The Forgotten Influence Of MuchMusic

For almost 15 years, my Dad was obsessed with taping music videos.  He actually kept track of every single one he ever recorded on Beta & VHS by writing them all down on these tiny pieces of three-ring paper that he kept in this tiny brown binder.  The list was alphabetized by artist.  Under each name were the video titles (not always the correct ones) and the corresponding cassette(s) they were recorded on.  Some were recorded multiple times because he either loved them so much or just wanted to record right to the end of a blank tape.  (In 2004, most of them (we’re talking hundreds of tapes) were finally thrown out after years of collecting dust.)

When he started doing this in the early 80s, he would set the timer for programs like Friday Night Videos on NBC and City Limits on a local Toronto station called City TV.  Hosted by aspiring songwriter Christopher Ward (and occasionally featuring a young comic named Mike Myers), City Limits aired every Saturday & Sunday in the wee hours of the morning.  Every episode was six hours long.

The mix of performers pantomiming to their singles was always eclectic.  In between videos featuring mainstream acts like Phil Collins & Pat Benatar were more cutting edge outfits like Depeche Mode and Siouxsie & The Banshees.  Looking back, it’s amazing the show was able to showcase so many different clips during their epic weekend broadcasts.  There weren’t many videos being produced during this period.

So you can only imagine how initially thrilled my Dad was when MuchMusic launched on August 31, 1984.  Unfortunately, The Nation’s Music Station began as a Pay-TV service (my Dad wasn’t going to give our local cable company more dough) so, he only taped videos during their free preview weekends, a semi-regular sales tactic employed to attract more subscribers.

Just a few years later, Much became part of our regular cable package.  And every day until the fall of 1995, Dad was constantly watching hoping to catch something he hadn’t already recorded before.  When he wasn’t watching, he asked me to take over so he wouldn’t miss anything.

Of all the video shows Much aired in its early years, there was only one he couldn’t miss:  the Hostess Sneak Previews.  Usually hosted by Steve Anthony, a blond, curly-haired goofball who drove my Dad nuts, it was the best place to see the latest clips.  Even after the cancellation of CBC shows like Video Hits & Good Rockin’ Tonight and another City-TV program called Toronto Rocks, among numerous others, he would continue to suffer through Anthony’s “paper hell” schtick (there were no teleprompters) just to add the newest titles to his growing collection.  (He must’ve taped tens of thousands of clips over the years.)

I’m not sure now why Dad lost interest in them altogether, but about a decade later, MuchMusic itself would drastically cut back on fully honouring this part of its mandate.  For most of the first half of its existence, with the exception of Erica Ehm’s Fashion Notes, every program it aired dealt exclusively with music.  Besides the regular hours devoted to random videos, there were specialty shows devoted to specific genres:  Outlaws & Heroes (Country), Rap City (Hip Hop), X-Tendamix (Dance), Soul In The City (R&B), Clip Trip (International), Pepsi Power Hour (Heavy Metal), MushMusic (Adult Contemporary), French Kiss (French Canadian), Indie Street (unsigned bands), The Wedge, The Punk Show and the revamped City Limits (Alternative Rock) and the Coca-Cola Countdown (Pop).

On Saturday nights, there were the Big Ticket Concerts.  On Saturday afternoons, there was the all-request show R.S.V.P. (Requested Songs for Video Play), which was spun off into Daily R.S.V.P. during weekday broadcasts.  There was Much West (featuring Terry David Mulligan with his giant cellphone covering Canadian music on the West Coast) and Much East (the two Mikes covering the East Coast).  There was the daily artist Spotlight which featured videos & interview excerpts of the biggest names in the business, past and present.  And then, on Mondays, there was the MuchMusicMovie which only featured musicals like Quadrophenia and Purple Rain.

Today, as Much celebrates its 30th Anniversary, only two of these shows remain on the air:  the weekly Countdown (minus its original sponsor) and the Much Movie (which isn’t restricted to music-themed features or a specific day any more).  Yes, they still play videos for a couple hours every afternoon.  But for the most part, today’s Much is nothing like yesterday’s MuchMusic.  There are far more sitcoms, dramas and reality shows, totally unrelated to music, dominating its daily schedule.

It’s sad, really.  When Moses Znaimer, the founder of both Much and City-TV, ran things, the channel mattered.  There was a serious mission to honour not just music in general, but Canadian musicians specifically.  MuchMusic went out of its way to push homegrown talent like Platinum Blonde, The Tragically Hip, The Northern Pikes, Jann Arden, Sloan, Alannah Myles (who found great success collaborating with Christopher Ward), Chalk Circle, I Mother Earth, 54-40, The Barenaked Ladies, Blue Rodeo, The Tea Party and countless others to national success, while existing stars like Neil Young and Rush continued to flourish.

Thanks to its VideoFact program (since renamed MuchFact) which helped fund videos for indie acts, bands like The Pursuit Of Happiness, Moist, Maestro Fresh-Wes and The Age Of Electric were all able to get major label deals.  French Canadian performers like Celine Dion, Roch Voisine and Mitsou would’ve never broken out of Quebec without the nationwide platform that the channel provided for them.  And because Much was dedicated to breaking acts from various genres, Shania Twain, Alanis Morissette and The Rankin Family were all able to build their own audiences through the excessive airings of their respective videos.

In the last decade or so, it’s hard to think of Much as the influential tastemaker it once prided itself on being.  Beyond the breakout successes of Billy Talent, Sam Roberts, Metric & The Arcade Fire in the early Aughts, the channel is now far more interested in promoting Fresh Prince & Simpsons reruns and teen sudsers like Degrassi than pushing the next great Canadian act.  (Sorry but Hedley, Michael Buble, Carly Rae Jepsen & Justin Bieber just don’t count.)

To be fair, Much’s decline isn’t entirely its own fault.  Part of the problem, of course, is the Internet.  Thanks to YouTube and countless imitators, music fans can become their own video programmers by simply scouring extensive lists of clips online at their leisure and playing them in an instant.  Since the channel rarely plays classic videos from the past anymore, if one wanted to see, say, Killing Joke’s Love Like Blood right this second, one could do so right now with absolutely no difficulty (as long as one has a fast ISP).  And if one was desperate to see something brand new that’s just been released, well, it wouldn’t take one long to find that clip online, as well.

But what’s lost in that process are passionate TV programmers and VJs urging you to check out an artist or a band you’ve never heard of who they think you’ll really dig and follow for years to come.  There’s no steering you towards the dangerous, the exciting and the unexpected any more.  (Yes, Much has videos on its website but it’s really not the same.)

