Saturday, May 11, 2024

"Buddy Holly" by Weezer

It was thirty years ago today that Weezer's self-titled debut album, also known as the Blue Album, was released. Weezer had only formed a little over two years earlier, on February 14 1992, in Los Angeles. In those early days Weezer often found themselves playing to small audiences, their style being grunge, the dominant sound of the time. Fortunately, the band did attract the interest of recording executives. They recorded a demo tape, The Kitchen Tape, in August 1992. The tape led to the band being signed by Geffen Records.

Many of the songs that appeared on The Kitchen Tape also appeared on the Blue Album, including their hits "Undone--the Sweater Song." The album was produced by Ric Ocasek, formerly of The Cars. The debut single from the album was "Undone--the Sweater Song," which went to no. 6 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. Their second single, "Buddy Holly," would perform even better. It went to no. 2 on the Modern Rock chart. The third single from the album, "Say It Ain't So," also did well. It went to no. 7 on the chart. As to the Blue Album itself, it went to no. 47 on the Billboard album chart.

My favourite song from the Blue Album (my favourite song by Weezer, for that matter) has always been "Buddy Holly." The song very nearly did not make it onto the album. Rivers Cuomo thought the song was "cheesy" and did not necessarily represent the direction Weezer's sound was taking. Producer Ric Ocasek championed the song, and persuaded the band to include the song on the album. It turned out to be one of their biggest hits.

Of course, "Buddy Holly" is well known for its music video directed by Spike Jonze. The video portrays Weezer performing the song at Arnold's Drive-In from Happy Days, complete with the various characters from the sitcom. What is remarkable about the video utilized no CGI. Instead the video for "Buddy Holly" using clips from the show combined with some inventive editing and camerawork, as well as a cameo by Al Molinaro as Al (whose appearance hadn't really changed since Happy Days had gone off the air 1984). The illusion of the Fonz dancing to Weezer was done through combing footage of Fozie from Happy Days with a body double. The video proved to be popular, and it won Best Alternative Video, Breakthrough Video, Best Direction and Best Editing at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards. It had been nominated for Video of the Year

Without further ado, here is "Buddy Holly" by Weezer.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Instagram Should Change the Way It Handles Video

A while back I uploaded a video to an Instagram account I handle. The video was a three minute television news story from 2010. I tried uploading it as a Reel, but ran into two problems. First, because the video has an aspect radio of 16:1 (it's a television news story after all), I had to edit it to fit. Second, Instagram limits Reels to 90 seconds (a fact of which I was not aware of at the time), so it chopped off the majority of the story.

I then tried uploading the video as a Post. This too presented problems. While I could upload the whole three minutes, Instagram insisted on reducing the aspect ratio, so that the whole picture wasn't on the screen. Worse yet, when one uploads a video as a Post to Instagram, you don't have any video editing tools. In other words, I couldn't correct the problem. Ultimately, I had to load the video into Canva and format it as an Instagram Story. I then saved it and uploaded it as a Post. That finally did the trick.

At any rate, I feel like I should not have to had gone through all of this. I should have been able to upload all three minutes of the video in its original aspect ratio. I seem to recall that in the past Instagram allowed for longer videos and for videos that have an aspect ratio of 16:1. Apparently, that has changed and I don't think the change was for the best.

Of course, I know why Instagram may have made the change. It was in 2020 that Instagram introduced Reels in an effort to compete with TikTok. Reels are pretty much like TikTook videos. Short (under ninety seconds) videos, generally with an aspect ratio of 1:16 (pretty much the size of a smart phone screen when held vertically). For some time Instagram has encouraged the creation of Reels, even when some users (like myself) show no interest in watching them or creating them. I suspect Instagram made changes in the way video is handled in an effort to force people to create Reels instead of longer videos in different aspect ratios.

