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Geostorm

God knows how many millions of dollars and hours of manpower went into making and remaking Geostorm but it turns out to have been all…

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Same Kind of Different as Me

It can be hard to disagree with the heart and events of this true tale, except for when the movie reveals itself to be mighty…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Marilyn Monroe and Carl Sandburg

Our house in Michigan is close to one Carl Sandburg lived in for 20 years on the shore of Lake Michigan. On his birthday, I went searching on the web for footage of him reading his poetry, and to my surprise found none. I know he appeared often on television. Something will probably turn up. I did however find this video, put together from photographs of a meeting between Sandburg and Marilyn Monroe. Photo montages don't often do much for me, but this one had something. A sweetness. Two lovely people.

My introduction to the film criticism of Carl Sandburg. Carl Sandburg: The Harbert Years . Then I found this. The voice is Sandburg's.

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February 3, 1959: The day the music died

• • "American Pie" is a folk rock song by singer-songwriter Don McLean.Recorded and released on the American Pie album in 1971, the single was a number-one U.S. hit for four weeks in 1972. A re-release in 1991 did not chart in the U.S., but reached number 12 in the UK. The song is an abstract story surrounding "The Day the Music Died" -- the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr.), as well as the pilot, Roger Peterson.

The importance of "American Pie" to America's musical and cultural heritage was recognized by the Songs of the Century education project which listed the song as the number five song of the twentieth century. Some Top 40 stations initially played only side two of the single, but the song's popularity eventually forced stations to play the entire piece. "American Pie" is Don McLean's signature song. •

• The song is well known for its cryptic lyrics that have long been the subject of curiosity and speculation. Although McLean dedicated the American Pie album to Buddy Holly, none of the musicians in the plane crash are identified by name in the song itself. When asked what "American Pie" meant, McLean replied, "It means I never have to work again." Later, he more seriously stated,

"You will find many interpretations of my lyrics but none of them by me... sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence."

McLean has generally avoided responding to direct questions about the song lyrics ("They're beyond analysis. They're poetry.")[3] except to acknowledge that he did first learn about Buddy Holly's death while folding newspapers for his paper route on the morning of February 3, 1959 (the line "February made me shiver/with every paper I'd deliver"). He also stated in an editorial published on the 50th anniversary of the crash in 2009 that writing the first verse of the song exorcised his long-running grief over Holly's death.

Despite this, many fans of McLean, amongst others, have attempted an interpretation (see Interpretation Links); at the time of the song's original release in late 1971, many American AM and FM rock radio stations released printed interpretations and some devoted entire shows discussing and debating the song's lyrics, resulting in both controversy and intense listener interest in the song. Some examples are the real-world identities of the "Jester", "King and Queen", "Satan", "Girl Who Sang the Blues" and other characters referenced in the verses. • From Wikipedia. The full entry is here. • •

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• •Garrison Keillor's thoughts on the radio program Writer's Almanac on the birthday of Buddy Holly. • • • Amazon.com Widgets

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"The Tell-Tale Heart," by Edgar Allan Poe

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The Tell-Tale Heart

Edgar Allan Poe

TRUE! nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why WILL you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How then am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily, how calmly, I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain, but, once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture -- a pale blue eye with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me my blood ran cold, and so by degrees, very gradually, I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye for ever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded -- with what caution -- with what foresight, with what dissimulation, I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night about midnight I turned the latch of his door and opened it oh, so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern all closed, closed so that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly, very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man's sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this? And then when my head was well in the room I undid the lantern cautiously -- oh, so cautiously -- cautiously (for the hinges creaked), I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights, every night just at midnight, but I found the eye always closed, and so it was impossible to do the work, for it was not the old man who vexed me but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he had passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed , to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch's minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers, of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was opening the door little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea, and perhaps he heard me, for he moved on the bed suddenly as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back -- but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness (for the shutters were close fastened through fear of robbers), and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening , and the old man sprang up in the bed, crying out, "Who's there?"

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed, listening; just as I have done night after night hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

Presently, I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief -- oh, no! It was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself, "It is nothing but the wind in the chimney, it is only a mouse crossing the floor," or, "It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp." Yes he has been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions ; but he had found all in vain. ALL IN VAIN, because Death in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel, although he neither saw nor heard, to feel the presence of my head within the room.

When I had waited a long time very patiently without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little -- a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it -- you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily -- until at length a single dim ray like the thread of the spider shot out from the crevice and fell upon the vulture eye.

It was open, wide, wide open, and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness -- all a dull blue with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones, but I could see nothing else of the old man's face or person, for I had directed the ray as if by instinct precisely upon the damned spot.

And now have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses? now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well too. It was the beating of the old man's heart. It increased my fury as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eye. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder, every instant. The old man's terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! -- do you mark me well? I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me -- the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man's hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once -- once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But for many minutes the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence.