In fact, when Much does play videos during their afternoon Videoflows, there are no VJs introducing them at all.  It’s up to you to find out more about the current artists they still bother to play.  Unfortunately, few of them are worth caring about.  (What the hell happened to rock and roll?  Is it truly dead?)

Today’s music fans have a plethora of choices when it comes to seeing videos on the Internet.  During my childhood, there was no on-demand, only request shows and no guarantee of that request being granted on-air.  (I was able to get a Rush video played on Toronto Rocks once when Christopher Ward guest hosted, though.)

Still, it was fantastic to watch a channel that played nothing but videos for hours and hours, exposing you to a world of music you never knew existed, reminding you of established acts you had forgotten about and introducing you to artists who would become lifelong favourites.  (It’s why my Dad became a major fan of the Crash Test Dummies.)

As it celebrates 30 years on the air in Canada, that’s the MuchMusic I wish still existed.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
2:01 a.m.

CORRECTION:  City Limits was actually six hours long, not five like I originally wrote.  The correct running time for the program has been added to the original text.  My memory is not as good as I thought it was.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, August 29, 2014
2:33 a.m.

Published in: on August 26, 2014 at 2:02 am  Leave a Comment  

SummerSlam Trivia

1. Hulk Hogan has never defended the WWF Championship at SummerSlam.  The two occasions he was champion during the event (1989 & 1991), he wrestled in tag team matches.  He’s also undefeated.  He’s won all six of his encounters.  Also unbeaten is Ric Flair (he’s 2-0) and the short-lived Finnish villain Ludvig Borga who defeated Marty Jannetty in his only appearance at the annual supercard in 1993.  Borga committed suicide in 2010.

2. Brutus Beefcake was supposed to win the InterContinental title from The Honky Tonk Man at the inaugural show in 1988.  Despite having chased the champion for nearly a year, it was decided just weeks before that The Ultimate Warrior would take his place instead.  To write him out of the match, Beefcake started a feud with Outlaw Ron Bass.  After The Barber saved a jobber from being harmed by him post-squash during one of the weekly TV shows, he cut Miss Betsy (Bass’ bullwhip) in half and part of his cowboy hat, as well.

Subsequently, an infuriated Bass interfered in Beefcake’s own squash with a different jobber and proceeded to cut him on the forehead with Bret & Bart Maverick (his spurs).  Yes, a slightly bloody forehead was the reason Beefcake didn’t appear at SummerSlam 88.  (Curiously, Bass didn’t wrestle, either.)  Because no official opponent was announced before the event, The Honky Tonk Man demanded anybody come down & fight him for the title.  The Warrior’s music hit and in less than a minute, he ended the longest IC reign in history.  Beefcake would never get another chance to become champion.

3. Speaking of the Warrior, he was supposed to turn heel at the 1992 show.  In the build-up, Ric Flair & Mr. Perfect tantalized fans by claiming that either the man from Parts Unknown or his opponent, WWF Champion Randy “Macho Man” Savage, both popular babyfaces, had secretly aligned with them, two nefarious villains.  Unfortunately, Warrior was against this plan.  So, instead, during their WWF Championship match, Flair & Perfect attacked both men.  (Warrior won the match by countout but not the title.)  Warrior & Savage would later briefly team up themselves to become The Ultimate Maniacs.

4. SummerSlam 1992 was the only event in the show’s history to not air live on pay-per-view.  (It was also the only time it was held outside of North America and in an outdoor stadium.)  Because it took place at Wembley Stadium in London, England, it was decided to tape everything in advance rather than deal with the cumbersome time difference.  The show took place on August 29th but was broadcast stateside on the 31st.  Because of the wide reach of the Internet, this could never happen today without pre-taped spoilers being leaked by attendees to online dirt sheets.  (Back then, the World Wide Web was only in its infancy.)

Furthermore, 3 matches that took place during the taping never aired during the initial North American broadcast due to time constraints.  They’re also not on the DVD of the show.  For the record, Papa Shango beat Tito Santana; Hacksaw Jim Duggan & The Bushwhackers defeated The Nasty Boys & The Mountie; and Tatanka pinned The Berzerker.

5. Mr. Perfect was not at 100% when he unsuccessfully defended his IC title against Bret “The Hitman” Hart at the 1991 show.  Despite suffering from a back injury, he wanted to put over his real-life friend during Hart’s second attempt at becoming a singles star.  Hart’s proud parents, Stu & Helen, were in attendance.  During the post-match interview with his father, Lord Alfred Hayes cut him off while he was still talking.

6. The Undertaker nearly died at SummerSlam 1996.  During his infamous Boiler Room Match with Mankind, he suffered a severe staph infection.  Had he not gone to the hospital in time, he wouldn’t have survived.  Thank goodness that portion of the match was pre-taped the day before the live show.  This was the encounter where his longtime mentor, Paul Bearer, turned on him & joined forces with Mankind who handed The Dead Man his first SummerSlam defeat after four consecutive victories at the event.

7. During the preparation for their match at SummerSlam 1997, Owen Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin argued over one of the spots they were planning.  Hart wanted to do a reverse piledriver like a traditional piledriver where the man delivering it lands on his ass.  Knowing firsthand how dangerous that is (years earlier, Austin executed that exact move to a Japanese wrestler named Masahiro Chono with disastrous results), Stone Cold was adamant it be performed like the Undertaker’s Tombstone where the man delivering it lands on his knees.  In the end, Hart did it on his ass and Austin suffered a neck injury so severe for a few moments he couldn’t feel anything in his extremities.  There was a deep concern that he was paralyzed.

Complicating matters was that this was an IC title match and Hart, the champion, was supposed to put over Austin to make him the new titleholder.  Having to wait around a bit before Austin could continue, the ending was as awkward as it gets.  Hart pretended to lose his balance as a seriously hurt Austin struggled to perform a reverse roll-up to get the pin.  Hart never apologized for the mistake and Austin never forgave him.  The King of Harts tragically died two years later during his botched entrance at the 1999 Over The Edge event.

8. What was the first heel turn in SummerSlam history?  Believe it or not, it was Sapphire in 1990.  At the time, she was Dusty Rhodes’ cornerperson.  But after she failed to show up for her match with Sensational Sherri (who won by forfeit), she later turned up in a fur coat with The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase.  (He had been sending her expensive anonymous gifts for weeks.)  Dumbfounded and heartbroken, Rhodes lost a quick match that night to the Macho King Randy Savage.  Sapphire died in 1996.

