2.27.2009

ME GUSTO SOAP OPERAS

I've become obsessed recently with Spanish soap operas.

More accurately, they're Spanish-language soaps, not soaps produced in Spain. These continuing dramas are known as telenovelas (or just novelas) and they've been in existence as long as American soap operas.

I've been watching novelas at the gym every night, switching back and forth between two Spanish language channels that broadcast from New Jersey: Univision's Channel 41 and Telemundo's Channel 47.


No, I don't speak any Spanish, other than the handful of words I remember from high school (the same ones you probably remember). And no, the TVs at the gym do not have close-captioning. But I don't really need it. You can pretty much figure out what's happening by context.

Sometimes it's fun to not understand what the characters are saying, to figure it out, using the few tools I have: my understanding of one word (or so) per sentence; the hilariously dramatic music and the broad, presentational acting style. Somebody yells or cries in just about every novela scene, regardless of where the stories are set.

In that sense, Spanish language soaps are different than their American counterparts. They're far more melodramatic, which is awesome.


There are many similarities of course: the continuing story format; daily cliffhangers and beautiful actors and actresses who are not necessarily Academy Award-worthy thespians. In that sense the novelas are better than soap operas. American soaps tend to be populated with blandly beautiful blondes, while novelas are filled with hot-tempered, raven haired, thick-eyebrowed temptresses. Yum.

The biggest difference, though, is that novelas are finite stories that usually run 120 episodes (5 days per-week for 6 months) and then come to an end. American soaps only end if they are cancelled. Otherwise, a show may tell the story of a particular town, family or even a specific character for years, in some cases half a century or more. The Guiding Light began on radio in 1937 and continues today, set in the same Midwestern city.

That endless quality in the storytelling results in a certain absurd predictability, which is, in part, why soaps have never really been taken seriously as an art form. There have been exceptions, of course. The Edge of Night, a serialized crime drama in the mode of Perry Mason, focused on short-term murder mysteries that often had shocking twists and dramatic, surprise endings. I watched that show with my mother from 1976 until it was cancelled at the end of 1984.

Dark Shadows, which originally aired on ABC from 1966 until 1971, also followed the novela model with short duration, self-contained storylines, often set in different historical time periods. I began watching it reruns in 1982 and eventually saw almost every one of the 1,276 episodes that were produced. I even ended up working for the actor who played the vampire Barnabas Collins when I was in high school and college. But that's a story for another day.

In addition to Dark Shadows and Edge of Night, at one time or another I regularly watched Another World, Texas (AW's spin-off, a Dallas ripoff), Guiding Light, As the World Turns, Search for Tomorrow, Santa Barbara and Peyton Place (daytime reruns of what had been the first-ever nighttime soap).

When I tell people that, at one point in my life, I watched four hours of soap operas every day, they look at me like I'm a survivor of child abuse. Yes, my mother got me hooked when she went back to work as a quilting teacher and I was instructed to watch her "stories" after school and report on what happened.

But, If anything, these shows brought us closer, even when my reporting job was outsourced to a shiny new videocassette recorder in 1979. When we had nothing else in common, we still had our soaps. In high school, when I was going through epic battles with my mother, we'd call a truce to watch
The Edge of Night on the VCR during primetime. Then we'd go back to fighting. No wonder my father used to go to bed early.

I haven't watched a soap opera regularly since Another World was cancelled in 1999. I was a viewer of that show on and off for more than 20 years, and many of the same characters (and actors) remained in front-burner storylines for the whole time. I could stop watching for a few years, pick it up again and still be familiar with the characters and their histories. It was like visiting old friends. And yes, I fully realize how absurd that sounds.

I've been thinking a lot about soap operas since my mother died.

Even though she had fully weened herself from her habit in the latter years of her life, my mother would always mention something soap-related when we would talk on the phone. She saw "the actress who used to play (fill in the blank)" in a new movie. Or "do you remember the time that so-and-so killed what's-his-name?"

Each of the soaps we watched contained an entire universe of characters (and actors) that we came to care about over the course of decades. You don't just forget those people when they go away, any more than you forget a family member when she fades to black for the last time.


I haven't forgotten, and that's in part why I've caught the novela bug. I'm not going to start watching General Hospital or something and commit myself to an hour each day for the rest of my life. But it's fun every now and then to get caught up with the soap opera format, to remember what it was like to run home from school every day to see what happened to Mac and Rachel, or Raven and Sky.

And so, I watch telenovelas like the fabulously named Mañana Es Para Siempre at the gym each night, while sweating away on the cross trainer and doing my best to stay healthy. And all the while I remember my mother sitting on the couch, sewing, watching Another World.

And I think to myself, "Mommy would really have liked this show."

2.24.2009

MY 50-INCH SECRET

Okay, I'm going to tell you guys this because I know you're my friends and you wont judge me.

