibble carries slightly more weight: the title.

The word "Wanted" has a definite connotation in idiomatic English. A criminal is being hunted by police. In fact, it can hardly mean anything else standing alone. It's at the top of all those "wanted posters" in Westerns. It's hard to come up with a name for a film like this, that tells a story indirectly through score and images. You don't want to give it away. But "Wanted" is a jarring choice.

The Bear does not know what was intended by the title. Unfortunately, what he understood was that the human character was hunted, perhaps close to being discovered in his country hideout, and was having to flee from the sheriff to the anonymity of the city.

If that is the story, then "Wanted" is, of course, a great title. The Bear doubts it, however, and thinks something really vague like a name might be a better choice.


The two Avinu short films we looked at are both enjoyable and show tremendous strengths. The scores are fantastic and well-suited to the subjects. The photography is beautiful, especially in "Wanted," which is the better film.

They also show a little room for improvement in post-production, meaning a finer sense of what's "enough" of something, and, in Ballade des Animaux, a more consistently brisk editing pace. Finally, "Wanted" is an odd choice for a title, which is naturally going to be taken as descriptive. And the story stands alone. You did a good job on that one guys. Take the description down and trust your craft.

Here, as promised, for those who made it to the end, is Alfred Cortot's interpretation of Chopin's sublime Ballade No.1 in G Minor, Op. 23.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Three hours after my car fell into the river,
I emerge covered in bottom silt. Now forget about that!

Carnival of Souls (1962) Criterion Collection via FilmStruck pay streaming subscription for film buffs. 3 Salmon out of 5. (In terms of Salmon per Buck, an easy 5.) Criterion includes lots of extras on "The Movie that Wouldn't Die," including the filmmakers' corporate video for Phillips 66.

Some Ordinary Folks Want to Do Something Extraordinary

What would you do with $13,000 and three weeks?

If you worked for for a Lawrence, Kansas industrial motion picture production company in 1962, you would start producing a 35mm feature film. (The film ultimately cost $33,000, which still wouldn't keep David Lynch in cigarettes, coffee and quinoa.)

No, you wouldn't. Neither would the Bear.

But Director Herk Harvey and writer John Clifford did. The pair worked for Centron Corporation. Herk directed movies for companies like Phillips 66 about sales meetings, and John was writing advertising copy, with one published novel to his credit. Driving back from LA, Herk passed something that took hold of his imagination.

It was the ruins of a once famous resort on the Great Salt Lake of Utah that had been left high and dry by the receding waters. Investors added carnival attractions, which only made it creepier when it was finally abandoned to the elements and vandals. Herk just knew he had to make a movie on the location. All he needed was a script. That was no problem. In three weeks buddy John Clifford knocked out a tale in his spare time of the lone survivor of a car that plunged into the Kansas River.

The Bear exceeded his word quota today, so he deserved a guilty pleasure. And he even has words left over for the Woodland Creatures.

Making the Most of Pretty Much Nothing

Bear will be haunted by
Candace Hilligoss' eyes
for a while.
They found a pretty good actress in Candace Hilligoss, who was studying the Strasberg Method Acting technique in the same class as Marilyn Monroe and Roy Scheider. Closer to home they found a gem in local drama student Sidney Berger.

Nobody else in the movie can act, which only adds to the psychologically off-kilter feel of the movie.

Actually, they can act. Badly, but each in a different way from the others. Each local gives it his or her all in their very own awful way that could not have worked better if it had been planned. (To be fair to the actors, they live down to some bad dialogue, but it doesn't matter.)

Why is the Bear wasting your precious time on a B-movie horror film? Because it inspires him.

This was a no-hit wonder for all concerned. No one went on to make a career in feature films. But a couple of journeyman filmmakers for corporate America knew what they were doing. With a production crew of six and a lot of guerilla filmmaking techniques, they kept it cheap by using what they had in skillful and creative ways.

For the scene when Candace Hilligoss is changing in the department store dressing room, they all walked into a Salt Lake City department store and said they would like to shoot a movie. The natural question is "when?" The answer was right now. (One story is they paid a saleswoman $25 to get a man with a camera in the dressing room with Hilligoss.)

They dreamed of art, and came close enough. (Herk Harvey was inspired by French director Jean Cocteau.) An aspiring filmmaker could learn a lot by studying what has become a cult classic.