9. The Model Rick Martel and Shawn Michaels squared off in the first villain vs. villain match at SummerSlam at the Wembley extravaganza in 1992.  It had an unusual stipulation:  no hitting in the face.  (Both characters were self-absorbed pretty boys.)  Sensational Sherri, then in the corner of Michaels and instrumental in getting him over as a singles star, was booked to be torn between both men.  It ended in a double countout.  She stuck with Michaels.

10. The WWF Championship was successfully defended at SummerSlam until 1997 when Bret Hart defeated The Undertaker to win his final world title, thanks to an ill-timed chair shot by guest referee Shawn Michaels, the man who would beat him for it at that year’s infamous Survivor Series.  11 more World Champions have been pushed at the event since then.

11. The ECW Championship is the only title that has never changed hands at SummerSlam.

12. If you’re the InterContinental Champion preparing to defend your title at the biggest event of the summer, you should be worried.  New IC Champions have been crowned 14 times, more than any other title.

13. No villain has ever won a traditional steel cage match at SummerSlam.

14. What was the shortest match in the history of this show?  There’s a tie for that honour.  In 2009, Christian defeated William Regal to retain his ECW Championship.  And in 2013, Randy Orton cashed in his Money In The Bank contract on just-crowned WWE Champion Daniel Bryan to steal the title.  Both matches, according to Wikipedia, lasted 8 seconds.  What’s the longest one?  The 7-on-7 elimination tag team match that pitted John Cena, Bret Hart, R-Truth, John Morrison, Chris Jericho, Edge & the returning Daniel Byran against The Nexus in 2010.  It lasted more than 35 minutes.  John Cena was the sole survivor.

15. Ryback & Kane both made their pay-per-view debuts in the WWE at SummerSlam under different characters.  In 1995, Kane was originally Isaac Yankem, Jerry Lawler’s sadomasochistic dentist.  He lost to Bret Hart by DQ.  And in 2010, Ryback first emerged as Skip Sheffield as part of The Nexus in the above-mentioned elimination tag match.

16. Ted DiBiase wrestled his final match against Razor Ramon in the opening bout of the event in 1993.  Something went wrong at the end when Ramon used his Razor’s Edge finisher to get the 3-count.  (It wasn’t performed safely enough.)  DiBiase was too hurt to ever compete again but thanks to his magnificent promo skills he was retooled as a manager both in the WWF and later, the WCW.

17. The Legion Of Doom made history in 1991 when they defeated The Nasty Boys for the WWF Tag Team titles.  They became the only tag team to have won the AWA, NWA & WWF tag belts, a feat that can never be repeated.

18. SummerSlam is the only one of the original four, ongoing WWE pay-per-views (WrestleMania, The Royal Rumble and The Survivor Series being the others) to be the setting for two successful Money In The Bank cash-ins.  Alberto Del Rio took advantage of a power bombed CM Punk to win the WWE title in 2011 and all Randy Orton had to do was cover a pedigreed Daniel Bryan to snag it in 2013.

19. The only time Jesse “The Body” Ventura wasn’t a colour commentator during a WWF pay-per-view event in the 80s was at the first SummerSlam in 1988.  The reason?  He was the guest referee for the Megapowers/Megabucks tag team main event.  He reluctantly made the 3-count for the babyfaces.  11 years later, while governor of Minnesota, he controversially returned to guest referee the Triple Threat match between Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mankind & Triple H for the WWF Championship.  Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy won the title.

20. There has been at least one new champion crowned at every SummerSlam with the notable exceptions of 1993, 1996, 2003, 2006 & 2007 where there were none.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, August 17, 2014
8:17 p.m.

UPDATE:  Because Dolph Ziggler won the IC title from The Miz and Brock Lesnar destroyed John Cena to become the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion at SummerSlam 2014, the figures originally mentioned in numbers 10 & 12 have now been updated to reflect these changes.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, August 17, 2014
11:35 p.m.

Published in: on August 17, 2014 at 8:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Sadness Beneath

(For Mr. Williams.)

How could he end such a beautiful life?
Why did he throw it all away?
Did he not think of his kids & wife
And all who loved to watch him play?

Unanswered questions from a chorus in shock
Fumbling for reason in a time of grief
He often seemed as solid as a rock
And never in need of permanent relief

It’s hard to understand a troubled mind
That deludes itself into believing the worst
That out there, you’re funny, sharp & kind
But in here, you’re trapped, lonely & cursed

The sadness beneath is a silent killer
And no one but its victims can be aware
So you mask the pain, pretend to be a pillar
While quietly drowning in a sea of despair

You accept the lies that define your thinking
But work twice as hard to hide their influence
The truth gets lost in your heavy drinking
Completely buried in this deadly confluence

Behind the jokes is a trail of shame
Launched by traumatic events of the past
An extraordinary man with a famous name
Ravaged by dishonesty much too fast

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
11:00 p.m.

Published in: on August 12, 2014 at 11:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Former Obama Aide’s Revealing Rolling Stone Article

Reid Cherlin used to work for The Obama Administration.  After the election of the new President in 2008, he worked in the Press Secretary’s Office as one of its spokespeople.  He left the gig a couple of years later.

In a new piece for Rolling Stone magazine, he recounts his experiences from the inside.  It has to be read to be believed.

You see, Mr. Cherlin, as he readily admits in the middle of paragraph seven, is an unabashed Obama fan:

“I’m biased in that I think Obama is right about most things.  I also believe he’ll be remembered as an excellent president.”

And he thinks his former boss is deeply misunderstood, thanks to those big meanies in the media or “the filter”, as he dismissively describes them:

“It’s always an easy story to point out where the president has failed to deliver on his promises.”

Throughout the article about Obama’s “messy relationship with the press”, Cherlin’s tone is often defensive with regards to press criticism, very much reflecting the feelings of his former boss.

Take Politico, for instance.  Founded during the 2008 campaign, “Obama’s advisers detested Politico from the start, accurately recognizing its potential to wreak havoc on their carefully crafted narratives, and to inspire their competitors to indulge in the same bad habits.” In other words, they hated the site for performing the terrible crime of journalism.

And then there are the individual reporters who angered the Administration.  In April of this year, New York Times White House correspondent Mark Landler got reamed out in Air Force One’s press cabin in front of his colleagues for co-writing a cover story that declared one of Obama’s foreign trips a flop while it was still in progress.  Because it was an off-the-record moment, “a definitive accounting of what was said is hard to come by…”

So, Cherlin paraphrases:

“…the thrust of the president’s message was this: Foreign policy is hard, you guys are scoring it like a campaign debate, and moreover, you’re doing it inaccurately.”

