Friday, March 31, 2017

Tears of the Dragon

I grew up a huge Bruce Lee fan.  As I've waxed on here before about him being a nice surrogate for the eradication of the bullying in my life as a kid from childhood to adolescent youngster.   He was gone long before I became a fan, as he passed away when I was two.

Not many two year olds attending screenings of "Fist of Fury", though that's probably something that should happen, if I have anything to say about it.

Bruce has become known for far more than his movie stardom as time has gone by.  He has become largely regarded for furthering martial arts beyond its "classical mess" status, creating a hybrid form of the science he referred to as Jeet Kune Do, which is still studied and taught today.  He was a deep philosophical thinker and many of his own creations are deeply felt and repeated.

Be Water, My Friend.

Emotional content, not anger.

He inspired me into the two plus years of martial arts study that I wrapped myself up in, not just the films I saw him in growing up, but reading "The Tao of Jeet Kune Do" and his famous letters and other writings about training your mind.  I've have engaged in some, and am still trying to incorporate more of the wisdom....

It's hard rewiring an old house, but not impossible.  I started in my 30's, and am still a work in progress.

But without The Little Dragon, I may not have even begun.

As a kid thinking back, I used to get sad when I'd remember that he was gone.  He was 32, and like Jimi Hendrix, Roberto Clemente, and Anton Yelchin, had a hell of a lot more to give.   If I think much about it, it can still tear me up to this day.  So I try to focus on the positives the man brought to the ethereal table in his flicker on this plane.

He also brought us his son, who was trying to carry on that flame.

Brandon Bruce Lee died on this date in 1993 from an unfortunate and unnecessary gunshot wound on the set of "The Crow".  That movie is demonstrably melancholy, and coupled with Brandon's passing while trying to bring James O'Barr's graphic novel on grief and recovery to life, the film contains power few movies have.  I can name maybe 3 other movies that have hit me in that place.

By all accounts Brandon was as wise as his father, if far less intense.  In interviews he had a calm demeanor coupled with a self-deprecating humor that was as charming as the smile he and his father both flashed like a sword.  He seemed to carry a more relaxed angle on life and peace, though I'm sure Bruce and he had the same views on where the world should be as a whole.

He didn't explode onto the scene as much as back into it.  After having the lead in one Hong Kong action film, "Legacy of Rage", he starred in an updating of the television series, "Kung Fu" (I won't go into the irony there) before roles in smaller films "Laser Mission" and "Showdown in Little Tokyo".   They were lackluster affairs that still showed his potential screen presence, if little else.

Then came "Rapid Fire"

Brandon was wicked good at Kung Fu.  he may not have been dad by a long shot, but he could get it done.  What Brandon brought to the table was choreography heavily influenced by legend Jackie Chan. I was excited by a martial arts persona more than I had since I was a kid.  Then I had read in an article that he had been given the lead in Alex Proyas' upcoming film, "The Crow".

He died without much shooting left for his character. That's why the film, after being in turnaround a couple of times, was finally finished and released.

There was no martial arts in "The Crow"... It was unabashed id.  Melancholy and rage dripped from every frame of the movie, and Brandon's death only seemed to burn it into the images on screen.  If there ever was a movie for a person so immersed in hurt, so unflagging in their sorrow, it's "The Crow".  It may not be medicine for when you feel that way, but at at least a person can know someone identifies with them when they're in that place.

It's uncertain to me if that's a good thing, though.  As powerful as "The Crow" is, it sadly acts as a reminder of how good Lee was.  He could act. He was far more than a martial arts icon.  His performance is on par with the rest of the film, morose, longing, and on the edge.

It seems to be grief encapsulated.  "The Crow" shows there is no answer for the wrongs of the world, why this young man had to die so young, on screen and off.  The film seems to underline the ridiculous uncertainty and ultimate unfairness wrought by the world, while being a vile, black example of it at the same time.

And then you remember his father died mysteriously of a cerebral edema himself in 1973, 20 years prior.  Two strange, unfair, out of nowhere losses of two people, father and son, who had so much to give and were just ready to start unleashing it on a global level.

As much joy as these two men gave me, the disappointment at what could have been starts to creep over it.

But I have to remember:  They wouldn't want me to think that way, they wouldn't want anyone to think that way.

So I don't.  Not for as long as I probably would have, had it not been for them.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Bound to the Past #1

I had never gotten the chance to see "The Empire Strikes Back" theatrically. Life was as Billy Crystal's Fernando called it, "Crazy-go-nuts". My Dad, who had taken several of us to see the original "Star Wars" in its initial run, had passed away. There wasn't time to go "to the show" anymore during that period, really.