At any rate, I do think this is foolish. First, ninety seconds is not enough time for someone to relay a good deal of information. I can understand Instagram not wanting people to upload really long videos to the platform (I don't think anyone wants to watch a feature film there), but I don' think three to five minutes is that long. Indeed, many news stories on local stations are longer than ninety seconds and run anywhere from one to three minutes. Second, it seems to me that if Instagram wants to compete with TikTok, then it would be better to offer things TikTok doesn't. Allowing people to upload longer videos in different aspect ratios might encourage people to turn to Instagram for uploading videos rather than going to TikTok.

Anyway, I do hope Instagram changes this so that one can edit an upload videos in different aspect ratios. Not only do I think it would make a lot of users happy, but I think it would also be advantageous for Instagram to do so. As I said, it would be something that TikTok doesn't have.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Alpha Media Kills Radio Stations KWIX and KRES

A post card from the Sixties of the KWIX Building

Yesterday residents of Randolph County, Missouri heard news that the entire programming staff of local radio stations KWIX and KRES in Moberly were terminated without notice (and apparently through a conference call at that). While both radio stations will remain on the air, there will no longer be any local news, weather, and sports coverage. Instead, there will be syndicated content. To make matters worse, apparently all other stations in Missouri owned by Alpha Media will suffer the same fate.

To say Randolph Countians are upset would be an understatement. Social media has been filled with posts from Randolph Countians expressing their disappointment, grief, and even outrage at Alpha Media's actions. Many are emailing Alpha Media CEO Bob Proffitt and calling Alpha Media to express their anger.  And, speaking as a native Randolph Countian myself, I can fully understand why. KWIX and KRES have long been a part of people's lives here. KWIX first went on the air as KNCM on June 17 1950. It was in 1964 that KNCM was reassigned the call letters KWIX, the station's founder Jerrell Shepherd feeling that KNCM was too hard to say. It was on November 22 1966 that AM radio station KWIX was joined on the air by its sister station, the FM station KRES. 

In the 22 years that KWIX has been on the air and the 58 years that KRES has been on the air, the two radio stations became very much a part of Randolph Countians' lives. For many the radio stations were their primary source for local news. KWIX had a half-hour newscast, aired more than once a day, in which they covered everything from local events to accidents to deaths. I remember my father would come in from the fields just so he could listen to the KWIX noon news. The two stations were well-known for their weather coverage, and many tuned into the stations in times of severe weather, preferring them to the television stations in the Columbia/Jefferson City market. They were also well known for their sports coverage and would air the local schools' games live. Every Friday night during football season, they had a post-game show called Endzone. What is more, KWIX and KRES were not simply important to Randolph County. People as far away as Hannibal and Quincy listened to the stations.

Beyond news, weather, and sports, KWIX aired other sorts of programming as well. When I was growing up, they played traditional pop by day. At night they had the Big Beat show, during which they played rock music and R&B. Of an evening they had a Big Band show. KWIX also had a program called Party Line, during which people could ask questions and have them answered, and a program Trading Post, during which people could call in with goods or services they had for sale KWIX would eventually shift towards a talk radio format, but their local programming remained. KWIX and KRES were very prominent in the community, supporting many local organizations and events.

Given how intertwined KWIX and KRES were with people's lives and how much Randolph County depended upon them, taking away local programming from both stations is then very nearly catastrophic for the area. Many have lost their primary source for news, weather, and sports. What is more many are worried about the economic repercussions this could have for the immediate area. It is then very understandable why the entire county seems to be upset.

As it is, I think Alpha Media may have made a grave mistake in firing the programming staff of KWIX and KRES and doing away with local programming on the two stations. The local programming was the primary reason most people listened to the two stations. Take that away and it is very likely both stations will lose the vast majority of their listeners. Furthermore, radio depends upon advertising. Without local programming, many local advertisers may well stop advertising on the stations. Indeed, I already know of one major local advertiser who has said that effective immediately, he will no longer advertise on KWIX and KRES. Now I don't think this will mean Alpha Media will lose so much money they will have to close both stations, but I do think they will lose money nonetheless. Quite simply, any money they sought to save by removing local programming will be dwarfed by the loss of advertising dollars.

