Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Culture ... and Stuff

First things first. A great big HUGE shout out to the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (disclosure: Edelman pro-bono client) for hosting me at several films this past weekend.

As anticipated, the short "My Olympic Summer" was thought provoking and excellent, and I will request a Q&A with the Atlanta-based filmmaker for a future post on his work.

Kudos and thanks also to the writer/director of "Bart Got A Room," Mr. Brian Hecker. This is one of the funniest films I've seen in a long time. The big band and techno soundtrack is excellent (hoping to eventually find it on my colleague's soundtrack blog), the writing is superb, and my hope is this film will take off when it hits big screens in April (it is my understanding the film's last festival circuit screening is coming up in Vancouver).

William H. Macy and Cheryl Hines both deserve three cheers for lending their talents to the picture, while the young cast is sure to become the next generation of "it" stars, much like the mostly unknowns from "American Pie" before that film achieved hit status.

I asked Hecker at the festival whether the "American Pie" series was an influence, and he replied that in fact went out of the way not to make such a film. He noted 1x1, and to the AJFF audience at the sold-out festival finale screening, that his hope that John Hughes' and Woody Allen's influence would shine. Hecker succeeds. Wishing him, and "Bart Got A Room," much success.

This coming weekend my girlfriend and I plan to meet at LGA airport and paint the town red on Manhattan Island. Saturday (her "golden" birthday) plans include a swing by the weekend "TODAY Show" set at Rockefeller Center, Fifth Ave. shopping, visiting a few galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (my favorite areas include the American collections, which apparently underwent some big changes) or the MOMA (love the "Starry Night" and the M*A*S*H-style helicopter), riding the elevators at the Empire State Building (disclosure: an Edelman client) and an evening on Broadway at "Avenue Q" (an outstanding production -- can hardly wait to sing-along with Brian and Kate Monster in their up-tempo opening tune).

On the "maybe" list is a trip to take in Frank Lloyd Wright's newly-renovated (just in time for 50th Anniversary) Guggenheim Museum. With thanks to the P.R. office at this, one of my favorite, New York destinations, the Guggenheim has a new show opening as our planes are touching town in Queens. Their description goes something like this:

The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860–1989, is an interpretative survey exhibition illuminating the dynamic and complex impact of Asian art, literary texts and philosophical concepts on American artistic practices of the late 19th century (ca. 1860-1900), early modern (ca. 1900-1945), postwar avant-garde (1945-1970), and contemporary periods (1970-1989). The exhibition features 270 objects in array of media, including painting, works on paper, books and ephemera, sculptures, video art, installations, film, and a live performance program, representing the work of 108 artists

The Third Mind is a masterpiece show featuring works by canonical and lesser-known figures of the late-19th and 20th-centuries. The exhibition and related materials will trace how the classical arts of India, China and Japan and the systems of Hindu, Taoist, Tantric Buddhist and Zen Buddhist thought were known, reconstructed and transformed by American cultural and intellectual forces. The project examines the history of the construction of Asia as an imaginary, the enduring aspirations to know and internalize Asian art and thought among American and Asian-born artists working in the U.S., and the geopolitical conditions that made America’s engagement with Asia unique.

Uncle Frank would be proud. Hoping it won't take too much coaxing to get the Birthday Girl north on the Museum Mile to see this Guggenheim Museum exhibit.

Other "maybe" destinations: Grand Central Station, the new "Top of the Rock" rooftop access at Rockefeller Center, a midnight movie at the Sunshine Cinema screening of "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" (gnarly, dude!), Times Square, Grand Central Station, the United Nations Building, Wall Street, Brooklyn Bridge, Time Warner Center, Central Park, The Dakota, Harlem, ice skating, tea at Tavern On The Green and a visit to a hidden-from-tourists Tex-Mex restaurant a recent NYC to ATL transplant shared is excellent. We'll see -- will be very happy no matter where we sing "Happy Birthday To You" in the city.

