Saturday, 17 June 2017

Changes Twitter Should Make

Twitter made a few changes this week. For the most part these changes were cosmetic. They changed the icons (for instance, "reply" is now a word balloon). They changed some of the typography. Perhaps the biggest change was relocating one's settings. I don't know if these changes upset any Twitter users, but from my standpoint they were all so minor that I can't see how they would.

That having been said, I do think Twitter really should make some major changes. To me the Twitter interface has not been particularly user friendly since 2011. That is when they combined the tabs for retweets and mentions under a single "Notifications" tab. Recently Twitter somewhat improved this by placing a link under Notifications for only mentions. The problem is that still leaves likes and retweets mixed in with mentions under the All link. Personally I would like to see individual tabs for retweets, mentions, and likes. Twitter could still place these under the heading of Notifications. As it is right now it is difficult to sort likes and retweets from mentions. Indeed, this is why six years ago I switched to HootSuite for most of my tweeting.

As to Twitter's look, I really don't quite understand why they changed the icons. While I have no objections to the new icons, I didn't have any objections to the old icons either. What I do have an objection to is Twitter's colour scheme, which is among the absolute worst on the web. The Twitter bar at the top and the column containing tweet and the sidebars are all a blinding white. The background colour is an awful hospital blue. What I would like for Twitter to do is to give users back some customisation with regards to their Twitter experience. At one time we could have our own background images (I always used the Union Jack). I would like for them to bring back background images or, at least, let us choose our own colour schemes for Twitter. As it is, while I rarely use the Twitter platform itself (as I said above), for those times when I do I installed a userstyle that, well, paints everything black except for the text (which is white).

I won't even go into the changes I would like to see to profiles. Suffice it to say that I preferred them before Twitter ruined changed them in 2014. They would vastly improve things if they simply went back to the profiles as they were before May 2014. Ditch the cover image and bring back background images!

Of course, one major change Twitter made is that mentions no longer count towards the 140 character limit. While many people might like this change, I have to say that for me it was totally unnecessary. I never had any objections to mentions counting towards the 140 character limit. What I do object to are links counting towards the 140 character limit. Twitter is regarded by many as a news source, so that links to new stories are often tweeted. Unfortunately, due to the number of characters in links, it is often difficult to create a "headline" for any given link. If links are no longer counted towards the 140 character limit, that problem would be solved.

As to mentions no longer counting towards the 140 character limit, it did create one problem that I can see. Quite simply, in many cases when replying to a tweet, one does not want to reply to every single person mentioned in a tweet. A perfect example of this are "Follow Friday" tweets. I would like to be able to thank only the person who made the tweet. In the old days one simply deleted the mentions except for the individual who made the tweet. Now one has to click the reply icon, then place one's cursor in the tweet box that pops up, then click on the "Replying to" link, and finally uncheck the names in the box that pops up. This is a lot more steps, so many that I would actually be happy if they announced that mentions once more count towards the 140 character limit and returned to handling replies the way they once were!

Another change I would make is to give users the ability to hide inline images. At one time there was a way to hide inline images, although that was taken away sometime ago. I have a userstyle in place to hide inline images, although I would much rather be able to go into settings at Twitter and simply turn them off. 

There are two more changes I would make to Twitter and they are much of the reason I still don't use the Twitter platform. The first is that I would do away with the "While You Were Away" feature or, at least, give people  a way to permanently disable it. I find it more annoying than useful, as it disrupts my feed. The second is that I would do away with "Who to Follow" (which should be "Whom to Follow") within the feed. Having "Who to Follow" not only disrupts one's Twitter feed, it is also redundant given there is the "Who to Follow" sidebar on the right.


For the past few years Twitter has had trouble attracting new users. Over the past few years they have made quite a few changes in an attempt to attract new users. Personally, I suspect many of these changes not only drove any possible new users away, but may have driven old users away as well. In the end I think Twitter's best hope may be to go back the way it used to be, way back before 2011. I know that was the last time I regularly used Twitter's platform.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The 50th Anniversary of The Dirty Dozen (1967)

Arguably the Sixties was the Golden Age of the war film, with such movies as The Longest Day (1962), PT 109 (1963), The Train (1964), In Harm's Way (1965), and many others released during the decade. It was also the era of all-star extravaganzas--action films filled with big name movie and TV stars. Among these were The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), The Professionals (1966), and several others. Among the war films that were also all-star extravaganzas (as was often the case), was The Dirty Dozen (1967). It would prove to be a blockbuster at the box office, making $45,300,000 and ranking as the fourth highest grossing film of 1967. And while it was criticised for its violence, it did receive its share of positive reviews. Yesterday it was 50 years ago that The Dirty Dozen was released. It opened in theatres on June 15 1967 in the United States.

