Friday, September 29, 2006

Another Column

Below is another column I wrote for a local paper this week. I still haven't figured out how often it will appear or exactly what it will be about. Right now, my focus has been on mass media, especially movies, television, and books because that is my forte. However, I'm debating about whether to broaden it into other areas. Also, I'm not sure if I like the title. It's full of alliteration, but it doesn't seem catchy. Let me know if you have any suggestions.
Tidbits from Tom

By: Tom Varner

Last week Steve Zaillian’s long delayed version of All the King’s Men was released. The movie is loosely based upon the 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Robert Penn Warren and stars Sean Penn as Willie Stark. I haven’t seen the film myself, but from the reviews I’ve read and from talking with people who have seen it, I recommend not watching the movie. Warren’s novel itself is loosely based upon the life of Huey Long, the Kingfisher. Long was the governor of Louisiana from 1928-1932 and served as one of Louisiana’s Senators from 1932-1935 and had planned to run for the U.S. Presidency until he was assassinated on September 10, 1935. Apparently, to give the movie a more “universal” feel, Zaillian and Penn didn’t set the film in Louisiana. They also moved the timeline from the Great Depression to the 1950s. Oh, also, instead of sticking to the general themes of the novel, they decided to make the film in their own personal vision and philosophy.

Instead of seeing this latest version of All the King’s Men, you’re better off watching the classic 1949 production starring Broderick Crawford. This version stays closer to the spirit of the novel. It also won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1950. In a strange bit of irony, John Wayne was the first choice to portray Willie Stark in the 1949 version, but wrote a feisty letter turning down the role. Later, Wayne was nominated for Best Actor in 1950 for Sands of Iowa Jima, but lost out to Crawford.

If that doesn’t appeal to you, go read Warren’s novel. There’s a reason it won the Pulitzer Prize. It truly is a piece of classic American literature.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Elephant Man and Our Drug Addiction to Oil

When I was a really little kid, I remember watching this black and white movie on television with my parents. The movie was called The Elephant Man. I was fascinated by that film and the story it told. I thought it was an older film because it was filmed in black in white. This summer I found a copy of the movie on DVD and sat down and watched it this past weekend. I was kind of shocked because the film isn't that old at all (1981). It was filmed in black and white for aesthetic purposes. I think I was as riveted watching the movie this time as I was when I first saw it as a child, but for a variety of other reasons. The story is very touching and in some ways inspiring. The acting is top-notch. The cinematography unbelievable. The movie has a couple of footnotes in film history including being the film responsible for bringing about an Oscar for Best Makeup (there was no award when The Elephant Man was first released, but a new Oscar was added the year later). David Lynch directed the film and though he went on to direct and create some really bizarre and slightyl blue film and television, The Elephant Man was the movie that established him as a major director and is considered by most critics and the general populace alike as his magnum opus. If you have an opportunity to watch this film, do it.
I'm not sure about the rest of the country, but in the past few weeks gas prices have fallen. I had to fill up today and it was $2.28/gal. This "story" is making headlines in newspapers an on evening broadcasts. I guess the media gatekeepers think it's a big deal. Here's a bigger story, gas prices right now are still 20 cents higher than they were a year ago at this time--a month after Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast. Has everybody forgotten that? After Katrina, we were told prices went up because, depending on who you asked, 10%-40% of all U.S. refinining capacity was knocked out. Yet, gasoline is still more expensive now than it was a year ago and much of the media is going crazy at how "inexpensive" gas is getting. Yeah, whatever. I can't believe it that people actually believe that. By the way, if you do believe that, let me know and for a nominal fee I can sell you some real estate on the imaginative plane.

We as a country have a serious drug addiction to oil. It's a really, really, bad addiction. If we don't seek treatment, it's going to end up killing us. The worst part is that our dealers-- mainly Iran, Syria, Venezuela--happen to be the same countries that are filled with people in positions of power who want to kill all of us. I'm ready for rehab. What about you? Let's go green.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Small Update and a Column.