Image credits, for the Guggenheim images with this post:
Jackson Pollock
Seven Red Paintings, ca. 1950Oil on canvas, in six parts, and enamel on canvas, each, minimum: 50.8 x 20.3 cm, maximum 54.6 x 33 cm; overall dimensions variable. Private Collection, Berlin© 2009 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New YorkPhoto: Jochen Littkemann, Berlin

Georgia O'Keeffe
Abstraction, 1917 Watercolor on paper, 40 x 27.6 cm Collection of Gerald and Kathleen Peters, Courtesy Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Restoration Completion
Photograph by David Heald© Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Join The Millions

If you witnessed the throngs of people at Obama’s inauguration this week, or at his acceptance speech in Chicago last November, you know that more than one million people were in those TV broadcasts and photographs, each taking in their little piece of history.

Enjoy being part of a cool group?

Want to help make a little Olympic history?

If so, I encourage you to cruise over to the Chicago 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Bid website, where more than one million people already registered their support (I was stunned, but not entirely surprised, to see how this number has grown since my fall 2008 posts about Chicago Mayor Daley in Beijing – his rockin’ video is still online).

Chicago is working hard to secure the 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, and they need YOUR support before the big International Olympic Committee vote in October 2009. (disclosure: the International Paralympic Committee is a client of Edelman, the P.R. agency where I work)

By becoming a supporter, you may read more about the Olympic Bid activities and upcoming events at which to volunteer (not in Chicago? You may also volunteer for online/virtual volunteer activities!). You may also view videos of support from gymnasts, Michael Phelps and other Olympic champions.

If you are on Facebook, become a Chicago 2016 fan with just a few clicks.

Still need convincing? I will send an Olympic pin to the first three people who join either group AND post comment on this blog stating they did so.

Thank you for supporting Chicago 2016!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Good Sports at Atlanta Jewish Film Festival

Last Sunday a packed theatre in north Atlanta experienced the documentary "Run For Your Life," which is an excellent film about the man who made the New York City Marathon (disclosure: an Edelman client) what it is today.

During the next couple of days, I'm looking forward to at least two more screenings during the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (disclosure: a pro-bono client of Edelman, the P.R. firm where I work).

Tomorrow night, during the "Short Programs No. 2" session, one film titled "My Olympic Summer" should be enriching. This 12 minute short by an Atlantan -- Daniel Robin -- apparently portrays how his parents' marriage evolved for the better as world events unfolded at the 1972 Olympic Games of Munich (apparently the Olympic Village hostage crisis brought his mom and dad closer in some way -- an review from a critic in U.K. sheds some light). It will be interesting to draw comparison of this personal story to the Oscar winning documentary "One Day In September," which is among my top documentaries and top Olympic film rankings.

For fun, and completely out of the Olympic realm, also planning to screen "Bart Got A Room" as I am itching to see William H. Macy (will he or won't he nail his performance as the Jewish parent of a teenager with the same skill that he had as a Minne-SO-tan in "Fargo" a few years back?).

Hope to see some of you Atlantans in the audience.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Thoughts For Tomorrow

It was in the middle of a 1994 edition of Minneapolis' alternative newspaper City Pages on which my eyes and funny bone got introduced to "The City" -- a fantastically edgy cartoon penned by Derf (John Backderf) of Ohio. I think he's only woven an Olympic-related thread into his 'toons once or twice (his online archive does not show these, but this link has one that is light on politics but heavy on humor just the same).

Derf's cartoon to take us into the inauguration (circus cannon above) is perfect on so many levels.

At home my DVD player is spinning Spike Lee's documentary "When The Levees Broke" and it came as no surprise to learn the detailed whereabouts of the 2001-09 absentee administration when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.

It is seldom that I quote The Bible, but a few lines from Proverbs 29 sort of nail it when it comes to the new arrival in Washington and the long-awaited bon voyage to the age of W.

On the inauguration:

When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice;
but when the wicked rule, the people groan.

On the executive branch's abominable actions in 2005 during Katrina:

A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;
a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.

And on the whole WMD bulls*t justification for Iraq War (and the advisers telling president how to handle):

If a ruler listens to falsehood, all his officials will be wicked.
A pair of lyrics by Nina Simone will be on the brain tomorrow, with "Feeling Good" (... It's a new dawn, it's a new day ..." and "New World Coming" ( "There's a new world coming, and it's just around the bend ... ").

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Meeting the 45th U.S. President (???)