Foreign policy is hard?  Good Lord.  As for supposed examples of journalistic inaccuracies, none are mentioned.  Huge shocker.

Some journalists who pissed off Obama got punished for leaking information the government expected to be kept secret, albeit until they deemed it ready for public consumption.  Buzzfeed reporter Chris Geidner was “openly snubbed” by the White House for reporting on a “secret strategy meeting” with LGBT activists.  His punishment?  Being purposefully left out of a conference call that involved news of an upcoming executive order.

“Two months before, the White House had levied similar punishment on The New York Times for skirting a restriction called an embargo (information provided in advance on the condition that it can’t be reported before a certain set time). Times writers used their own sourcing to report the story early, and the next time an embargoed document came around, detailing one of the president’s upcoming speeches, Times correspondents found themselves excluded from the party.”

Not only do journalists get punished for disobeying silly restrictions like this that are imposed on them by these paranoid government officials, they can get bypassed completely.  Following the phony controversy surrounding this famous Obama comment about conservatives – “They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” – made during a private fundraiser in the 2008 Presidential campaign, according to Cherlin, the White House “began exploring ways to re-exert control, ignoring the media altogether.”

Which explains why the announcement of Joe Biden as Obama’s running mate was done via text.

Beyond the grudges the Administration holds against specific journalists, it’s startling to read Cherlin’s comments about the press in general and how the government is supposed to react to their questioning.  Consider the Veteran Affairs scandal that erupted this year.  As a chorus of critics demanded the resignation of General Eric Shinseki, the embattled VA Secretary who Obama selected to run the troubled agency in 2009 after promising to cut ridiculously long wait times for severely injured war veterans, President Obama initially stood by his man.  Then, during a Press Room briefing weeks after the scandal broke, he finally announced Shinseki’s departure.

Cherlin is perplexed by this.  While correctly noting that the VA’s problems are “systemic” and go back decades, he can’t understand why Shinseki had to be removed from his job:

“…vets face long waits and substandard care on a systemic basis, and…firing the head of the agency probably will do nothing to change that.”

Then, he quotes former WH Press Secretary Robert Gibbs:

“…Washington has these things where in order for a story to stop and the next chapter to be written…there have to be these inflection points…”  Like “ritual firings”, Cherlin adds.

In other words, why do we have to fire these incompetent people?  It’s not their fault!  This isn’t their problem!  They didn’t start the fire!  Blame the other clowns who came before them!

With regards to the persecution of journalists like the widely respected New York Times national security reporter James Risen, Cherlin quotes an anonymous Obama official who absurdly asserts that this is one of those “Bush investigations” that the administration didn’t initiate but merely inherited, as if the President had no choice but to keep it going.  And that Obama “expressed both publicly and privately his frustration with the way they are being handled and has said reporters should never be in trouble for doing their job.”

Curiously, this follows a brief summary of the Risen case (the Administration wants him to testify in the Jeffrey Sterling leak case because they believe he was the source for a chapter in his State Of War book involving the secret US cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear facility) where Cherlin correctly notes that “the Supreme Court, at the urging of Obama’s Justice Department, declined to hear Risen’s appeal.”  Despite Obama asserting that “reporters should never be in trouble for doing their job”, he won’t stop hounding Risen to testify when he knows the reporter will never reveal his source and is prepared to go to prison if it comes to that.  (If journalists can’t protect their sources, why would anyone confide in them?)

It’s bad enough Cherlin doesn’t mention the most serious of Obama’s transgressions (drones, Gitmo, Bagram, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan, the war on drugs, excessive deportations, the war on whistleblowers, the NSA’s global surveillance state, delays in releasing the CIA torture report, prison torture, racial profiling of Muslims, the militarization of law enforcement) when listing a number of unflattering media stories that have diminished the President’s stature.  It’s even worse when he suggests that the reason the media is so brutal to Obama in the first place is not that he has questionable policies but because the traditional news business is dying and as a result, anybody can be a journalist as long as they can do Buzzfeed listicles and have any kind of political grievance regardless of its factual validity.

Cherlin quotes recently retired WH Press Secretary Jay Carney, previously a 2o-year journalist who worked for Time Magazine, who claims that because “of all the cutting and slashing” of media jobs “everybody’s strung out and incapable of taking a breath and actually thinking about what they’re saying or writing.”

No actual examples are given.  Furthermore, there is much whining about having to respond to any reporter inquiries at all, whether they be serious or otherwise.  The overall sense of powerlessness Cherlin & others convey in the article is striking.  It’s as if they’re not responsible for anything bad that happens.

There’s an interesting section where Cherlin writes about his own interactions with the media.  It turns out he was a screamer, particularly when reporters wouldn’t play ball.  He wasn’t the only one:

“It didn’t take long for the group [of White House press aides] to earn a reputation as overly quick to scream to get their way, or to exact a price for stories they saw as unfair.”

Toddlers are less childish.  At any event, it was a failed tactic:

“…as the years passed and the novelty of an Obama presidency leached away, the atmosphere of presumption and entitlement to good coverage has worn poorly.”

“Presumption” and “entitlement”.  The idea that it’s imperative upon the press to heap constant praise on this federal government or else speaks volumes.  Ironically, considering the lack of skepticism that a number of beltway journalists exhibit when covering this administration, particularly on national security issues, I’d say Obama is still getting his way, despite all his growing scandals.  His persecutions of government whistleblowers and the journalists who employ them as sources are proof of that.  With some notable exceptions, he has scared the media into various fits of self-censorship.  A definite chill is being felt throughout the entire news business.

Cherlin’s Rolling Stone article is accompanied by an illustration of a wounded, bandaged Obama glaring sullenly at a small group of journos reimagined as voracious lions ready to pounce on him repeatedly.

Unfortunately, the reality, despite Cherlin’s often wimpy, unfounded assertions, is quite the opposite.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
7:58 p.m.

 

 

Published in: on August 5, 2014 at 7:58 pm  Comments (2)  

President Obama’s War Crimes

He promised to deliver “hope” and “change” to the American people.  He vowed to oversee “the most transparent administration in history”.  He reassured the world that he was different from George W. Bush, that he would scale back the excesses and abuses of The War on Terror, and bring the United States back into harmony with international law.

But after five and a half years in The White House, President Barack Obama has a lot of explaining to do.  As cynicism and anger continue to rise in global opposition to his policies, it’s time to examine the worst of his transgressions, the war crimes he has committed in America’s name.

Torture

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed The United Nations Convention against Torture. Article 2 states that all participating nations “shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.”