I bought a 50" plasma TV. That's right I bought a gi-fucking-gantic flat screen TV in the middle of a Recession -- nay, perhaps even a Depression. And not just that. I also got a Playstation 3 and an HD TiVo.

This is the most exciting news I've had in years and yet I can't tell anybody.

Everybody at work is getting laid off, or their hours are being cut back, and here I am dropping mad coin on high end home electronics. And I couldn't announce it to all my Facebook friends because most of them are freelancers, like me. But unlike me, most of them aren't working right now.


It's hard to read the "I NEED WORK!" status updates and follow that up with, "Will is watching Lost in HD on his 50" plasma and trying not to cum in his sweatpants."

I'm serious, though. This HD thing is the real deal. The difference between standard def and high def is like the difference between a girl from the Emperor's Club VIP and and an 11th Avenue trannie with Lupus. (That, of course, is a purely hypothetical comparison, just in case anybody I work with is reading this. I've never fucked anybody with Lupus.)

The first movie Maggie and I watched in HD was WALL-E -- ordered on demand from the Playstation Network -- and it looked sharper, crisper and more colorful than the projected image at a movie theater.
(And trust me, that wasn't just the weed talking.)

Which leads me to my next point: the movies-on-demand issue. I've been writing about this for years, about how the technology exists for every piece of recorded media to be accessible on your TV, via a broadband connection to the internet. But because cable companies like Time Warner own the pipe into your house, they've done their corporate best to squelch these developments. Why? Because it means less profit for them, and their shareholders.

Once again, corporate greed fucks up America. Are we sensing a pattern here?

Time Warner did everything they could to talk us out of TiVo, and then, once we bought it, to make the installation process as difficult as possible. Basically, TiVo is a DVR your buy which replaces the DVR that you rent each month from your cable company. So Time Warner loses money there. With a TiVo box, you just insert a cable card from your provider to make it work, and you get rid of the cable box. More lost revenue. But most importantly, without your cable box you can't buy Pay-Per-View movies, sporting events or pornography. And that's where the cable company's lose biggest. And they are fighting that.

"Are you prepared to lose your pay-per-view?" a Time Warner rep asked me on the phone.

"No," I said. "I'm just prepared to stop paying Time Warner for it."

Because the fact is, with TiVo I get access to way more content on-demand than Time Warner ever gave me. Right on our box we have access to every Watch it Now title in our Netflix queue. Once we select it on the Netflix website, the movie magically appears on our TiVo box. We can watch it once or 1,000 times. And we pay nothing more than the Netflix membership fee we were already paying for the DVDs we got in the mail. Absolutely amazing.

We also get Amazon on Demand, with a far greater selection of movies and TV shows available for far less than the cable company charges for their limited content. In the last few weeks I've watched the rare, original pilot for the the 1960s TV series Lost in Space and the 1970 feature film House of Dark Shadows on Amazon. Obscure titles like those will never appear on Time Warner.


I also get You Tube on my TiVo, which means I have access to every video that I add to my You Tube playlist -- right there on my TV. From Betty Boop cartoons to cute kitty videos, it's all there. And also free.

Going from Time Warner to TiVo feels like it did when I went from AOL to my first internet service provider a decade ago. It's like a whole new gigantic world of possibility.

And yet, I can't tell anyone about it. So I must muffle my screams of joy, and drag my feet into the office each morning with an appropriately mournful expression. And all I do all day is watch the clock, waiting for the minute where I can rush home and watch Humphrey Bogart movies on-demand.

Those of you who know my financial history may be wondering how I pulled this off. After all, I have no working credit cards and nearly $40,000 in existing debt. The fact is, while I may have bought the TV, my father is the one who paid for it. It was my Christmas gift. But telling friends who are unemployed and can't pay their rent that, not only am I working, I'm also getting free 50" plasma TVs?

Trust me, that doesn't make it any easier.

2.22.2009

ME & THE MOVIES: A CLARIFICATION

I've been to a number of social events recently where the topic of my unusual taste in movies has come up.

I wrote about this previously, but I feel the need to clarify my position, once and for all (hopefully).


While I do prefer old movies, I do not dislike current movies. I dislike going to see current movies in movie theaters. This seems to me to be a somewhat logical position. But when people hear that I have essentially stopped going to mainstream movie theaters they often look at me with a mixture of shock and befuddlement.

"You don't go to the movies?" they say, with a sadness in the voice usually reserved for victims of natural disaster.

"I didn't say that," I clarify. "I go to the movies all the time. I just don't really go to see current movies anymore."

"Why?" they ask, still baffled. "Have you seen Slumdog Millionaire? It's really good."

I have no doubt that Slumdog Millionaire is really good. I'm pretty sure that I would enjoy watching it, and I feel the same way about Milk, Frost/Nixon, The Wrestler and most of the Oscar-nominated movies this year.