Despite the fact that the community is outraged, despite the fact that local advertisers will probably stop advertising on KWIX and KRES, I doubt Alpha Media will reverse their decision. Corporations can be stubborn and often act in ways that are very much against their best interests. Regardless, it is a sad day for Randolph County. Many have lost their primary source of local news, sports, and weather, and the area has lost a large part of its history.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

The Late Great Stuntwoman Jeannie Epper

Jeannie Epper, the famed stuntwoman who performed stunts on such shows as Wonder Woman and Charlie's Angels and such movies as Our Man Flint (1966) and Blazing Saddles (1974), died on May 5 2024 at the age of 83.

Jeannie Epper was born on January 27 1941 in Glendale, California to a family of stunt performers. She grew up in North Hollywood. Her father was stuntman John Epper, who performed stunts in movies from The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) to The Great Bank Robbery (1969). She performed her first stunt when she was only nine years old, riding a horse down a cliff in the movie Elopement (1951). When she was 13 years old she went off to finishing school in Switzerland for two and a half years.

Her first credit was for the movie Cheyenne Autumn in 1964. She spent much of the latter Sixties as a stunt double on the television Western series The Big Valley. During the decade she performed stunts in the movies The Hallelujah Trail (1965), Our Man Flint (1966), Mackenna's Gold (1969), Hello, Dolly! (1969), and Little Big Man (1970).

In the Seventies she was Lynda Carter's stunt double on Wonder Woman. She also served as a stunt double on the shows The Bionic Woman and Charlie's Angels. She performed stunts for individual episodes of the shows Emergency! and Laverne & Shirley. She worked on such movies as Play Misty for Me (1971), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Soylent Green (1973), Coffy (1973), The Don is Dead (1974), Blazing Saddles (1974), Mame (1974), Foxy Brown (1974), Earthquake (1974), The Towering Inferno (1974), The Day of the Locust (1975), Logan's Run (1976), Eaten Alive (1976), Silver Streak (1976), Bound for Glory (1976), Black Sunday (1977), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Avalanche Express (1979), The Silent Scream (1979), 1941 (1979), The Ninth Configuration (1980), The Blues Brothers (1980), Used Cars (1980), Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), and Melvin and Howard.

In the Eighties Miss Epper was a stunt double on the TV series Dynasty. She performed stunts in the Tales from the Crypt episode "All Through the House." She performed stunts in the movies Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981), Caveman (1981), The Cannonball Run (1981), Deathtrap (1982), The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982), Poltergeist (1982), Blade Runner (1982), The Beastmaster (1982), The Man with Two Brains (1983), The Final Terror (1983), Term of Endearment (1983), Romancing the Stone (1984), Ghost Warrior (1984), Private Resort (1985), Fletch (1985), Clue (1985), The Naked Cage (1986), Murphy's Law (1986), Legal Eagles (1986), Vamp (1986), Extremities (1986), Vendetta (1986), Outrageous Fortune (1987), Retribution (1987), Million Dollar Mystery (1987), RoboCop (1987), Flowers in the Attic (1987), Off the Mark (1987), Patty Hearst (1988), Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988), The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988), All's Fair (1989), K-9 (1989), Road House (1989), The Package (1989), National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989), Come See the Paradise (1990), Total Recall (1990), and The Rookie (1990).

In the Nineties she performed stunts on the television reunion mini-series Dynasty: The Return. She also performed stunts on an episode of the show L.A. Heat.  She worked on such movies as Switch (1991), Mobsters (1991), Dead Again (1991), Article 99 (1992), Midnight's Child (1992), Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992), The Mighty Ducks (1992), Innocent Blood (1992), Extreme Justice (1993), Dreamrider (1993), The Fugitive (1993), Demolition Man (1993), Josh and S.A.M. (1993), Beverly Hills Cop III (1994), Blown Away (1994), Night of the Running Man (1995), Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), Separate Lives (1995), Money Train (1995), Guns and Lipstick (1995), Sgt. Bilko (1996), Spy Hard (1996), Kazaam (1996), A Very Brady Sequel (1996), High School High (1996), Set It Off (1996), Metro (1997), Vegas Vacation (1997), Con Air (1997), Steel (1997), Fire Down Below (1997), Armageddon (1998), Blade (1998), Soldier (1998), Wild Wild West (1999), Mystery Men (1999), Whatever It Takes (2000), and Submerged (2000).