I did catch "Empire" theatrically in a re-release sometime in the summer of 1981 in Marshfield, Wisconsin, but that, my friends, is truly irrelevant and sadly anti-climactic.

Anyway, in a drug store somewhere, my Mom and I had stumbled across a paperback-sized version of the Marvel Comics graphic-novel styled novelization. I was exceedingly thrilled. At least I would know what the hell happened. I guess you could call what I was feeling relief, really.   I began reading it on the ride home, and thanked my dear mother about 235 times in the process.

When discussing the epic film (which has since become my favorite in the long-winded series) at school with my chums, I would now at least know what the Hoth I was talking about. I still acted as though I had seen the film going forward. For the opposite to be true would be a disgrace.

Several years prior, I had an over sized (what comic book nerfherders call "Treasury-sized") edition of the whole Marvel schpiel of the original 1977 classic. I loved that thing. I brutalized it in the process. Alas, at the age of 6, you didn't prospect comic books, man. You read the damn things.

Over and Over.

I can now glowingly re-read that masterpiece thanks to Frank and Mary, my mother and father-in-law, as last Christmas they purchased me the entire thing in a glorious hardbound edition. When I re-read it, I physically experienced an explosive wave of nostalgia. I wish there was a single-word encapsulation of that emotion. Sorry I can't do that for you, but my regret is overcome by my sadness at my own verbal ineptitude.

The "Empire" paperback isn't quite as cool as the original, but it still means a lot to me to this day. Great work by writer Archie Godwin, whose name comes up to this day as creator of the great Luke Cage character, a superhero who has a great show running on Netflix.  The pencils by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon were pretty slick. Yeoman's work by all 3 gentleman.

I also loved the paperback size as opposed to the Treasury, it's one distinct advantage. For that sizing made lugging it around easier and less damaging.  After all, this was the melding of Comic Books and the Star Wars universe, and it aint to be played with.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Spectrum Files #1: In Which I Salute Chuck Barris

Volume 1:  The Gong Show Movie

Not too long ago my wife and I sat down to watch George Clooney's "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind".  It's the supposed autobiographical journey of one Chuck Barris. 

Yes, he of "The Gong Show" fame.  

Now it's pretty well known that he wrote the hit song "Palisades Park" that Freddy Cannon made famous and was a game show genius producer being behind "The Dating Game" among others including "The Gong Show".  What this film (based upon Barris' own book) is trying to tell you is that besides all of those credit-deserving ventures, he was once a highly successful assassin for the CIA. 

I won't give any more credence to that voluminous tidbit other than acknowledging that it made for a hell of a premise and an even greater movie. 

As a kid in the early 80's Spectrum showcased "The Gong Show Movie".  I was completely confused, as other than catching a few moments at the end of an episode that was an early evening lead-in to prime time television, I had never seen the show.  (Later when my parents eventually got cable, I caught some reruns on the fledgling USA Network, however.)

The movie mystified it me.  The premise of "The Gong Show Movie" is that it is a fictional week in the life of Barris, as he tries to put together episodes of the show for impending broadcast.  I remember a lot of weird things happening including bizarre auditions,  Jaye P. Morgan with a ridiculous strip-tease, and a "Doors"-like venture into the desert as a result of a nervous breakdown for Mr. Barris.  Also, one of the auditioners sang a song about legalizing prostitution that his wife danced to, resulting in my friend and I getting into trouble for singing later.

Hey, I had no idea what we were singing about. I was 10. 

I didn't make much out of the film other than the fact that Barris was a really strange guy.  Overall,  he confused me as a kid, entertained me as a teen later in those affore-mentioned reruns, and then completely had me twisted around as an adult thanks to "Confessions".  

What an INSANE story!!  CIA??  Really?  I think he claimed something like the CIA never came down on him for speaking up, as no one would believe him anyway.  Seems unlikely,  but I digress.

Chuck Barris passed away this past week at the age of 87.  Say what you will about the man, but he accomplished several lifetimes worth of craziness (minus the CIA assassinations, you include those, it's a whole nother story) in his single one.  Plus, he made me laugh. I will always see him doing that repetitive and predictable clap that the audience did with him as he introduced guests.  I'm sure they did it out of insult and affection both.  The way he tipped his head back during the intros like Drew Brees does just before a throw.  The difference being I think Barris' eyes were closed. 

I guess you could say I admire him in a weird way for all of that, and he entertained millions during his lengthy show biz career.  I'm no Chuck Barris expert, but I know a dynamo when I see one. 

Now here's some Gene Gene the Dancing Machine:  (For a late 70's variety show, the editing here is big-league)