But I have a finite number of chances to go to the movies nowadays, and I would rather use those opportunities to support theaters like Film Forum and the Loews Jersey in Jersey City -- small, independently owned and operated venues that serve classic film buffs with smart, fun and innovative programs.

Honestly, I have lost the ability to enjoy seeing a mainstream movie in a gigantic, sticky-floored, hangar-like, concrete bunker-style chain theater. I find the whole process to be frustrating and depressing.

Just today, in fact, I broke my de facto no current movies rule and went with my girlfriend Maggie to see Coraline at the Regal Union Square in Manhattan. We chose a 12:15 PM show in hopes of avoiding the young crowds of chatting, texting, cellphone-gabbing idiots that we normally find at a Friday or Saturday date night flick.


Good news: nobody was talking on their cellphones at Coraline. I guess those people all went to see Madea Goes to Jail instead. But what we did have was an overweight, pre-teen girl sitting next to Maggie, loudly eating cellophane-bagged, smuggled-in snacks for the entire duration of the picture.

It was dark, so I could really see what this poor creature was eating. But it sounded to me like bag after bag of roasted chestnuts from a sidewalk pushcart vendor. Roasted chestnuts are great on an open fire (or so I've heard), but not so great when you have to listen to a future Type 2 Diabetes-sufferer chain-eat them like a stoner in a Doritos factory. And pay $15 for the privilege.

That's right $15. The movies may be the so-called "cheapest form of entertainment" during our living epic called Great Depression II: Back on the Breadline, but Hollywood has realized that 3-D=3 extra Dollars per ticket. At least. Sometimes it's more.

And that's the only reason we went to see Coraline in the theater. I may have a 50" plasma at home, but I still can't watch movies in 3-D. Nor can I sit next to Maggie and listen to her shush some ignorant tween 12 times in the course of a 90-minute film -- each time, apparently, with absolutely no success.

Last summer I took my visiting nieces Emily and Laura to see Kit Kittredge: An American Girl on a Friday afternoon out on Long Island. We sat in the back row. In the middle of the movie (which was pretty good, by the way), a guy a few rows ahead of me pulled out his Blackberry and started clicking away. I gave him a minute but, when the device stayed out -- creating this distracting blue halo around him -- I got up and walked over to his seat.

"Can you put that away, please?" I asked, and then headed back to my row as undistractingly as possible. I never gave the guy a chance to respond but, if I had, I'm sure he would have been a dick about it. Those guys always are dicks about it.

He probably would have said something like, "Oh, I'm sorry if I'm distracting you from this movie based on a line of dolls for little girls," or something equally dickish. And then I would have been even more of a dick in return. I know the way this goes down. It's been happening to me at the movies for my entire adult life.

And that's why I like to go to theaters that cater to film aficionados. Yes, it's about the movies those theaters show, but it's also about the audiences to which they cater. As a rule, people at Film Forum, for instance, are more more reverent when it comes to the moviegoing experience. They respect the art of moviemaking and moviegoing in a way that someone attending Friday the 13th doesn't -- and perhaps shouldn't.

So, as a point of clarification, I'm not one of these aging weirdos who think that all current popular media is "not as good as it used to be, back in the old days when (fill in the blank)." I have always been, and remain, a fan of popular entertainment. What I am not a fan of, however, are the people who consume popular entertainment - or the venues in which it is consumed.

Yes, Slumdog Millionaire will probably win the Oscar for Best Picture tonight. And no, I will not have seen it when it does. But I will see it, once it comes out on Blu-Ray.

And there will be no Blackberry usage, awkward altercations
or roasted chestnut consumption, unless it's part of the plot.

2.20.2009

SEPARATED AT BIRTH?

2.19.2009

SAVING MOVIE HISTORY 10 MINUTES AT A TIME

My interview with film preservationist Ron Hutchinson is in the current editions of The Villager, Chelsea Now and Downtown Express here in New York.

Hutchinson is the founder of the Vitaphone Project, an organization that is restoring some of the earliest "talking pictures" in movie history. And I'm going to see a screening of the restored shorts at Film Forum this afternoon.

You can read the story here.

I'm also quoted on the Film Forum website, which you can see here.

2.18.2009

FURTHER PROOF THAT I AM ACTUALLY A REPORTER

That's me, interviewing Eric Harvey, youngest son of Harvey Comics founder Alfred Harvey, last month at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in SoHo. I'm the one with the notebook and tape recorder.

You can read my story here.

Thanks to Mark Arnold for this picture.

2.17.2009

WHERE THERE'S A WILL, THERE'S SOME PAY!

The entire world is in financial free fall. Except me.

I'm not bragging. But it's true. I'm doing better now than ever. So how is it that I have skated unscathed through the financial shrapnel, while once-wealthy bankers dive head-first into the Wall Street pavement like Michael Phelps after a dorm-room bong hit?

