I teach an on-line Introduction to Broadcasting course, and my teenage-20s students discussed vinyl vs. digital recordings in an assignment. I was surprised how many loved vinyl, because it created an emotional response in them that the music alone did not. The sight and sound of the visible mechanics were more important and heart-felt than the ease and convenience of Echo, i-phone, etc.
I mean, where is the emotional payoff to shouting a song title across the room and having a robot play it? About the same as eating a McDonald’s hamburger, I suppose.
When I was a teen, 33.3 vinyl hi-fi stereo was it. The physical ritual of unpacking the LP, respectfully putting it on the platter, carefully placing the arm on the disc and watching it’s leisurely spin was an important part of the music experience.
In high school, I bought one of these hand-crank non-electric phonographs and a stack of 78s for pennies at an antique store. We’d take it on picnics and be astonished — this was way before Walkman. The first time we heard “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, on a 78, all scratchy and tinny, dependent on cranks and gears and belts and springs, and… no electricity. It was a different world. It was life-changing. It opened new doors of perception.
I get what my students, 50 years later, are feeling, and I like it.
I read an article this morning about how unpaid internships may be the collapse of modern civilization. I get this, but on the other hand, sometimes an unpaid internship is a good route to a career. People spend hundreds of thousands of dollars at universities that may not result a paid gig in the field you think you’ll like.
It’s possible that a long unpaid internship will deliver the same or better benefits as a BA. As a working professional and college instructor, the most honest advice I give to some students is drop out of school, then research the best company that is busy doing what you think you want to do in life. Go to that company and ask if you can pay them to mentor you in their field– a ‘reverse paid internship’, except the intern pays the company, so you don’t feel guilty about taking their time for detailed instruction, when needed. If you’re not hired you after 2 months, you’re probably not right for the field, or you chose a company that is not very successful, and it’s time to move on. You’ll have to figure how to work this, because loan institutions only want to give educational loans to standard institutions. But that’s part of the education. It usually means leaning on family, or a flexible part-time job.
This won’t work in many fields, because degrees are a short-cut for HR departments– a cookie cutter measurement that may not show how good an employee will be. Colleges can be filled with unmotivated, self-entitled souls who prefer to kick back rather than do– and that’s the last thing competitive companies want.
When I was hiring entry-level people, I paid more attention to the menial jobs they had while in college than the name of the college, like Starbucks, pizza delivery, retail clerk, car mechanic, or call center. They had learned how to get along in the real world, and were ready for a real job. They proved they could be resilient enough to learn all they needed with on-the-job training.
Needless to say, this is not a popular viewpoint. But it is worth consideration. So many jobs I’ve had never cared to see my diploma, my course list, grades, attendance record, or letters of recommendation. Only the colleges!
In the summer of 2016, before we had ever visited High Cove, my wife, Catheryn, and I, after a morning hike on Roan Mountain, stopped in the tiny town of Bakersville, NC for lunch at Helen’s Restaurant. A fellow came in with an armful of corn meal sacks, and left them on the counter. I asked the server where the sacks came from, and she said there’s an old mill down the road. She said the delivery man, Jack, actually ran the mill, and we’d catch him there if we wanted a tour.
Cane Creek flows over the mill dam. This is right after a big rain, so lots of water in what is usually a very placid creek. Jack is walking up to check if the water gate into the mill race is clear.
We drove through a beautiful valley, alongside Cane Creek, where the mill got its power, but it was closed. The phone number was on the gate, so I called Jack about a tour. He said “meet me at the mill at 1pm tomorrow. “
We spent several hours listening to Jack’s stories, about his great granddaddy who built the first mill around 1847, about his plowing steep and stony fields behind a pair of horses as a teenager, about how he ran away at age 17 to join the Air Force, was trained as a bomber mechanic, spent 4 years in the Korean War, got an engineering degree at NC State, worked for Werner von Braun writing software for the first moon launch, and finally on IBM’s first PCs. Quite a life for a country boy.
Werner von Braun and team examine the computer that guided the first Apollo mission to the moon. It was one of the first digital computers. Jack was on the team that wrote the software.