Two times a day at the Guantanamo Bay gulag in Cuba, hunger striking detainees are forcibly removed from their cages by US military personnel in riot gear and taken to an isolated room where they are strapped into a chair.

Then, a tube is violently stuffed down their throat through one of their nostrils.  It is filled with liquid meal replacement. Detainees often feel the need to vomit because of the excruciating pain.  But they can’t or the process has to start all over again.  It can take as long as two hours to complete.  There are no bathroom breaks.

When questioned about this barbaric practice, which has been condemned by numerous medical associations, Obama argued that he didn’t want the detainees to die.  So torturing them is the only alternative?

Article 12 of the UN Convention explicitly states that there should be “a prompt and impartial investigation…wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.”

During a famous 2009 interview on ABC shortly after winning the Presidency, Obama declared that it was best to “look forward, not backward” with regards to the Bush Administration’s horrifying torture legacy, the first of many examples of his utter contempt for international law.

Article 13 enforces the obligation to prevent the “ill-treatment or intimidation” of the tortured as well as whistleblowers “as a consequence of his complaint or any evidence given.”

Syrian detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who was cleared for release from Gitmo years ago, has been trying to convince a judge to end his force feeding for good.  No longer able to walk, he requires a wheelchair.  He claims the US military has taken it away because of his ongoing legal fight.  Despite a brief reprieve, he continues to be violently force fed against his will.  He grows weaker by the day.

In Afghanistan, the US Army continues to oversee the Bagram gulag where roughly a few dozen prisoners remain.  As the BBC noted in 2010, they have been subjected to all kinds of psychological torture.  And as The Guardian reported recently, they, too, have been hunger striking in protest.

What does it say about the state of the American justice system that John Kiriakou, the former CIA operative who blew the whistle on Bush’s torture policy (which is clearly continuing under Obama), is the only government official to ever pay a price for it, thanks to Obama’s ruthless, “legal” retaliation.

Indefinite Detention

As of this writing, there are 149 detainees remaining in Gitmo and about 40 in Bagram.  (And those are just the gulags we know about.  (AUGUST 4 UPDATE:  I had forgotten about Somalia.))  More than half of those in Gitmo have been cleared for release, meaning they are not guilty of any crime, by two different administrations.

The Bagram detainees are a different story.  Like the Gitmo prisoners, they have also not been charged with any wrongdoing.  But it’s not certain if any of them have been cleared by the military.  (AUGUST 4 UPDATE:  Yunus Rahmatullah has been released.)  They certainly haven’t had their day in any legitimate courtroom.

As a result of so much cowardly inaction by Obama, hunger strikes (which began during the Bush era) are the last resort of these desperate people who have completely and understandably run out of patience.  (Some have been locked up in cages for a decade or longer.)

Despite vowing to close Gitmo within the first year of his Presidency, Obama was never interested in releasing all the detainees.  Instead, he had hoped to relocate them to a Supermax prison somewhere in America.  Republicans balked and the Gitmo gulag remains open for torturous business.

As Human Rights Watch noted in 2011, this is a violation of the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which “prohibits arbitrary detention”.  (The US signed the treaty in 1992.)  Furthermore, “detentions are arbitrary if not in accordance with due process of law or are manifestly disproportional, unjust or unpredictable.”

Before it was practically neutered by Bush’s draconian Military Commissions Act of 2006, indefinite detention would also be a human rights violation under the Clinton-era War Crimes Act of 1996 which also condemns torture.

With no domestic or international investigative body willing to hold Obama accountable for this and no sustainable, intensely pressurized public campaign against the policy, indefinite detention will continue unabated as the failed War on Terror drags on.

Drone Assassinations

Drones were first developed during President Clinton’s time in office but became flying death machines during the Bush years.  Under Obama, their use has accelerated.  Wrongly considered more precise and safer than invading ground troops, there have been numerous civilian casualties.  Because of Obama’s depressingly common use of secrecy, however, it’s not clear why any of them were killed in the first place.

There are so many examples to highlight but one sticks out more than the rest:  Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old American son of Al Qaeda propagandist Anwar Al-Alwaki.

According to a UN report released this past February, on October 14, 2011, Abdulrahman was murdered along with several others when “precision-guided munitions were launched at an outdoor location in Azzan in Shawba province” in Pakistan.  The Obama Administration claims he wasn’t the target along with all the other civilian casualties that tragic day but no “legitimate military target for the operation” has ever been put forward.  (None were at the scene.)  Dirty Wars author Jeremy Scahill noted in his book that Abdulrahman was only identified by the discovery of his long hair connected to a detached piece of his scalp.

Is it possible that because he was the son of a radical Muslim-American preacher (who himself was murdered by a drone that same year under questionable circumstances) the government viewed him as a future threat that needed to be terminated immediately?  (For the record, there is no evidence Abdulrahman was a “terrorist”.)

Considering that Obama personally authorizes every drone strike before it happens, including the one that killed this teenage American boy, how is it possible that it was an accident?  If there was a legitimate military target for that particular assassination campaign, why hasn’t it been mentioned publicly?  The fact that it hasn’t raises suspicions of a cover-up, one of many on this sole issue alone.

Funding Israel’s Ongoing Genocide of Palestinians

The occupation of Palestine has gone on for more than 60 years.  The recent, ongoing massacre of the open prison known as Gaza is one of innumerable examples of Israeli war crimes.  Making matters worse is that America has long financed these egregious human rights abuses through various administrations, both Republican and Democrat, and has constantly protected Israel from potential repercussions at the UN.

Under Obama, and with the full support of Congress, military aid for Israel is now more than 3 billion a year.  That money has helped pay for the murders of more than 500 people and injured thousands more in this recent massacre of Gaza alone, not to mention destroy much of the area’s civilian infrastructure including numerous residential homes & hospitals.  It’s been reported that between 70 and 80% of the current victims are innocent civilians.  These are not careless mistakes, they are deliberate acts of genocide funded by the United States federal government.

According to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, “complicity in genocide” is a violation of article 3.  (The US finally signed on to it 40 years after it was first unveiled.)  The definition of “complicity” is not narrowly defined nor restricted so when it comes to the matter of the ongoing collective punishment of the Palestinian people, financing this genocide, an act of complicity, is indeed a violation of that convention.

Instead of restoring America’s respect for international law as he promised all those years ago, President Barack Obama has made a mockery of it time and time again, not unlike his predecessor.  If no legal authority is willing to hold him (or George W. Bush, for that matter) accountable for his atrocious human rights record now, America will no longer be defined by its mythic “dream” but rather for its entrenched system of injustice.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, July 21, 2014
3:05 p.m.