The Criterion Collection interviews with Herk Harvey and John Collins (as well as Candace Hilligoss and Sidney Bergman) are very good. The Bear particularly enjoyed the screenwriter's comments. He (like the Bear) did not outline in advance, but wrote chronologically. That means he did not know the ending until after he was halfway through. He describes his style as not knowing what he was going to write, but writing, then discovering the story he had written.

Unlike the Bear, who rewrites, dewrites, backfills and gets obsessive, Herk Harvey was ready to shoot by the time Collins finished the first draft.

Candace Hilligoss is wide-eyed, gangly, and in nearly every frame: drag-racing on a bridge; covered with bottom silt emerging from a river; playing an enormous pipe organ; haunted by the image of a man in Beetlejuice makeup; alternately being repulsed by or clinging to the slimy guy across the hall; walking through a busy town where she can hear nothing and is seen by no one; getting hysterical; and looking pretty fetching in that 60s way when she's not running from eager, grinning aqua-zombies.

"Oh, yeah, baby. You know you want me to come in, don't you?"
A still cannot do justice to Berger's portrayal of a loser
who's more oily and pathetic than menacing. 

If there was an Oscar category for Best Performance as a Oily, Repulsive Stalker, Sidney Berger would have walked away with it. If you're going to go pig-eyed leering greaser licking his chops like a cartoon Big Bad Wolf, go big. The guy is so horrifying you can't take your eyes off him. The fact that poor Mary Henry (played by Hilligoss) doesn't beat him to death with the alabaster floor-ashtray by her door at first sight shows just how desperate she is. And... well, just hmm.

The black and white cinematography ranges from artless to beautiful without often calling attention to itself.

Director Herk Harvey as "The Man" who haunts Mary Henry.
Clearly not your average zombie.

Inspiration: They Aspired to Art with Little More than 
Talent and a Location and Nearly Made it

You're probably thinking, so, the Bear's discovered some campy Plan 9 From Outer Space so-bad-it's-entertaining piece of Ed Wood trash. Nope. Not the Bear's style.

Carnival of Souls is an effective horror movie that relies on psychology and atmosphere instead of gore or overuse of monsters. It is a better than average take on a familiar trope. (It's hardly a spoiler when a girl walks out of a river covered in bottom silt three hours after her car plunges into it, so hint: An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.)

It's like a movie from auteur David Lynch only in that the next day you think you dreamed it. But these corporate movie guys cranked out a better movie in three weeks of shooting because they did not go in for the weird-for-weird's-sake backwards midgets and such. They let the ordinary be ordinary in the context of a handful of creepy shots and an understated, realistic dreamlike quality that lets you know nothing is right for this unfortunate wide-eyed girl.

And for a day or so - and especially a night or so - the ordinary world won't seem quite so right for you, either.

Is it a great move? No. It's a good movie that is far better than it should have been, made by people who loved their craft, worked with little more than talent and a good location, and aspired to art.

The distributors went broke, and the checks for all those B-movie drive-in screenings bounced.

That they nearly made it is what inspires a paperback writer known to you as the Bear.

58 days to deadline, 64,398 words of target 100,000
Book 2 of the Rubicatae Chronicles
Conspiracy of Crows
(God willing)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Sacred Harp Singing and More

While the Bear may not be blogging much for a time, he'll be popping up (as Bears tend to do) unexpectedly with unusual items he finds interesting. (Or, in your swimming pool.)

This one's about haunting musical traditions in Appalachia. It ought to occupy you for a while.

The name "Sacred Harp Singing" comes from a hymnal written in New England in 1844, but the tradition goes back to the 18th century. The musical notation is called "shaped note" and was invented as a simple way for people who did not know standard musical notation to sing hymns by recognizing the four different shapes of notes. Traveling preachers sold the Sacred Harp hymnals in the hills and hollers of Appalachia, where things tend to survive.

The leader stands in the middle of the congregation, which is divided into four sections, and conducts. The documentary shows an eight-year-old girl as leader.

Sacred Harp singing almost died out. It got a boost from the horribly depressing 2003 Civil War movie Cold Mountain. The style can also be found in the British Isles, sometimes called Gaelic Psalm Singing. The Bear's slapdash research seems to show it was taken across the Atlantic in the 19th century and somehow adopted by Scottish Presbyterians in remote places.

Fortunately, Sacred Harp singing is making a comeback, as recounted in the second clip.

EDIT: A kind person Tweeted this link on Sacred Harp music. It includes many local groups. (If you don't follow the Bear on Twitter, he's @CorbiniansBear also linked on the sidebar. His Twitter account and official Facebook page are excellent ways to know when there's a new post here and enjoy random misfirings of his 450 gm brain found nowhere else.)