Wouldn't you like to know? Of course you would! And now, you can.

For years, the secrets to my financial success have been shared with only a lucky few (my girlfriend and her cats). But now, you too can follow my long-term blueprint for financial success:

Where There's A Will, There's Some PAY!®

FACT - If you don't have a job, you can't get laid off!

Employers are sacking American workers at rates not seen since the (First?) Great Depression. And those who still have jobs are wracked with worry every day, fearful they will be the next to feel the financial axe. But I have never worried about being laid off, because I have never had a job.

It's true. Next January I will celebrate my 20th anniversary as a freelance worker. I will also celebrate my 20th anniversary of Independence. Sure, I've never had an employer cover the expenses for my medical benefits. And no, I've never had a paid vacation or even a paid sick day. But that $300 check I write each month for health insurance -- that's the ransom I pay for my freedom.

If I don't like where I'm working, I don't go back. If they don't like me, they tell me not to come back. Or they deactivate my security card! Same diff. The point is, it's the perfect, commitment-free working relationship. Nobody is stuck with anything -- or anybody -- they don't want to be stuck with!

You hate your boss? Too bad. I hate my boss? I get another boss. Boo yah!

Are there drawbacks to being a freelancer? Of course. There's always the potential that the work will dry up. But if you do it right, you can build up freelance stability. And no, that's not an oxymoron. There's even a name for it. It's called perma-lance.

I have had at least 3 companies over the years that have hired me, often back-to-back, for years on end. Some years (many, in fact) my entire income has come from one company. But they only have to pay me if there's work, and I can take a break whenever I like. Or never go back. It's my choice!


And, as more and more salaried staffers are being cut (as is the case at my current perma-lance client), many industries will rely more heavily than ever on freelancers! Contrary to what the mainstream media is telling you, now is the best time to be unemployed! It's like you've been given a second chance -- to do it right!

FACT -- If you don't have a life savings, you can't lose a life savings!

The average 401(k) account holder has lost 40% of their net worth in the financial collapse -- and many have done even worse. This is a tragedy. But I don't have a 401(k). I don't have a stock portfolio. I don't even have a savings account!

No tragedy here, thank you very much!


Irresponsible, you say? A bad way to plan for the future? Tell that to people who have worked their butts off for years -- nay, decades -- at jobs they hate and now have absolutely nothing to show for it (other than psychological problems, kids in community college and early-stage divorce proceedings).

Their portfolios have tanked. The houses they bought as investments have plummeted in value, often to less than the price they paid to buy them. A life's worth of work, gone in the moistened blink of a tear-filled eye! But not me. I've made my money, and I've enjoyed my money. Done and done.

Not only that, I've actually
spent more money than I've made -- which leads me to my next point...

FACT -- Banks will let you off the financial hook!

I will admit something to you, because I feel like we've developed a good relationship. I currently have $38,867 in credit card debt. That sounds like a lot, doesn't it? But what if I told you it was once as high as $75,000? And what if I told you I cut that balance in half -- BUT NOT BY PAYING IT OFF!

The fact is, if you build up credit card debt and then stop paying the bills, most banks are remarkably okay with that! In fact, if you ignore their calls and letters long enough, some of them will actually forget about the money you owe them! It's true. It's called a "write-off." And the banks that don't forget will often let you settle your account for way less than you owe!

For example, I paid $2,000 for a Macbook a few years ago, using a major credit card. Then I stopped paying the bill on that credit card. Two years later, the bank offered me a settlement of less than 50% of my balance, which I gladly accepted. That means I paid half-price for my computer -- and everything else I bought using that card! Sweet.

Right now you're probably thinking, "Sure Will, you got a great deal on your computer, but you've ruined your credit rating for life!" Wrong. The fact is, many Americans aren't paying their bills right now. If you don't believe me, just pick up a newspaper -- if you can still afford one. The fact is, just about everyone has fallen behind on payments of all sorts. Non-payment has become the New Normal. But when the smoke from this Near-Depression finally clears, do you think banks and lenders are going to hold a grudge against the entire country?

Of course they won't. When we come out of this -- and we will -- it's going to be clean slates, all around. It has to be. It will be forgive and forget, and then we'll start the whole cycle over again. That's the miracle of free market capitalism!

What if I'm wrong? What if my credit rating truly is ruined for life?

Well, I think of it like this: I have no intention of ever buying a house, a car or anything that will require a large loan. Why would I do that? So I can fall into the same trap that every other American has fallen into? So I can be forced to work harder, longer and more desperately, just so I can buy more things, and take on car payments and mortgages? Ha! That's what got us into this mess in the first place!
I'm no sucker.

Five years from now, those pre-paid, low interest credit card offers will be filling America's mailboxes again, just like they did in the go-go early aughts. They have to. Forced lending is built into the stimulus package! Yes we can! And, we will, Mr. President. Oh yes, we will.