Below is a column I wrote for a local paper this week. It might become a weekly thing, maybe a monthly, maybe a just whenever; I'm not sure right now. I don't get paid to do it, but it did allow me to write and get published. On a totally different subject, I start a 3-week job subbing tomorrow as a special ed aid. It's not exactly my cup of tea, but it will be work and educational experience and for that I am grateful.

Tidbits from Tom
by Tom Varner

From all of the new movies released last week, the best of the bunch to see is Everyone’s Hero. It’s an animated tale about a boy who travels from New York to Chicago to get Babe Ruth’s bat back for the final stretch of the 1932 World Series and to save his dad’s job. The movie has a strong vocal cast, some great messages, and was Christopher Reeve’s last project.

In the land of television one of the biggest things on air was Survivor: Cook Islands. The show had received lots of early publicity because of the division of tribes by race. Certain leaders in New York, L.A., and other cities boycotted the show in protest, but the show finished first for the covenanted Thursday night time slot and as one of the top 10 shows of the week with 18 million viewers. Ironically, Thursday’s episode (remember 18 million people watched) was the 2nd least watched Survivor premiere ever. Only in Hollywood.

For trivia hounds, last week Ken Jennings’ (he of Jeopardy! fame) released a book entitled Brainiac. The book is a partial biography about Jennings’ life including his 75-game stint on Jeopardy! as well as an inside examination of the history of trivia and quizzing in the United States.

That’s all for now. Until next time.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Unemployment Blues.

I have a confession to make. I'm very frustrated right now. It's been five weeks since I've done any work in which I've been paid. This is one of the longest periods of my life that I've been without work since high school. I'm on the subbing list for 10 different school districts but have only received 2 calls and one I was told by the caller that I couldn't take because I wouldn't have been able to make it to school before classes began. I've applied to at least three different temp agencies, have responded to every help wanted ad I've seen listed in the papers, have filled out applications at every business that has had a help wanted sign, and have applied at places that don't want any help. I've been told that I'm overqualified for several jobs (some places don't like a young person with two college degrees working there). I even swallowed my pride and tried to file for unemployment but was turned down, too. Apparently because I worked at a non-profit organization out of state and at an educational institution within the state, there is no record of me having been employed for the past 2 1/2 years and in order to file for unemployment the agency has to have a record of you having been employed & earning a certain amount of money, which doesn't make much sense to me. So, I find myself spending my time searching for a job (even though I know as soon as the calls start I'll be subbing full-time again), writing, and trying not to get depressed (the play I'm in really helps with that). I've got the unemployment blues and it stinks.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Do You Remember?

I had just arrived at work. At the time, I was working part-time in the shoe section of a local department store. I hated my job. I was working there because it was the only employment I had been able to find. I had applied at temp agencies galore, grocery stores, movie theatres, video stores, industrial labor, and even to a few fast food places. I had made follow up telephone calls and written letters, but the only job I could find was in a department store shelving shoes. I had been planning to move the following fall out to L.A. to attend the graduate film school I had already been accepted into. I had delayed my admission for a year because I hadn’t saved enough money to move across the country to California and once I left Illinois, I was planning on never coming back. However, during that past month I had been having second-thoughts about things and was giving my life a serious re-evaluation.

I had wanted to move to California since I was in high school. It wasn’t necessarily because of the place itself; it was because of what was in that place: the heart and soul of the movie industry. I had wanted to be in films since I was a little kid. I was a talented actor, but in college I decided I’d rather make films than just act in them. After graduation I had applied to most of the major film schools in the country and had been rejected by most. But, there was one school that had accepted me and I was intending to study there.

