Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sing-Along Sound of Music

Last night, I went with some friends to see the "Sing-Along Sound of Music" at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco.
It's an Austrian-esque Rocky Horror Picture Show experience, with audience members dressed up as various characters from the 1965 Robert Wise film, starring the great Julie Andrews. There was even a bag of goodies for each attendee, including an invitation to the baroness' ball that audience members waved at the appropriate time and a popper toy that was to be set off during the first kiss between the captain and Maria.
The show was raucous fun, though a bit headache-inducing (the sound had to be very loud, or the movie would have been inaudible over the audience shouts). But what I enjoyed most of all -- was the film. I've seen the film numerous times before, of course, but I was able to appreciate it as a very well-constructed story with some great characters, incredible scenery, and some very deft writing touches.
The Castro announced that in 2009, they'll be launching some new sing-along movie experiences, including (the clear audience favorite) Mamma Mia.
(Photo above shows the organist playing Sound of Music tunes before the start of the show, a welcome reminder of my days at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Illinois Governor Blagojevich Arrested; Feds 2, Illinois Governors 0

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) recently urged President George W. Bush to commute the sentence of Blagojevich's predecessor, George Ryan (R), who was convicted of various crimes. No word yet on that pardon, but Blago (as he's known to his legions of enemies) may be in need of a pardon himself. This morning came the shocking news that Blagojevich has been "taken into custody" by federal agents as the result of an undercover investigation of a broad array of corrupt practices. Apparently, the guv was trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by President-Elect Barack Obama.

Even in Illinois, that's illegal.

Read the charges and the latest updates. I won't reiterate them here.

I will, however, note that as a born-and-bred Wisconsinite (now living on the West Coast), this does somewhat amuse me. After all, in various social studies and civics classes on good government (and in Wisconsin, most social studies and civics classes are good government classes), New York's Tammany Hall and Chicago, Illinois, were the go-to topics to demonstrate the perils of unclean and corrupt government, influence-peddling, low-morals, etc., etc., etc.

Two consecutive Illinois governors have now been arrested. It'd be funny if ... no, it's funny.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Magazine News: Christie Hefner to Leave Playboy Enterprises

This morning's surprise announcement: Christie Hefner is resigning as chair and CEO of Playboy Enterprises, the multimedia company she has headed for 20 years (and has worked at for even longer).

Why is she resigning? The press release from Playboy Enterprises simply refers to her wanting to do other things in her life after devoting so many years to the company founded by her father, Hugh Hefner. That is certainly her right, and no one need criticize her for that.

Nonetheless, it is happening at a time that is particularly difficult for publishing in general. This past weekend, it was announced that the Chicago Tribune is reportedly considering filing for bankruptcy. And there have been reports that some cities could end up without a single daily paper in the near future, as a result of the drastic cutbacks in the news industry.

Magazines haven't been immune. U.S. News and World Report is becoming a monthly magazine. The owner of Maxim is reportedly in financial trouble. And the stories go on and on, with cutbacks in staff, publishing frequency, ad count, and new launches. Playboy has battled all of those industry trends, but it has another millstone around its neck: Starting in the 1980s with the Meese Commission and collaboration with the religious right, boycotts and threats of boycotts scared away many of the big-pocketbook, mainstream advertisers from Playboy's pages. Has anyone calculated how many millions – tens of millions? – of dollars Playboy has lost as a result of this? Its readership has also fallen, but it is still large enough that it should be attracting several times the ad-page count that it does.

But Playboy, because of its iconic place in American culture and business, gets dissected way too much in the blogosphere and in the pages of other publications. On a personal level, I wish Ms. Hefner well. She's known as being a class act (listen to audio of her speech to The Commonwealth Club of California a few years ago).

Now, how will her successor change things?

UPDATE: MSNBC interviews Christie Hefner about her future plans; click on the video feature to view the interview. She says the company is in a strong position to weather the downturn, and she's looking to do something in the area of public service.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Forrest J Ackerman, RIP

Back to the topic of magazines. A real path-breaker passed away this past week, Forrest J Ackerman. The founding editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland, the creator of Vampirella, the literary agent who brought us Ray Bradbury and others, the man who (with his wife Wendayne) brought us the U.S. versions of the German Perry Rhodan science fiction novels, passed away at the age of 92.

There are obviously lots of fans of his in the filmmaking world -- Steven Spielberg, Steven King, etc. But there are also lots of fans of his in the magazine world, or at least in the science fiction and horror magazine world. That's because Famous Monsters was a groundbreaking magazine devoted to horror films, their stars, and not much else. It was presented in an unabashedly enthusiastic way, and I think people of a generation or two before me loved the magazine for that.

It's not an appreciation I can claim to share. When I got into reading science fiction books and magazines, there was a magazine called Starlog that captured my attention, love, imagination, and weekly allowance. Starlog also produced a sister publication, Fangoria, to cover horror movies and related topics. Starlog and Fangoria are still being published, though Famous Monsters died along with the rest of the Warren magazine publishing empire in the early 1980s.

I didn't pay attention to Famous Monsters much at the time, because whenever I took a look, I found it to be lacking in substance, intelligence, and quality. I've occasionally bought an issue (thanks, eBay) in recent years to test my original reactions, and if anything, my views then were overly charitable.

But Ackerman himself (in an interview in Fangoria after he was ousted from his Famous Monsters position just a couple issues before the magazine's death) has lamented the chains with which his publisher, James Warren, shackled him with the magazine, and he apparently couldn't produce the magazine he would have liked. That's a shame. Warren, after all, produced some incredibly fun and exciting magazines like Creepy and Eerie during the 1960s and 1970s. If Famous Monsters had been allowed more freedom, then perhaps Ackerman would be remembered not only as a groundbreaking editor but as a great one.

But Ackerman's triumph is most likely his ability to transmit his enthusiasm to young science fiction and horror fans, through his magazines, books, and personal appearances (for many years, he allowed fans to tour his legendary collection of science fiction memorabilia in his homes, on Saturdays). I never had the opportunity to meet him, but if I had, it wouldn't have been magazines of which we would have spoken, it would have been Rhodan, movie monsters, film directors, and deep space shows. I would have liked that a great deal, and I feel bad that we've lost such a personality and talent.