Sunday, December 31, 2006

Franklin during the Revolution

When mining through the mailaise that is US history, once we get to the American Revolutionary War, we hear much about George Washington and his exploits (victories and losses) during the war. He is our greatest military hero. We hear little of other types of history during the war like diplomatic victories. This is what I learned today about Benjamin Franklin. I knew his role as ambassador to France during the Revolution was a big one but I had not idea how big.

If not for France supporting our fledgling nation during our revolution, we would probably never have been a country. They supplied boots, armaments and troups while also bringing their ally Spain into the war against England as well. We had no money at the time, this was all done on credit. This as monarchy lending massive amounts of credit to not only a new nation but new type of nation. None of this would have happened if not for Franklin's achievements as a diplotmat. His personality and guile. Sure while Washinton was commanding on the front line under horrendous conditions, freezing and facing death each day, Franklin was partying it up with the elite in Paris and having a good time. One does his best work when one enjoys it.

Franklin arrived in France at the age of 70 and was greeted everywhere he went like he was a rock star. He was by far the most famous American alive at that time. He was a famous Phillie businessman (born in Boston) who dropped out of business world after becoming comfortable to pursue his intellectual passion for electricity. At the time, the popular knowledge of eletricity was limited to parlor tricks. No one until Franklin found a connection to lightning nor thought of any practical uses for it. This was not his only discovery but his most famous. He also discovered the gulf stream on one of his many trips to and fro Europe. He also invented bifocals and the Franklin stove among others.

If not for France coming into the war, the US may still be an English possession. When the US came to their aid during World War II and to a lesser extent World War I, this was simply us paying them back. You could say that we are now even. So the next time you hear someone complaining about France not supporting us during the Iraqi War, you might want to mention this.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Digital Mandate

In 2007, we'll all have to buy digital televisions if we want to watch anything. Television networks will no long be transmitting in analog making our old televisions useless. You can keep them around to play DVDs and videos, but unless it is a digital television, you won't get any reception. So if you are going out now to buy a set at an after-Christmas sale, you might as well go digital and high definition now.

This also presents a problem and an opportunity. The waste that this mandate is going to produce is incomprehensible. We all know how much Americans love their television and possibly even their television sets. Just about every home has multiple sets. I have two sets and I don't even television reception where I live. I am too cheap to pay the satellite company for television just so I can watch the Daily Show. I get one station with lots of static which makes it looks like every Patriots game is played in a blizzard. Watching year old TV shows on DVDs from Netflix is just fine for me, but I know I am not the norm.

Every municipality, every county, city, town and/or state, is looking for a solution to what to do with the onslaught of televisions that will be coming into their landfills on or around February 17th, 2007 (the supposed cutoff date). The Federal Government hasn't come up with anything yet. I am sure some private sector genius to come up with some use for these. Perhaps they won't be waste after all. Any ideas? Apparently, the rest of the world is going through the same conversion so sending them to Brazil is not an answer.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Hays Code ... or is it haze code

I heard the term Hays Code mentioned in an interview today with fimmaker Steven Soderbergh. His newest film, The Good German, is filmed in large part like a film made in the era in which it is based (1940's). When asked why the dialogue wasn't also like one of those films, he said that they talked that way because they had to talk that way. They had to adhere to the Hays Code. I had never heard this term so I googled it.

The Hays Code was a form of sensorship that preceded our film rating system (G's, PG-13's etc). Film still being a new communications medium, artform and technology during the 1930's, a lot of American feared the moral fiber of the films coming out of Hollywood. The Hays Code was to be an industry guideline and if a film didn't meet these guidelines they were to have difficulty in being distributed in the states. The guidelines not only dictated controls on speech and nudity but also didn't allow portrayal of child birth, excessive kissing, sexual postures and dance. It also put control onto how rape, religion and the US flag could be portrayed. Any minister of religion could never be portrayed as a villain or portrayed comically. Also, some subjects were strictly forbidden like sex between the races, white slavery and vinereal disease. So the lameness of old films wasn't always the filmmakers fault. The code also controlled the distribution of foreign films and stopped a lot of them from coming into the country. So they justified their limitation on speech in that they weren't controlling the speech, the films could be made, they just controlled the distribution of the films. If you made them, no one would see them.

It wasn't until the 1960's that the code started to lose power. The Motion Picture Assocation of America (MPAA) was finding it difficult to enforce their rules. Again the market is king. Theatre owners wanted these films because their customers did. Also, filmmakers found ways around the elusive rules and sometimes fought tooth and nail with the MPAA on getting around the rules. In 1966, the producers of one of my favorite films, Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff?, had to have the word "screw" removed but got away with "hump."

The demand in the marketplace for socially relevant films was a big factor. Challenges to the convention roles of race, gender, class and sexual identity were everywhere and film needed to change with the times. In 1967, the British/Italian film Blow Up didn't get Hays Code approval and MGM released it anyway. This was the first time one of the members of the MPAA ignored the Hays Code. In 1968, the MPAA released the film rating system to replace the code. The rating system is not perfect, but better than what it replaced.

So if you ever wonder why the films of the 1970's were so great, thank the Hays Code. Apparently, the American film renaissance was due to many of decades of censorship and repression ... and the release thereof.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Death of Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow is considered Hollywood original blond bombshell, a generation before Marilyn Monroe and long before Madonna. Few can recall these days what films she was in but in her day, she was quite popular. In 1937, she became the first actress to appear on the cover of Life Magazine. Nowadays, she is more famous because of Gwen Stefani's portrayal of her in Scoresese's The Aviator.

It was in 1937 that while making her last film, Saratoga, she collapsed on the set. She had uremic poisoning and kidney failure which was result of scarlet fever that she had as a child. Nowadays, she would have been put on dialysis and could possibly had received a kidney transplant but not in 1937.

When someone this famous dies, the rumors fly. The most common rumor about her death is that she refused treatment for her illness because she was a Christian Scientist. This is not so, she was brought up as a Christian Scientist but no longer practiced. She received constantly treatment up to her death. This was verified in 1990 when the Harlow medical records were made public. Another was that the peroxide which she used to dye her hair had killed her and another was that her kidney was damaged after a beating by her husband Paul Bern. Five years earlier, Harlow was suspected of killing him after he was found dead due to gun shots to the head. In 1960, the Bern case was reopened and the suicide conclusion was upheld.