And if I'm wrong? Okay, I'm on my own. I like being on my own. I'm very comfortable with being on my own. Self sufficiency is what makes this country great. And I am a great American!

FINAL SUPER-SECRET FACT -- Freelancers can get Unemployment benefits!

Shhh! Don't let this get out, but if you develop a perma-lance relationship with a company, and the work dries up, you can file for Unemployment! It's true. Even though the company may not look at you as an employee, the government often does, which means you get the best of both worlds!

At my current perma-lance gig, I often have a few weeks off between projects. Each time that happens, I re-file for Unemployment. If I plan it right, I can get $405 per week to be on vacation! Who said freelancers don't get paid vacations? Oh yeah, I did. But we do!

Here's a tip: filing for Unemployment from your freelance (or even perma-lance) client can be a great way to ruin a good thing. I suggest that you do this only with approval from the higher-ups. Or, even better, perma-lance for companies that use a third-party payroll service (like I do). Then, the folks who do the hiring at your office will never even know that you've filed. This is not cheating! This is totally ethical and 100% legal!

In summation, I understand the dire straights that many Americans are in right now. And I feel bad about it, I really do. But those Wall Street fat cats gamed the system for years! And now it's time to ask yourself one question: WHERE'S MY PIECE OF THE ACTION?!

Now is the time for the American worker to get smart! Get out there and start hustling!

Because...
Where There's A Will, There's Some PAY!®

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Your experience may vary. Will McKinley will not let you move in with him if you get evicted from your home, or drive you to Wal-Mart if your vehicle gets repossessed.

2.16.2009

A VERY DORKY VALENTINE'S DAY (NIGHT)

Saturday night Maggie and I celebrated Valentine's Day at my favorite movie theater with a double feature of classic screwball comedies from the 1930s.

Actually, I was the only one who attended both ends of the double feature. Maggie joined me for the second half, which meant that I went to the movies at 8 PM on Valentine's Night by myself.

I imagined that couples were whispering to each other about me while we all waited on line.

"Look at that dude," the copiously pierced, disinterested-looking hipster girl might have said to her scruffy-bearded, woolen-cap-wearing-while-still-inside boyfriend. "He's fat, bald and 40 and he's alone on Valentine's Night."

I always feel like people are staring at me, or pointing and laughing -- particularly women -- but it was particularly acute while standing on that line. So I rooted my Apple In-Ear headphones as deep into my auditory canals as they would go without drawing blood, cranked up my podcast of The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor and stared intently at the editorial page of The New York Times.

Then I caught my reflection in the glass doorway. I was wearing fraying sneakers and an over-stuffed backpack, reading the newspaper and listening to my headphones. Alone. On line at a revival house. On Valentine's Night.

It takes a particular type of person to pull that off, and I am he. Apparently.

Even though I knew my girlfriend would be joining me later, I couldn't help but feel like a loser. Objectively, I know that I'm not a loser. I know I have a pretty cool life and have done (and still do) pretty cool things. But once you have been a loser -- or have been considered to be a loser and had those considerations shared with you -- you always keep a piece of it inside. It lessens over time, but it's always there.

They say the same thing about people who lose a lot of weight. They always keep that sense of other-ness with them, informing everything they do and don't do.

Even though nobody has called me a loser since high school, I can't totally shake the feeling. Objectively, I know that my less-than-cool status from 1982-86 was based upon my rejection of the conventional path, and that those who travel on their own road are often ridiculed for it. That's why so many people do everything the same way as everyone else. Most of us can't tolerate rejection. It's easier to think like everyone else, to do what they do and be accepted. Even if it doesn't feel right, deep down inside.

But I embrace being different. And I am very comfortable with the fact that most people who know me probably still think I'm weird. I'm a little less militantly odd now than I was a quarter century ago, but I'm still pretty fucking odd. And I'm proud of that.

But still, on Valentine's Night, it was hard to unfurl the freak flag with the same level of confidence that I might normally do it. Part of me wanted to yank out my headphones, fold up my copy of The Times and break into conversation with the girl in front of me.

"Excuse me, but that's a nice jacket," I imagined I'd say. "Yeah. My girlfriend would really like that jacket. Her name is Maggie, my girlfriend Maggie. I just call her Maggie, though. Actually, I don't ever call her Maggie. I call her Fresh, but that's a long story."

Undaunted by silence, I would continue.

"Yup. She's, like, 10 years younger than me and shit and she really likes funky stuff because she is young and hip. So I'll have to show your jacket to my girlfriend Maggie when she gets here in time for the second movie. She had to babysit her niece and nephew, which is why I'm alone right now. But we are definitely going to have sex later. That is 100% guaranteed. I've already gotten her assurance that we will. I mean, not that I need to ask her in advance, or anything. We have tons of sex and it's always totally spontaneous. And freaky, it's definitely freaky. I mean, not in a weird or gross way, or anything. Well. Okay. It's been really great talking to you. I'm going to go back to my poetry podcast now. Happy Valentine's Day."