In the Naughts Jeannie Epper performed stunts on the movies Rush Hour 2 (2001), The Princess Diaries (2001), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), Orange County (2002), The Sweetest Thing (2002), Minority Report (2002), Catch Me if You Can (2002), The Italian Job (2003), 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), Bad Boys II (2003), Freaky Friday (2003), November (2004), Kill Bill: Vol 2 (2004), Criminal (2004), Elizabethtown (2005), Poseidon (2006), The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), American Son (2008), The Happening (2008), State of Play (2009), Table for Three (2009), The Book of Eli (2010), The Back-up Plan (2010), and Nothing Special (2010).

From the Teens into the Naughts Jeannie Epper worked on such films as Cedar Rapids (2011), The Amazing Spider-Man (2011), After (2012), and Flight (2012), Hot Pursuit (2015).

In addition to TV shows and movies, Jeannie Epper also performed stunts for video games, including Ground Zero Texas. She also appeared in bits parts in movies such as Cheyenne Autumn, Soylent Green, Earthquake, and Spider-Man. She had larger roles in the movies Foxy Brown and Quarantine (2008) and episodes of the TV shows Tales from the Crypt, Monk, Supernatural, and The Rookie.

Jeannie Cooper's sisters Margo and Stephanie were also stuntwomen. All three sisters would work together, most notably in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean in which they played prostitutes who beat up the lead character (played by Paul Newman). Multiple members of her family, brothers and sisters, performed stunts in the bar fight scene in 1941.

When it came to stunt performers Jeannie Epper was a true pioneer. As hard as it may be to believe now, as late as the 1970s it was not unusual for men to double for female actors. Talking to the TV Academy Foundation in 2014, she said, "It wasn’t until sexy ladies like Linda Evans and Lynda Carter said we didn’t want hairy-legged boys doubling for us anymore," She was a founding member of the Stuntmen's Association of Motion Pictures. She was certainly good at her job. She performed such stunts as the mudslide scene in Romancing the Stone. Among other things, she was a skilled horsewoman. Jeannie also had a long career. She received her last credit when she was eighty years old. Jeannie Epper was a true pioneer and a truly great stunt performer.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Korean American Film Pioneer Philip Ahn

Chances are good that most viewers would not recognize the name "Philip Ahn," although they might well recognize his face. Today he is probably best known for playing Master Kan on the Seventies television show Kung Fu, but he played many roles throughout his long career. Among the things that set Philip Ahn apart from other East Asian Americans of his era was that he was Korean American, rather than Chinese American or Japanese American, although he often found himself cast in Chinese or Japanese roles.

Philip Ahn was born on March 29 1905 in Highland Park, Los Angeles. His father, Doan Ahn Chang-ho, was an educator as well as an activist for Korean independence during the Japanese occupation of that country. Doan Ahn Chang-ho and his wife,  Helen Lee,  moved to the United States in 1902 to seek more opportunities in education. His sister, Susan Ahn Cuddy, served in the United States Navy during World War II and reached the rank of lieutenant. She later worked for the National Security Agency in Washington DC. His brother Philson Ahn also became an actor, and may be best known for playing Prince Tallen in the 1939 serial Buck Rogers. His youngest brother, Ralph Ahn, became an actor as well, and may be familiar to viewers as Tran on the sitcom New Girl. Philip Ahn's name is an Anglicized version of his Korean name, "Pi Lip."