When Jack retired from IBM in 1997, he returned to the mill he hadn’t seen in 44 years. It had been neglected since his daddy died in 1955, and was in ruins from floods, snow storms, hurricanes, and could barely be seen through decades of untrimmed trees and undergrowth. But something got to him, and he dedicated the rest of his life to bringing the mill back to the way it was in 1867.
Jack is now 86 years old, and grinds corn 2-3 days a week in warmer months. It is the last water-powered grist mill, of the hundreds that dotted creeks across North Carolina in the 19th century. I asked if I could make a documentary film about the mill. He answered, “Why not?”
Jack’s great-grandfather, his grandfather and father all ran the mill. All the mill’s machinery was originally built in the early 1860s.
I’ve traveled many places, working on documentary films. Jack’s was as wonderful a story as any—and it was nearly in my back yard. I returned a few weeks later to begin filming, and hear how his family scraped a living off the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina for five generations. It was not unlike Medieval times, where everyone had to make or trade everything, and cash money didn’t exist. Summer quickly turned to fall. Jack shut down the mill in late October, and drove to Florida, to join his family. He’d return in April, when the mountains became more hospitable to 86 year old men.
Due to work and family commitments, I couldn’t return to filming until mid-August, 2017. I spent a few days every week filming, and living the adventures of a grist mill, while spending nights in the High Cove Community, which was just a few miles and 2-3 ridges away.
The documentary film has become a larger story than expected. The mill is an amazing machine, needing constant attention. Though driven by a little water brook, it is immensely powerful, and can kill you in an instant. Many times I put down the camera to help Jack maintain the mill, oil the gears and flywheels, and axels, push the 4-ton water wheel to give it a jump start, and adjust the various water gates. I joined the pace of the mill. It tells you what to do, and you go along with this ancient, creaking, groaning monster.
When a 40 ft. belt on the mill broke, we traveled up and down a dozen ridges, across two counties to find an old-timer—someone Jack had grown up with back in the 1930s. He operated sawmills a long time ago, but might have a big belt, stored in a barn filled with dusty doo-dads from a hundred years ago. Mountain people never throw anything away.
Jack Dellinger at the mill in August 2017. He’s smiling, which means the old beast is behaving.
Each short trip became an extended visit. When Jack met a friend (and he always did), I was in a foreign country, in another time, listening to another language. I felt privileged for such a first-hand view into Blue Ridge mountain culture.
Between the breakdowns, the visits, and storms that clogged the water works, there were many days I didn’t feel I was making progress. But as I met Jack’s numerous friends, neighbors, distant cousins, local characters, and casual tourists, the story became so much richer, and I thought, what the heck have I gotten into? Where is this film going? How do I manage such a rich culture? It started to become much more than a film about a mill.
The corn hopper revealed. The stick on the left is the ‘DAMSE;L’. Named in the middle ages because it chatters like a woman when shaking the corn kernels onto the massive grindstone.
Since the mill has now closed for the winter, I can explore the many hours of video, and make plans to fill in the gaps. I’ll drive down to Pensacola and film extended interviews with Jack—so all his stories get recorded. I want to interview others involved with the mill and other parts of Jack’s life, while the mill is closed. This includes Kate, his new 23 year-old miller apprentice, who is fast becoming an important character in the mill’s preservation (it is on the list of National Historic Sites) .
In the spring, I’ll return to the mill with my list of ‘must-have’ shots. I have been playing around with some shots set to music, which is the video attached here.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR INDIE NETFLIX STREAMING FILMS; EXCELLENT, BUT MOSTLY IGNORED BY CRITICS AND MEDIA.
Friends have asked how I pick them.
Here’s a list recommended by pro film writers. Begin with (*) titles, which I’ve seen and loved. In no specific order: HUNTER GATHERER*, A WOMAN A PART, I BELIEVE IN UNICORNS, KING JACK, MEN GO TO BATTLE*, MISS STEVENS, THINGS TO COME, TRAMPS, THE TRIP TO SPAIN*, LOOK WHO’S BACK*.
New hd restoration completed–
Autographed blu-ray available now!