The King Center knows how to celebrate, and last evening at the downtown Atlanta Hyatt, the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. included many of the traditional birthday bash elements mixed with a look at history, present and future for the Civil Rights Movement.

The guests of honor included "Salute to Greatness" 2009 award recipients Secretary of State Designate Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chick-fil-A Founder S. Truett Cathy (the company's COO, Dan Cathy accepted the award in his father's absence due to illness), as well as Ambassador Andrew Young, a 1984 Salute to Greatness honoree and Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) chairman.

There were several moments from the event I will always remember. Top of the list is hearing Clinton speak from a photo pit (in front of the front row) seat during her her acceptance remarks. Also, hearing Dr. King's nephew praise Clinton several times, including his endorsement she will make history as the first woman president (the nation's 45th commander in chief) following Obama (Sen. Clinton was visibly moved by this remark and the standing ovation received in the moment).

Getting a moment to pose for a photo with Mrs. Clinton was also remarkable -- I appreciate her staff, the Secretary, and of course The King Center's communications team for making that possible (Sidebar: Was trying to get that photo opp in place since first meeting Mrs. Clinton on Oct. 30, 1992, a few nights before Bill Clinton's election to his first term -- she was at my school, Minnesota State University - Mankato, and my camera failed on that photo attempt 16 years and three months ago).

And still another takeaway from the experience was again being afforded the opportunity to hear Ambassador Young share stories -- he is one of the most remarkable public speakers and storytellers and, in my book, a national treasure. (Another sidebar: Young used to speak to ACOG at staff meetings and volunteer training sessions, and even then I was in awe at how calm and fascinating his stories are masterfully woven into lessons for the ages).

Young introduced Clinton and spoke about how Native Americans once approached him about preparing for the future -- not only for the next generation, but for seven generations to follow -- and how from Young's view, the new secretary of state is the best and smartest choice for a thoughtful approach to the future.

Clinton's remarks, too, were inspiring, with a call to action in support of the new administration and to uphold the ideals instilled by Dr. King.

Dan Cathy performed an amazing trumpet solo of "The Star Spangled Banner" and he also gave an amazing (and touching) acceptance speech on behalf of his father. Like the "seventh generation" message shared by Young, the junior Cathy remarked that his father instilled in Chick-fil-A team members a need for the "Three C's" of competence, chemistry and character, and that "... children are the messengers to those we will not see."

It was a good night to be an Atlantan and an American.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Awards Dinner Fit For A King

Back in 2001, about an hour after U2 and Bono finished performing at Philips Arena, I was lucky enough to be returning to my car when the band members exited the venue for an impromptu autograph session with a few hundred waiting fans.

Seizing the opportunity for a photo and brief conversation with the band, when my turn came, I asked Bono, "Since you've sung multiple songs about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have you ever visited The King Center in Atlanta?" to which he replied, "No. No, we haven't. Where is it?"

Imagine my delight when just three years later The King Center announced that Coretta Scott King would present Bono with the Salute To Greatness Award for the singer's humanitarian work. I was lucky to again see Bono in person at that event held five years ago, Jan. 17, 2004.

I am still dying of curiosity whether Bono and his band mates DID visit The King Center after that conversation at Philips Arena -- will be sure to ask Bono the next time I see him.

It was on that evening that I was first in line to shake hands with Mrs. King on what turned out to be one of her last public appearances (somewhere out there, a helpful reporter from Chicago's Red Eye newspaper has a photo of Mrs. King and I posing as my camera batteries went out at that moment of introduction -- here's hoping the reporter and I may meet again so that photo will make it to my archive).

With thanks to The King Center communications team, tonight I will again attend their Salute To Greatness event (as a "registered media blogger") at which Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (I like the sound of her new title) and Mr. S. Truett Cathy (founder of Chick-fil-A) will receive well-deserved honors. Will post photos and observations from the festivities here tomorrow, as well as footage from the big King Holiday celebrations on Monday.

It's going to be a day on, not a day off!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Shalom, Atlanta Jewish Film Festival

A few of my Edelman colleagues are working with the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, which kicked off activities in "The ATL" earlier this week with a fun party at Fox Sports Grill followed by a premiere screening at Regal Cinemas at Atlantic Station. After wrapping up an afternoon of press interviews with client Cirque du Soleil (this Edelman client pitched their big top at the same site), I enthusiastically joined the film festival fun for their opening night.