The Dirty Dozen was based on the novel of the same name by E. M. Nathanson. Even before the novel was published, director Robert Aldrich tried to buy its film rights. Ultimately it was MGM who bought the rights to The Dirty Dozen in May 1963, a full two years before the novel was published. Fortunately, Robert Aldrich would wind up directing the movie adaptation anyway. After MGM made many failed attempts at a screenplay, Mr. Aldrich was brought onto the project. He brought in screenwriter Lukas Heller, with whom he had worked on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962),  Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), and The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), to rework the script written by Nunnally Johnson (who had written such films as The Grapes of Wrath, Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, and How to Marry a Millionaire).

As to the novel The Dirty Dozen, upon its publication in 1965 it proved to be a bestseller. The novel was very loosely based on an actual group during World War II, the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, of the United States Army, nicknamed "the Filthy Thirteen". Unlike the movie, the real-life Filthy Thirteen was not composed of convicts, criminals, and malcontents. They earned their nickname because they bathed and shaved only once a week, and never cleaned their uniforms. Instead they conserved their water to cook deer, rabbits, and fish that they had poached.

Given the era, it should come as no surprise that The Dirty Dozen would have an all-star cast. That having been said, that cast could have been very different. John Wayne was offered the role of Major Reisman that was ultimately played by Lee Marvin in the movie. Mr. Wayne turned the part down because of objections he had to a subplot in the original script in which Major Reisman was having an affair with a married Englishwoman. Jack Palance was offered the role of Maggott, but turned it down because of objections he had to the portrayal of the character's racism. Ultimately Telly Savalas was cast in the part. Several members of the cast were actual World War II veterans. Ernest Borgnine (United States Navy), Charles Bronson (United States Army Air Corps), Lee Marvin ( United States Marine Corps),  Robert Ryan (United States Marine Corps),  Telly Savalas (United States Army), Robert Webber (United States Marine Corps),  and Clint Walker (United States Merchant Marine) all served during the war.

While the novel The Dirty Dozen took its inspiration from the Filthy Thirteen, neither the novel nor the movie were based on a historic incident as many World War II movies were.  In fact, the movie The Dirty Dozen paid little heed to historical accuracy. For example, it seems as if the whole of the Dirty Dozen are armed with M3 submachine guns, also known as "Grease Guns". In truth, the Grease Gun saw very little use during World War II. It was also, contrary to its portrayal in the movie, notoriously inaccurate. Of course, The Dirty Dozen was never meant to be a documentary drama, but instead an escapist action film.

The Dirty Dozen also differed from many earlier World War II films in its anti-authoritarian tone. Not only do the Dirty Dozen themselves regularly defy their superiors, but, except for Major Reisman, those superiors are portrayed as detestable on the whole, and often stupid and downright deranged as well. This marked a dramatic shift from war movies as recent as The Great Escape in 1963, in which most Allied officers were portrayed as heroes and some level of patriotism was prominent throughout the film. Arguably The Dirty Dozen would spark a whole slough of anti-authoritarian protagonists in movies throughout the late Sixties, the Seventies, the Eighties, and up to this day. Frank Bullittt, Dirty Harry Callahan, Paul Kersey, and many other characters who regularly defy authority owe something to The Dirty Dozen.

