MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Last Jedi, Behind the Mask, Executioners, King of Jazz, Sacha Guitry, 1:54, Nicholas, Peyton Place and more

Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi: Blu-ray, 4K UHD
Being asked to write and direct an episode in the Star Wars series is high praise, even more so considering that the baton being handed off was carried by J. J. Abrams.  Even more impressive, perhaps, is Rian Johnson entrusted with one of the world’s most valuable and expensive entertainment properties after only three highly imaginative and favorably reviewed indies — Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper – and three episodes of “Breaking Bad.” No matter how confident Johnson might have been about his own abilities, the immensity of the challenge was the cinematic equivalent of a Triple A pitcher being called up to the big leagues and making his first start in Yankee Stadium. Or, if you will, passing your driver’s exam and being rewarded with the key to a Bentley. How did it work out for him?  With $220 million, Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi delivered the second-largest opening weekend ever, behind only Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which debuted at $247.9 million in December 2015. When all the pennies were counted, Episode VIII recorded $620 million in domestic sales and a hair over $712 million in foreign receipts.

If Johnson didn’t throw the cinematic equivalent of a no-hitter in his first game at Yankee Stadium – some argue the numbers should have been greater — the opponents never really had a chance. As is the case with any new addition to a successful franchise, “Episode VIII” had its fair share of detractors. Because they paid for their tickets, they’re entitled to their opinions. I don’t think anyone at Disney was particularly concerned about the dissenting voices, though. I don’t profess to be an expert on the subject, but “Episode VIII” looked like a winner from Day One and so does the 4K UHD/Blu-ray edition, which arrives this week. The movie was originally shot on a combination of traditional 35mm, IMAX 65mm and various digital cameras with resolution levels ranging between 3K and 6K. The footage was later mastered to a 4K digital intermediate. It is the first episode in franchise history with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. All of that should come as good news to fans with a sophisticated home-theater setup and pushed Disney to join the 4K UHD parade last August with Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. Although Johnson won’t be working on the third entry in the current trilogy – J.J. Abrams returns to helm “IX” — Johnson has been asked to create a new trilogy, to be set in a different corner of the “Star Wars” universe … not exactly a return to the minors.

The Skywalker saga continues here, as the heroes of “The Force Awakens” join the legends of yesteryear in an epic adventure that unlocks new mysteries of the Force. “The Last Jedi” opens with a fiery aerial battle between Resistance ships, commanded by General Leia Organa (the late, great Carrie Fisher), and a newly arrived First Order fleet. After X-wing fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) leads a counterattack that destroys a First Order dreadnought, counter measures are launched against a Resistance convoy. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who went to the dark side after clashing with Luke in the previous film, puts his Jedi forces to work when ordered to fire on the lead Resistance ship, carrying his mother. TIE wingmen destroy the ship’s bridge, anyway, incapacitating Leia. Disapproving of the passive strategy ordered by new leader Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), Poe helps First Order defector, Finn (John Boyega), droid BB-8 and mechanic Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) embark on a secret mission to disable the tracking device leading First Order fighter to Resistance targets. Whew. I’m exhausted just trying to summarize the first 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Chewbacca and R2-D2 arrive on the watery planet, Ahch-To – sacred to the Jedi — to recruit Luke to the Resistance. Disillusioned by his failure to train Kylo as a Jedi, and under self-imposed exile from the Force, Luke refuses to help. In fact, he believes that the Jedi should be rendered extinct. R2-D2, with an assist from Yoda’s ghost, finally persuades Luke to train Rey, setting up another battle royal between the Resistance and First Order. Things only get more complicated from there, so “The Last Jedi” would not be a good place for newcomers to jump head first into the by-now very deep franchise waters. Commentary on the Blu-ray disc adds Johnson’s sometimes gushing commentary; “The Director and the Jedi,” a 95-minute making-of documentary; “Scene Breakdowns,” comprised of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage; “Balance of the Force,” in which the director shares his thoughts on the mythology of the Force; “Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only),” with raw, original footage of Serkis’ performance; 23 minutes of deleted scenes, some with optional commentary and director introduction; and a digital-only bonus feature, “Score Only Version of ‘The Last Jedi,” with John Williams’ iconic music over the entire film.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
The more you know about slasher franchises from the 1980s, the more likely it is you’ll enjoy “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon,” which contains more references and homages to classic titles than a Trivia Pursuit Horror Edition. Scott Glosserman and co-writer David J. Stieve’s 2006 film is a parody disguised as a documentary, in which the title character invites a camera crew to follow him as he systematically prepares for a killing spree. Besides joining Vernon as he picks out likely victims and crime scenes, host Angela Goethals (“24”) is invited to watch him apply his makeup and discuss his motivations and heroes. It explains the presence of Robert Englund, as his psychiatrist/nemesis, and cameos by Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger. Scott Wilson (“The Walking Dead”) plays Vernon’s lowkey mentor in murder. The more time passes, the closer things come to a bloodbath ending, which begs as many questions as it answers. For co-star Zelda Rubinstein (Poltergeist), “Behind the Mask” would be her last acting gig. The Scream Factory “Collector’s Edition” features a 2K remaster of the film; featurettes “Joys and Curses,” interviews with actors Angela Goethals, Ben Pace and co-writer/co-producer David Stieve; “Before the Mask: The Comic Book,” an interview with comic book artist Nathan Thomas Milliner; commentary with co-writer/director Scott Glosserman; commentary with Nathan Baesel, Angela Goethals, Britain Spelling and Ben Pace; a pair of making-of featurettes; and deleted and extended scenes.

