Silver Screenings Review of my E-book LESSONS IN THE DARK

Ruth Kerr of Silver Screenings posted a wonderful review of my book LESSONS IN THE DARK. Click on the link below and check it out.

The Cool Kids’ Guide to Classic Film

 

The book is available at Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/Lessons-Dark-John-Greco-ebook/dp/B01CC0TWLS/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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They Are Photographers Also

   Many actors, musicians and other artists have pursued second artistic careers during or after their main career. Many times there was a passion for creativity that could not be contained within one art form. Actors have pursued painting, sculpture and photography. Many photographers have wanted to expand their art to filmmaking. Sculptures want to paint and painters want to sculpt. Artists of all kinds look to expand their vision though various media. It comes out of the desire to create. In this short essay I take a look at three actors and one musician who went on to express themselves in the art of photography.

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   Art was not the reason Dennis Hopper first began to photograph. There was another reason. In 1958, the then young rebellious actor was blackballed in Hollywood after working with director Henry Hathaway on a film called From Hell to Texas. During the filming, Hopper insisted on doing a scene one way while the director demanded doing it differently. It turned into an epic battle of wills that went on for a couple of days. The tough veteran Hathaway eventually won over the young hotshot. With the film finished, and with Hathaway’s influence at the time in the industry, he told Hopper he would never work in this town again! Hopper’s film career tanked. He was stuck doing mostly a few TV shows and a few independent films. That was until 1965 when he made The Sons of Katie Elder,  once again directed by Henry Hathaway. This time, Hopper behaved and listened. He worked without a problem and was forgiven. He was back.

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Artist Ed Ruscha by Dennis Hopper

   During the period Hopper was ostracized he picked up a camera and began to photograph. His work was noticed in some circles and he began to build a second career. His work included photographing film actors of the day as well as more abstract photos. In 1966, some of his photos were used as the cover art for the Ike and Tina Turner hit single, River Deep, Mountain High. Hopper’s photographs were always full frame. He never cropped.  He saw this as a training ground for making movies. Dennis Hopper also painted and wrote poetry. Over the years, his photographic art and paintings have been exhibited around the world.

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Gina Lollbrigida shows off her photography

   Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida began a second career as a photojournalist when her film career began to fade away. With her access to many of the top stars of the day, she photographed actors like Audrey Hepburn and Paul Newman. She also worked with some of the biggest political figures of the day like Henry Kissinger and even beat every other photojournalist with an interview and photo session of Cuban leader, Fidel Castro. Her work has been exhibited and published in two books.

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Mia Farrow by Roddy McDowall

   Roddy McDowall was well known around Hollywood for photographing his multitude of famous friends. They included stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis Jr., Katherine Hepburn and Mae West.  His work was published in magazines like Life, Look and Vogue among others. This second career also included the publication of five books of his photography. After his death in 1998, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences named their photo archive after him.

   Musician Graham Nash’s interest in photography began as a child of ten. When he began touring with The Hollies, Nash was always photographing while on the road. His work reflects intimate moments with former band members, lovers, other musicians as well as landscapes and other sites that he found a meaningful connection with and wanted to capture. Nash once said, “I don’t see the difference between photography and music. To me, it’s all energy.”

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Portrait of Joni Mitchell by Graham Nash

   In the 1970’s he began to collect photographs. By the late 70’s his collection was in the thousands, and with the help a curator mounted an exhibit that traveled to more than twelve museums around the world. In 1990, he sold his more than 2,000 print collection through Sotheby’s Auction House. Eye to Eye: Photographs by Graham Nash, a collection of his work was as published in 2004.

   There are many other artists who have taken a serious interest in photography including Leonard Nimoy  who studied and took classes at UCLA back in the 1970’s. At one point, he even considered changing his career. Nimoy received much recognition, and some controversy, for his work over the years.  Jeff Bridges, Yul Brynner, Joel Grey, Vigo Mortenson, Mick Fleetwood, Lou Reed and Mathew Modine are a few others who have picked up the camera. Most recently, Ringo  Starr put together a limited edition book of his photographs, appropriately called Photograph.  The pictures were taken over the years including many behind the scene shots of his fellow  Beatles during those early days. All the money for Ringo’s book is going to charities he and his wife, Barbara Bach, support.

Note: This essay originally appeared on my blog Twenty Four Frames in a slightly different version.

Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical

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   Over the weekend my wife and I went to Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater and caught a performance of the musical Bullets Over Broadway. Based on Woody Allen’s 1997 hit film the musical is a bit of an oddity. It’s a rare Broadway musical that does not have an original  score. Instead, the creators recycled classic period tunes by greats like Cole Porter, Sammy Cahn, Hoagy Carmichael and others adding fresh lyrics.