This year's Festival includes the "first time outside France" debut of "Hello, Goodbye," a romantic comedy starring GĂ©rard Depardieau (a.k.a. The Big ... French ... OAF! from "Greencard") as a Paris gynecologist whose wife requests a holiday in Israel to celebrate their new "empty nest" status from the marriage of their only son.

Upon arriving in Tel Aviv, it's clear she is looking for a longer-term relocation (and renewed faith for them both, after decades of swearing off their Jewish roots), and chaos ensues (well, sort of) after all their belongings from the move are lost at sea. It was a sweet story with a few cringe-inducing scenes involving the 50+ Depardieau character signing up for a date with a mohel (ouch!). If you can find it, this film is worth a look.

I'm looking forward to several other films in the festival, starting with the new documentary "Run For Your Life" regarding the creator of the New York City Marathon (disclosure: Edelman client). Apparently an Olympian is supposed to appear at the Q&A for the screening during the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (will post more when confirmed). The trailer hints that Olympic champion Frank Shorter (listen to this outstanding Shorter recording from NPR), and Olympic commentator Jim McKay, are among those with cameos on the big screen.

There is also a William H. Macy comedy titled "Bart Got A Room" that looks priceless.
These days a flood of great films are on my "to be screened" list, starting with "Gran Torino" and the Golden Globe winner "Slumdog Millionaire," about which my sister raved. "The Wrestler" is probably one to watch, too. Over the holidays I stumbled onto "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles," which is excellent (it took me back to Beijing and some of the fun Chinese bureaucracy we grew to love while in the Olympic city.

Happy screenings to you!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Stream of Consciousness

A few hours ago on "The Writer's Almanac" site I read that Jan. 11 is the birthday of William James, the philosopher and psychologist who coined the phrase "stream of consciousness" (my boss would no doubt find this amusing as these are words that often apply to my offbeat and often ill-timed comments at meetings).

So, for a "stream of consciousness" post -- tying an evening online music search to the Olympics -- here goes:

A few weeks ago I read in a back issue of The New Yorker an article about Chinese pianist Lang Lang and his preparations for performances related to the Beijing Olympic Games. GRAMMY winner Herbie Hancock was mentioned in the article (apparently the two played together at the GRAMMY Awards ceremony last year). (disclosure: The Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter is a client of Edelman, the P.R. firm where I work)

Recollections of this article lead me to search online for music by Mr. Hancock, and I stumbled upon one of his older tunes, "Watermelon Man," which was new for me in spite of its tenure in the music world (first released in the early 1960s, I learned). Something about the tune was familiar.

It took a few minutes to recognize the groove, but then it hit me that Madonna sampled "Watermelon Man" in her 1994 release "Sanctuary" on "Bedtime Stories," a cassette I purchased on a Chicago/Milwaukee road trip during my last year of college at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Before the long track was over I had that cassette's liner notes out and sure enough Herbie Hancock was cited.

This activity all got me started on searching for an Olympic connection both to Hancock and to Madonna. All through work at the Torino 2006 Winter Olympic Games, after all, there was speculation whether Madonna would perform "Hung Up" at the Opening or Closing Ceremonies, given her Italian roots and the fact the song was topping the charts around the time Italy was welcoming the world ("Hung Up" was one of the few English songs we could get on the radio there).

Though Madonna was a no show for Torino, there IS at least one connection for Herbie Hancock and the Olympics (the pop diva, Ms. Ciccone, must have some Olympic ties, too, but will have to locate and post those later).

Turns out his aforementioned GRAMMY performance with Hancock and Lang Lang lead U.S. Olympic sponsor United Airlines to hire the piano playing duo to reprise their "Rhapsody In Blue" performance for their 2008 commercials that debuted on 8 August 2008, just in time for the Olympic Games.

The public relations team for United Airlines apparently did a blast of outreach to publicize the commercials, and there are some interesting videos from that announcement still up on YouTube, along with YouTube's posting for "Watermelon Man" and "Sanctuary."

Thanks, Mr. James. This stream of consciousness thing makes me want to "Rock It!"