The Executioners
At 55, Giorgio Serafini seems a bit too long in the tooth to be churning out low-budget subgenre fare. In The Executioners, however, he’s found a way to add something fresh to the tired home-invasion formula. When four young women go on a retreat to a secluded lakeside cabin, it doesn’t take them long to realize they’re not alone. A trio of muscular intruders, wearing masks made of Play-Doh, I think, terrorize their prisoners, waving guns around like fly swatters and forcing them to strip. In due course, the women turn the tables on the men, forcing them to do similarly nasty things to each other. The balance is tipped once again when the men’s crossbow-wielding boss arrives. A cat-and-mouse came ensues, as the women escape and return to rescue their friends. Things do get bloody, but it’s no more gratuitous than the nudity that enlivens the first 10 minutes of The Executioners. The real question being asked of viewers here is whether we approve of the women dishing out the same level of violence on their attackers, when they could just as easily call the cops. Duh. A final double-cross adds a clever twist to the proceedings, even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The Twilight People: Blu-ray
Even by the low standards generally associated with Philippine exploitation fare, The Twilight People is a disappointment. Released in 1972, it is one of several adaptations of H.G. Wells’ classic anti-vivisectionist novel, “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” and the second made by Eddie Romero, the Roger Corman of the South Pacific. Not to put too fine a point on it, but The Twilight People merges elements of The Island of Lost Souls (1932), The Most Dangerous Game (1932) and Romero’s infinitely better, Black Mama White Mama (1973), which was distributed here by American International Pictures. The primary difference between “BM/WM” and “TTP” is nudity … gratuitous and otherwise. (And, Pam Grier wasn’t required to wear a feline mask and make cat noises.) Otherwise, they both share a largely local supporting cast and crew, lush locations, military-grade weapons and such women-in-prison mainstays as Grier, Margaret Markov, Lynn Borden and Wendy Green. “Petticoat Junction” alumnus Pat Woodell was already in the islands – co-starring in The Big Doll House and The Woman Hunt – so she was an easy choice for “TTP,” as well. (The only member of the repertory company truly missing is Sid Haig.) Onetime teen heartthrob and Romero-regular John Ashley (Beach Blanket Bingo) plays Matt Farrell, an American who’s kidnapped while skin diving and taken to the lair of the evil genius, Dr. Gordon (Charles Macaulay). Matt was a necessary addition to Gordon’s diabolical experiment to create a race of super humanoids, by splicing animal cells to those of a human. The results are more hideous than super. The characters’ names tell the tale: Antelope Man, Bat Man, Ape Man, Wolf Woman and Panther Woman (Greir). Action ensues after Farrell and several of Gordon’s “experiments” seemingly are allowed to escape, with a group of mercenaries hot on their trail. Fans of early-1970s drive-in fare might find something here to enjoy, but not much. (Dimension Pictures added it to a double-bill with The Doberman Gang). The VCI Blu-ray features a pretty good, if sometimes inaudible interview with Romero and commentary by film historian Toby Roan.