   Considering  Woody adapted his own screenplay, co-written by Douglas McGrath, the laughs in the stage version are not as plentiful as one would have anticipated. On the plus side, there are two excellent performances by Jemma Jane as Olive and Jeff Brooks as Cheech, respectively portrayed in  the film by Jennifer Tilly and Chazz Pamintieri. Also,  Susan Stroman’s original choreography was superbly recreated by Clara Cook.

   Overall, Bullets Over Broadway does not reach the high levels of classic musical comedy that Mel Brooks brought in bringing his works, The Producers and Young Frankenstein, to the stage. Still, it remains an enjoyable evening of entertainment.

A Few Words From H. L. Menchen

henry-louis-menckenThough H. L. Menchen has been dead since 1956, many of his words are more relevant today in this nasty and despicable political climate than ever.  For those unaware, Menchen was a journalist and critic. A man of ideas. In the 1960 film, Inherit the Wind, the character of newspaper journalist E.K. Hornbeck, portrayed by Gene Kelly, was based on Menchen.

The other day I came across a few of the writer’s famous quotes. It made me think about today’s political ugliness and the rise of mediocrity in many of the candidates. Vulgarity, encouraging violence, sexism, racism and other vile words should not be what comes out of the mouth of candidates for the Presidency of the United States. This kind of talk should in no way be part of the political process. We as a country are becoming a classless society. Then again, maybe we always were and this vile behavior is just bringing it to the surface and out into the open. It’s a sad comment on our society. I always hoped we were better than that.

Below are a few of his quotes…

“Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

“Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good.”

 

Gordon Parks and Leadbelly

   gordon-parks-martin-luther-king-speech-anniversary-gordon-parks   Back in the 1970’s, after my discharge from the Army, I enrolled in a class at the New York Institute of Photography. I got interested in photography after I purchased my first 35mm camera while stationed in Vietnam and later learned some darkroom development techniques while stationed in Germany. I bring this up only because the instructor during one session asked the class who they thought was a better photographer, Richard Avedon or Gordon Parks. Why he selected these two I don’t remember. Anyway, I made it known that I thought Parks was the better photographer. The instructor who I later classified as a typical know it all who liked to belittle people told me how I was wrong and that Avedon was the better of the two. The class laughed as he seemed to go on about my choice and belittling me in the process. I shrunk into a quiet embarrassed mode. I hated the class for the rest of the few weeks that I silently attended before dropping out.

   I was naïve about photographers at the time and could not mount any sort of defense for my position. Today, I would say that the comparison was ridiculous to even make. The two men are masters, however, their work comes from two different directions and styles. As I learned more about my own style and taste in photography I can look back and see why I selected Parks. I’m not big on studio work. I prefer being outside and capturing those “decisive moments” in life as Henri Cartier-Bresson calls them though my “moments” are more in nature than the streets of Paris .

   I first became aware of Gordon Parks while in the Army. It was in the late 1960’s and his first feature film, The Learning Tree, played at the theater that was located on the base. It’s a charming and poignant semi-autobiographical film about a young black teenager growing up in rural Kansas. The film was based on Parks own novel. It’s certainly worth watching if and when the opportunity arises.

   As I became more and more interested in photography I became familiar with Parks photographic work. As the first black staff photographer for Life magazine, his work was street wise, powerful and emotionally moving. I would later learn Gordon Parks was not just a photographer and writer but a true modern day renaissance man: Photographer, author, poet, filmmaker and composer. He did it all and he did it all well.

   Parks second feature film was his big break out film as a director. Shaft was a blaxploitation that commercially broke through the color barrier. With Richard Roundtree in the title role, Shaft was a super cool P.I. A modern day Bogart. Isaac Hayes in his hit title song says it all.

Who is the man that would risk his neck
For his brother man?
Shaft, can you dig it?

Who’s the cat that won’t cop out
When there’s danger all about?
Shaft, right on

   Parks made two other films in the coming years, Shaft’s Big Score and The Super Cops. Then in 1976 came Leadbelly…    Leadbelly movie   Huttie Ledbetter, aka Leadbelly, aka Lead Belly was one of America’s great folk/blues singers. His influence on artists such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bob Dylan, Johnny Rivers, Tom Waits, Ry Cooder, Elvis Presley and so many others has been well documented in their recordings. Huttie was inducted into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame back in 1988.

   Park’s film paints an evocative portrait filled with images of a segregated South that kept many down and out folks filled with hardship and suffering as well as hope and dreams. Still, their lives were filled with music – the Blues. As portrayed by Roger Mosely, Huttie was a restless soul filled with hope and dreams. He wanted to hit the road, and as a young man he did, performing in whorehouses and other venues. Anywhere they would let him sing.  However, his road was filled with a series of rough ‘bumps’ along the way including long stretches in prison. What never stopped was his love of music playing gospel, folk and those blues.