I took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly so cunningly, that no human eye -- not even his -- could have detected anything wrong. There was nothing to wash out -- no stain of any kind -- no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that.

When I had made an end of these labours, it was four o'clock -- still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart, -- for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled, -- for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search -- search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My MANNER had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears; but still they sat, and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct : I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definitiveness -- until, at length, I found that the noise was NOT within my ears.

No doubt I now grew VERY pale; but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased -- and what could I do? It was A LOW, DULL, QUICK SOUND -- MUCH SUCH A SOUND AS A WATCH MAKES WHEN ENVELOPED IN COTTON. I gasped for breath, and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly, more vehemently but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why WOULD they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men, but the noise steadily increased. O God! what COULD I do? I foamed -- I raved -- I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder -- louder -- louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly , and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! -- no, no? They heard! -- they suspected! -- they KNEW! -- they were making a mockery of my horror! -- this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! -- and now -- again -- hark! louder! louder! louder! LOUDER! --

"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! -- tear up the planks! -- here, here! -- it is the beating of his hideous heart!"

With thanks to Old Hollywood, which is an extraordinary collection.

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Hef goes West

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This story, found at last, has been long lost in the remote recesses of the Sun-Times archives. I wrote it for Midwest magazine, the paper's old Sunday supplement. For easier reading, there is a plain text version just below.

By Roger Ebert Holmby Hills, California

I. THE ACTUAL WILD GAME

The grounds, I was assured by a Playboy public relations man, make up a 5.1-acre compound. The site is surrounded by a brick fence, penetrated at two points by winding roads which are each three-quarters of a mile in length, one having to wind a bit more than the other to achieve that distance.

Inside the brick wall, he said, "is an actual forest, an actual wooded forest composed of giant redwood trees, and actual wild game roams in the actual park."

Wild game? I said. What kind of wild game?

"We don't know," he said.

You never do, do you? Wasn't it H. P. Lovecraft who suggested that one never knows, really, what lurks in the woods, gathering strength there in the dampness and dark, preparing for the day when it will spring out and gobble up children and little bunny rabbits? Yes.

I imagine maybe one of the first things Hugh Hefner will want to do, after he gets really settled in the Playboy Mansion West, will be to gather about him a hardy band of cronies and stage a safari through that 5.1-acre actual wooded area, identifying, where possible, the wild game that roams there. It will have to be a camera safari, of course, since one is not allowed to discharge firearms within Los Angeles County itself.

II. THE GREENING OF THE RAIN DRAINS

The mansion, I was told, has been appraised at $2 million including the grounds, the two greenhouses and the gardener's cottage. The furnishings are worth another $500,000. The place was designed in 1927 by an architect named Arthur Kelly, who specialized in mansions for the very rich. The difference between the very rich and you and me is that their mansions don't look like other people's mansions.

The mansion was occupied first by a man named Arthur Letts Jr., heir of a department store owner. It belonged most recently to Louis Statham, of the Statham Instruments. For the last 4 1/2 years, it has served as the unofficial hospitality residence of the City of Los Angeles, and the king and queen of Thailand have stayed there.

The mansion has 30 rooms and has been described as sort of Tudor Gothic or, according to Joyce Haber, a cross between Forest Lawn and "The Phantom of the Opera." But to be more specific, the Playboy public relations man painted a word-picture for me:

"It is a handcrafted fortress, with walls 18 inches thick made from reinforced concrete and stone. It has a slate roof, it has turrets, all kinds of turrets in the house, and archways, there's archways all over the place. Doors of golden oak, band-hewn. The rain drains have a kind of a little greenish tint to them because of the age, looking very, very rustic.

You enter the mansion through giant golden oak doors that swing right into the mansion's Great Hall, which is a very great hall. A shimmering crystal chandelier hangs overhead, and when you open the front door and walk in, you step right on an Italian marble floor. Windows extend from the floor to the ceiling... oak paneling is all around you... a Grand Staircase, the focal point of the Great Hall, consists of two separate sets of stairs that are curved from the main level right up to the upper level, forming a sloping, graceful arch, and, hanging right in the middle, there is a very many-tiered chandelier..."

III. WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE CATERPILLARS?

On the evening after the Academy Awards ceremony, I stepped through the band-hewn golden oak doors and paused for a moment on the Italian marble floor. My eyes lifted briefly to the many-tiered chandelier, and then rested on the Grand Staircase, where an assortment of Hefner's guests reclined on the stairs and watched the new arrivals.

This was Hefner's official housewarming for Playboy Mansion West, and there were two bands, two tents (one indoors, one outdoors) and a fire in the fireplace in every room. I walked through the Great Hall and found myself outside the mansion again, in the outdoor tent, where a band was playing and people were lined up three deep at the bar. Over in the distance, beyond the tent, giant orange Caterpillar earthmoving equipment was outlined against the night sky, with floodlights on them. I wandered back inside, and found myself in the living room, or one of the living rooms, talking to Jon Anderson, the columnist.