All these tunes are spine-tingling for the Bear, whether Sacred Harp, lined-out hymnody, or traditional mountain folk. He has culled YouTube for a variety of clips for your edification and listening pleasure. (Movie links are to Wikipedia, whose plot summaries include spoilers.)

The first clip, "Good Old Way," is 2:36 long and for the ears only. If you listen carefully, you can hear the singers begin practicing the tune in the four shaped notes. That way, the congregation had the tune down before beginning the actual hymn.

The second clip is a seven minute long documentary that includes the history and revival and is well worth watching.

The third clip is not Sacred Harp, but lined-out hymnody running a hypnotic 3:29. This form of call-and-response music is usually associated with black churches, but it was also used by illiterate white folk in the mountains of east Tennessee and West Virginia.

The fourth clip is a four minute departure to a wonderful scene from the Coen Brothers great 2000 movie, O Brother Where Art Thou. It is loosely based on Homer's Odyssey, and the seductive ladies are sirens. (Caution: PG Sensuality - they're sirens!) Gillian Welch, Allison Krauss and Emmylou Harris are the voices behind the actresses. This is one of Bear's favorite movies and showcases George Clooney's comic chops as well as some great music, including the "Po Lazarus" chain gang song by the a capella gospel Fairfield Four. (Bear's daughter Ragsy loves this movie, too.)

Finally, there's a haunting and edifying song from the 2000 film Songcatcher, "O Death" running 2:37. In an interesting twist, an unlikely character proves he has not forgotten his roots by singing a verse, then other characters each take successive verses. It's a good movie about a woman who heads into the hills in 1907 to record traditional Appalachian music. Young Emmy Rossum shows talent far beyond her years. Watch the full movie for the music, but beware of the lesbian scene out of left field at the very end. (Sorry, Land Shark, there is no lesbian scene at the end of the clip Bear chose.) It's worth watching up until that - just stop when you see the objectionable scene coming and read the ending on Wikipedia.

Sacred Harp Singing: "That Good Old Way"
The Denson Parris Sacred Harp Singers

Sacred Harp Singing: Documentary
Pop Goes the Culture

Lined-Out Hymnody: "I'm Going to a City"
Indian Bottom Association of Regular Baptists

O Brother Where Art Thou: "Go to Sleep Little Baby"
Coens, Touchstone Pictures / Universal Pictures
Gillian Welch, Allison Krauss, Emmylou Harris

Songcatcher: "O Death"
Written / Directed Maggie Greenwald
Songcatcher LLC / distributed by Lions Gate Films

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Where's Bear?

Just a quick note to readers. The Bear is not hibernating. But his "day job" is demanding his attention. In his defense, the Bear points to his corpus of regular and varied articles that have appeared in this space the last four or five years. Now the feeble searchlight of his 450 gm brain must be trained upon the adventures of whoever may (or may not!) have survived his last novel.

There's a line in The Sun Also Rises where a writer complains his second book is so much harder to write, and the protagonist (one assumes to be Hemingway) says it's always that way.

The Bear is reading it because Hemingway is the touchstone of good writing. The first part is boring; Bear suspects it is supposed to create that "Lost Generation" ennui in the reader as a setup for whatever happens next.

The Bear also just bought a book of grammar (his is a bit of a leaky boat) called, "For Who the Bell Tolls." Come on, how do you resist a grammar book with a title like that? It's written by The Guardian's style editor.

He just hopes Western Civilization can hold out until he has built up an unstoppable momentum with his fiction writing and can get back to regular blogging. He must admit, however, that not knowing what the Pope is saying or doing has improved his morale.

Being an Anchorite has its advantages.

At 50,000 words and 18 chapters, he figures he's about halfway done. The Bear wonders if second novels are harder because writers tend to say what they really want to say in their first novels. That doesn't mean there are not different things to say, it just means it seems like shoveling the coal to maintain a good head of steam is a lot harder. You do well to putter along at eight knots instead of cruising at 20.

And there are more icebergs.

And Romanians.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Big News & Hilarious Kitten Video

The Bear is pleased to announce that Judging Angels will be available in an audiobook January, 2018.

In the video, a kitten finds the perfect refuge from her sister.