However that year, things began to shift. I had spent the summer working at camp. I thought it was going to be my last summer doing that. I had an amazing summer and through the experiences and some of the conversations I had, I began to believe that maybe I was supposed to teach for a time. I was dreading moving back to my hometown and working at some crummy job just to earn money so I could move next fall and begin doing what I really wanted to do. I had done that long enough. Life was too short and precious for me to waste part of my life like that. Also, I felt a divine tugging in my heart. I had been avoiding that. I knew what He was going to ask of me and I wasn’t prepared to give it up. I had spent my whole life preparing to move to L.A., attend film school, and make movies. I was NOT going to give that up. It was my dream, my motivation, and what I wanted in my life.

Whatever the case, I wasn’t going to work as a shoe salesman much longer. That was killing me inside. It was so pointless and meaningless. I had decided that the Thursday before when I had re-arranged and restacked the same boxes of shoes five times in four days.

That was all before I arrived at work on Tuesday September 11, 2001 just before 8:00A.M. Central Time. Do you remember?

I arrived at the store and everything was deathly silent. It was like a scene in a bad horror movie. I walked to the back of the store and all the people that were in the building were gathered around the normal-sized televisions.

“They just blew up one of the Twin Towers!” someone said to me. “We’re under attack!” “No one knows who did it.”

“They’ve grounded all planes across the country.” The reporters on the screen were visibly shaken. They were talking non-stop, perhaps believing that if they didn’t stop talking then maybe it would all go away like a bad dream that wakes someone up in the middle of the night, but is lost in oblivion after falling back to sleep. It didn’t go away. This wasn’t a dream, not even of the nightmarish-type. This was real. A few minutes later the second plane hit the other tower.

The rest of the morning is a blur. The Pentagon has been hit. We are under attack. The White House has been hit. No, the White House has not been hit. We are under attack. It is rumored that a plane has crashed somewhere in Pennsylvania. Who is doing this? Why are they doing this? We are under attack. There are reports that a plane has crashed into Sears Tower in Chicago. We are at war and we don’t even know who are enemy is. Several terrorist groups around the world are claiming responsibility. 10,000 people are assumed to be dead so far. It has been confirmed that a plane crashed in Pennsylvania. Osama Bin Laden. We are under attack. Al-Queda. 5,000 people are thought to be dead. The ashes and destruction in New York City is worse than after Mt. Saint Helens erupted in 1980. All other planes have been accounted for and as far as we know no other buildings or landmarks have been attacked. 2,973 people died, mostly civilians.

We were released an hour early from work that afternoon. No one was coming to the store anyway. It felt like time had stood still and sped by at light-speed at the same time. The world, our country, our towns, our schools, had changed. Everything had changed. Barely into the 21st Century and it had already begun more violently than the one before had ended. Do you remember?

I went to the car I drive, got in, and sat behind the steering wheel and cried for a little while. I prayed to God and asked him to be with us all and to have mercy upon us all. The events of that day were shocking, but they didn’t really surprise me. Each day that goes by brings us farther away from Eden and closer to the Apocalypse. Until Jesus returns things are just going to get worse and worse. Despite this, I was still in shock. I think everyone was.

I remember listening to the radio and listening to passionless djs and announcers suddenly come to life and begin speaking in tones and with words that if they had started doing a few days ago it would have made their ratings blow through the roof. I remember watching television as all the national leaders of the country gathered together on some stairs, held hands together, and sang a song. I think they even prayed. It was surreal. Life had been lifeless and brought death. Now that death was causing life and liveliness. I felt like I was living in a Salvador Dali painting. Do you remember?

Five years have gone by now. So much has changed, yet so much more has stayed the same. It seems like people have forgotten. Even outside of the political arena, whatever unity we had as a nation for those few brief moments five years ago has long since been broken. People continue to exist while pretending to live, while ignoring the events of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The terror that ricocheted us into this new age is now a part of life. The cry to arms that we heard on that day is only the beginning. The enemy has been planning for this war for decades. They are prepared to fight for a century or more. Have we lost the will? Will we stay the course? Is this truly the beginning of the end, or just a few more birth pains? Have we forgotten? Perhaps some of us have, but I have not forgotten. I remember. What about you, do you remember?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

In Memoriam

Steve Irwin 1962-2006
You Will Be Missed