Category Archives: Hollywood

1000 Words: Phony Realism and a Funny Organ

Two for the price of one today.

First, actor and film producer Alec Baldwin will be charged with involuntary manslaughter, acc’d’g to Santa Fe, New Mexico’s First Judicial District Attorney, Mary Carmack-Altwies. On October 21, 2021, while filming a scene for a cowboy movie on a ranch in Santa Fe, a prop gun Baldwin was holding discharged, resulting in the death of the film’s cinematographer and the serious injury of its director.

Baldwin on the set of “Rust.”

Considering that Baldwin is a Hollywood A-Lister and there’s big dough behind any picture he appears in, it stands to reason his and the movie’s well-paid defense attorneys and prosecutors’ll be thumb-wrestling for weeks — even months — over who’s really responsible for the tragic accident. The film’s armorer is also charged with involuntary manslaughter.

One thing we learned in the aftermath of the incident is movies that feature gunplay have to have an expert called an armorer on the set during shooting (you’ll pardon the pun). “Armorers are responsible for the transport, storage, and safe use of all weaponry and firearms on film sets,” says the official job description issued by the International Alliance of Stage Employees. That’s the labor union representing many of the behind the scenes workers on a film.

Any number of film actors who actually use prop guns have come out to say they insist on testing their weapons for safety with the armorer before actually pulling any triggers.

I’ll leave that arm wrestling match to the lawyers. That’s what they get paid huge scratch for. Some individual or set of individuals, at the end of the upcoming trial, will bear the blame for the tragedy.

Me? I blame Hollywood. Period.

There is absolutely no reason on this Earth why guns that actually fire projectiles should be used while shooting a film.

Let’s go back to one of my favorite movies of all time, 1947’s “Kiss of Death.” In the movie’s final, climactic scene, Nick Bianco (Victor Mature), an ex-con trying to go straight, gets shot up by the lunatic killer, Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark). Bianco takes three or four slugs to the belly and tumbles to the pavement outside Louie’s Italian restaurant, where he’d been goading Udo. Bianco is seriously injured but survives the shooting. Udo tries to run from the cops, who are just arriving on the scene. The cops shoot Udo but he, too, survives. Udo will go to prison for the rest of his life because he’s already a two-time loser using a firearm in the commission of a felony.

The Assistant DA with Tommy Udo (center) and Nick Bianco (right).

Now, the viewer is shocked and saddened, initially, by the shooting of Bianco. Then, when it’s revealed he has survived and Udo has been apprehended, we feel a sense of triumph. It’s a textbook Hollywood ending.

The filmmaker, director Henry Hathaway, has given us precisely what we wanted of a crime film.  We’re scared, we’re hopeful, we’re pulling for Bianco, we get thrills, we get satisfaction. We get catharsis.

It was only after I’d seen “Kiss of Death” a dozen times or so that I realized I never see a drop of blood on Nick Bianco. No gunshot wounds. No gore. No crimson spray. In fact, if I recall correctly, I never even saw flashes emanating from Udo’s handgun. I only heard pow! pow! pow! and then watched Bianco collapse.

And that’s all I needed. Hathaway, as every other director of his era did, forced us to use our imaginations. Do we really need to see gaping holes in the protagonist’s body? The splash of human blood and bits of flesh on the wall and sidewalk behind him?

The obsession with “realism,” as illustrated, for instance, in Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs,” in contemporary filmmaking has turned us into brain-dead viewers. When “Dexter” chops up another victim, does some forensic expert on the set really need to get spray and splatter patterns precisely right?

Richard Widmark clearly used a prop pistol that only looked like a gun. It didn’t fire anything. We get it; he’s shooting a gun and when Bianco gets shot, he may be killed, or at least seriously wounded. We’re not stupid.

But today’s obsession with “reality” demands film actors use guns that fire — if not real bullets — dangerous blanks that produce fire and smoke and shards of metal that can fly through the bodies of cinematographers and directors.

What’s the point?

We get this faux reality in our movies and television programs, yet we’re fast losing our capability to discern bullshit from reality when we watch the news.

One of Bloomington’s most notable scientists is neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor, an adjunct lecturer at Indiana University’s medical school. At the age of 37, she suffered a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. Within hours after the onset of the event, she lost the ability to walk, talk, read, write, and remember things.

Ironically, because of her academic training, she knew precisely what was going on in her head as it was happening. She was even able to foresee what motor or cognitive functions would go awry next as the minutes passed.

Happily, Bolte Taylor not only survived but has completely recovered from her stroke. She recounts the ordeal in her book, My Stroke of Insight. She’s also written the book, Whole Brain Living.

Jill Bolte Taylor Toys with a Human Brain.

In a review of My Stroke of Insight, Lorna Collier writes in Brain & Living magazine that Bolte Taylor “regards her stroke as a positive event that left her with a sense of peace, a less-driven personality, and a new insight into the meaning of life…. Perhaps most surprisingly, she recalls feeling an intense sense of inner harmony and deep connection during the stroke that has remained with her.”