Upon its release The Dirty Dozen received generally positive reviews. Alongside Bonnie and Clyde and other films it proved to be a source of controversy due to its violence. An article by Associated Press Movie-TV writer Bob Thomas (published in the August 31 1967 issue of The Lima News, among many other newspapers) addressed the violence in many recent films, including The Dirty Dozen, A Fistful of Dollars, and Beach Red. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther attacked The Dirty Dozen as "A raw and preposterous glorification of a group of criminal soldiers who are trained to kill and who then go about this brutal business with hot, sadistic zeal..."  He remained one of the film's most vocal detractors. While Pauline Kael had no objection to the use of violence in Bonnie and Clyde (which she strenuously defended against her fellow critics), she wrote that The Dirty Dozen "...offends me personally." Roger Ebert, then in his first year with The Chicago Sun-Times, also criticised The Dirty Dozen for its violence. While most reviews acknowledged that The Dirty Dozen was violent, the film did receive some positive reviews. Variety referred to it as an "...exciting Second World War pre-D-Day drama" and commended some of the performances in the film. In his review in the July 21 1967 issue of Life magazine, Richard Schickel commented of The Dirty Dozen, "Flawed as it is, however, it seems to me one of the most interesting films about the brutalizing effects of war that we have had from American film makes in the last decade."

The controversy over the violence in The Dirty Dozen was made even greater by the fact that 1967 saw the release of several films then considered extremely violent. The aforementioned Bonnie and Clyde, Beach Red, A Fistful of Dollars (released in Italy in 1964, but not in the U.S. until 1967), and Point Blank were also released that year. The growing violence in movies, as well as the growing sexual content in films (such as Blowup and Belle de Jour), led to the creation of the Motion Picture Association of America's rating system that took effect in late 1968.

The Dirty Dozen would inspire several films in a similar vein over the next several years. Play Dirty (1969) centred on a group of British convicts who were used as soldiers. The Inglorious Bastard (1977) could be considered an outright imitation of The Dirty Dozen. Starting in 1985 with The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission, there would be several TV movie sequels, including The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission (1987), and The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission (1988). In 1988 Fox aired a short-lived TV series inspired by the original movie entitled The Dirty Dozen: The Series.

Despite being attacked by some critics for its violence, The Dirty Dozen would prove to be a success upon its release in 1967. It would also prove to be influential. Not only did it inspire similar war films, but it was one of a group of films that escalated cinematic violence to new levels. Its anti-authoritarian tone would have a long lasting impact on American cinema that lasts to this day. For all the controversy it provoked upon its initial release, The Dirty Dozen remains one of the most memorable and influential films of the late Sixties.

Happy 10th Anniversary to Out of The Past: A Classic Film Blog

It was ten years ago today that Out of the Past: A Classic Film Blog was launched by Raquel Stecher. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Out of the Past, it is a wonderful blog dedicated to classic movies. Raquel writes on a wide variety of topics related to classic film, from movies set at New Year's to film noir. She also regularly reviews books on classic film, and she hosts the annual Summer Reading Challenge, in which participants read books on classic film and then review them on their blogs, Instagram, or Goodreads. Over the years Raquel has conducted several interviews, including ones with Kurt Norton (co-director and producer of the documentary These Amazing Shadows) and Sheena Ochoa (author of the Stella Adler biography Stella! Mother of Modern Acting).  Each year she also offers some of the best coverage of the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival one will find anywhere.

I am proud to say that I have read Out of the Past: A Classic Film Blog since its earliest days. While I had read other movie blogs before, it was the first blog dedicated exclusively to classic film I ever read. Raquel then became my first classic movie blogger friend. In fact, she was the first person I ever followed on Twitter. We do have a lot in common. We are both fans of Bobby Darin, Jack Klugman, Robert Mitchum, Norma Shearer, and the Charlie Chan movies. Raquel remains a dear friend to this day.

And I must say that I am very proud of her for 10 years of blogging! To give you an idea of why this is a major accomplishment, in the Naughts, Perseus Development Corporation did a study on the phenomenon of blogging. They discovered that 66% of all blogs had not been updated in over two months and many had apparently been abandoned. About a quarter of all blogs had only a single post, made on the day the blog was set up. In terms of the lifespans of most blogs then, a ten year old blog is positively ancient!

I urge all of you who have not yet done so to stop by Out of the Past: A Classic Film Blog. I guarantee that if you are a classic film buff you will enjoy it immensely. And I also want to wish Raquel a happy 10th blogiversary!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Lookwell

Sadly, last week I eulogised Adam West, best known as Batman on the Sixties series of the same name and Mayor West on the animated series Family Guy. In the course of my eulogy I mentioned a pilot in which Mr. West starred in the Nineties entitled Lookwell. It is regarded as one of the best pilots never to have been picked up by a network. Indeed, over the years it has developed a cult following.