Sequel is still a work in progress. It is more challenging to write and poor Bear is having to work hard and has had to discard drafts with which he was not happy. In related news, you might enjoy an article at that other guy's blog about Adverbs, Editors, Writing Rules and Hemingway. What do you think? Should all writers try to be Hemingway? Is his reputation well-deserved, or was he a writer of a particular time that influenced an (even!) older generation of writers?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving

Out of three kittens, Molly is the chosen one, bearing the collar of adoption. She chose the Bear, really. She demanded he refill her water bowl. She curled up and slept against him. She purred.

Kitty kasting kall is over. The rest may go. "He who made kittens put snakes in the grass," as goes Jethro Tull's second, biggest and last Top-40 hit, "Bungle in the Jungle," which hit number 15 in 1975. Bear is thankful for both kittens and snakes, because even snakes have their purpose helping the barn cats keep the mice population under control.

Everything is under control, even in the enemy-occupied territory where we make our homes, man and Bear.

The Bear is thankful for many things, right down to his pets, which bring him so much joy. (Not least of which is Buster the Yorkie, head of his Book Shipping Department). Please take a moment to count your own blessings.

Friday, November 17, 2017

At Least Bear Never Did This in Navy

Some Naval Aviator in hot water now after citizens claim to see phallic sky-writing in this doodle. Bear is certain it is a dog fight exercise followed by extending away and returning on reciprocal course to reengage.

Whidbey Island aviator reduces Washington state mom to tears after having to explain the design to traumatized kids.

And you thought Bear was bad. You want to see bad? Give Bear wunna dem bad boys and he find sumpin better to do with it than that!


Bear would totally do that.

The Pope Video "Mission in Asia"

Oh, by the way, did you know there was another Pope Video. Neither did Bear. He keeps forgetting to pick the lowest hanging fruit of them all.

A lot of different cultures and religions exist in Asia. They have some pretty cool clothes, especially the ones who wear red turbans. Christians are the minority. They had better dialogue.

The End.

About the only thing the Bear can make of such thin soup (other than to complain about its thinness, although we know the fare by now) is how old words that used to mean one thing when Catholics used them now have a different meaning slipped under them.

"Mission," used to have a specific meaning in Catholicism. (For that matter, so did "intention.") It was an organized effort to bring the light of the Gospel to foreign lands where it had not been preached, or preached improperly.

In the current Pope Video, Pope Francis uses the word, "mission," but not in that sense at all. Now, it is in a more generic sense of "task." And, as always and only, that task is to "dialogue" with those of other faiths. No matter how many times you repeat it, though, "dialogue" is never going to sound a call to action like "Go forth and preach the Gospel to all nations."

"Dialogue" just gets more meaningless and boring every time we hear it.

Some things correct themselves, which is something we might want to remember.

Anyone with any sense knew Lumen Gentium's ringing endorsement of the Church's real "mission" at the end of its Hall of Faiths (and No Faith At All) was nothing but bush-wah. And so it proved to be.

The Bear doubts St. Francis Xavier is impressed.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Great Lesbian Mutiny of '91

"Port of Call: Manama"

USS Samuel Gompers AD-37 (inboard) a.k.a. "The Love Boat"
dwarfs a guided missile cruiser.

This long, improbable and unedifying tale comes from the Bear's "And Now it Can Be Told" files, answering the question, "What did You Do in the War, Daddy?" So grab yourself a Foster's lager (Arabic for 'Beer'), kick back, and prepare to lower your opinion of the Bear. Because, as the sign in some bar in Manama said, "The More You Drink, the More You Can Win." What a wonderfully irresponsible advertising campaign! Like Navy JAGs needed any encouragement.

Be forewarned, this is not so much a blog entry as a chapter in the Bear's memoirs, so if you have better things to do, which you almost certainly do, this is long. Blame a commenter who encouraged the Bear to tell it. It will probably be of interest mainly to ex-Navy types and homosexuals. (Welcome to all of you brought here by search engines keying on "bear" and "homosexual!")

Our story is from an era before "don't ask, don't tell," still less today's outright approval. There was a time when just being homosexual was grounds for administrative separation from service. It's true. That's how things stood at the end of Operation Desert Storm, when the Bear was earning his Southwest Asia Service medal by a zealous defense of lesbians and other miscreants in the Gulf.

(The heading comes from a series of Navy recruitment commercials in the 70s. Saturday Night Live's 1979 send-up is at the end of this article. "It's not just a job. It's $96.78 a week.")