   From what I have read, Park’s evocative film come across as a fairly accurate portrait of the musician’s rocky road in life. In real life Huttie killed at least two men and spent a lot of time in Texas prisons working on the chain gang. In the film we see two separate incidents where Huttie ends up killing another man. One is unintentional, the second was in self-defense. As Roger Ebert writes in his original review, “His crimes are matched by the crime of the chain-gang system, designed to break his spirit. It fails.”

   leadbelly4   One of the finest parts of the film comes early on when Huttie meets Blind Lemon Jefferson. Lemon, another soon to be blues legend, is superbly played by Art Evans (Die Hard 2, A Soldier’s Story and many, many TV shows). The two bluesmen team up for a while performing on the road (in real life it was about two years). In one scene during this period they sing for white people at a dance party. It turns ugly when the evening begins to  get late and Huttie decides to pack it in. However, one of the white folks wants him to continue and a fight ensues with Huttie getting badly   beaten. It always seems even when Huttie wasn’t looking for trouble, it found him.

   Years go by. The chain gang, by design, breaks men’s souls. However, Huttie’s self-respect and spirit remains in tack. He eventually get out of prison. Legend and the film claim that after performing, playing his 12 string guitar and singing, for the Governor who is so taken by Huttie’s simple “darkie” performance that he tells the prisoner when his term is up as Governor, one of the last things he will do is give Huttie a pardon. Of course, this sounds like bull, but surprising enough, though some time has passed, the Governor kept his word and the blues singer gets out of prison. In real life Huttie was released early due to his good behavior. Also with the Great Depression came a series of budget cuts and Huttie’s good record helped him out as well with  the selection of prisoner’s to be released in order to cut expenses.

   The film is told in flashback. During his last stretch on the chain gang Huttie was visited by musicologist John Lomax who was recording and archiving rural folksinger’s for the Library of Congress. By now, Huttie is older and gray haired. As the recordings begin he looks back on his life. In real life Lomax visited and recorded Ledbetter on two  separate occasions. First in 1933 and again once year later in 1934. It was a month or so after this second visit that Huttie was pardoned.

LEADBELLY, I.V.
LEADBELLY, I.V.

   Fact or fiction, Leadbelly is good film that is rarely seen, though it does show up sometimes in February during Black History Month. The folksinger is best known for songs like Goodnight, Irene, The Midnight Special, Rock Island Line along with many others. After his prison time he performed around the country a lot and appeared as a regular on the CBS radio show Back Where I Come From which was produced and hosted by Alan Lomax (John’s son). Future film director and Alan’s close friend, Nicholas Ray, was also a producer and writer of the show at the time. Leadbelly’s  last performance was at Carnegie Hall in New York City. He died in New York on December 6th 1949.

Lead_Belly    The first time I watched Leadbelly was way back in ’76 at the time of its release. It was at the Loew’s State in Times Square. The showing I went to had a couple of live special guests, folksingers Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee who met Leadbelly after he became a regular in the New York City folk scene. They reminiscenced about their friend and sang some of his best known songs. It was a unique chance to see these two artists and learn a little more about their friend and a true legend.

Some Thoughts on Time

“Time Keeps on Slipping…” – Steve Miller Band

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Is saying no rude? As I have gotten older and realize more and more how quickly time rushes by, and how little time remains, I am beginning to think that the greatest time saver is saying the word no. These two little letters can add up to minutes, hours and even days in one’s life that certainly can be put to more creative use. Even if it means wasting time. Paraphrasing John Lennon “time you enjoy wasting is not wasted.” Sometimes you need to rev up your creative juices by wasting time of your own choosing.

In life though, we are taught to be polite and saying no to invitations from family, friend, or professional acquaintances has always been viewed as just not nice. “Sorry, I rather be home writing, painting, photographing or doing any other creative endeavor than waste an afternoon playing golf or an evening out drinking. It sounds rude but in reality it is more a selfish behavior, and frankly I am not sure there is anything wrong with that. As long as you are being selfish for  a good reason.

Being creative is not a nine to five job. It happens whenever ideas or inspiration strike. There is no time table on the creative clock. You take your lead from the inspiration and ideas going on inside your brain as they occur. From there you create your own life’s course. Being creative makes you see things in life that others just pass by as mundane. As an artist your eyes pick up on things that others don’t see. Through your art, you express a vision, and ideas, in a unique way. It can happen at any time. You never know when it’s going to strike. Time is always a precious element in your creative process. You need to use it as you would any other tool on your palette.