2.13.2009

MY MOVIE LIST

I keep track of all the movies I watch on an Excel spreadsheet.

Wherever I see a film - in a theater, on TV, on a plane, on my iPhone, whatever - I add it to my list, along with the year it was released and the top 3 or 4 stars in the picture. Kinda OCD-ish, I readily admit. But, on the plus side, I can tell you every movie I've watched since March 20, 2007, who's in it and when it came out.

You might ask, "Why is that a good thing, Will? Shouldn't you just sit back and enjoy the movies you watch, without feeling the need to chronicle every one of them on a computer?" To that I say the following: everybody has their own unique way of enjoying life.

For example, I don't ridicule you for drinking too much cheap liquor, or eating at Applebee's or paying to see Kate Hudson movies, do I? Okay, maybe I do. Actually, I definitely do. Sorry about that. So that's probably not a good example. But you get my point.

Anyway, my list gives me an enormous sense of accomplishment and pride. My unofficial goal is to see every significant, pre-1980 movie before I die, and I am well on the way (to my goal, not to dying. I hope.)

Of course, if I do end up dying sooner than expected, I will have to adjust my plan. Or buy a coffin with a plasma screen installed on the inside of the lid, and a DVR pre-loaded with the flicks I never got to see while still alive.

Yes, this would be cheating. But I'm dead, so screw you. I make the rules.

But let's think positively. For a change. Assuming I live an average life span, I will have another 40 years or so to reach my quota. By that point I may even get through all 3+ hours of Otto Preminger's Exodus, which has been stalled at #27 on my Netflix queue for years now.

Another great thing about my list is that it allows me to celebrate certain milestones, and to share them for you, my loyal readers. For example, last night I watched Rouben Mamoulian's 1931 version of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde starring Fredric March. This was the 200th movie I have watched in less than two years. Sounds like a lot, doesn't it?

See, I told you. A sense of accomplishment.

Also, my list allows me to track my favorite decades in motion picture history, based upon the number of films I have watched from those years. For example, I've loved movies from the '40s since I was a little kid, growing up on Long Island and setting my alarm clock for The Late Late Show.

My list proves that I have the same taste in movies at age 40 that I did at age 10. In the last 23 months I've watched 74 movies that were originally released between 1940 and 1949, the highest per-decade total on my spreadsheet. (My favorite year, apparently, was 1941 with 15 films.)

Here are my other totals, by decade:

1920s - 8 (all silent - this number needs to increase)
1930s - 35
1940s - 74
1950s - 25
1960s - 17
1970s - 27
1980s - 5
1990s - 3
2000s - 6*

The asterisk indicates that one of the 6 films contemporary films I have watched in the last 2 years was Who is Normal Lloyd, a documentary about an actor who appeared in Hitchcock's Saboteur in 1942. But because it was theatrically released in 2007, I have to include it in the aughts.

These totals bring no surprises, at least not to me. No, I have not seen any of the Oscar nominees. Sorry Slumdog Millionaire fans! The last current film I saw in a theater was Kit Kittridge: An American Girl last summer, with my two nieces, age 6 and 9. And that film was set in the '30s.

Are you sensing a trend here?

I have a strong bias against movies released since 1980 and that is confirmed by the numbers. Interestingly, I like movies from the '70s much more than the '60s, even though it's later in history. I find the 1960s to be something of an awkward transitional period in movie history (particularly the early part of the decade) and I think Hollywood had it figured out by 1970 (actually, 1968) -- only to lose it's way after Star Wars ruined everything in 1977.

Funny, I've always identified Star Wars as my favorite film of all time. But at this point I look at Star Wars as a watershed in movie history, the point when movies went from being generally good to generally bad. I acknowledge that this is an over-simplification, but we can debate that another time.

In summation, I advise anyone who is a film buff to keep a list like mine. Over time, you may discover patterns and habits that will help you learn more about yourself and the movies you love.

And it will help to quiet the demons that torment you from the inside, if only for a minute or two. Or maybe that's just me.

11 year-old me (right) and the family, all dressed as Groucho Marx
Oct. 31, 1980

2.10.2009

MY BIRTHDAY PARTY IN 1971

Me, in the middle. Mesmerized by the Power of KFC.

2.09.2009

TV TROUBLE AT NEW YORK SPORTS CLUB

I switched my gym membership to New York Sports Club last summer, after many years as a member of a fancy "fitness club" called Equinox.

The change saves me about $100 per month, which is a good thing in these troubled economic times. Plus I don't have to deal with all those annoying celebrities.


Yes, I'm talking to you
Keifer Sutherland. And Julianne Moore, Keri Russell, Matthew Broderick, Bebe Neuwirth, Tatum Oneal, Olympia Dukakis, Leilei Sobieski and (I think) the first Bachelor guy.