King of Jazz: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
It may take a few minutes to get over the misnomer in the title of Criterion Collection’s heirloom musical King of Jazz, featuring Paul Whiteman and His Band. That’s because the orchestra, like most cinematic depictions of Jazz Age revelry, is almost completely devoid of musicians of color. Other than that, King of Jazz can be savored as a prime example of pre-Depression entertainment. Even so, I encourage viewers sensitive to such slights to skip ahead to the disc’s supplemental material, where jazz and film critic Gary Giddins adds context to the ambitious Universal project and Whiteman’s role in the history of popular music. In 1930, when the picture was released, the terms “hot jazz” and “symphonic jazz” were associated with a more theatrical form of swing, exemplified at the high end by George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” (Whiteman had commissioned the composition in 1924, as trademark piece for his orchestra.) Describing his inspiration, Gershwin said, “It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattle-ty bang, that is so often so stimulating to a composer – I frequently hear music in the very heart of the noise. … I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness.” The melting-pot conceit extends throughout King of Jazz, in blackout sketches, set direction and production numbers that were shot using the same overhead cranes employed later in the decade by Busby Berkeley. The highly saturated two-color Technicolor process adds a weirdly psychotropic tone unique to movies of the time, while the mono sound mix infused a kewpie-doll quality into the women’s voices.

The cherry on top of the sundae here is provided by the performers in Whiteman’s band, including violinist Joe Venuti; the Rhythm Boys, with a young Bing Crosby; rubber-legged dancer Al Norman; the Radio City Rockettes, then known as the Russell Markert Girls; the Brox Sisters; the Thomas Atkins Sextette; Kurt’s great-uncle, Delbert Cobain; sketch comics Walter Brennan and Slim Summerville; air-pump specialist Willie Hall; and singers Jeanette Loff, Jack Fulton and the Sisters G. Whiteman, who could double as Oliver Hardy’s stunt double, performs in a funny dance number enhanced by special effects. The Blu-ray benefits from a 4K digital restoration by Universal Pictures, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack; audio commentary, featuring music and cultural critic Gene Seymour, and musician and bandleader Vince Giordano; Giddins’ introduction; an interview with Michael Feinstein; four video essays by authors and archivists James Layton and David Pierce, on the film’s development and production; deleted scenes and alternate opening-title sequence; a 1929 short film, “All Americans,” featuring an earlier version of the “Melting Pot” number; “I Know Everybody and Everybody’s Racket,” a 1933 short film featuring Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra, Ruth Etting and Walter Winchell; and two “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit,” cartoons from 1930, featuring music and animation from King of Jazz.

Sacha Guitry: Four Films 1936-1938: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
French polymath Sacha Guitry was 50 years old when he re-shifted his attention from the stage to screen. Although the son of celebrated actor Lucien Guitry briefly flirted with emerging medium in 1915, he found nothing in it to his liking. As he gained fame as a playwright and actor — often in boulevardier roles — he resisted calls to turn his attention silent movies and early talkies. Sometimes referred to as the Gallic Noël Coward, Guitry appeared in most of the 120 plays he wrote and, when the time was right, making as many as five films in a single year. The titles represented in Arrow’s “Sacha Guitry: Four Films 1936-1938: Limited Edition” were each adapted from his own, earlier works for the theater. Although critics tried to pigeonhole his work as stagebound, the artists and historians interviewed for the bonus package here beg to differ. They range from period pieces to contemporary romcoms, with a faux documentary thrown in for good measure. If there’s a common theme, it’s adultery. That the characters he plays also suffer from various degrees of misogyny didn’t surprise anyone who knew his history with women and actresses, some of whom he married. Despite some material that could test the patience of politically correct viewers, it’s a joy watching Guidry attack his characters’ challenges and oversized egos, using humor and wordplay as a double-edged sword.