Published in: on July 21, 2014 at 3:05 pm  Comments (1)  

Spilling The Blood Of Innocence

(For the people of Palestine who have suffered long enough.)

The back of his head is missing
His tiny body has turned cold
His wailing father can’t let go
He was two years old

He was targeted for reasons
No human being can understand
They don’t believe his people
Are entitled to their own land

They drop bombs by the thousands
Hoping desperately to succeed
In demoralizing the occupied
And laughing as they bleed

The child is only one
Of many more who have perished
In the eyes of their killers
Their deaths are always cherished

They kill their moms & their dads
Their whole families & their friends
Even journalists & doctors
All to suit their own ends

They kill the old & the pregnant
The crippled & the defiant
There’s no safe place here
And there are those who are too silent

They cut the power to the city
And poison what you drink
They gas you when you’re sleeping
To paralyze how you think

After they torched that young boy
They came back hungry for more
Arresting the survivors
They are rotten to the core

The media in the West
Are on a self-imposed gag
No discussion of the son
Decomposing in a bag

There is uncomfortable grief
There is palpable rage
But the resistance is growing
On the global stage

Apartheid is dying
It’s only propped up by fear
What will ultimately replace it
Is not quite clear

2 states can’t happen
It’s one or nothing at all
Zionism is a failure
It’s headed for a freefall

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, July 19, 2014
5:31 p.m.

Published in: on July 19, 2014 at 5:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Darkness Inside

(Please note:  this is NOT autobiographical.)

I want to confess
There is darkness inside
It conspires in secret
It will not subside
Feasting on the past
That will not die
Living for confusion
And the perfect lie

I want to undress
Shed this dishonest skin
Expose the raw ugliness
Caged from within
It begs for freedom
But does not appreciate
The risk of revealing
A philosophy of hate

I want to express
This closeted contempt
It will infect the culture
On my first attempt
I can influence the world
With my xenophobic trash
See it disintegrate
In a momentous flash

I want to depress
I don’t want to save
Pile the ashes of my enemies
Into a single mass grave
Aroused by their sadness
Amused by their fear
If all goes to plan
It will be one hell of a year

I want to impress
The international community
By laughing at their laws
While enjoying immunity
It’s not so farfetched
I know it can be done
Just look at Palestine
The genocide has begun

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, July 17, 2014
5:57 p.m.

Published in: on July 17, 2014 at 5:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thank You, CM Punk

Phil Brooks was an angry kid.  God knows he had every right to be.  Growing up in Chicago with an alcoholic father and a mentally ill mother, ultimately betrayed by a thieving sibling, it’s no wonder he kept getting into trouble with local police.  With little guidance and no appropriate outlet for his rage, he was lost.

Five things saved him:  the much nicer family that took him in when he reached his mid-teens, comic books, punk rock, the straight edge lifestyle and professional wrestling.

Establishing his own renegade backyard promotion, the Lunatic Wrestling Federation, in the late 1990s without immediately seeking any proper training (he would eventually get it and later train others), it would mark an important albeit reckless turning point.  (Before learning how to wrestle like the pros, he took needless risks to entertain the small but loyal audiences these independent shows attracted.)

During this period he would be briefly placed in a tag team after one of LWF’s performers dropped out.  He became CM Punk, his partner was CM Venom.  Together, they were The Chick Magnets.  The gimmick didn’t last but the name sure did.  Despite numerous attempts to change it, Phil Brooks and CM Punk were married for life, professionally speaking.

Then, betrayal.  Brooks discovered that his brother, Mike, had been secretly stealing thousands of dollars from LWF.  They haven’t spoken since.  They may never again.

In 2000, he left his extreme backyard wrestling days behind to try his luck in the independent pro scene.  The Independent Wrestling Association in the Mid-South is where he first worked with Eddie Guerrero and met lifelong friends Colt Cabana and Chris Hero (who had a short run in WWE’s NXT development roster as Kassius Ohno).  His matches with Hero were often old-school NWA-style time limit draws that lasted an hour apiece.  One such encounter, a 2-out-of-3 falls bout that was part of a well-respected trilogy for the IWA Mid-South Heavyweight title, went over 90 minutes.

Three years later, he moved on to Ring Of Honor.  It was here that he would develop the character that would go to become one of the most unique in WWE history.  After reading about Fugazi in a punk zine in his teens, he realized that living a life without drugs (both recreational and medicinal) was a good fit for him, considering his dysfunctional family history.  In ROH, he started to use his real-life straight edge philosophy in promos as a reason to be arrogant and snobby.  “I’m better than you,” he would say because he didn’t succumb to the same chemical temptations everyone else did.  No wonder he was booked to work with real-life recovering addict Raven (one of the defining characters of the ECW era).  The worked feud, where Brooks often compared him to his own alcoholic father, got him heat.  It also afforded him the opportunity to wrestle the legendary Terry Funk.  Brooks also worked with future Total Non-Stop Action talents like AJ Styles, Austin Aries and Samoa Joe.  Oh, and some guy named Bryan Danielson, another close friend.

Speaking of TNA, he would work there himself for a short period in late 2003/early 2004 but it was a tumultuous stint filled with in-fighting, creative differences and one controversy unrelated to him.

By 2005, during what became known as The Summer Of Punk in Ring Of Honor, Brooks caught the break he had long sought.  He signed a development deal with WWE.  During what many thought was going to be his last match in ROH, he beat the champion Aries at the Death Before Dishonour III show in May.  A babyface at the time, after winning he suddenly turned heel and threatened to take his title with him to Vince McMahon Jr.’s promotion.  (At several subsequent shows, Mick Foley urged him to stay and defend it before jumping promotions.)

That ultimately didn’t happen.  Brooks dropped the title three months later.  The very next night, August 13, he put over his friend Colt Cabana and made a teary-eyed exit for the big leagues.

Not at all happy to be placed in the WWE’s then-development territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling, instead of the main roster, it ultimately worked out for the best.  OVW’s showrunner, Paul Heyman, the man who transformed Eastern Championship Wrestling into Extreme Championship Wrestling, was an early, vocal supporter who took him under his wing.  When ECW was revived as a third WWE brand, alongside Raw and Smackdown, the following year, Heyman felt Brooks was ready to join him.

Eight years later, after numerous highs and lows, CM Punk is now officially done with the company.

The day after the 2014 Royal Rumble in January, where he lasted almost the entire hour-long match as the number one entrant, Brooks finally made the decision he had been wanting to make for quite some time.  He told McMahon he was done and he was going home.