"Are you writing about this?" he said.

I guess so, I said.

"On deadline, or..."

No, I said, I'll be doing it for Midwest. Probably won't appear for a month or so.

"Good," said Jon. "Then I can show you something."

He led me across the room to the giant fireplace and pointed above it. There was a large reproduction of the "Mona Lisa" on the wall, done in needlepoint with a gold plaque underneath that said, "Barbi Benton - 1970."

Isn't that something, I said.

"We're going to use it in our column," Jon said. "It adds a nice, homey touch to the place, don't you think?"

Sure does, I said. Wilt Chamberlain's belt buckle passed by at eye level.

"It looks like one of those paint-by-number things, only in needlepoint," Jon said.

Wilt Chamberlain certainly is tall, I said.

"Needle-by-number," Jon said. "Or... point-by-point."

I wonder how long it took her, I said.

"It looks pretty complicated," Jon said. "The smile alone..."

Yes, I said, just the smile alone...

"Have you seen her?" Jon said.

Who?

"Barbi."

Not yet, I said. Just then Hugh Hefner himself walked into the room and nodded at everybody.

"Wonderful party, Hef," Jon said.

"Glad you're enjoying yourself," Hefner said. "We were worried right up to the last minute that we'd invited too many people. Then somebody came up with the inspiration of the outside tent, to handle the overflow. Now things are going great."

We nodded, and the three of us looked round the living room. Guests and bunnies and girls you vaguely recognized as former Playmates were all sitting around and, apparently, having great times. Big piles of floor-pillows were stacked here and there, but most everybody was sticking to chairs.

"The one problem with the outside tent," Hefner said, "was what to do about the bulldozers."

I was wondering about them, I said.

"We're digging a swimming pool back there," Hefner said. "Somebody said we should put potted trees in front of them, camouflage them somehow, but we finally decided, the hell with it, why not light them up as modem art or something. So that's what we did."

Somebody grabbed Hefner by the arm to introduce him to fresh guests, and Jon and I wondered back out onto the patio.

"Five centuries of art," Jon said.

What?

"From the 'Mona Lisa' to the Caterpillar."

Which one, I said, do you think will turn into a butterfly first?

"Hard to say," said Jon.

IV. TWO MALE LIONS

I left the tent and strolled alone through a portion of the 5.l-acre grounds. Stone walks surrounded the house, and from the front you could hear the excitement of new arrivals, pouring out of their limousines and Yellow Cabs and hurrying through the giant golden oak doors.

My steps led me some distance from the house, and the sound of the rock band came drifting to me...

Rap... rap... rap... they call him the rapper...

Something caused me to think about a character I hadn't thought of in some time, the Great Gatsby. There's a scene in that novel by Fitzgerald telling of the almost nightly arrival of fresh carloads of guests, all eager to share Jay Gatsby's fabulous hospitality, and to glory in his famous home. Later on in the novel, Gatsby's hospitality comes to a sudden end, but not all the guests get the word, and for several weekends thereafter, cars continue to come out from the city and pull into the silent driveway, and then leave when they see there's no party.

At any given moment in history, I decided, there is a man whose job it is to give famous parties. Sometimes he is a fictional person, sometimes he is real. Sometimes he is the Great Gatsby, sometimes William Randolph Hearst, or Hugh Hefner...

Coming back toward the house, I found myself suddenly in the presence of two stone lions. They flanked a short flight of steps and gazed back toward Los Angeles. They both had manes, which meant they were both males. I decided their names were Bill and Hugh, Bill on the right looking over somewhat curiously at his neighbor.

V. TWO MORE MALE LIONS

Back inside the tent, Ryan O'Neal was leaning against the bar with a drink in his hand and looking out over the tables to the dance floor at the other end of the tent. There was something in his look that seemed peculiar until I got it figured out. Then it seemed understandable enough. Ryan O'Neal wasn't looking out over the crowd. He was in the act of being Ryan O'Neal looking out over the crowd. Does that make any sense? What I mean is, he wasn't really looking; he was aware of himself as Ryan O'Neal, being seen to be looking.

That doesn't say it either, but the hell with it. The fourth lion was Jim Brown, who moved through the crowd with a kind of dangerous grace, attracting a great deal of attention even though he was apparently doing nothing to inspire it. People, were wondering, I suppose, whether he had really thrown that girl off the balcony, etc.

Some people occupy space differently than others. Jim Brown encloses space while Ryan O'Neal merely fills it.

VI. TWICE AS BIG AS ILLINOIS

There were girls everywhere, but they seemed to be filling space like Ryan O'Neal and not like Jim Brown. It occurred to me that a lot of the girls you see at parties like this lack some dimension, the third or the fourth, maybe. They are pretty and they smile, but they're girls, not women.