The New Testament follows a holier-than-though physician, who is sabotaged by his own hypocrisy. My Father Was Right introduces us to a man, who, after being left by his wife for another man, 20 years earlier, raises his son to be wary of women. Let’s Make a Dream is another story of mistrust, between a husband, wife and their lovers. The history of one of France’s most famous streets is retold in Let’s Go Up the Champs-Élysées, featuring multiple performances from Guitry himself. Anyone unfamiliar with Guidry’s body of work today can chalk it up to changing tides of history. During the occupation, he directed and played in several films. Despite claims that he only worked with independent French producers and didn’t allow his plays to be performed in Germany, he maintained a lavish lifestyle that contrasted with the deprivation experienced by most French citizens. After the liberation of Paris, Guitry was arrested and sent to jail for two months. He wasn’t allowed to appear on stage or on screen until 1947. By then, however, his reputation was irrevocably tarnished. The bonus features on the Blu-ray don’t dwell on the wartime negatives. The limited-edition collection (2,000 copies) boasts original French mono soundtracks on all films; newly filmed introductions to the films by French cinema expert and academic Ginette Vincendeau, who also provides selected-scene commentaries; four video essays on different Guitry themes by critic Philippe Durant; interviews with writer/director Francis Veber and filmmaker Pascal Thomas; sound tests and theatrical trailer from Let’s Make a Dream; reversible sleeves, featuring newly commissioned artwork by Scott Saslow; and a limited-edition 60-page book illustrated with original stills, featuring new writing by Craig Keller and Sabrina Marques and credits for all films. Trivia alert: Al Hirschfeld’s first theatrical caricature — published by the New York Herald Tribune, in 1926 – was of Guidry, who was in New York performing in the musical comedy, “Mozart.”

Like so many other movies about teenagers coming-of-age-gay, 1:54 spends a lot of time on and around fields of play. The title refers to a record time in the 800-meter run, sought by the film’s protagonist, Tim (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), and antagonist, Jeff (Lou-Pascal Tremblay). As important as running is to the two boys, and as a backdrop for the overriding drama, however, it is only one subplot in a movie overflowing with conflicts. Tim was a star runner as a 12-year-old, with his mother as his coach. When she died, he gave up the sport and turned inward. In its place, Tim and a friend, Francis (Robert Naylor), focus on their interest in chemistry, pyrotechnics and each other. For some reason, their friendship disturbs some of the cool kids in the school, who torment them unmercifully. The rival runner is a first-class prick and the kind of homophobe, who, in another movie, might decide to exit his own closet by the time the story concludes. Not here, however. A tragedy inspires Tim to return to racing and confront Jeff, who objects to the added competition, especially when that competitor is gay. Writer/director Yan England, himself a runner, adds to the mix a concerned teacher, perplexed father, sympathetic gal pal and enough bullying on social media to piss off an evangelical preacher. That’s a lot of weight for a 106-minute movie to carry, but England’s message is targeted at teens who’ve been already been exposed to dozens of cautionary tales about bullying and intolerance. He’s screened 1:54 at several festivals and before students he says have seen themselves in the characters. They probably are a lot more forgiving of the movie’s extraneous melodrama than adult critics, who’ve had trouble seeing through the darkness.

Nicholas on Holiday
If the kids in Laurent Tirard’s family comedy, Nicholas on Holiday (2014), are a tad young to be thinking about coming of age anytime soon, there are plenty of other things to keep their pubescent minds occupied on a seaside vacation. Like Tirad’s Little Nicholas (2009), also co-written with Grégoire Vigneron (Astérix and Obélix: God Save Britannia), it is based on series of stories about the (mostly) endearing exploits of a precocious French schoolboy. The books, which depict an idealized version of childhood in 1950s France, were created by René Goscinny and illustrator Jean-Jacques Sempé, beginning in 1959. Nicholas’ parents and live-in grandmother aren’t particularly idiosyncratic, but Tirad’s given them more than a few amusing quirks, twitches and peccadillos. Nicholas’ friends are a motley crew of square pegs, who delight in smashing precisely crafted sand castles and devising schemes to subvert their parents’ plans for their futures.  Here, those plans include convincing Nicholas that he’s being set up for a future marriage with a painfully shy and awkward girl his age, Isabelle. It interferes with his plans to maintain a correspondence with his girlfriend back home, until Isabelle comes out of her shell and becomes his BFS … best friend for the summer. The easy interplay of silly characters and amusing storylines reminds me of Bob Clark and Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story (1983). If kids can get past the subtitles, I think they’ll really enjoy Nicholas on Holiday … parents, too.

