James Garner

Just heard James Garner’s biography on audio, and was struck, not just by his honesty, candor, or his anecdotes on movies, but his generous attitude and lack of ego, despite being labeled as a “curmudgeon.” The Rockford Files is one of the few TV series that I truly enjoyed, due to its offbeat yet believable writing, its humor, and its lack of bling. (One of many surprises, Jack Warner of Warner Brothers was a foul-mouthed mini-Hitler who hated actors, writers, and agents…but he was afraid of Garner, thinking he might pick him up and throw him out the window, as Errol Flynn once threatened to do!) Garner appreciates writers, unlike many other actors, and never tried to change scripts as bigger egos tried to do.

Sopranos Rockford Files

Latest revelation is that The Sopranos began with The Rockford Files…the Soprano’s writer was the same guy who wrote two episodes of Garner’s hit series.

If you can’t live up to “What would Jesus do?” as a motto, don’t descend to “What would Joel Osteen do?” but instead consider “What would Jim Rockford do?” In a world of hustlers and con men, Rockford maintained his honesty and dignity, was loyal to his friends, and treated everyone as equals. Modest, yet unimpressed by fame or fortune, he gave everyone a fair shot, yet never fell for a sucker punch twice, and had a nose for deceit. A man of his word, even if he bent the rules, Rockford was nobody’s fool, yet he had a heart of gold. Women depended on him, even if they never took him seriously in the end, living in that trailer, and often betrayed him. But he never used them. Simple and sincere, Jim Rockford was one of a kind, with his own thoughts and values, which were unshakable. Often the victim, the good guy who finishes last, he reemerged intact, able to enjoy the sunrise of the next day. How many men in the real world can go through what he went through, yet remain true to themselves?  —JL

James Garner dies


Am I the Bad Guy?

Michael DouglasI’ve always been more fascinated with “Why- Dunnits” than “Who-Dunnits.”  Who cares who did it, if there is no explanation for it other than universal greed, lust, or revenge?  (Well, obviously most people do care, but leave me out of it if that’s all there is, my friend.  Lots of people eat at McDonalds too, hooked on those ammonia-washed patties guaranteed to give them the same delicious hit ad nauseam.)  To me, the best books and movies lead you into new revelations, new viewpoints.  They can be uncomfortable, but that’s the price for originality and insight.  To really understand why people do what they do, you have to place yourself in their shoes, or at least hold up those shoes for inspection.  It is also the only way to know what they might do next, and how to prevent more tragedies.  In the Michael Douglas movie FALLING DOWN the main character is taken to the breaking point by society’s many self perpetuating deceptions.  The character serves as a mirror for this as he abandons his gridlocked car and makes his way “home” on foot across the city, collecting a bag of guns from a street gang he encounters.  The “home” or safe place he seeks is gone now too, along with his job.  He wife has left him, and it’s as though he’s seeing the world as it really is for the first time–shallow and estranged from meaning, purpose, or real connection.  Toward the end, when he’s trying to talk to his wife and child on a pier, (and a police detective is about to draw on him), he asks, “Am I the bad guy?”  He just wants things to be real, and for “real” to be normal again.  He doesn’t want to hurt anybody. He wants the world to change, and it refuses to do so.  As he’s shot and falls into the ocean, we see that the gun in his pocket isn’t real.  Now that’s a movie, and which, in my opinion, is more worthy to exist than all of the serial killer, zombie, and psycho flicks Hollywood churns out combined.  Another Michael Douglas movie I love is THE GAME, in which the main character is forced to face his self-centered emptiness by the brother who loves him.  Both films are not boring in the least.  Can this be done on television?  Certainly.  A stand-alone episode of Battlestar Galactica titled RAZOR rises above the rest by forcing the viewer to confront the choice of killing a few innocents in order to save the lives of many.  It was nominated for an SF Hugo Award, I’ve just now learned, for Best Dramatic Presentation.  The commentary on the DVD doesn’t mention the viewpoint character Stephanie Jacobsen much, and indeed the IMDb listing for the film doesn’t even list her.  But hers is the focus of the choice to be made: “Am I the bad guy?”  She has killed innocents, after all, to save others.  She has become the “razor” in order to survive, and so that mankind can survive as well.  But in the end she sacrifices herself in penance for her choices.


America’s Next Top Architect?

Agbar TowerSupermodels do it.  So do singers, dancers, chefs, even jugglers.  Dozens of shows feature these people competing before judges.  Gordon Ramsay alone has four shows featuring food.  He’s on the boob tube so much one would think he has an identical twin with a full schedule too.  But here’s the thing: no viewer can actually taste what’s on the screen, so all you get are adjectives describing that taste.  Of course there are visuals, with artful plates judged for presentation.  But the primary criterion for food is nonetheless taste, and so shows like Top Chef and Iron Chef and all the other competitions produced by the Cooking Channel and the Food Network fail to deliver the primary sensory requirement the judges must use to determine the winner.  Why not a competition which actually can deliver its most vital attribute–a sense of visual style and functionality?  Such a competition, based on architecture, would not only enrich viewers appreciation of design, but it would sharpen their cultural and aesthetic senses while enthralling them at the scale to which ideas are transformed into the size of skyscrapers.  In the past decade the world has seen amazing buildings being erected throughout the world, from Dubai to Shanghai to Chicago and New York.  Such a show could tour these buildings as part of telling the judge’s stories, and so be the first time a mass audience sees them and hears from the people who dreamed them into existence.  Architecture has its stories to tell, after all.  Like novels and movies, it has its genres, too.  For horror you have gothic.  For romance you have neo-expressionism.  For science fiction you have neo-conceptualism.  The materials used are like plot structures following themes.  Plot twists are told in curves and angles.  So creating great architecture is much like creating great fiction, with even a utilitarian purpose or theme or underlying moral present.  In this way, architects have something in common with writers or movie makers, and so whether your name is Gehry, Meier, Burke, or Spielberg, you are using established conventions to create flow and purpose while bringing to bear your own unique vision.  How do glass and steel conjure imagination as do words on a page?  By pointing toward something beyond itself—something which flowers in the human mind, in a constant flux, to inspire us all through expanded horizons.  Time to call Mark Burnett or Bravo TV or PBS, and get this show on the road.  As Donald Trump put it, in building Trump Tower, “think big, and live large.”  (Instead of saying “you’re fired” to celebs trying to sell ice cream cones in Central Park, why not say “you’re hired” to the winning architect for his next building design?)   –J.L., Editor, Tower Review