Why? Because they lack the final measure of self-confidence to be women, I think. The Playboy girl is a commodity, to some degree; she is an image to be packaged and merchandised, as much of a symbol as a Chevrolet or a Baggie. Her success depends upon your acceptance of her. If you like her, if she "turns you on," then she has succeeded. But if she doesn't, then she's failed as everything: Girl, symbol, commodity.

A girl who is uncertain at her core can never be really interesting, no matter how beautiful she may appear to be on the surface. She isn't really there, and that fact frightens her. There were some real women there. Polly Bergen and Edy Williams (two names you might not have expected to come across on the same list) had that dimension. You felt they were people, and knew they were people. But a lot of the Bunnies seemed oddly transparent.

Some people have the notion that a Hefner party is sexy and sensuous and the next thing to a genteel sort of orgy. Hefner's parties are fun, but in an entirely different way than the image would suggest. The food is good, the booze is free and keeps coming, and there are sure to be interesting people there. It's just that, somehow, all these people who look like such good friends when Playboy runs a layout about a Hefner party aren't good friends - have probably just met tonight - and are having a conventionally good time. We've all read about that little room behind the waterfall in Hef's Chicago swimming pool, but what good is the little room when people inside it are clearly visible? A Hefner party is like that little room: You swim beneath the waterfall, but, inside, the lights stay on.

And so, finally, the conversation gets around to Hefner himself (the conversational obsession at most of his own parties), and you wonder whether this turns him on, and how much he enjoys it. My private notion is that he enjoys it a lot; who wouldn't? If I had his fortune, I'd throw parties all the time for my friends. Wouldn't you? I think throwing the parties would be more fun than attending them.

Perhaps that's at the core of Playboy Mansion West: Now there can be great parties in California, just as there have been for years in Chicago, and all of this year's Hollywood people can come and mingle and talk, be photographed by the omnipresent Playboy photographers, eat expensive beef, watch the shrimp cocktail bowl being constantly replenished, name their brand of Scotch, wonder who everybody else is (and who they are) and try not to think about the stone lions.

Wondering down the Grand Staircase, I passed two guests who were talking about the Mansion West.

"How does this place stack up with his other place?" the first guest said.

"This one is twice as big as Illinois" said the second.

"It must be great to have two places," said the first.

"Better than only having one," the second said.

VII. INTRODUCTION IN THE FORM OF A SEQUEL

All these things and thoughts occurred the night after the Academy Awards. On the night before the Academy Awards, there was a big party at Le Bistro, the famous Beverly Hills club.

Hefner came with Barbi on his arm and seemed to be having a great time. Edward G. Robinson, who was also there, offered Hefner some pipe tobacco that, Robinson said, acted as an aphrodisiac. Hefner and Robinson shared a good laugh over that, and then Hefner moved easily through the room, talking to people. The party was crowded and noisy, and there was a band and lots of good things to eat and drink. But by 11 o'clock or so the people started to drift away (they don't stay up late in Hollywood; they're home by midnight, usually).

Hefner and Barbi left, and then there were maybe only 20 people remaining; the hard core who had negotiated special arrangements with the waiters to bring the booze to the table in bottles, not glasses, to save time. This group talked for 45 minutes or so while the waiters stood by and waited patiently for the party to finally be over. And then Hefner and Barbi came back into the room.

Didn't you already leave? somebody said.

"We took off, but then we thought we'd come back and see if there was still anything happening," Hefner said.

In reading "The Great Gatsby," I've sometimes had the notion that one of those great limousines that came out from the city, and paused in Gatsby's quiet driveway before driving away, was driven by Gatsby himself.

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My drinking days, recalled in a noirish oil

The artist Marie Haws in Vancouver was drawn into a blog I wrote about the legendary O'Rourke's Pub in Chicago, not so much by the prose as by the photograph I used, taken by my pal Jack Lane:

Marie returned to the photograph and again, finding depths in it, and was finally moved to paint this oil inspired by it:

The photo shows me at the front end of of the bar talking with the writer Tom Wolfe. Neither Jack nor I can identify the man on the left, or Mystery Woman on the right. I've been told that M.W. resembles my girlfriend in the 70s, but there are two problems with that: (1) Ingrid never smoked a day in her life, and (2) M.W. in the oil looks like her, but M.W. in the photo doesn't.

Of course, camera angle can be deceptive, so I will forward this to Ingrid and her four children and see what they think. Nothing would please me more than to find out who I have my arm around.

I am quite fond on this painting, the only one I have of myself. I do have a nearly life-size bronze bust, but lest you get the wrong impression, I didn't commission it or pay for it. I posed for the class project of an art student whose assignment was to make a recognizable sculpture of a recognizable person.