Filipina Bands, Old English Rockers, and a Narrow Escape from Fire

Bahrain is a small and tidy island nation connected to Saudi Arabia by a causeway. Its capital of Manama is pleasant, although the pill boxes scattered about probably say something about its stability. It is the headquarters for the Gulf's Fifth Fleet. It has a decent nightlife for a Gulf nation and, at least when the Bear was there, a surrealistic variety of expat bands.

The Bear has only ever once been propositioned in a bar. It was in Manama by a white-robed Saudi gentleman. Poor Bear did not understand his intent until after enjoying several Foster's from his generous new friend. Boys Beware! (A 1961 educational film is also at the end of the piece.)

The Bear remembers one talented and well-choreographed Filipina band singing "The Name Game" to "Muhammed" and other Arabic names (now, that's talent). There was also an old English rocker playing his guitar behind his head like Jimi Hendrix. The Filipinas exited stage right as smoke started filling the club and the Bear and his buddy did not leave until they were the only ones who weren't wearing fireman gear.

Sometimes it's hard to know the difference between stage effects and a deathtrap. Especially after a lot of Foster's.

Neopolitan JAGs versus Orso Siciliano

The Bear's home base was the Naval Legal Service Office Detachment at Naval Air Station, Sigonella, Sicily. We were a disreputable appendix to the actual office in Naples. Officers with career potential seemed to wind up in Naples. Obvious terminal O-3s like the Bear landed in Sig. (The Bear can speak only of his time there; things are probably different now.)

There were Naples JAGs sent to Manama, too, but they play no part in this story because they were no fun at all. They all probably became O-6s, at least. They were always doing silly things like PT on their own and got one of the thousands of SUVs Japan threw at the Gulf in support of the liberation of Kuwait.

They also got gas masks.

Bahrain had been struck by a SCUD missile earlier, but the enemy threat of poison gas, at any rate, had been all but eliminated by the time the Bear arrived. Even so, Sigonella JAGs rated neither a vehicle nor gas masks, and that pretty much says it all.

No doubt, they were spies, too, and reported everything we did to the CO in Naples. Fortunately, Naples could not find Sigonella on a map if their lives depended on it. (Naples is not a nice place like Sicily, either. We probably imbibed some of our attitude from the delightful Sicilian traditions of subverting authority and enjoying life.)

Come to think of it, the Naples JAGs must have gone back to collect medals and promotions before the time of this story or it might have had a very different ending. If you have ever enjoyed either the wonderful television series or John Mortimer's books about Rumpole of the Bailey, we were Rumpole and they were Samuel "Soapy Sam" Ballard.

Where was the Bear's dear driver, bodyguard, factotum and lawfully wedded spouse Red Death, during these high times? Stuck back in a little town called Belpasso on the knees of an active volcano with four small children. Her Navy wife experience was more like Apocalypse Now: Charlie didn't get much USO. She was dug in too deep in diapers and moving too fast chasing kids. Her idea of great R&R was a little cold pasta and eel meat.

She had many of her own adventures, though. If you want to cause a stir, wear a black dress when you do your vegetable shopping in Sicily. Also, "requires ten stitches" translates to "gets a Band-Aid" at the local asilo, or "Baby School." God bless her for raising four tough little Sicilian kids where she didn't even speak the language.

The Desert Storm Allies on Parade

The Bear flew from Sigonella to the Gulf on a chartered Hawaiian Airlines DC-8 four-engine narrow-body. He landed at night to see out his window a rearing horse when the airplane rolled to a stop. It's a different world. His three-quarters empty bottle of Jack Daniels (long flight, ancient airplane) was confiscated and there he was, looking for a cab to the Manama Holiday Inn.

The next day, he went to work. Possibly the day after.

The pier at Manama was like a model UN where allies did their best to reinforce stereotypes.

Here was a Japanese contribution with crew members departing for liberty with cameras around their necks. A German ship had very competent-looking tanned sailors in tropical uniforms. A British ship had pasty kids that looked far removed from the tars of Nelson's day. On the quarterdeck of an Italian ship, the duty sailor had made an instrument from glasses of water and was playing it with two spoons. There was even a pitiful little ship of unknown purpose flying the Kuwaiti flag with, "Thanks America," painted on it.

At the time, the Bear noticed Russia's absence from the WWII lineup, but the Soviet Union was in its death throes, and didn't like us, anyway.

The allied ships were small, all minesweepers to the Bear's recollection. At the end of the long pier were two big American ships. On the right was an oddity: the Fifth Fleet command vessel, painted look-at-me white for some reason.