Isn’t the brain a funny organ? It can be devastated by perhaps the worst thing to befall it and then, after a time, it can rewire itself in the most positive way imaginable.

Case in point: I know a guy who, when I first met him, was a miserable cur, eternally unhappy, mean, glum, radiating negativity.

Then, a couple of years ago, he suffered a debilitating stroke. Other people who know him told me I’d be amazed at the transformation in him since the event. I ran into him yesterday. He was sweet and joyful, chatty, a joy to be around.

Yep, the brain is a funny organ.

1000 Words: Movie Magic

I had a fun and informative chat with IU Cinema director Alicia Kozma yesterday afternoon. It was the first time I’ve recorded an edition of Big Talk in the WFHB studios since February 2020.


That time, I shot the breeze with the Busman’s Holiday boys, Lewis and Addison Rogers. Next thing any of us knew, the nation — hell, the entire world — was being shut down. So for some 27 months I’ve been recording Big Talk editions à la Marc Maron — in my garage. It took quite a few tries but I think I was able, eventually, to get a pretty decent sound quality even as I was squeezed in among the lawnmower, The Loved One’s hot rod, some old rolled-up carpeting, the washer and dryer, and tons of other clutter.

Lewis (L) & Addison Rogers.

I figured I’d venture out into the world yesterday so I reserved one of the station’s recording studios. It was a blast seeing the old community radio gang again — GM Jar Turner, news director Kade Young, and development director Brooke Turpin. The big news at the station is Kade cut off his extremely long pandemic hair and Jar has let his tresses grow down to his shoulder blades. Brooke’s mop remains stylishly trimmed.

As for me, well, I haven’t worried about the hair on the top of my head since the 1990s. That emanating from my ears and nose, though, must be controlled using Wahl machinery.

By the way, did you know the word glabrous means free from hair? Ironic, isn’t it? I mean, it’d be like the 45th President of the United States being surnamed Noble or Goode. Hair has sprouted in generous amounts from every corner and niche of my bod since I was an early teen. This even though my scalp became largely desolate starting in about 1981.


Anyway, in researching Alicia Kozma, I learned about a woman named Stephanie Rothman. She’s one of Kozma’s fave producer/directors and was one of the very first female top executives in Hollywood.

Rothman was the first female winner of the Directors Guild of America fellowship while a student at the University of Southern California. Cult film director Roger Corman hired her as an assistant straight out of college. Stephanie worked in every possible position on Corman-produced movies with titles like Beach Ball, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet, and Queen of Blood. Her stint with Corman was an invaluable apprenticeship where she learned every aspect of making a commercial movie. Corman eventually tabbed her to direct It’s a Bikini World.


This all came about in the 1960s when Hollywood saw women as good only for parading their breasts onscreen. Sure, there were female directors and/or producers — Ida Lupino comes to mind — but you could count them on one hand that’d suffered the loss of three fingers in a farm accident.


Rothman hated working on what was called the “exploitation” genre. Kozma defines exploitation films as those made on the barest of budgets, designed to make quick box office money at, say, drive-in theaters, and which featured plenty of jiggling female flesh and a whole hell of a lot of violence.

“I was never happy making exploitation movies,” Rothman said. But she did so because women directors were rarely hired or bankrolled a half century ago. The only job she could find was at an exploitation factory.


Rothman did, though, inject a mote of enlightenment into the process. She directed the films Student Nurses and The Velvet Vampire for Corman. As long as the exploitation film formula demanded nudity to one degree or another, Rothman chose to have as many male actors shed their clothes as female actors. And as long as she had to include violent scenes in her movies, she strove to show the results of that violence, both physical and emotional. She also focused on female leads as more fully developed characters rather than simply unclad bodies prancing around the screen.

Kozma calls Rothman the “anti-Russ Meyer.”

A Russ Meyer Opus.

She split off to start her own production company, Dimension Pictures, with her husband, Charles S. Swartz. Rothman directed three Dimension films: Group Marriage, Terminal Island, and The Working Girls. She scripted Beyond Atlantis for Dimension as well. In all of them, she took an exploitation standby, unbridled male desire, and extended it to include that of her female characters. It may be hard to believe today, but the idea of a female movie character really wanting to engage in sex back then was utterly groundbreaking.

Still, Rothman remained unsatisfied with the whole exploitation thing. Even when she left Dimension in 1975 and hoped to make serious films, she couldn’t because Hollywood had typecast her as an exploitation director. She couldn’t win.

Alicia Kozma says she’d love to get Stephanie Rothman to make a personal appearance at the IU Cinema sooner rather than later. Rothman, who hasn’t worked on a film since 1978, is now 85 years old. She remains healthy and energetic, acc’d’g to Kozma. The IU Cinema director has her fingers crossed that Rothman may soon make her way to Bloomington.

Sometimes when I think I might like to retire from radio, I simply remember I get to meet and chat with cool folks like Alicia Kozma. And learn about others like Stephanie Rothman. So I’ll stick with Big Talk for the foreseeable future.

(The podcast of my chat with Alicia Kozma will post later today at 6:00pm on the WFHB website. Podcasts of all previous Big Talks can be found here.)

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