Friday, April 20, 2012

Camera Obscura: RIP Jonathan Frid, aka Barnabas Collins

I was sad to read of the passing of actor Jonathan Frid, best known to TV audiences as Barnabas Collins, the vampire soap opera so popular for many years and now about to launch again as a movie, with Johnny Depp playing Frid's character.

That menacing wolf's-head cane (get yours today!) he carried and his near-alien voice and looks made him one of the coolest characters on TV in the 1960s and 1970s. He was a commanding performer onscreen and on the stage too. A friend of mine had the great opportunity to work on a Shakespearean show with Frid some years back, an envious task.

Growing up, just about everyone I knew fled schools in the afternoon to race home and catch the newest daily episodes of the vamp tales, and like many, I had a sort of crush on one of the actresses, Lara Parker, who played Angelique. I discovered a few years ago she was a native of Knoxville and grew up in Memphis before tackling television. Her website today boasts a warm regard for the late Jonathan Frid:

"He was a warm-hearted and compassionate man with a lovely sense of humor, and he was a staggeringly charismatic actor, who is personally responsible for the lasting success of the Dark Shadows TV show in so many ways,

His introduction on the soap opera saved it from cancellation and initiated five years of wonderful stories, of which his character of the reluctant vampire was most often the centerpiece. It was his choice to make the vampire terrifying but also tortured by guilt, and in doing this he became the heartthrob of thousands of housewives across the country watching him over their ironing. They longed to be bitten!

My personal association with Jonathan was life changing. I had been in New York just over a week when I auditioned for the part of Angelique on camera with Jonathan, doing the scene in which I tearfully entreated him to love me and not my mistress Josette Of course my head was spinning but he leaned in before the red light went on and said, “You know, she’s a witch.” Without that bit of information, I might never have put the evil spin on the moment that snagged me the role. How fortunate for me that he was there! He also whispered in my ear, “I hope you get it,” which sent my confidence soaring."

She goes on to write how frail Frid had been as they filmed their cameo scenes for the new film, and mourns that he will now miss the relaunch of the mythic show.

While the series, in retrospect, are but brief jaunts into the supernatural made on minuscule budgets, I always thought the duo of Parker and Frid were terrific onscreen. Doomed villains trapped by their fates, they brought the characters into vivid life - and afterlife.

The original show was a mass of terrors - werewolves, witches, warlocks, ghosts, time-traveling, vampires, telepaths, mausoleums, gothic homes and endless shadows almost always underscored with a most haunting theme music (with plenty of theremin music). It was a true television original and the template producer Dan Curtis made still thrives on shows like True Blood today. New books, fan conventions and radio podcasts continue to tell the tales of Dark Shadows.

Thanks for all the fine afternoons of vampire madness, Jonathan. Hope that this time, they let you rest in peace.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Kraftwerk Retrospective - The Art of Computers

We are driving on the Autobahn

In front of us is a wide valley
The sun is shining with glittering rays

The driving strip is a grey track
White stripes, green edge

We are switching the radio on
From the speaker it sounds:

We are driving on the Autobahn

Celebrating the works of a unique group of musicians, Kraftwerk, the Museum of Modern Art provided 8 nights of concerts from the German band, whose creations of minimalist techno tunes signaled  the beginnings of our digital age.

I latched onto their album Autobahn as a Christmas gift to myself in 1974 and absolutely loved it and still do. When I shared the music with some friends in my small town back then, they grimaced listening to the vocoders, looped tracks and computerized rhythms as if fingernails were scraping a blackboard and I told them, just like a time-traveling Marty McFly, "Your kids are gonna love this."

As much as I enjoyed the simple, hypnotic sounds (check out a sample from Autobahn or from Trans-Europe Express) I also marveled at what their work implied - music generated by computers and technology offered a glimpse of what was ahead for the world, which would soon be transformed by technology. It was a science-fiction soundtrack for this emerging force. So I'm not surprised, decades later, to see these musicians show off their work at the MOMA. Seems the most appropriate place for them:

"Kraftwerk anticipated the impact of technology on art and everyday life, creating sounds and visuals that capture the human condition in the age of mobility and telecommunication. Their innovative looping techniques and computerized rhythms, which had a major influence on the early development of hip-hop and electronic dance music, remain among the most commonly sampled sounds across a wide range of music genres. Furthermore, the use of robotics and other technical innovations in their live performances illustrates Kraftwerk’s belief in the respective contributions of both people and machines in creating art."

This past week audience members could capture the performance on hand-held devices we all think of as commonplace and ordinary.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Does The Internet Have A Future?

Technology leaps ahead thanks to computer usage and internet access - though some innovators fear the strongest threat yet to all-access open internet is here today, thanks to governements, businesses and even Facebook and Apple.

At least, that's the opinion of Google's co-founder Sergey Brin in this interview, part of a series of reports by the Guardian on the internet, as both support and opposition worldwide grows for the current round of new internet restricion legislation, CISPA, a new 'cyber-security act'.

"He said he was most concerned by the efforts of countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to censor and restrict use of the internet, but warned that the rise of Facebook and Apple, which have their own proprietary platforms and control access to their users, risked stifling innovation and balkanising the web.

"There's a lot to be lost," he said. "For example, all the information in apps – that data is not crawlable by web crawlers. You can't search it."

Brin said he and co-founder Larry Page would not have been able to create Google if the internet was dominated by Facebook. "You have to play by their rules, which are really restrictive," he said. "The kind of environment that we developed Google in, the reason that we were able to develop a search engine, is the web was so open. Once you get too many rules, that will stifle innovation."

Both Google and Oakley are working hard on new tech/internet delivery systems in the form of glasses which would project images and info right into your eyes, combining smartphone and, I suppose EyePhones. Actually it's called Google Glass, and here's a video of how it might be used ... funny, you'll notice in the video that a meeting at a 'bookstore" is featured. Is that supposed to be ironic?

"Ultimately, everything happens through your eyes, and the closer we can bring it to your eyes, the quicker the consumer is going to adopt the platform."

Google is busy in court these days too facing fines and lawsuits.

Monday, April 16, 2012

'Needs More Cowbell' World Record

Some 1,600 people gathered in Burlington, VT this weekend to play some cowbell. You can never have too much cowbell - you need more cowbell. That was the advice actor Chris Walken had for Will Ferrell in a Saturday Night Live Skit in April 2000 - it's a phrase which made the Swiss set a world record for public cowbell playing in 2009. Now Burlington has the record.

Members of the band Phish put the world record effort together and raised money for charity at the same time. The result - loudness!!