[ 4:14 p.m. Nov 21, e-mail from Jack Lane: Mystery man on left is Dick Flynn, a mate of mine from the ad days. He and I were having a quiet Sunday evening drink and discussing worldly matters when a stranger entered the nearly empty bar. Dick said, a bit excitedly, that it was Tom Wolfe. I glanced over and disagreed, pointing out that the stranger was not wearing a white suit. Dick, who had been Wolfe's neighbor in NYC, persisted and went over to verify his assessment. And indeed, he was right. The three of us had an hour or so of pleasant conversation until a horde of noisy re revelers descended upon us and the rest, as you know, is history. Jack ]

Marie has been a treasured regular on my blog almost from the beginning. She is known for (1) recklessly inserting so many URLs into her posts that they mostly end up trapped in the Spam filter, (2) inserting "*chuckle*" every once im a while, and (3) attempted assassination of her fellow blog posters with the astonishingchocolate cake recipe published below these three examples of her wonderful work:

Girl in the Coat - 24" x 36" oil on canvas

Tuscan hill-top vineyard, Italy - 24" x 108" oil on canvas

Chianti region, Italy - 20" x 26" oil on canvas

...and then, on Sunday morning, Marie Haws posted this comment:

I love that we've discovered the name of mystery guy; it's D*ck Flynn! For how perfect is that?! Was there ever a name more ironic and thus better suited to be in a painting showing Roger Ebert at O'Rourke's - than one shared in the blog the very same week he runs a "limerick contest"? Smile. I regard it as confirmation from the Gods that indeed, everything is connected.

And as noted, it all started with a journal entry and Roger's memories of a pub in the dodgy part of Chicago, a place no longer there but when it was, of questionable repute; an Irish pub called O'Rourke's. I just want to be comfortable, you know? I just want to sit down, enjoy a Kilkenny, chat with friends, maybe play a few rounds and pretend I don't suck at pool, while catching a nice buzz. I don't want to have to worry about how to pay a fancy coverage charge (insert really bad word!) or navigating past stupid yuppies to reach the bar - none of that crap.

And the very week Roger posted his journal entry about O'Rourke's, was the same week "I" discovered the fate of my favorite watering hole: the "Irish Heather". They'd moved across the street. Seems required upgrades to the building had forced the owner to choose the lesser of two evils: close his business for one year, or move. And this is partly what was lost because of it: the back room conservatory in a photo by Stephen Dyrgas.... Arguably THE most perfect spot to drink in Vancouver.

An alley runs behind the pub and covered in red bricks. They'd simply enclosed part of it to make an extra seating area. God, how I loved that place. So I was in full empathy mode, when Roger heaved a wistful sigh as he recollected the passing of one his favorite places, too! That's how I could relate even though I'd never been there. I knew O'Rourke's because I'd known the Heather. It too, was also in the dodgy part of town; smile.

For that reason, my emotional attachment to the place was immediate - and then I saw Jack Lane's photographs! And suddenly, my next painting! But I needed better reference, which is how I got a hold of Jack's B/W photos; I pestered Roger and he sent me some. And when I saw the alternate shot of him with Tom Wolfe... BINGO! Two guys in the middle of a conversation we can't hear, flanked either side by mysteries for being equally as ignorant of what they were thinking, too.

Why does anyone go to a pub? To drink? I suppose, but not me. I think it's where you go to drink a "conversation" too! And what's better than a conversation you can custom tailor - for never knowing what was actually being said? It's a blank page on which the viewer can write whatever they want! You can imagine all sorts of things! They could have been plotting a murder. What?! Don't look at me like that - it's Chicago. And two writers are in a bar. Enough said. :)

And so I loved that shot. It was sublime. Although... true; it does look like Roger's groping himself in the photo, but I took care of that and changed it for the painting. And I dropped Flynn's hand as well - as it kinda looks like he's trying to punch Tom Wolfe in the jaw. But all minor stuff and easily dealt with. It took longer to paint than I'd planned - chasing the rent can be distracting - but I eventually finished it.

Actually, Roger got to see it as a work in progress. I was sending him photos in cyber dispatches while bugging him about the spam filter and stuff. So he knew weeks in advance how things were coming along. And then the day finally arrived when it was dry and ready to go to Chicago. I couldn't afford the shipping and so he actually picked up the tab for his own present! How nice was that, eh? (As he didn't make me feel like a cheap basterd; chuckle!) What?! I have to pay the postage on my own GIFT?! Jeeesh, and that's so typically Canadian, I swear, you people..."

Smile; instead he just told me how much he loved it and Chaz too. And there you have it; that's the story of the painting and how it came to be. I love O'Rourke's vicariously so. I love how Roger's memories of the place, feel. I love the conversations I get to imagine and the ongoing mystery of smoking girl and that Flynn's name sounds the way it does. And that right now, my painting is inside Roger Ebert's house; the same critic who didn't like Harold and Maude. What's that got to do with anything..? Rubbing hands together with a glee. (Or maybe I'm just f-cking with ya; laugh!) One thing however is not in doubt; how sincerely flattered I was by this. It caught me totally by surprise when you suddenly asked for a few pictures and my death by chocolate recipe!