Peyton Place: Part Three
PBS:  Dolores
PBS: Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: It’s a Beautiful Day
PBS: Secrets of the Dead: America’s Untold Story
PBS: The Very Best of Victor Borge, Volumes 1,2
It’s been eight years since Shout!Factory released the first two sets of episodes from ABC’s hit prime-time soap opera, “Peyton Place.” The first two packages contained the first 64 of the show’s 514 half-hour episodes, which aired twice or three times a week between 1964-69. By the time Shout! Factory releases “Part Four,” this summer, only about a quarter of the show’s episodes will have been released. The first color episode isn’t until No. 268. For those who weren’t born by the time the show aired, the TV series was informed by Grace Metalious’ scandlous best-seller, in 1956, and the nearly instant film adaptation, in 1957. The novel was set in a conservative New England town before and directly after World War II. It describes how three women are forced to come to terms with their identity, both as women and as sexual beings, with recurring themes of hypocrisy, social inequity and class privilege. And, in case you were wondering, that included incidents of incest, abortion, adultery, lust and murder. The movie, which had to be approved by the Hays Code censors, cleaned up the book to the point where Metalious decided to take her money and split Hollywood, for good. Maybe, it was after someone suggested that Pat Boone be offered one of the key roles. The film received nine Oscar nominations, including four honoring supporting performances. The updated TV series was even further sanitized. As was the custom of soap operas for most of the 20th Century, the really hot stuff was left to the imaginations of viewers. With “Peyton Place,” ABC hoped to bring the success of the British serial “Coronation Street” to America. Years later, its influence could be seen in “Dallas,” “Knots Landing” and, yes, even “Twin Peaks.” While today’s audiences may find it difficult to get excited about the watered-down storylines and less-than-scintillating fashions, they should enjoy watching familiar actors, fighting either to rejuvenate their careers or launch them into the movies. The most visible in Part Three are veteran leading lady Dorothy Malone and rising superstars Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neal. Old-timers might also have fond memories of sexpot Barbara Parkins, Christopher Connelly, Tim O’Connor, James Douglas, Patricia Morrow, Ruth Warrick David Canary, Mariette Hartley, Ted Hartley and Leslie Nielsen.

At a time when student activists might be coming out of their shells and making noises that can’t be ignored – like so many cicadas, who spring to life every 13-14 years – it’s worth remembering a time when marches, boycotts and strikes were weekly events designed to stir the conscience of the nation. Some of us can remember the five-year-long national grape boycott, organized by the United Farm Workers, and how great it felt to savor the taste of one of nature’s greatest treats after so long an absence. Most people associate Cesar Chavez’ name with that struggle and others involving the plight of men, women and children forced to work in substandard conditions and for hideously low wages, largely to enhance the earnings of corporate farmers and supermarket chains. The PBS and “Independent Lens” documentary, “Delores,” reminds viewers of the contributions made by Stockton activist Dolores Huerta, who was a full partner to Chavez in the founding of the farmworkers’ union. She not only helped organize the Delano grape strike, in 1965, but was the lead negotiator in the workers’ contract that ended it. With unprecedented access to Dolores and her children, the film reveals the raw, personal stories behind the public figure. It portrays a woman both heroic and flawed, working tirelessly for social change even as her 11 children longed to have her at home. That her story hasn’t been told until now can be blamed on sexism within the union, reporters who simply assumed that Chavez was its guiding force and her willingness to stand behind him in the limelight. It’s a terrific story and easily could serve as inspiration to the teenagers, especially young women and minorities, who refuse to be characterized as puppets and bandwagon followers.