The NYSC location I frequent on 14th Street has a pleasant, non-poser vibe with lots of young, seemingly creative types and a generally pleasant staff. But I do have one complaint, and it has to do with the TVs.

It's not the TVs, themselves, which are fine. Each cardio machine has its own monitor, which I love. My problem lies with what's on the TVs, particularly when I watch my favorite cable news channel MSNBC.

New York Sports Club seems to insert their own commercials into the MSNBC programs, which would be okay if the commercials were not so horrendously cheesy. I usually plan my work-out so I can watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann. So now, every night at 10 PM (ET), I have to endure a litany of poorly produced, badly written 1-800 type spots for all manner of low-rent products.

For example:

1) SunSetter Retractable Awnings (for your patio or deck)

I live in New York City. I don't have a patio or a deck. I only just recently got a bedroom. So I don't really need an awning, retractable or otherwise. Maybe I will if I ever open a deli, but my sister is the one who's Korean, not me. So it's unlikely that will happen any time in the near future.

2) Video Professor
A white-haired guy with a moustache tries to sell you (or your mom, more likely) computer training on a CD-ROM. I'm sorry, did you say a CD-ROM? Order now and get a free page-a-day desk calendar from 1998.

3) Crazy Fox "home-based business"


An animated fox with a funny voice claims you can stay home and make thousands of dollars a week. I think that's called "prostitution." Do we really need instruction for that?

4) Timeshares Only


"Turn your time share into cash!" the ad proclaims. I know the best way to turn your time share into cash -- don't buy it in the first place. Phew. That was easy.

5) Right Size diet plan


Steve and Scott want to help you lose some weight, because that's the kind of guys they are. And all you have to do is buy a bottle of "revolutionary" smoothie mix for $54.80. And a bottle of vitamins for $29.80 And a "Travel Blender" for $29.95. And some sugar-free syrup. And a syrup pump. And...

You are guaranteed to lose at least one pound every month -- but only if you pay in Susan B. Anthony silver dollars.

So beware if you're an MSNBC fan and you switch to NYSC. Or just be prepared to do what I do: switch over to Spanish soap operas during the commercial breaks.

By the way, what's a puta?

2.06.2009

ONCE AGAIN THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

From 1976 until 1982 I collected Richie Rich comic books.

Correction: from 1976 until 2009, because I still have all of them - more than 1,200, wrapped up in acid-free plastic bags, sealed away in archival boxes.

By the time I was 10 I had developed a number of passionate interests that remain with me today. I don't know what that says about the 10-year-old (or the 40-year-old) me, but it's fascinating to realize how firmly my dye had been cast at age 10. Richie Rich comics, the Mets, the Marx Bros., black & white movies, classic cartoons like Looney Tunes and Popeye - I still enjoy all of those things today and, in some cases, more than ever.

I look at my niece Emily, who turned 10 in November, and wonder if the same will hold true for her. Has she already developed interests that will stay with her whole life? I hope so, because I have gotten a lot of joy for a lot of years from these things. And the continuity has served as a touchstone throughout the various eras of my life.

One of the great things about my career as an arts reporter is that it's given me a chance to write about things I love, and to share them with readers. And now I've gotten a chance to do that again.

I have a story called There's a g-g-ghost in Soho! in this week's edition of The Villager. The piece promotes an exhibit of original art from Harvey Comics at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in Lower Manhattan. Harvey Comics was the publisher of Richie Rich, Casper (thus the title of the article), Hot Stuff and many other classics.

A few weeks ago I attended the opening reception, and got a chance to interview the three sons of the company's founder, as well as a few of the original artists who worked on the comics.

"Wow, you really know a lot about the comics," one of the artists said to me.

And yes, I told all of them about my collection -- after the interviews. After all, I have to maintain some journalistic credibility.

You can read the story here.

A few pieces from the Will McKinley Archives.

2.04.2009

ADD THIS TO YOUR NETFLIX QUEUE PLEASE

Last night I went to see The Panic in Needle Park, the 1971 classic about junkie love, at Film Forum here in New York.

I had never seen the film before, which is surprising, considering that:

a) I love old movies;
b) I particularly love old movies that take place in New York City;
c) I particularly love old movies that take place in New York City in the 1970s;
d) I particularly love old movies that take place in New York City in the 1970s and are shot primarily on the streets and involve drug selling and/or abusing.

This film gave Al Pacino his first big break in talkies, and it's fun to watch him long before he perfected the scenery-chewing schtick that has provided endless manna for three decades of nightclub impressionists.

This movie is dark and dirty and ugly and hard to watch. Boy the '70s were an ugly decade weren't they? The cars, buses, license plates, street signs, clothes, hairdos, restaurants -- everything was dull and drab and ugly. Or maybe, everything had always been ugly and Hollywood was just lying to us.