I thought you'd just show the painting to Chaz and the kids, maybe Tom Wolfe and there you go! Note: that's why it took me so long to write that post, the one I'd lost; I was actually at a loss for words! A rare moment that and I've moved past it now, as you can see. :)

@ Roger wrote: "I informed Marie that the ghosts of the O'Rourke's Crowd still haunt the Old Town Ale House to this day. The owner is Bruce Elliott, a regular in those days. Marie, who loves Venice, might agree that a master of the Italian Renaissance would have been drawn to the same subject, albeit expressed in a somewhat different style, in Bruce's own painting "The Strip-Searching of Rod Blagojevich."

Oh absolutely. Without a doubt. Those dudes totally loved a bit of unpleasant business. Caravaggio for example, would have done a lovely job of it. Or whoever painted the rape of the Sabines. A strip search would have been a walk in park, chuckle!

@ Marta Chiavacci wrote - "Marie is not only an amazingly talented artist, she's an even more amazing friend." Awww! What a nice thing to say, Marta! But I'm still gonna tease you about wearing FIVE inch heels. As that's insane and what real friends would do. Roger? Marta gave me my very first Bialetti! Her parents moved to Canada in the 50's from Lucca, near Florence. And several years ago, Marta ironically moved to Lucca to live there! She fell in love with her second cousin, whose got a house near the medieval city.

She kept her place in Vancouver though and routinely travels back and forth; currently, she's in town. And get this - Marta Chiavacci, a female born in Canada, moves to Italy, studies wine and ends up beating all the guys and becoming FISAR's sommelier of the year in 2007. That's right - I know an award-winning Sommelier. The girl I met in grade 7. Naturally, Marta gets to pick the wine whenever we go out to dinner, as otherwise, I buy wine based on how well designed the labels are. At the moment, she's in the process of setting up her own wine business; guided tours of vineyards with a sommelier.

Marta's interesting to know in her own right, but as a relocated Canadian, I get a close-up view of another country now too, through her dispatches about daily life in Italy. The truth of things. It's like having my very own reporter on the ground! And the story of how she got a driver's license in Italy, is a thing to behold. It takes days to tell, as it's that serpentine a journey through their bureaucracy. Chuckle! And now you've got one of my paintings too, joining the club with Marta. Awesome.

P.S. now watch, I'll die and suddenly those paintings will be worth a fortune!

Marie Haws' online gallery. .

The blog entry that started all this, "A bar on North Avenue." .

I informed Marie that the ghosts of the O'Rourke's Crowd still haunt the Old Town Ale House to this day. The owner is Bruce Elliott, a regular in those days. Marie, who loves Venice, might agree that a master of the Italian Renaissance would have been drawn to the same subject, albeit expressed in a somewhat different style, in Bruce's own painting "The Strip-Searching of Rod Blagojevich."

The "DEATH BY CHOCOLATE" Recipe

8 oz high-quality bitter sweet chocolate (Valhrona is best!)

2/3 cup of butter

1/2 cup of white sugar

1/2 cup of brown sugar

4 eggs

1/3 cup of sour cream

1 teaspoon of vanilla

1/4 cup dark rich Dutch cocoa

1/2 cup of flour

1 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

1/4 teaspoon of salt

Ganache glaze:

8 oz of bitter sweet chocolate (again, BEST you can find.)

1/2 cup of heavy cream (in Canada, in the dairy section next to the milk, you can find a pint of whipping cream. Americans call THAT heavy cream.)

Inside of the cake:

Raspberry liquor (or use a brandy)

1/4 cup of Raspberry Jam (or buy some fresh Raspberries and mash them up in a bowl and add 2 tbs of sugar (in case they're a bit tart) and use that - I do, tastes fresher!

Instructions:

In a heavy bottom pan or double-boiler, melt the chocolate and butter on low heat. While that's melting, combine the eggs and the white & brown sugars together, on medium speed in a mixer until somewhat light; you want the sugar to dissolve and not be sandy.

Check the chocolate. Melted? Remove from heat and stir. Set aside to cool a bit (you can use the fridge.) Once cool to the touch, pour melted chocolate in with the eggs and sugar and turn on the mixer for a few minutes to incorporate everything before you add the next ingredients...

To that, now add the flour, dark Dutch coco, salt, baking powder, sour cream, vanilla. Start on low speed then you can go a bit faster, and mix everything up, etc.

Preheat oven to 350F. Get a 9" wide, by 3 inches deep springform pan. Remove bottom from pan, wrap it with tinfoil, put it back in the springform. Lightly spray the bottom and insides with a cooking oil spray - or use some melted margarine and a brush etc.

Note: I always set a springform pan on a cookie tray in case there's any leakage, but you can also wrap the outside with more foil. Pour batter into Springform pan. Bake for 40 - 50 min. Test it with a toothpick at the 40 min mark etc. Done? Take it out, let it cool a bit before removing the top of the springform from the bottom.

Get your Raspberry jam ready. NOTE: if you don't want raspberry seeds, pass the berries through a strainer over a small bowl (mash them through it etc.) Add the liquor etc.

Once the cake is completely cool, trim the top. Use a thin, serrated knife. You don't need to remove the center bit. The top edge tend to be hardest and higher than the middle - so getting rid of that helps level things off. *DO NOT throw away what you cut off it case you need it, later.

Make the ganache: and make your life easier too, use a double-boiler. Most people don't own professional grade pots ($150 each!) Put chocolate and cream in a doubler-boiler and stir on low heat. Once melted, turn off heat.

You need to cut the cake in half now. I have a better way to do it than is shown in the video below.

Get some toothpicks (4 will do it) and stick them around the sides of the cake, half-way up. Get a LONG sewing thread - a light color so you can see it. Wrap it around the cake and "above" each of toothpicks (they help keep the thread from slipping down as you make sure it's positioned correctly. Tie your thread and slowly but steadily pull the ends. The thread will slice perfectly through the middle of the cake as you go etc. A trick I learned from a dessert chef. :)

Pull out the toothpicks, but stick 2 back in, on the sides: one in the top layer, another further down but right below it. This will help you when assembling the layers; a point of reference.

Get a serving plate for the cake. You're going to transfer the TOP layer onto that.

Note: I took the lid from an ice cream bucket last year, and with an exacto knife, cut the rim off. It made a plastic circle. You can also use the glass from an 8x10 picture frame, if you like. Point is, this method tends to NOT break the cake for better supporting the entire weight of it as you move it over.

The Top layer is now the bottom layer - and if the center looks too low, build it up with some of the stuff you'd previously cut off. Pour Raspberry Jam onto the cake; spread it around. Get the ganache. Pour less than 1/2 onto the cake, spread that around too.

Get the bottom layer of the cake now. Flip it over, and place it on top of the layer with the jam and ganache. Match the toothpicks up; then pull them out. Remove the metal bottom and the tinfoil. You have a cake with a perfectly, flawless top!

Heat the ganache back up, you're going to POUR the remaining glaze over the entire assembled cake. Use a long, wide spatula to help guide the chocolate ganache along and around the sides etc. Don't have one? Use the longest, widest knife you own. Use a less pointy knife for the sides.

Clean any mess around the cake, and et voila; you're done. Unless you want to decorate it too, based on what you see in the video.

Attention Helpless Males: step-by-step video instructions -

http://www.ehow.com/videos-on_687_make-death-chocolate-cake.html

And last but not least -

How to make a chocolate cake in a crock-pot:

http://www.ehow.com/how_2173304_chocolate-cake-crock-pot.html

GRIN.

Visit my website, rogerebert.com.

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Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee

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Buddy Hackett: Up at drama, down at comedy.

Movies / Roger Ebert

"There was a Vegas casino that offered me twice what I was making," Buddy Hackett was explaining to me one day. "I went to look at their show room, and I said I could never work there. The money didn't matter, because in that room I would never get a laugh."

Why was that? I asked.

"Because the stage was above the eyeline of the audience. You had to look up to see the act. It was great for sight-lines but lousy for comedy, because you can never laugh at anybody you're looking up at. A comic, you have to be looking down at him. My favorite rooms, the audience is above the stage, stadium-style."

What's the logic behind that?

"You look up at drama, down at comedy. A singer, looking up is okay. A comic, it's death."

So when you go to the movies, I said, should you sit in the balcony for a comedy and on the main floor for a drama?

"Seems to me," he said.

This was one of many conversations we had in the mid-1990s, when we both found ourselves installed simultaneously at the Pritikin Longevity Center, which at that time was on the beach at Santa Monica. Hackett, a great comedian who died this week at 78, was engaged in a lifelong struggle with weight and cholesterol, although once he had me feel his calf muscles: "Hard as steel! I'm a great skier."

Hackett lived nearby, but checked into Pritikin to isolate himself from life's temptations. Other regulars were Rodney Dangerfield and Mel Brooks, who ate at Pritikin twice a week with his wife, Anna Bancroft. At lunch, Hackett would preside over a table of his guests, other comics, including George Gobel, Jan Murray and Soupy Sales.

Once a woman approached the table and said she had a joke she wanted to tell.

"Lady," said Hackett, "go tell your joke at a table where amateurs are sitting. We're professionals here. We got all the jokes we can handle."

One night Buddy brought over a tape of "Bud and Lou" (1978), a movie where he played comedian Lou Costello. He felt he'd done good work in a less than great film, and wanted his Pritikin friends to see it. Hackett's Costello comes across, as many comics do in private life, as a lonely and sad man, and I felt Hackett did a good job of portraying that--even though I never sensed gloom in his own makeup.