Bizarrely, the WWE avoided telling its audience this for weeks.  As the sounds of occasionally loud “CM Punk” chants reverberated in arenas during TV and pay-per-view broadcasts, it was absurd for the company to just pretend he didn’t exist anymore or that he might change his mind for one last run.  Finally, some time later, lifelong friend (and recent on-screen rival) Paul Heyman cut a terrific promo at the start of a Chicago Raw that fully addressed how everyone was feeling while maintaining his villainous ways.  From that point on, the chants would still continue but Punk would be mentioned only obliquely by The Authority, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley’s current collective heel moniker, and only rarely.  Never was it positive.

While there was much hope and speculation that he would indeed come back, it always seemed doubtful to the extreme.  Punk’s body is seriously banged up, he was deeply unhappy with the direction of his character, and judging by this, he was just tired of being CM Punk.  Who can blame him?  While fame has its perks, it can also turn you into a walking zoo exhibit where so many demand your attention when you just want to buy groceries, watch a ball game or eat with your friends in peace.  We don’t treat celebrities with a lot of respect.  In fact, we think we own them, especially during their free time.  Quite frankly, we don’t believe they should be left alone when they’re not performing.

It’s utter stupidity.  In fact, it’s madness.  Just because a man can convince you to hate him or cheer for him in the context of a wrestling show doesn’t mean he’s inviting you into his personal life.  And Phil Brooks has made it clear on countless occasions that while he’s grateful for his professional success and his supporters, and is usually gracious to respectful fans who approach him or send him thoughtful messages, paintings & gifts, he’s not your friend.  He doesn’t owe you anything.  Neither does his beautiful and talented wife who he recently married.

What we owe him, however, is a big thank you.  So, here goes:  Thank you, Phil Brooks, for deciding to become a professional wrestler.  Thank you for staying away from drugs your entire life.  (I’m glad I wasn’t the only one, minus the occasional Aleve for bad headaches.)  Thank you for your creativity, your wit, your articulation, your originality, your respect for the ones who came before you, your ballsiness and your remarkable athleticism.  Thank you for sticking it out as long as you did despite your frustration and your pain.  Thank you for your world class matches with John Cena, Chris Jericho, Jeff Hardy, Rey Mysterio, Triple H, The Undertaker and Daniel Bryan.  Thank you for the Pipe Bomb in 2011.  Thank you for mocking John Laryngitis (“clown shoes”, “toolbox”, “douchebag”) and Vince McMahon (“What a maneuver!”).  Thank you for cutting that promo on Chris Brown.  Thank you for The Straight Edge Society.  Thank you for your participation in CM Punk: Best In The World, especially for insisting on having complete TV matches that include action from the commercial breaks.  Thank you for your underappreciated and short-lived stint as a colour commentator.  Thank you for apologizing when you fucked up.  Thank you for your love of punk rock, most especially The Ramones, who I also adore.

Most importantly, thank you for retiring when you did, while you can still walk and think.  I never had the pleasure of seeing you work in person (I haven’t been to a live show in 25 years) but TV and DVD have been welcome consolations.  I will continue to appreciate your legacy while you appreciate a life after wrestling.

Thank you, CM Punk.  You are the Best In The World.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
1:44 a.m.

Published in: on July 16, 2014 at 1:44 am  Leave a Comment  

There Is No Tomorrow, Only Yesterday

(For the people of Palestine.)

They spill our blood
With heartless goals
They fill the flood
With our drained souls

The bombs they drop
The guns they fire
Will never stop
Til we expire

We have no hope
We have few friends
It’s hard to cope
With no amends

They just don’t care
They want us dead
It’s hardly fair
They’ve lost their head

They stole our land
But they want more
How can they stand
Their rotten core?

We live in fear
The terror is real
But can they hear
The ache we feel?

There is no use
We have to fight
No more abuse
It ends tonight

Through our sorrow
We cannot say
There is no tomorrow
Only yesterday

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 13, 2014
6:55 p.m.

Published in: on July 13, 2014 at 6:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

6 Actors Who Made The Most Of Their Second Chances

Constant rejection.  Fierce competition.  No guarantee of a major breakthrough or longterm employment.

The odds of becoming a successful actor in Hollywood are incredibly slim.  And yet, that never deters the ambitious many, the true believers who feel they have nothing to worry about.  They will be discovered and they will become big stars, no matter what.

Most will be inevitably crushed by reality (the business isn’t for everyone, regardless of how gifted you may be) but for the persevering few who do become known to the public through their various on-screen performances, fame & artistic success bring about a new set of challenges.  If unlucky or careless, a series of bad decisions can lead to a significant period of decline where audiences, the critics and the business itself question just how much of a future your once shining talent has left.

Many stars come and go, never to be heard from again.  (Only the smartest and luckiest have long, consistently fruitful careers.)  But then there are the exceptions, the ones who go on to enjoy a resurgence in popularity & creativity after a frustrating lull.

Don’t call it a comeback, call it a second chance, a rare opportunity to climb back to the top after years of failure, absence or personal misfortune.  Here are six such stars who made the most of their unlikely returns.

1. Vin Diesel

Eight years after a small, unbilled role in Awakenings, this New York muscleman caught a big break playing a soldier in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.  In 2000, he found his first signature character, the anti-hero Riddick in Pitch Black.  In The Fast & The Furious and XXX, he found two more.

Either not appreciating his good fortune in acquiring these gigs or thinking it would permanently trap him in Franchise City, Diesel didn’t appear in either 2 Fast 2 Furious nor XXX:  State Of The Union.  (Ice Cube replaced him in the latter.)  Although he did return as Riddick in The Chronicles Of Riddick in 2004, it didn’t do so well.  Beyond the awful family comedy, The Pacifier, which made almost 200 million worldwide, Diesel couldn’t figure out a viable way out from his most famous roles.  All but one of his other films were either ignored by fans, panned by critics or both.

After a quick, unhyped cameo in The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift, he returned as Dominic Toretto in the fourth installment, Fast & Furious.  He has stuck with the remarkably lucrative franchise ever since.  (Despite the tragic death of co-star Paul Walker, look for him in Fast 7 next year.)  After the third Riddick movie’s surprise commercial success in 2013, Diesel is set to return as Xander Cage in the third XXX movie.  Perhaps he should’ve never left any of these series in the first place.

2. Mickey Rourke

Unlike Diesel, this New Yorker didn’t have the benefit of returning to a multi-million dollar franchise.  In fact, despite respected performances in films like Diner, 9 1/2 Weeks and Barfly, he never really had a breakout hit.  (How different his career might have been if he accepted the offer of playing Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop.)  He also had a big mouth.