Lookwell was created by Conan O'Brien (who would later gain fame as a late night talk show host) and Robert Smigel (who would later be the voice behind Triumph the Insult Dog and would write the screenplays for Hotel Transylvania) It starred Adam West as Ty Lookwell, a has-been TV star who had been honourably deputised at the height of his fame and now believes that he can actually solve crimes.

Brandon Tartikoff, then chairman of NBC, was enthusiastic about Lookwell. Unfortunately, the leadership at NBC changed; even Brandon Tartikoff left in 1991. The new regime at the network was not enthusiastic about Lookwell. They aired the pilot in July 1991. It received absolutely miserable Nielsen ratings, coming in 92nd out of 92 shows aired during the week of July 22-28.  Lookwell would then remain an unsold pilot, albeit one that would come to be loved by many.

For those of you who have never seen Lookwell, it is available on YouTube. I have embedded it below. This particular version is from a rebroadcast on the now defunct cable channel Trio.


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Summertime by The Zombies

I have to admit that I have always loved the song "Summertime" by George Gershwin. The song originated in his musical Porgy and Bess in 1935. Ira Gershwin was credited as co-writer on the song by ASCAP, although its lyrics were actually written by DuBose Heyward, who wrote the novel Porgy (upon which the musical was based).

While I do love the song, that's not to say that I don't have some problems with it. As many of you know, summer is my absolute least favourite time of year. To me the livin' is definitely not easy in summertime, at least not summertime where I live. It's hot. It's muggy. It's absolutely unbearable. Regardless, I still enjoy the song, even if I think it is more descriptive of spring or autumn (times when the livin' can truly be said to be easy).

Over the years several artists have recorded the song, including Billie Holiday (who was the first artist to have a hit with the song), Sam Cooke, and Al Martino. British band The Zombies recorded their own version of their song for their debut album, Begin Here (which was released in 1965). It also appears on the American version of Begin Here, which was retitled The Zombies. Although never released as a single, it would appear on various "Greatest Hits" albums, including Time of The Zombies and Zombie Heaven.

Without further ado, here is Gershwin's "Summertime" performed by The Zombies.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Glenne Headly R.I.P.

Actress Glenne Headly died on June 8 2017 at the age of 62. The cause was a pulmonary embolism.

Glenne Headly was born on March 13 1955 in New London, Connecticut. She spent most of her childhood with her mother in Greenwich Village in New York City. She had decided to become an actress by the time she was in second grade. She graduated from both the School of Performing Arts in Manhattan and the American College of Switzerland.  After various stage roles she joined the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.

Glenne Headly made her film debut in the short "Bowery Dawn" in 1972. She made her feature film debut in 1981 in Four Friends. In the Eighties she appeared in such films as Doctor Detroit (1983), Fandango (1985), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Making Mr. Right (1987), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), and Dick Tracy (1990). On television she appeared in the mini-series Lonesome Dove. She made her Broadway debut in Arms and the Man in 1985.

In the Nineties she played Dr. Abby Keaton on ER during the 1996-1997 season. She was also a regular on the short-lived TV show Encore! Encore!. She guest starred on the shows Fraiser, Hotel Room and The X-Files. She appeared in the films Mortal Thoughts (1991), Ordinary Magic (1993), Mr. Holland's Opus (1995), Sgt. Bilko (1996), Breakfast of Champions (1999), and Timecode (2000).

In the Naughts Miss Headly had a recurring role on the TV show Monk. She guest starred on the shows The Fugitive (2001), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Grey's Anatomy, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. She was a guest voice on Rugrats. She appeared in such films as Bartleby (2001), Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004), The Amateurs (2005), Comeback Season (2006), Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (2008), and The Joneses (2009).

In the Teens Glenne Headly guest starred on the show Psych, Parks and Recreation, and The League. She appeared in three episodes of The Night Of. She is set to appear in episodes of the Hulu series Future Man. She appeared on Broadway in Fish in the Dark. She appeared in the films Don Jon (2013), Dial a Prayer (2015), Merry Xmas (2015), Strange Weather (2016), and The Circle (2017).

Glenne Headly was certainly a talented actress. She could go from drama to comedy with ease (and on ER she often did). She had a gift for various accents, to the point that she could convincingly do a thick New York accent in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and then convincingly do an Arkansas accent in Lonesome Dove. Quite simply, Glenne Headly as a bit of a chameleon, able to play many different roles and play all of them well.