LOVE LETTER TO EDIE is the story of Edith Massey. Edith was one of the most popular underground movie stars of the 1960s-1980s. She appeared in many John Waters films, including MULTIPLE MANIACS, PINK FLAMINGOS, FEMALE TROUBLE, and DESPERATE LIVING.
Expert film restorers, Debenham Media Group recently produced a careful digital restoration of LOVE LETTER TO EDIE using the original 16mm film. The 2K HD video transfer required substantial color correction, scratch and dust removal, and image stabilization, because the original color film had aged substantially. Image Design Productions producer, Brian Scott, did the digital re-assembly of the transferred cuts, and performed additional color corrections and audio enhancement.
AND it looks gorgeous!
Order copies from the right column, and you will receive an autographed copy.
This was the first VHS cover of Love Letter to Edie
The film’s first release in 1975 was on 16mm film, when it only played in movie theaters and film festivals.
Around 1985, VHS cassettes were in wide enough usage that small films like Love Letter could be distributed to individual collectors. They were duplicated in real-time in banks of VHS recorders.
The first 16mm to tape transfer was done at a small video production house in Owings Mills, MD by a company that produced professional wrestling programs and happened to have a film to 1″ tape transfer machine. The company’s owner happened to be a former math teacher at my high school and gave me a good deal.
From that master, I made a 3/4″ industrial grade video copy, which was the dub master for the hundred or so VHS copies I made at Quality Films and Video in Baltimore, which was also the lab for all John Waters’ 16mm films (through Desperate Living). I advertised these VHS mainly with a classified ad in Rolling Stone, and sold a few at Edith’s Shopping Bag store in Fells Point. Edith had died in California in 1985, but her old partner still kept the store going, specializing in Dreamland collectables.
The number of videos sold didn’t quite pay for all the duplication and advertising costs, so it went out of print for about 8 years. At that time a company called “Hit’nRun” films, which specialized in underground films re-transfered it and designed a colorful new cover. They made about 1,500 copies, but I never received payment. In the mid 90s, I made yet another transfer to digital Betacam video tape with Roland House Video in Arlington, VA, re-designed the cover for DVD, and added 15 minutes of personal memoirs to the program. I made 1,000 DVDs, which sold out in about 5 years.
Since then I still sell about 75 copies a year, and make them 50 at a time with the DVD-R process. I still have the 16mm original from 1975 and could make a HD transfer, then sell Blu-Ray HD copies. That could cost about $2,500. Maybe it would be a good Kickstarter project.
Edith Massey in “Pink Flamingos” wishes a Happy Easter to all!
It’s Easter, when eggs become an important subject across the country, and references to Edith Massey abound.
Even a noted conservative pundit who regularly writes for such un-Edith right-wing publications like The American Conservative, The National Review, Weekly Standard, The Dallas Morning News, TheWall Street Journal and Beliefnet penned a little piece this week in The American Conservative. Rod Dreher relates that in an afternoon dream his backyard flock of hens had laid 13 eggs, and that when he woke up, he saw that a real hen had laid two eggs on the grass!
Thinking this must be a mystical event, he asks that “Edith Massey come back from the dead and interpret this occurrence!” The article even includes a clip from Pink Flamingos.
My, aren’t conservatives lightening up (or lighting up)! I don’t follow Rod Dreher, except he refers to himself as a “crunchy conservative” (which explains the backyard chicken thing), but maybe he lives in Colorado where weed is so easy and legal. If so, Edith would be so proud. (Actually he lives in Louisiana, not known much for clear thinking, so not much difference).
The day I saw “Searching for Sugar Man,” I received my first-ever royalty check from MGM/United Artists for a union film I worked on back in the 80s. “Sugarman” won the 2012 Academy Award for best documentary. The movie is a mind-bending story from the 1970s that goes against the grain of typical show business success stories. It’s about how success can be achieved by someone no one ever heard of, in a place that doesn’t count, then be forgotten and re-discovered in a series of weird coincidences. It is a common story in show business.
“Searching for Sugar Man” tells the story of singer-songwriter, Sixto Rodriguez, who played bars and coffee shops around Detroit. Rodriguez came up in the wake of Bob Dylan. A former executive at Motown Records agreed to a record deal after Rodriguez was discovered by two respected Detroit record producers who agreed there was money to be made in the world of protest singers and folk music. Sounds like the big break every artist dreams of, but the public disagreed, and like so many other singer-songwriters of the time, his records didn’t sell, and he vanished.
If Rodriguez had moved to Greenwich Village, like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul, and Mary and others, to be a part of the hyped-up singer-songwriter scene there, it may have been a different story. But Rodriguez was not interested in offering himself up to the hype machine of New York record labels.
Rodriguez would have sunk into eternal obscurity, except a bootleg of his record was smuggled into South Africa. His protest songs charmed the local white progressive population who suffered under the apartheid regime of white supremacist thugs, and yearned to join the world-wide counter-culture ushered in by artists like the Beatles and Dylan.
South Africa at the time was the world’s pariah, and Western artists avoided the country like the plague, starving the progressives of the music and culture they wanted so badly.
Rodriguez’s bootleg record filled a void, and his rebellious songs became underground anthems for millions— the South African equivalent of “Kumbaya” and “ Satisfaction” rolled into one. Rodriguez’s albums circulated by the hundreds of thousands, year after year in South Africa, in censored and uncensored and legal and bootleg versions. A myth grew around Rodriguez in South Africa that he had committed suicide on stage to protest a cold, unfeeling world. To the contrary, Rodriguez had remained in Detroit, worked as a laborer and quietly raised a family. His professional music career abruptly ended after his second non-selling album tanked and his recording contract was yanked.
A South African journalist tracked Rodriguez down in the late 90s, and brought him to South Africa where sold-out several concert tours—and he was revered for helping bring down the apartheid system.
My fresh $10.67 royalty check from MGM/UA on my desk, I was intrigued that South African record distributors claim they regularly sent royalty checks to A&M Records in the for the hundreds of thousands of Rodriguez albums sold. Some say more than a million records were sold. Rodriguez had no idea that more than a handful of his records had sold anywhere—he never received a royalty check either. Sussex Records, the original American label was sold several times, and Clarence Avant, its founder cannot trace Rodriguez’s contract after forty years.
So, here’s the classic Show Biz Question: “Where are my royalties?” The answer? “There are no royalties, or, hire an attorney and just try to get them.”
Anyone with the slightest involvement in royalties knows this dialogue. Of course, some stars do just fine collecting them. Though certainly not a star, I’m astounded that the Directors Guild of America tracked me down after many decades to pay me a measly $10.67. If it weren’t for a union contract, I’d never have received that. I wish the Waters’ films I had worked on had DGA contracts. I’m sure hundreds of others, who worked on low-budget-hell productions that eventually paid off, even decades later, would agree.
Wouldn’t it be nice if all unions had no/low budget agreements and welcomed all to share in the spoils—rare as they are? But how un-capitalist is that? And former low/no budget filmmakers love capitalism, especially when they finally have the wherewithal to hire good attorneys.
Jean-Michel Basquait tagging in Alphabet City during a shoot for the movie “New York Beat/Downtown 81”
Stumbled across this video today on one of my favorite websites. I was on these shoots on a cold, windy December day in Alphabet City in 1981. The shots look like 3rd generation copies of the 16mm workprint.
No sound, because most of the sound was lost during the 15 year post-production odyssey when the whole film was stolen and recovered several times.
In this video’s last scene, Basquait interacts with the film’s production manager, Steve Sabato, whose most difficult task was to get Basquait to show up on time, in the right place, with the right wardrobe and props. The scene is the ultimate insider irony, because Steve was in charge of the money, which Basquait was constantly wasting by not showing up. That he gives Steve a suitcase full of money, and Steve bolts from the scene with a triumphal grin is hysterical and typical of the wit of the director Edo Bertolio and writer Glenn O’Brien.
It sort of sums up whole Downtown 80s NYC art scene where art, of any sort, was pure and money was corrupt. This might be why it took 20 years to complete the film.