Publicly knocking legends like Warren Beatty & Robert De Niro (his co-star from Angel Heart) probably didn’t endear him to a number of important Hollywood decision makers.  (He also had a famous spat with Spike Lee over the 1992 LA Riots.)  Also not helpful was all the beatings he took during a brief foray as a professional boxer in the first half of the 1990s.  (He was an accomplished amateur boxer in his youth.)  Several botched plastic surgeries followed.  All the while, he never stopped acting.

But good roles were hard to come by.  In between fine efforts in John Grisham’s The Rainmaker and the otherwise underwhelming Get Carter remake were a lot of low profile gigs that few cared about.  Then in 2003, he was cast in Once Upon A Time In Mexico.  That was followed by Tony Scott’s Man On Fire with Denzel Washington.  Suddenly, Rourke’s luck was changing.

By 2005, he had a major part in Frank Miller’s Sin City, one of the best movies released that year.  Three years later, he achieved his first ever Oscar nomination for playing Randy “The Ram” Robinson in The Wrestler.  In 2010, he was the villain in Iron Man 2 and part of the ensemble cast of action heroes in The Expendables, both critical & commercial faves.

Far less outspoken now than he was in his cockier early days in the business, look for the more appreciative Rourke next in the upcoming Sin City sequel.

3. David Caruso

After almost two decades in the business, this distinctively voiced redheaded New Yorker was finally able to make a name for himself when he was cast as Detective John Kelly in the influential TV drama, NYPD Blue.  But just as soon as he landed the role, there were problems.  A perfectionist, Caruso was a bit demanding during shooting which alienated the cast & crew.  Just a few episodes into the show’s second season, he was written out.  He never returned.

After a couple of high profile film bombs (Kiss Of Death, Jade), he tried another dramatic series, Michael Hayes.  It lasted a season.  After a supporting role in the Meg Ryan/Russell Crowe stiff, Proof Of Life, Caruso’s career seemed to be in freefall.

Enter CSI.  Three seasons into the blockbuster TV crime series, a spin-off, CSI: Miami, was ordered.  Caruso was cast as Lieutenant Horatio Caine.  The gig would last a decade.  He learned his lesson.

4. Dennis Hopper

He was in Rebel Without A Cause, Giant, Cool Hand Luke, the original True Grit and Easy Rider.  But after 1971’s The Last Movie, this notorious Kansas native disappeared from the American mainstream for almost a decade.  Blame all the hardcore drugs he was viciously abusing.

In 1979, he made a triumphant return as a stoner photog in Francis Ford Coppola’s memorably gut wrenching Vietnam masterstroke Apocalypse Now.  In the 1980s, he would continue to deliver acclaimed performances in features like No Looking Back, Rumble Fish, Blue Velvet and Hoosiers, the latter of which generated his only Oscar nomination for acting.

In the 90s, he had memorable heel turns in Speed and Waterworld.  And in the Aughts, he appeared on several episodes of 24 during its first season.  Five years after appearing in George A. Romero’s zombie sequel, Land Of The Dead, he tragically died of prostate cancer.  The former hippie turned latter-day conservative was 74.

5. John Travolta

After the disappointing Saturday Night Fever sequel, Staying Alive, this one-time sweathog floundered for almost the remainder of the 80s.  That is, until he played the cabbie love interest of Kirstie Alley in the surprise hit romantic comedy, Look Who’s Talking.  Too terrible sequels kept his name out there in the next decade.  Thankfully, all it took to erase their unbearable stench was a memorable appearance in Pulp Fiction.  Cast as a chatty hitman who can do a mean twist, it earned him his second Best Actor nomination.

The following year he played Chili Palmer, another chatty hitman (this one an ambitious movie fan) in Get Shorty.  In 1998, he portrayed a thinly-disguised Bill Clinton in Primary Colours and a redemptive lawyer in A Civil Action, two very strong features.  Throughout the rest of the decade, he would have more commercial hits than misses.

Despite some missteps (most notably, the incredibly silly sci-fi debacle Battlefield Earth), Travolta continues to be an audience favourite thanks to financial successes like Wild Hogs, and critical hits like Bolt and the musical version of Hairspray where he took a rare turn in drag.  His opening speech was the best thing about the ultimately undercooked Swordfish and his lead work in A Love Song For Bobby Long (which costars Scarlett Johanssen) remains underappreciated.

After the tragic death of his only son, look for him to make up for lost time with a succession of features in the coming years.

6. Al Pacino

One of the most respected actors in the history of cinema, he achieved no less than five Oscar nominations between 1973 and 1981.  But after appearing in 1985’s Revolution (it made less than $400000), he retreated to the stage for several years.

When he returned in 1989 to appear in Sea Of Love with Ellen Barkin and John Goodman, it was as if he had never left.  The 1990s were a particularly fertile period:  Dick Tracy, Frankie & Johnny, Scent Of A Woman (his only Best Actor Oscar), Carlito’s Way, Heat, Glengarry Glen Ross, the documentary Looking For Richard, The Insider and Any Given Sunday, not a stinker among them.

In the Aughts, he was the guilt-ridden sleep deprived cop in the terrific Insomnia remake, Colin Farrell’s CIA boss in The Recruit and a casino owner in Ocean’s Thirteen.  He found even greater success on Television playing closeted anti-gay lawyer Roy Cohn in Angels In America, controversial assisted suicide advocate Dr. Kevorkian in You Don’t Know Jack and the eccentric rock producer turned convicted murderer Phil Spector, all Emmy-nominated performances.  (He won for the first two.)  It’s a testament to his incredible talent that he didn’t embarrass himself in the otherwise egregious Adam Sandler misfire, Jack & Jill.  He’s often very funny, particularly in the scene where he interrupts his own theatrical performance on stage to take a call from Sandler.

Now approaching 75, it’s hard to imagine he has anything left to prove.  But a lifelong passion is not so easy to extinguish.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 6, 2014
8:58 p.m.

CORRECTION:  An astute commenter over on The Huffington Post (where this piece can also be seen in slightly revised form) has correctly noted that John Travolta didn’t make a film called Old Hogs, it was called Wild Hogs.  (I must’ve got this confused with Old Dogs.)  Anyway, the right title is now in the piece.  (I’ve asked HuffPo to correct their version.)  My thanks to Andrew J. Coutinho for pointing out the error.  It’s now been corrected.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, July 10, 2014
3:39 a.m.

Published in: on July 6, 2014 at 8:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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