And towering over everything like an enormous floating factory was the slab-sided USS Samuel Gompers, a destroyer tender everyone called "The Love Boat.".

Getting Snuggly Haze Gray and Underway

Navy ships have nicknames, official and otherwise. The Bear remembers an LST in Valencia that had so many sailors barred from liberty it was known as the "USS Liberty Risk."

The early mixed-sex crewed Gompers was known as "The Love Boat," and, like all unofficial names, it was well-deserved.

Homosexual admin boards made up a good part of he Bear's MOJAGs (away missions to various ports and ships underway) in those days. Gompers was unusual in that they had saved up some lesbian cases, a novelty for us. There was not really the mutiny claimed by the shameless click-bait title, but the Bear never forgot the unintentionally funny meeting with the Love Boat's captain.

There was about to be a change of command and the captain was very insistent that his "lesbian problem" got cleared up before he handed his ship over to a new skipper. "I want a clean ship," he kept telling two of us JAGs. He was so earnest and even a bit Queeg-like about the purge both of us chuckled later, even when we were sober. We started calling it "The Great Lesbian Mutiny" to get into the spirit of things.

Of course, to be fair, naturally he wanted all pending legal matters resolved in advance of the change of command, if possible.

The more the Bear learned about the case - and there did seem to be quite a bit of enthusiasm behind the charges - the more he found "The Love Boat" to be a fitting nickname. There was plenty of enthusiasm to go around and not limited to lesbians. The Bear still fails to understand how the lesbians posed any greater threat than their occasional change-of-pace male partners or everyone else who was getting snuggly haze gray and underway.

Legal Exigencies Require an Interesting Choice

A little bit of the Navy stuff went a long way with the Bear. Ships are cluttered, confusing, cramped, and unpleasant places (especially for a Bear) until you get used to them, which he was never permitted to do. Little nonsense unsanctioned by tradition is tolerated by the Navy, even from JAGs, the limits of whose power were never quite understood by line officers. (Once, just when the Bear was starting to feel at home on USS Wasp underway, he got sent home by helicopter in disgrace over some silly misunderstanding.)

The Ursus Arctos is a land animal. The Navy was probably not the best idea the Bear ever had. Authority rubs the fur of Bears the wrong way, too. The Bear was an excellent criminal defense lawyer. As a lieutenant in the United States Navy, however, the Bear admits he was not the very model of a modern naval officer.

After weighing complex legal factors, having the purest sympathy for our clients, no doubt upholding the lowest traditions of the Sigonella detachment, and, honestly, a bit piqued that our clients were being singled out for behavior which was not only famously widespread, but winked at when they got a bit snuggly with male sailors, too, we conducted our entire investigation and case preparation from the place of our choice. Gompers was in a hurry to wrap things up and nobody was in a mood to ask questions.

All legal work was conducted at the pool of the Manama Holiday Inn. Both beside it and in it.

Every time a helicopter passed overhead, the running gag was that we hoped it didn't have a CNN crew on board, or we would be on national news.

The Bear's Court-Martial

It sounds much worse than it really was and it was truly all in good, clean fun. We knew the evidence and the outcome was not in doubt in my case. We figured at least our clients' final days in the United States Navy might be memorable for something other than sitting in a greasy, stifling hot ship with everyone talking about them.

They could splash around in innocent childlike fun with their little friends.

Of course, had our actions been discovered, we could have been, in theory, mind you, in trouble. By a long stretch, someone might even have considered a court-martial under Article 134, UCMJ, which covers "fraternization." A close reading of the relevant law and regulations, however, does not mention anything about swimming pools, and seems to cover less innocent interactions between officers and enlisted personnel, such as loaning money and dating.

Anyway, with USS Samuel Gompers, "prejudicial to good order and discipline" was a problematical concept at best. We had to conduct the business of our mission somewhere, and a ship is claustrophobic, distracting, lacks privacy, and is not conducive to a trustful attorney-client relationship.

Not to mention, you waste hours wandering around lost until you find the quarterdeck or die.

We exercised sound operational and professional discretion to promote a good attorney-client relationship under exigent circumstances. It was, after all, technically a theater of war, with temperatures over 100 degrees, and we were under constant threat of death by smoke inhalation, sunstroke and, possibly, drowning.

If you think the pool was a bad choice, what about inside the air-conditioned hotel? The Bear and his buddy were always in public view and always with each other.