Pacino is great as is his co-star, Kitty Winn, who plays a sweet Mid-Western girl who falls for Pacino and then falls for his junk. And the ending is perfect, out Sopranos-ing The Sopranos three and half decades before David Chase placed a hex on HBO that they still haven't recovered from.

After the screening, director Jerry Schatzberg, cinematographer Adam Holender and surprise guest Kitty Winn answered questions from the typically well-informed Film Forum audience.

Following the Q&A I corned D.P. Adam Holender in the lobby to talk shop.

"How do you handle shooting coverage on the streets of New York City, when the din of the street sounds makes it so hard to match sound, take-to-take and angle-to angle?" I asked him (or something hip and insider-y like that).

"I trust my sound department," he said. And then went on to tell me that, on Panic, he shot most of the outside stuff in wide master shots and didn't do much close-up coverage. This mitigated the issue of trying to intercut close-ups into a master with disparate street sound. It also helped the actors, since director Schatzberg was trying to achieve a pseudo-doc feel.

"When we did cut we changed the angle dramatically," he said, which served to momentarily distract the audience and cover the cut.

"Thanks you so much for coming and for answering questions," I said, shaking his hand. "Great work."

By the way, the show was sold out. On a Tuesday night in February. After it had been snowing all day. Have I told lately how much I love Film Forum?

Thanks to Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum's Repertory Programmer, for another well-conceived, relevant program.

Kitty Winn and Al Pacino plan their next score in "The Panic in Needle Park."

2.03.2009

TIM AND ERIC AWESOME SHOW - LIVE! (AND NOT SO AWESOME)

Friday night Maggie and I went to see the Tim and Eric Awesome Show live tour at the Nokia Theater in Times Square. It was fun, but not nearly as awesome as I hoped.

Tim (Heidecker) and
Eric (Wareheim) are famous(?) for their bizarre, 15-minute sketch show on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, which begins its fourth season on February 8. It's a baffling mix of meta comedy, quirky personalities and what I would describe as video art -- and it's often eye-wateringly funny (at least to me).

The best moments of the TV show are the pitch-perfect parodies of 80's video graphics and low-rent, public access-style post-production techniques, some of which I remember from my own career (which puts me way out of the demographic for the show).
Tim and Eric Awesome Show might be the first show that I would describe as "video editorial humor."

And that was the problem with the live show. In person, Tim and Eric and their weirdo supporting players were entertaining, but the best moments of the live show took place on the giant video screen. During those moments it felt like 2,200 people had gathered together to buy $10 cans of beer and watch a TV show together. Awkward.

My other issue with the show was the reliance on pooh-pooh jokes. The first two bits both were entirely pooh-based and, while I enjoy scatology as much as the next guy, I find it generally to be a lazy way to get a laugh. And any comic knows that the first two bits should never be on the same topic, particularly when that topic is shit.


For me, the high point of the evening came before the show actually began. Opening act DJ Douggpound rocked the mic with re-mixes of the Seinfeld theme, sound samples from NPR shows like Morning Edition and Marketplace and notable quotables like, "Put this in your sound pussies." F'in hilarious and totally original.

The low point came before we even walked in, when the assholes who run the Nokia Theater required 2,200 people to line up east on 44th Street, then north on Broadway, then west on 45th Street almost to 8th Avenue in the frigid cold for like, an hour and a half.


And, at every given opportunity, the staff were complete dicks. I get it, guys. You're bouncers. You gotta be tough and all that. But money is tight nowadays and, eventually, unemployed hipsters may not choose to give $50 of their hard-earned unemployment checks to a bunch of thick-necked tools.
Just sayin.

2.02.2009

WHAT'S UP?

I had another piece in both the Villager and Downtown Express a few weeks back, but I never posted a link to it. So here it is.

I love the way my stories look in the paper and I still get excited to see my name in print -- even after 2 years and nearly 100 bylines . But I hate the way they look on-line. They're just so blah.

I've started to look into setting up a new website where I will write blog posts and archive my favorite published stories, as hi-res pdf's. Then I can have someone re-lay out my stories exactly as they look in the printed paper, with color photos, etc. I'll keep you updated on that.

In the meantime, since I have been tardy in posting to the blog recently, I invite anybody reading this to friend me on Facebook. I know a lot of people are reluctant to join because it feels a little too Middle School-y. I was the same way, for a long time, but I have found it to be a really good way to keep in touch with people and to post pictures and videos.

I'm also on Twitter now. In Twitter parlance, my user name is @willmckinley. Aren't you impressed with how techie I am?

And click here to read my Q&A with StoryCorps founder Dave Isay, from the January 7-13 edition of The Villager. I've got another story coming out on Thursday, a feature about Harvey Comics, the company that published Richie Rich and Casper comic books. I'll post a link to that when it's up.

I know you'll be counting the days until then.