Philip Ahn grew up in the same neighbourhood as future screen legend Ann May Wong, and they even attended the same school . She had a small part in The Thief of Bagdad (1924). Philip Ahn drove her to the set one day and while he was waiting for her on the set Douglas Fairbanks offered him a screen test. Philip Ahn had to turn down the role as his mother was strongly opposed to it.  After graduating from high school, he worked as  a labourer in rice fields, an elevator operator, and a truck driver. By 1934 he had saved up enough money to attend college, and he enrolled at the University of Souther California in Los Angles,. He majored in foreign commerce and speech. The siren song of acting still called to Philip Ahn, and it was while he was still attending college that he toured with a production of Merrily We Roll Along. He completed his sophomore year at USC and then threw himself into a film career.

His first role was not a big one. It was an uncredited role as a Chinese waiter in the movie Desirable (1934). It would not be long before he started receiving credited roles, and in 1937 he played his first of only two lead roles in his career, that of FBI agent Kim Lee in Daughter of Shanghai opposite Anna May Wong. He would only have one other lead role in his career. He played lawyer Robert Li in King of Chinatown (1939), once more opposite Anna May Wong. Both movies would mark the first time in the Sound Era a romantic couple in a Hollywood film was played by East Asian American actors.

Although Philip Ahn was Korean in descent, he only played a few Korean roles in his lifetime. In the movie China Sky (1945) he played Dr. Kim, marking one of the first times a Korean character was portrayed in an American film. He also played Korean characters in movies that grew out of the Korean War,  Battle Zone (1952), Battle Circus (1953), and Battle Hymn (1956). He made three guest appearances on the television series M*A*S*H, on which he also played Korean characters.

More often than not, Philip Ahn played Chinese and Japanese characters. During World War II he found himself playing Japanese military officers and Japanese spies. This led some to believe he actually was Japanese, and as a result he received death threats. Philip Ahn remarked of his roles as Japanese villains, "True, I hated the Japanese, but I told myself that if I was going to play the enemy, I was going to play him as viciously as I could. In Back to Bataan (1945) I slapped little children and went so far as to hang a teacher from an American flag pole. I took pride in being the most evil man alive." While hardly politically correct by today's standards, Phillip Ahn's comment is understandable given Korea was occupied by the Japanese Empire at the time. During World War II Mr. Ahn also served in the Untied States Army for a time.

Much as he had in movies, Philip Ahn continued to play Chinese and Japanese parts on television. In all three of his guest appearances on Bonanza, he played Chinese characters. He played Japanese characters on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Time Tunnel. On the Seventies TV series Kung Fu he played Master Chen Ming Kan, a Shaolin monk and one of the teachers of the lead character  Kwai Chang Caine (played by Radames Pera ).

In addition to acting, Philip Ahn also had a Chinese restaurant. It was on June 17 1954 that he and his sister Soorah opened Phi Ahn's Moongate in Panorama City in Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. Phil Ahn's Moongate proved to be a success and remained open until 1990. For twenty years Phililp Ahn was the honorary mayor of Panorama City.

Sadly, Philip Ahn died on February 28 1978 of complications following surgery for lung cancer. It was on 1984 that he was posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Then Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared the November 14 1984 to be Philip Ahn Day in the actor's honour. Philip Ahn was the first Korean actor to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Philip Ahn was a true pioneer as one of the earliest, if not the earliest, Korean American actors in Hollywood and one of the first to play Korean characters on screen. It would through his work that Americans became more aware of Korea, which was not well-known to many Americans in the 1940s and often regarded little more as an occupied territory of Japan. While Philip Ahn would play his share of stereotypes in his career, he also played characters who broke with those stereotypes. Kim Lee in Daughter of Shanghai and Robert Li in King of Chinatown were both groundbreaking roles. Philip Ahn also spoke out against the systemic racism in Hollywood, and was among the Asian American actors who signed an open letter ran in the October 19 1976 issue of Variety that denounced the racist casting in Hollywood. Philip Ahn paved the way for other East Asian American actors and particularly Korean American actors in the United States.