It goes without saying we would have done the same if our clients had been men.

In the end, my buddy's client beat the rap. A damning letter sealed the Bear's client's fate.

Oh, and he never really got court-martialed, either.

A Bear's Defense, in All Seriousness

It may or may not have been a good story. In truth, the Bear feels less pride in it than the relish with which he tells his tales suggests. He recalls that whole period as surreal.

The Bear admits to lack of good judgment both as an officer and a lawyer. And, even with our buddy system, it was stupid to put ourselves into a situation that could have been a near occasion of sin, certainly looked bad, and could even have escalated to disciplinary action. We were just lucky word never got back to either the Love Boat's command or our own. It was pretty inexcusable.

For all the smart-ass M*A*S*H* inspired fun, it was a reckless way to start a legal career. And, it was a pretty shabby way for a married Bear to behave, even with non-lubricious motives.

Red Death knew Bear was living it up in a swell hotel with great food, tennis courts and a swimming pool, drinking Foster's by the gallon, and doing a little gold shopping for her. (Decent prices for 22 caret gold bangles is sort of Bahrain's thing.) But conducting business with female clients and witnesses at the pool was probably the last thing she imagined. 

Shame, shame, shame on Bear. Really.

But every MOJAG generated some crazy story. At the time it seemed to be on a continuum of capers.

As JAGs, we were not quite like anyone else in the Navy. On MOJAGs, we were unsupervised, hard-drinking (in port), and, unless we were with another JAG, isolated behind enemy lines. It's hard to convey what a psychologically challenging place a large ship can be. You don't know anyone, every square inch is already being used by somebody else, and you have no idea even how to get from A to B. If Bear had to so much as to visit the head (toilet) he had to wake somebody up to show him where the damned thing was.

You're viewed with suspicion by everyone, including your client (to whom you are just another officer) whose trust you must somehow gain fast. We traveled light, lived by our wits and a copy of the UCMJ, and the best of us stood up as Staff Lieutenants to ship captains and Marine COs.

You have to remember, we were also new lawyers, figuring out what worked on our own, without the mentoring and practical training most new lawyers get. We had real legal power limited mainly by our creativity and willingness to push hard and get pushed back - harder. There was definitely an "us-against-them" attitude between a few of us and commands.

But, most of all, the  Bear must admit to rebelling against authority that (again, Apocalypse Now comes to mind) singled out our clients for speeding tickets at the Indy 500 of romance that was the Love Boat.

Here is the background to his bad attitude.

Bear Contra Mundum

The Bear was not a line officer. He was dropped onto ships to face commands that were at least suspicious and sometimes hostile. Most saw due process and the attorney-client relationship as a threat to their authority. Courts and boards were an unwelcome distraction from the real business of cruising around being ready to kill people. Defense counsel were tolerated, and sometimes even treated very politely as guests, but everybody knew our job was to gum up the works in pursuit of the best result for our clients.

Some were more zealous than others.

So, along comes Lieutenant Bear. He was a deliberate and effective irritant in a system where all but the least sensible commanding officers instinctively knew how hot a clever O-3 JAG could make things for them. Bear was not cut out to be a naval officer, but was made for the role of defense lawyer.

In other words, the Bear has always been the lawyer you love to hate until little darling gets charged with sexual assault after a drunken college party. Or, as Robert Downey Jr's character in "The Judge" puts it: "Everybody wants Atticus Finch until there's a dead hooker in the bathtub."

The incident in which he was kicked off the USS Wasp is sort of a funny story, but became a major Sixth Fleet investigation after the Bear alleged command influence in a case already sensitive enough to get him kicked out of Israel and barred from reentry. (Red Death was waiting at the airfield for Bear's return from Israel when she was informed that, perversely, Israel had refused entry to the C-130 that was to bring him back. He later returned on Alitalia, which was much more comfortable.)

The adversary role against god-like ship captains and even whole countries was heady for a brand-new lawyer, especially when he got the last laugh. The rare wins Bear had came from learning what buttons to push, and, frankly, the lessons he learned early were not about being nice and "dialoguing." They stuck with him the rest of his career.

The temptation to twist the tale of the Love Boat's captain, even behind his back, by stretching an attorney-client relationship that was sometimes the subject of command interference was hard to resist. It was almost a poetic turnabout for two JAGs who had no future as such mainly because they enjoyed the tale-twisting too much.