Film Review: "Charlie Chan At The Olympics"

Happy New Year! Thanks to folks who visited or returned to the site since last pre-Christmas post. Recent weeks were an adventure that, for me, included an Amtrak trek to New Orleans (to catch a discounted flight to Oklahoma for a week of holiday vacation and family time) and a return to work with the openings of Cirque du Soleil 'KOOZA' and Stone Mountain Park's new Snow Mountain attractions (disclosure: both are clients of Edelman, my employer of almost 10 years).

With a full weekend to rest and relax, yesterday I screened an oldie but a goodie that arrived via Netflix, and for those who appreciate early films like "Sunset Boulevard," Hitchcock's "Life Boat" or other classics, I now highly recommend "Charlie Chan At The Olympics" -- a 1937 release -- so you may also get your "Olympic fix" in a new way.

Hawaii-based master detective Charlie Chan takes on a nail-biting, albeit slightly kitschy, case through which a murder is committed when a pre-war U.S. flying device is stolen and taken to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where Chan's "No. 1 son" will compete in the 100-meter swimming events.

This film packs in about as much coolness as one surprised viewer could absorb.

First, there's multinational intrigue on par with "Patriot Games" or any James Bond 007 drama.

Then there's global travel on a cruise ship (including the liner that transported the U.S. Olympic Team to Germany), trains, and event a clipper plane to catch a Trans-Atlantic flight on the Hindenburg (curious note: this film debuted on screens only two weeks after the real Hindenburg met it's spectacular fate in Lakehurst, N.J. -- I have to wonder the extent to which they pondered delay of the release due to the Zeppelin tragedy; so far, no evidence that they held the screen release due to the explosion, but rather, one site mentions the film was pulled due to Nazi influence ... in spite of the fact not one Nazi appears in the film). Chan's VIP airship flight even makes it to Berlin in time for overhead shots of the Olympic stadium and Olympic opening ceremony rehearsals (well, at least in the film they are portrayed as pre-Games overhead shots).

There's also good humor, archival and Hollywood-made Olympic moments from the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, and not one mention of Hitler (all of the German officials actually appear in pre-Nazi German military uniforms, and all of the panning shots of the Games somehow are void of Third Reich logos and propaganda signage). Olympic aficionados will love Chan's scenes portrayed inside the Olympic stadium as his son's teammates cheer for Jesse Owens and other U.S. competitors at the Games (some sources cite these scenes were filmed at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, site of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games, but I beg to differ -- though no doubt some scenes must have been filmed in L.A., the Olympic Stadium appears authentically Berlin, save a few close-ups of Chan with other characters).

It was interesting to me that this 20th Century Fox release included a character named "Major Strasser," a German military officer, and this name later appeared in a little Warner Bros. picture you may have heard of titled "Casablanca" (in this latter film, officer Strasser is that guy who was felled by a bullet, yielding the fantastically quotable line, "Major Strasser has been shot -- round up the 'usual suspects'").

I also could hardly believe my eyes that the U.S. Olympic Committee and International Olympic Committee apparently had no problem with the use of the Olympic rings on virtually every scene involving athletes and the Games. The U.S. athletes are clearly clad with the U.S.O.C.'s red, white and blue crest with rings, Olympic flags are flying (much like the 1924 establishing shots in "Chariots of Fire," arguably the best Olympic film ever). Heck, the script for "Charlie Chan at the Olympics" even includes Chan receiving box seats for the Opening Ceremony and other tickets, with compliments of the IOC (or are they?).

Though racy by today's P.C. standards, Chan's truisms are another delight during this film. I laughed out loud several times as he, or his sons, unloaded fortune cookie-like phrases including "Perhaps good idea not to accept gold medal until race is won" and "As my pop would say, 'When a woman play with fire, man get burned."

The know-it-all old-maid landlady of the Honolulu hotel (scene of the murder) steals the show.

The new year will no doubt bring plenty of excuses to blog about the Olympics. I appreciate everyone who's viewed this site since its pre-Beijing Olympic inception. Please keep coming back for Vancouver 2010 Olympic updates, 2016 Olympic Bid movements and all Olympic rings and other things trivia and storytelling.

And take the advice of Chan: "Don't rub sore finger with sandpaper."

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