Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Nerdism reigns in Southern California

My annual dream of going to Cannes always overlaps with my annual dream of going to Seattle. Then those dreams give way to my annual dream of going to Southern California. This summer I had two reasons for dreaming of heading to that sun-kissed Pacific coast. The usual reason is, of course, (geek alert) Comic-Con in San Diego. The kicker this year would have been (double geek alert) the annual Dark Shadows Festival, this year in Burbank.

The Dark Shadows fest boasted an impressive number of actors from the 1966-1971 TV series, led by 85-year-old Jonathan Frid (Barnabas Collins) himself. Fans witnessed Frid planting his hands in cement at the Vista Theatre in Hollywood before a gala screening of the 1970 feature film House of Dark Shadows. In addition to the usual panels and autograph sessions, there was a late-night double bill of a couple of the few feature films starring Frid (the 1974 horror film Seizure, Oliver Stone’s directing debut) and his main Dark Shadows leading lady Lara Parker (the 1975 horror thriller Race with the Devil, in which she played Peter Fonda’s wife). How grand it would have been to have been part of all that.

As ever, we DS fans hang on every tidbit of news we can get about the planned Dark Shadows feature film to be directed by Tim Burton. The latest word seems to be that production will begin in January and that John August (screenwriter of Burton’s Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Corpse Bride and writer/director of The Nines) has been replaced by Seth Grahame-Smith as the writer. Mr. Grahame-Smith seems an intriguing scribe for the project, as he has authored novels with such promising titles as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, both soon to be major motion pictures.

Comic-Con, in contrast, is a bit more high-profile than the Dark Shadows confab. So much news came flooding out of San Diego during the week that it was hard to keep track of it all. Clearly, the big buzz was about the major Marvel movies coming up, especially Joss Whedon’s star-studded The Avengers in 2012, preceded by Kenneth Branagh(!)’s Thor and Joe Johnston’s Captain America: First Avenger, both in 2011. DC won’t be completely left in the dust, however, since there is also a fair amount of buzz about Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern, starring Ryan Reynolds, also set for 2011. The world’s cineplexes are turning into a virtual comic book fanboy’s nirvana. On the other hand, less excitement was drummed up over Michel Gondry’s upcoming Green Hornet movie starring Seth Rogen(!) and Cameron Diaz.

Green Hornet? Green Lantern? Green is the appropriate color all right. Hollywood is doing nothing if not recycling every comic book or TV show that ever had any kind of fan base.

Nixon enemy (1916-2010)

If you’ve spent much time listening to National Public Radio during the past couple of decades or so, then you probably felt at least a bit of a personal loss upon hearing of the death of veteran newsman Daniel Schorr. He was a regular fixture for ages on Saturday mornings, reviewing the week’s news with Scott Simon on Weekend Edition, as well as providing commentaries on other days for other programs. Frankly, he was around for so long that his analyses had become fairly predictable. And there were times that I thought he was stuck back in his heyday, at the height of the Watergate scandal.

But he was still a nice change of pace from the younger, talking-points-immersed commentators that otherwise saturate television and radio news. And he had a huge amount of history to draw on. His perspective was particularly valuable when, say, the Russians needed to be put into context (he reported from Moscow for CBS in the 1950s) or some other historical context was useful for understanding some current issue. But, in the end, he was a poster boy for what many refer to as the “liberal mainstream media,” invariably representing a view of things that that aligned with the Democratic left wing. (He got into trouble with CBS over tentative comparisons with Hitler when Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater visited West Germany.) Clearly, his personal career highlight seemed to have been listed as No. 17 on Nixon’s enemies list during Watergate. His career at CBS was ultimately undone over his receipt and reporting on a secret report on CIA and FBI activities—characteristically putting his own journalistic code above orders from his employers. Over much of the 20th century, he was present at key journalistic milestones: foreign correspondent for The New York Times in the early 1950s, recruited by the legendary Edward R. Murrow for CBS News, first employee of the first cable news channel (CNN) and, finally, eminence grise on public radio.

If you want to know everything about Schorr, you couldn’t do better than to go the NPR web site and listen to the special report hosted by Simon and featuring extended excerpts from an interview by Robert Siegel on the occasion of Schorr’s 90th birthday. They dwell quite a bit on a singing performance he gave with Frank Zappa, although I was personally more impressed not that long ago when Schorr did an impromptu rendition of E. Y. “Yip” Harburg and Jay Gorney’s “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” during one of his sessions with Simon.

What you may not have heard mentioned many places is that the veteran newsman had a bit of a presence in the movies. Three times in the 1990s he had cameos as a TV journalist in Hollywood thrillers. The first was in Irwin Winkler’s 1995 The Net, starring Sandra Bullock and Jeremy Northam, in which he finally realized his dream of being a news anchor. The second time he played himself in David Fincher’s 1997 flick The Game, starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn. Finally, he was seen reporting in Edward Zwick’s 1998 political thriller The Siege, starring Denzel Washington, Annette Bening and Bruce Willis. That was a movie right up Schorr’s alley, as it speculated how the U.S. might respond to a major terrorist attack on New York City. Interestingly, in hindsight, the movie looks either prescient or preposterous depending on which political narrative you subscribe to about post-9/11 America.

Schorr’s presence was felt in one other major movie of the 1990s, although his face was not seen nor his name heard. In Michael Mann’s fact-based The Insider, Christopher Plummer played Schorr’s one-time CBS colleague Mike Wallace. At one point, the script has Wallace, in the midst of a battle with the network about airing a tobacco industry exposé, exclaim, “Do me a favor, will you? Spare me, for God’s sake. Get in the real world. What do you think? I’m going to resign in protest? To force it on the air? The answer’s no. I don’t plan to spend the end of my days wandering in the wilderness of National Public Radio.” Clearly, that shot was aimed at Daniel Schorr.

But, for what it’s worth, I have spent many more minutes of my life listening to Dan Schorr in that wilderness than I ever did watching the CBS geezers on Sunday evenings on 60 Minutes.

-S.L., 29 July 2010

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