The Moral of the Story

The moral of the story, then, is not about lubricity. It's really about pride. Pride is a powerful fuel and the Bear's career ran on it from the beginning to the very end. The Bear knows most of his readers are in favor of the death penalty, but being responsible for someone's very life in an adversary system is something most people can't even imagine. Even being responsible for years in prison, or an enlisted person's career in an adversary system is something hard to appreciate if you've not been there.

Note the key word: "adversary." Each side is doing its best within the rules of the game to beat the other. A boxing match has rules, too. It doesn't mean fights aren't brutal. And the stakes in criminal cases are very high.

There are probably good defense lawyers who are truly humble. The Bear is still trying to learn humility, and not doing a very good job. Pride is a powerful fuel, but those who think they can safely handle it are fooling themselves.

A Word About Military Policy on Sex

The Bear supposes this is long past being an issue to anyone. Nonetheless, he has seen it from both sides up close.

The Bear also prosecuted cases in the Navy. It was for a long time unique among the uniformed services to have prosecutors and defense counsel under the same command. (Others separated the roles to avoid the reality or appearance of defense counsel feeling like they were not free to be zealous advocates.)

A story Red Death likes to tell is how she was in labor when the Bear (then at Naval Training Station Great Lakes) had to drop by the nursing school on base to pick up some paperwork on a case he was prosecuting. (It was number four; we made it in plenty of time.) That case involved a homosexual sailor who got too curious and was charged with sexual assault. Bear was defense counsel on a similar case involving a Marine underway.

So, the Bear gets the argument that it's not fair to put straight guys in close quarters with gay guys who might look at them as objects of sexual desire, because he's seen a couple of cases involving bad things. In actual practice, the Bear doesn't remember enlisted people objecting to others believed to be homosexual, as long as they kept it to themselves. A sort of practical "don't ask, don't tell" which seemed to work. The Bear has no idea how things are working under the current system. He suspects it's probably not too bad.

But, back then, in 1991, the Navy had no problem putting straight guys in close quarters with straight (or equal opportunity) females who might look at each other as objects of sexual desire. Its solution was and is to prosecute the few sailors who do make unwanted advances. (It is true, however, that the quarters are not quite so close.) The Bear has no idea how that is working out for them, now, either.

Out of all the homosexual admin separation boards the Bear did, none of them involved nonconsensual behavior. (Those were rare and went the court-martial route.) Many were excellent sailors who were discharged solely for being homosexual. Sometimes, it was the real-life version of Bill Murray in Stripes: "No, we're not homosexual, but we are willing to learn." In other words, it was an easy out for straight sailors really, really tired of the Navy. 

So, what is the Bear's opinion about the Love Boat, which was the shape of things to come? The Bear thinks it was a bad idea then, and is a bad idea now.

You put young men and young women in close proximity where they are not allowed to snuggle at all during very long cruises, and, well, call Bear crazy, but the results are foreseeable. The Love Boat generated a whole lot of pregnancies, too. (Nobody got separated for all the straight snuggling that was going on. In fact, the command couldn't care less about the Bear's client's snuggling with the boys, which seems odd, since the risk of pregnancy and consequent loss of a sailor would seem to be of greater consequence.)

A command doesn't need the drama. Or the pregnancies. And guys and gals don't need the temptation, and wives don't need to be thinking about their husbands transiting the Pacific with a bunch of fit, nubile young women.

The question of women in combat is different. The Bear must defer to his son's opinion on that, and he thought the women he met downrange were good soldiers who were able to handle situations that would have been extremely awkward for guys, especially in that culture.

The Fate of the Love Boat

Like the Bear, the USS Samuel Gompers reached the end of its useful service life. In 2003, it was destroyed as a target, a fate the Bear has so far avoided through care and a high constitution. There are actually three DC-8s still flying in commercial service as of 2016, but not for anyone you've heard of.

Mixed-crew ships are ho-hum.

There are no more homosexual administrative separation boards. Who knows what Navy JAGs do these days. But, as long as there is a Sixth Fleet and there is ouzo, there'll always be work.

The Bear has every confidence the Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily's Naval Legal Service Office detachment is now a highly professional unit exemplifying the best traditions of naval service and legal professionalism. It probably was the instant the Bear left, the last of the old crew.

The last military case he did was fairly late in his career, as individual civilian counsel in a drug court-martial at Scott Air Force base. He very much enjoyed the military's defense privilege of having the last word in a case.

He lost, anyway.

SNL Navy Recruitment Parody

"Boys Beware" - a 1961 educational film.

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