Last February 19th marked the 50th anniversary of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” a show that spoke directly to children – not at them — in a gentle, soothing and deliberately paced manner designed to convince them of their importance as people, friends, neighbors and citizens of a world in which they most assuredly belonged. There were plenty of things for children to watch in 1968, but few that weren’t loud, abrasive or sponsored by companies making sugar-covered cereal or gender-specific toys. Unlike other hosts, Fred Rogers didn’t wear cowboy outfits – no offense, Buffalo Bob – or speak gibberish to maintain their attention. Neither were there breaks for cartoons or silent shorts … again, no offense to the Little Rascals. Very little changed in Mister Rogers’ entrances and departures – trading his jacket for a cardigan and his loafers for tennis shoes – or his willingness to share the whys and wherefores of his decisions with the kids in his audience. “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: It’s a Beautiful Day” commemorates the anniversary with a set of 29 vintage episodes, from 1979-2001, plus the series premiere. Neither he nor the show changed much with the times. Lessons on tolerance, respect and how to deal with anger and frustration never went out of style in the neighborhood. Among other things, Mister Rogers learns how to make paper by hand, tries out some unusual musical instruments, makes spinach egg rolls, watches a writer/illustrator of books at work and does some exercises. In the land of Make-Believe, King Friday, Lady Elaine, Daniel, Henrietta Pussycat and their friends experience the first day of school and learn the importance of playing. One quibble: the bonus episode is pitched as being “in original black-and-white,” but, unless my eyes are deceiving me, it’s been colorized. In June, Morgan Neville’s comprehensive bio-doc, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, will be released into theaters. It’s described as an exploration of the life, lessons, and legacy of the iconic children’s television host.

It’s always to watch shows like “Secrets of the Dead: America’s Untold Story Before Jamestown” that tell us things that, if true, make us reconsider things we all were taught as facts in school. That’s certainly the case with dinosaurs, whose history changes with every new fossil dug up in Patagonia or Alberta. This week, we learned that our bodies geologic age of the Earth has changed so often that it’s hardly worth memorizing, anymore. PBS’ “Secrets of the Dead” typically deals with events and things whose truth might have been revealed with a little more digging or better technology. In “America’s Untold Story Before Jamestown,” researchers have determined that the “interstitium,” the shock-absorbing tissue underneath our skin, gut and blood vessels, is an organ. Time to rewrite the SAT tests. PBS’ “Secrets of the Dead” typically deals with events and things whose truths might have been revealed with a little more digging or better technology. In “America’s Untold Story Before Jamestown,” researchers have determined that a “melting pot of Spanish, Africans, Italians, Germans, Irish and converted Jews” arrived in Florida in 1565, where they integrated almost immediately with the indigenous tribes. Slavery didn’t become an option until much later. The episode is divided into four chapters: “Struggle to Survive,” which employs archival material discovered in a private collection held by an ancestor of Pedro Menendez; “Men of God, Men of Greed,” by 1607, when Jamestown was founded, St. Augustine was undergoing urban renewal, but English colonists were ready to attack; “The British Are Coming,” in 1763, Spain ceded Florida to England in order to keep its valuable port of Havana, while the entire city of St. Augustine fled to Cuba and Mexico to avoid British rule … and, with it, slavery; and “The 14th and 15th Colonies,” in which the British divided Florida into two parts, the East and West, becoming the 14th and 15th British colonies … before 1812, when Florida became U.S. territory.

In the same way that Bob Uecker’s comedy isn’t limited to baseball fans, an appreciation of Victor Borge’s comedy and musical ability isn’t strictly reserved for aficionados of people who intuitively know the difference between J.S. Bach and P.D.Q. Bach. Funny is funny. Between 1949 and 1965, the pianist known as “The Clown Prince of Denmark” and “The Unmelancholy Dane” appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” 22 times. Borge divided his time playing major concert venues and appearing as a guest panelist on such game shows as “The Hollywood Squares,” “The Match Game” and “I’ve Got a Secret.” I don’t know when Borge’s association with PBS began, but, 18 years after his death, at 91, he’s as much a Pledge Month staple as David Foster and Joe Bonamassa. PBS has released “The Very Best of Victor Borge,” Volumes 1 and 2, which probably have been offered to subscribers at one time or another. Volume 1 includes seven television specials, live performances, snippets from early movies and TV shows, and a tribute to the maestro to mark his 80th birthday. Such bits as “Count Fall-Off-Of,” “Play Something on the Piano” and “The Mozart Opera,” classical performances of “Clair de Lune” and selections from “Carmen,” make it a must-have for any fan. Volume 2 adds eight more specials and such rarely seen routines as “Phonetic Punctuation,” “The History of the Piano,” “Inflationary Language,” “The Timid Page Turner,” “The Prodigy” and “It’s Now or Never,” as well as an audio CD with more musical performances.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon