Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Three Stooges

It hardly seems possible that a comedy group that started in 1925 would remain recognizable to four generations of Americans, many of whom were born after the last member of the original group died, but that is exactly what we see in The Three Stooges.

Ted Healy teamed with family friends Moe and Shemp Howard in a vaudeville act where he, Healy, would attempt to sing or tell stories, only to be interrupted by the antics of his “Stooges”.  He would then, in the vaudeville tradition of the time, physically abuse them, to the amusement of the audience. The act became popular enough so the group, now five people, made it into a feature film, written by the cartoonist/inventor Rube Goldberg, called Soup to Nuts.

Although the film was quite mediocre, the act got good reviews; good enough so Fox Studios expressed an interest in signing some of the five to a contract.  When Healy felt slighted because he was not included, he protested and the offer was withdrawn.  The group reorganized into what would be known as The Three Stooges with characters whose actual names were Moe and Shemp Howard and Larry Fine.  Not too long after, Healy reconnected with the group and for reasons that are conflicting; Shemp left the group to go solo.  Moe’s brother, Jerry was recruited and shaved his head to get the part.  Hence “Curly” was born.

It’s easy to imagine why they became so popular that they made more than 200 films, albeit many were two-reel short films, in their career together.  In 1932 and 1933 when they were still with Healy the country was in the depths of the Great Depression.  Movies were a cheap means of escape and the broad-based slapstick of The Stooges was perfect for escapism.  The next five years were hardly better economically and they quickly became more and more popular.

It is a little more difficult to explain why they remained so until their film contracts ended in the mid-1950s.  Possibly there was a nostalgia factor as their audience aged and became more affluent.  In any event, they were indeed fortunate that they had so much archived material at a time when television was hungry for content.  When Screen Gems packaged 78 of their almost 200 short films and syndicated them nationally, a whole new generation of fans was born.  My grown son confesses that he was in that group.  When asked what he found appealing he responded that it was the predictable physical farce that caught his attention.

Whatever it was, it fueled their attraction for another thirty-five years and made a new generation nostalgic about their antics.  Mel Gibson was so attracted that he made a rather unsuccessful feature film about their lives.  Australian released, it received little attention in this country but is occasionally available on AMC Classic Movies.  And somebody at Hanna-Barbera must have been a fan as they were featured as cartoon characters in the New Scooby-Doo Movies in 1972.

The newest generation is being exposed to them as this goes to print.  In 2007 Sony packaged The Three Stooges Collection, Volume 1 and quickly followed up with Volume 2 the next year.  Although the personnel changed through their career, the recognizablity of the characters is phenomenal.  Who among us could not recognize Curly, or for that matter, Moe.  And that leaves all of us knowing the one remaining must be Larry.

The newest film, set in current time and with three new actors, is due out in early April.  Will it be as popular?  My guess is yes.  Partly because these times economically are tough.  Partly because films now are designed to appeal to the age group that finds slapstick farce truly funny.  But mostly because the cast is solid and the Producers are the Farrelly brothers.  They were said to have originally wanted to cast Sean Penn, Jim Carey and Benicio Del Toro, but eventually settled on Chris Diamontopoulus, Will Masso, and Sean Hayes.

The Farrelly brothers have a solid track record including: The Trouble with Mary, Dumb and Dumber, Me, Myself and Irene, and Shallow Hal.  The trailers are out and what we see seems to indicate a hit. The blessing, from my point of view, is that, best I can tell, it’s not in 3-D.

An interesting article in Parade Magazine the other day titled “Your Body Explained” struck a chord with me.  Next post I’ll explain why.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Nature vs. Nurture

Three recent events prompted me to revisit an old argument about whether our genes or our lives make us who and what we are.

Jae Crowder
First, there was my Alma Mater, Marquette, making it to the Sweet Sixteen for the second straight year, and doing so largely through the leadership and on-court contributions of Jae Crowder, whose father spent sixteen years playing professional basketball and had a newsworthy moment when his flight was cancelled disallowing him to see Jae in the round of thirty-two.

Then, there was the hype surrounding the film, The Hunger Games, which offers Jack Quaid his first significant role in film.  Jack is the son of two rather prominent actors: Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan.

And finally, there was a Wall Street Journal article titled “How to be Creative”, adapted from a forthcoming book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works” by Jonah Lehrer.

These three, seemingly disparate incidents reminded me of a book I read in undergraduate school titled “Hereditary Genius”.  My memory is that the premise of the book, authored in the mid-nineteenth century by Sir Francis Galton, postulated that we were limited in our life accomplishments by our parentage, in the case at the time meaning our “class”.  Even when I read this in the late 1950s, I was affronted that boundaries were set over which we had no control.

Sir Francis Galton - 1850s
Sir Francis must have felt the same way because he was the one who coined the phrase, “Nature vs. Nurture”, which I used as the title of this post.  He went on to show that Nurture played a large part in development; although he was probably restricting development to what Heredity gave us.

Jae Crowder has excellent credentials on his own.  For instance he didn’t shift his primary interest from football to basketball until after high school, lettering in both sports at school. His first year of college was at an unaccredited school, which he led to a championship and he had to catch up on admission requirements to Marquette by a concentrated year and a half at an accredited school; which he also led to a championship.  When he got to Marquette, he came as the leading Community College player in the nation.

But he would be the first to admit that exposure to his father’s professional basketball players, sharpened his skills and, more importantly, provided realistic tools for excelling at the game.  And I would conclude that there is a genetic component of consequence, much as with the Manning brothers.

Jack Quaid as Marvel
Jack Quaid also, probably inherited something of the acting craft from one or, more likely, both of his parents.  I have yet to see The Hunger Games, but I assume that he will do quite well.  Parade Magazine seemed to feel so.

Jonah Lehrer builds a strong case, as described in the article, that nurture plays a much more significant role than previously thought in problem solving, which would seem to be the core of conquering life’s challenges. The article uses examples, such as the discovery of ©Post-its, and how Yo Yo Ma played an impossible chord to, first of all encourage us to believe we can improve our ways of problem solving and then, provide us tools to do so.  A link to this article is worth the time to read it.

I am inclined to believe that it is more the nurture of the Quaid and Crowder family; i.e., Jae’s father's history of playing in Europe and Canada, and his circle of friends, and Jack’s observations of his parents work ethic and their circle of friends, that contribute to these two young men’s success than the genes that may make Jack a Casting Director’s dream or make Buzz Williams get down on his knees in thanks for Jae’s decision to honor his contract.

But, whatever the mix of Nature vs. Nurture in theirs and my family’s lives, it is interesting to observe their success and I am thankful that the lives of my loved ones are so great.

Looks like we are seeing a new movie about The Three Stooges.  Next post, I think I’ll explore what made those movies so long-lasting and what are the chances of success for the new film.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Academy Awards

Did you ever have one of those moments when, reading a review of a play/movie/concert, you wondered if the reviewer saw the same show you did?

That describes the feeling I had the other day when I was listening to an NPR interview and heard the film critic pan the Academy Awards show.  Not just the show; the whole concept of the show.  The crux of his criticism was that, while the Grammy’s and the Country Music Awards, and even the Emmys and Tonys have performers, the Oscars are merely a rendering of honors for accomplishment: and not even recognition of the proper or best accomplishments.

Put aside the fact that Billy Crystal volunteered to host at a late date, or that it might be somewhat difficult to be entirely original for the ninth time, or that, and bear with me on this one, the show has a finite required amount of time for honorifics and (I think) does an admirable job of providing both cinematic and musical entertainment around that time constraint; putting all that aside, I was entertained watching the show.

Okay, I was a little disappointed when I found out that not only does my recent eligibility for SAG not get me into the voting coterie of the Academy, but the constituents in the Academy do not vaguely represent theater audiences. And I was a little disappointed in some of the selections, especially since I had seen a record (for me) number of the nominated films. And I, like many others was only mildly amused (but not affronted) by the Justin Bieber/Sammy Davis, Jr. bit.
Kodak Theater

Still, I usually watch the show and on occasion have been to or held parties around its occurrence, and I felt this year was one of the better shows.  I liked the opening and marveled at how Billy Crystal was able to handle the almost-doubling of the principal categories.  I thought that most of the acceptances were relevant and consistent with time constraints.  The critic on NPR thought they should do away with acceptance speeches entirely, which would drive the LA fashion and jewelry businesses into deep recession.

Maybe the major problem is the movie industry itself.

I’m tired of sequels, and attempts to establish sequels.   I sort of let Part 2 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pass me by, preferring to see Daniel Radcliffe on Broadway in How To Succeed in Business Without ReallyTrying.  And I’m not sorry that John Carter failed to deliver to expectations.  Although The Artist, Hugo, Help, The Descendants, and even Albert Nobbs are undeniably uniquely creative films, they seem to be the exception in theaters.  More often we are offered sometimes well-done but formulaic films like Bridesmaids or Scary Movie XXVI.

Steve Jobs and technology have made animated films competitive in quality and attraction, and my wife seems to want to see them more than conventional films, but I believe the latest surge to make every film in 3-D because it boosts revenues is short sighted. And distribution is not the answer either as the public has begun to show that they are willing to watch film on smaller and smaller screens as long as they can set the time they watch it and the price they pay.

So my point in this post, if any, is to encourage you to watch next year when that 13 ½ inch, 8 ½ pound gold-plated trophy is passed to the new (or repeat) winners as it has since 1929.  I’d like the numbers to climb for a show dedicated to recognizing and hopefully encouraging improvement in film.

My next post will give you my take on the current position on advantages of birth, in occupation and sports.  Hope to see you then.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cirque du Soliel

“Do you know anything about the Cirque du Soliel?” asked my son.  Since I am never at a loss for words or smart-ass remarks, I replied that I knew two things: it is a relatively new organization and it is HUGE.  I probably also corrected his pronunciation.  His question prompted me to do a little research and some of you may be interested in what I found out.

The inspiration for his question probably came about because the group is opening a show, their Tent Show, at the Santa Monica Pier. The venue and the show itself are absolutely unique in a manner that has become the signature of the organization.

It takes 11 days to set up the mobile “city”, which is completely self-sufficient for all utilities and services except for water. There is a kitchen, school, practice area as well as a box office and performance arena.  If I hadn’t my Navy experience on aircraft carriers, I would be hard pressed to believe that the travelling 100 workers (augmented by another 100 local hire) and performers could lead a normal business and social life in each of the cities they travel to.

Guy Laliberte and Daniel Gauthier founded the group in 1984, supported by a generous grant from the Canadian government. Shortly thereafter, Laliberte hired Guy Caron from the national Circus School to structure it as a “proper circus”, albeit one without animal performers.

In 1984 the troupe played at the Santa Monica Pier and my optometrist friend, Scott Anderson followed the garish bus with the French signing to the pier to watch the show.  He remembers that there were only a few [people in the audience, but the show, even in those early days was uniquely interesting.

I first saw the group in 1996, when the American Dental Association met in Las Vegas.  The resident show was and remains Mystere, which was mesmerizing.

The group now has 19 shows performing in 271 cities on every continent except Antarctica.  One of the more interesting aspects of the shows is the music.  The original scores accent the acrobatic aspects of the performers and enhance the theatrical elements of the performances.  The music also serves to bring the audience into the performance, capturing the attention in ways that otherwise would be impossible.

With the exception of the Las Vegas show Love, which features remixes of The Beatles songs; all music is commissioned to match the theme of the show.  There are more than 30 albums available, each unique in theme and content.

The combination of travelling shows as well as resident performances has allowed for continual variety and innovation.  Additionally, the multi-cultural aspects of the performers and the themes serve to cross boundaries in ways that only theater can.

We rarely see such an original idea continue to be innovation and successful.  If you have not experienced this phenomenon, treat yourself at your next opportunity.

In my next post I intend to reflect on the recent Oscar Awards.  Hope to have you join me.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Apple Store

Intrigued by the fact that two of my business friends of long-standing were seated at the conference table, devoid of their laptops and plugged into, what I assumed were iPads, I began to revisit my long held resistance to all things Apple.

After the meeting, and taking advantage of the fact that email allows more time for reflection than conversation between business breaks, I asked each why they had gone to the iPad and what features they felt were important.  The answers surprised me.

“I traded in the utility of a PC, laptop (which was in need of replacement because of capacity issues) and my iPhone for something 20 pounds lighter during trips and much faster and adaptable.  I even used it on a recent trip to Italy to stay in visual contact with family in the States at no cost, whatsoever.” said one.

The other agreed; pointing out that with an iPad you don’t even have to take it out when going through TSA inspections.  He said the most useful added component was a wireless keyboard and his choice was the Logitech Zagg board, which serves as a case and stand.  He also said that the 3G feature was worth the cost and that he went for the 64 Gigabyte capacity because he likes to watch movies.

As do I, and I have now watched my first rental for $4.99, a recent release that I used to buy for $20, sometimes used, from Tower Records to watch on my laptop, which no longer fits on my airplane tray if I want to have a drink with my peanuts.

So, I’m happy with my new toy and have almost severed my Microsoft ties, although I am typing this on my Desktop PC.  But I was unprepared for what would be my most significant lesson: The Apple Store.

I had actually visited the store on several occasions because I have had an iPhone, practically from when they first came out and I traded in my Palm.  But I had never been aware of what makes The Apple Store special: the employees.

I almost said, the service, but as I have become more familiar with the Apple operation, I realize it is more than the service. It is a unique training of employees.

If you have ever sat at the bar of a TGIFridays, you no doubt have noticed that the bartenders are skilled in one or more aspects of showmanship.  This is not an accident.  It is a requirement for the position, and the position is a coveted one.  Many employees work their way up from bussing to bartender over a period of years.

If you frequent a Sonics Drive-in, you will notice employees have different uniforms for different levels of expertise and management.  Part of this is to differentiate for reasons other than roller skating ability, but part of it, I’m sure, is for recognition by other employees: a motivator for advancement, maybe.  Hidden under both these examples is a spirit of competition.

Not surprisingly, Apple has chosen a different model.

I am continually struck by the ease with which the Apple Staff admit they do not know.  What they do know is how to quickly and efficiently get you to someone or someplace where your question will be answered.  That is one of the reasons that every question, or at least most questions, requires you to get an appointment, either online or right at the store.  The ubiquitous electronic “clipboard” will steer you to or advise you of when and how your problem will be addressed.

As a dentist, trained a long time ago, I know none of my contemporaries would admit to not having an answer to any question given them.  Obviously they know more than the person asking the question, or feel the person asking THINKS they know more.  So giving an answer:  correct, flawed, based on old or insufficient information, or just pure artifice, is a badge of honor.

I don’t know how Apple trains their Staff or what reward system there is for moving the customer to an answer depot. But they certainly accomplish what they are trying.  If no one on the floor has an answer, they will download a tutorial unto your email site.

This week Apple announced that 25 Billion Apps have downloaded.  Today Apple stock is trading at $530 a share.  Last week I saw a man in a bagel shop using an International keyboard on his iPhone and “drawing” Mandarin characters on a touch screen, which the phone completed for him.  It is understandable that Apple Staff would not know everything about their devices.  What is truly amazing though, to my mind, is that they don’t feel inadequate for not knowing.

 Recently, in response to my son's question about Cirque de Soliel I did a littkle research.  So, since they are appearing now in LA, I thought I might share that with you in my next post.  See you then!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Fifty Years of The Chieftains

The other night I was fortunate enough to see and hear what was almost an indescribable evening of music.  The venue was the newly completed Soka University Theater in Aliso Viejo, California, a truly spectacular building both inside and out, with not a bad seat in the house.

The featured performers were The Chieftains, and originally I had thought it would be a nice prelude to a St. Patrick’s Day Celebration.  We asked a couple we are friendly with to join us for a light supper and the show and, with the single exception that our seats were within eyesight but not within earshot from each other, all could not have gone better.
Paddy Molone and The Chieftains

If you aren’t familiar with The Chieftains, let me share with you the view from 30,000 feet.

One of the original founding members still fronts the group, makes the travel arrangements, attracts the dozens of celebrated artists, who have collaborated with them including: Sting, Ry Cooder, Van Morrison, Ziggy Marley, Willie Nelson, Nanci Griffith, Mick Jagger, Luciano Pavarotti, Lyle Lovett, and Madonna, and arranges literally all the music.  That would of course be Paddy Moloney, who shared with us that he started his career at the age of nine, when his mother gifted him with a Penny Whistle, which he still plays to this day.

To hear The Chieftains would have been enough of a treat, but as the evening passed we found more and more artists who joined the musicians, singers, and frighteningly energetic dancers on the stage.  The first and most accomplished were Los Cenlontles (the Mockingbirds), with their own dancers and a variety of Mexican-influenced music. But there was also a group of six kilted Musicians with their bagpipes and another group of young Irish dancers, who were local to the Orange County area.

We hardly stopped to take a breath from the time the concert started to the conclusion, when several members of the audience joined with the dancers in a line that snaked through the several levels of the auditorium and finished by taking a bow at the edge of the stage.

Most of the music was from their newest album which became available on MP3 only a few days after our concert.  The title is “Voiceof Ages”, and is a tribute to the variety of music they have dabbled in since Paddy Moloney founded the group in 1962.  I would not be surprised if it generates a Grammy this year to join the six previous on their collective mantle.

It is almost impossible to put into words, the experience of absorbing all the high energy generated by this non-stop performance.  I left the theater wondering, “What have we just experienced?”

Speaking of experiences, on my next post I’ll share with you my experiences with the fantastic assistants in the Apple Store and why I think Apple’s stock may stay at $500 a share for some time.