Hackett said he once thought he was on the edge of a great movie role. Martin Scorsese called him up and said he wanted to come over and talk to him about working in "GoodFellas."

"He comes over to the house," Buddy says, "and he tells me the scene. Ray Liotta is walking into the nightclub and the waiters seat him, and I'm on stage doing my act. So I ask, what do you want me to say? Where's the script? And Scorsese says there isn't any script. I'll just be in the background telling part of a joke. PART of a joke? "

Hackett's face grew dark.

"I stood up and walked over to the window. I invited Scorsese to stand next to me. 'Isn't that a beautiful lawn?' I said. He agreed that it was one of the most beautiful lawns he had ever seen.

"Take a real good look," I told him, "because you will never be back in this house again. Part of a joke! Get the fuck outta here!"

One day I told Buddy a true story. It took place in 1979, I said. Jack Lemmon came to Chicago to promote "The China Syndrome." He told Gene Siskel and myself he wanted to relax, and suggested we go to the Gaslight Club, where he heard there was good jazz.

Four women at another table were celebrating a birthday. They looked at our table and giggled, and finally one of them approached our table with a menu. "Here comes the autograph request," Lennon said.

"Mr. Siskel," the woman said, "I enjoy your reviews so much! Would you autograph my menu?"

Gene agreed with a smile.

"You've made my day," the woman said.

"In that case," Gene said, "your day isn't over. Did you notice who I am sitting with?"

The woman looked over.

"Ohmigod! Jack Lemmon! Oh, Mr. Lemmon, you are my favorite actor. I didn't expect to see you here! Would you sign my menu?"

Lemmon agreed. Then Gene said, "And your day still isn't over. Look who's sitting right here!" The woman looked at me, and her face broke into a delighted smile.

"Buddy Hackett!!!" she said.

After I told this story to Buddy, he nodded thoughtfully.

"The question is," he said, "didn't she know how I look, or didn't she know how you look?"

✔ Click to expand. Comments are open.

✔ Directory of recent entries in my blog, Roger Ebert's Journal.

✔ The home page of my Web Site.

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Studs and Algren and Patterson, N.J.

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In 1975, Nelson Algren left Chicago, where he wrote "The Man with a Golden Arm" and "Chicago City on the Make," and to general astonishment moved to Paterson, N.J.

In this rare film from a Chicago house party in 1975, Studs grills him, "Why Paterson?"

The two old masters work together like a comedy team. This was an actual conversation, not any kind of appearance, although they're keenly aware of their audience. Algren takes wing when he describes the ideal route from Patterson to San Francisco.

I don't know who made this film. Such a record was rare in the age before video cameras. The conversation doesn't feel staged, but simply happening in somebody's living room. The two men logged countless hours together, Studs the eternal optimist, Nelson the congenital curmudgeon. The YouTube discovery came to me from Zac Thompson, by way of Studs' longtime WFMT pal Andrew Patner. When I viewed it, it had logged only 108 visits.

Studs was 63, and died in 2008. Nelson was 66, and died in 1981.'

[ 11:03p.m. 11/13: fyi, it's actually shot on video not film. if you want to see some similar quality video, a new technology at the time, check out william eggleston's black and white party films from the south called "stranded in canton". his color photography is a big influence on filmmakers like harry savides and sofia coppola.

http://www.egglestontrust.com

peter ]

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Visit my blog, Roger Ebert's Journal.

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Street scene: Movie theater, snow, rain, promise

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This photo was sent to me by a reader, Chris Aiello. At first I processed it as an atmospheric street scene with a movie theater. Then I read the marquee. That placed it in the early 1960s, and I remembered that Jonas Mekas' "Guns of the Trees" (1961) was a film I reviewed in the early days of the ill-fated Town Underground theater in Chicago (now the Park West).

Aiello told me, "That was the St. Charles movie theater NYC. Circa 1962." And reader Irving Benig added, "East 12th in the Village ."

The "Ginsberg Hoover and Nixon" refers to Allen Ginsberg, who read his poetry on the sound track.

My first thought was that the scene in the photograph looked cold and lonely. Then I read the marquee and thought, no, that's simply how it would have looked on a winter's day. Inside it would have been warm, and the beam from the projector would have made a cone in the cigarette smoke.

When I left the theater it would have been dark and I would have looked around for a place to get a bowl of chili. I could read while eating it. I had the paperback of Norman Mailer's Advertisements for Myself in the pocket of my corduroy sports coat, under my thin khaki raincoat.

The Internet Movie Database lists only one review of the film, this one.

I went looking for a clip or a trailer of "Guns of the Trees," and there wasn't one. Adding the search term "Jonas Mekas," I found the short film below. You never know what you might find.

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