All posts by alanwp

PBS Distribution’s “Nova: Holocaust Escape Tunnel” is a powerful history lesson

Once again, PBS Distribution has released a documentary that demands viewing . . . and a place in your library. Make note, please: Nova: Holocaust Escape Tunnel, available now on DVD and also available for digital download.

For centuries, the Lithuanian city of Vilna was one of the most important Jewish centers in the world, earning the title “Jerusalem of the North,” until the Nazis destroyed it. About 95% of its Jewish population of Vilna, its name in Hebrew and Yiddish, was murdered and its synagogues and institutions were reduced to ruins. The Soviets finished the job, paving over the remnants of Vilna’s famous Great Synagogue, for example, so thoroughly that few today know it ever existed. Now, an international team of archaeologists are trying to recover this lost world. They will excavate the remains of its Great Synagogue and uncover one of Vilna’s greatest secrets: a lost escape tunnel dug by Jewish prisoners inside a horrific Nazi execution site.

Robert Mugge offers a revealing, musical look at the life of Al Green in “Gospel According to Al Green”

Listen up, folks. Let’s stay together.

After filmmaker Robert Mugge produced Black Wax with Gil Scott-Heron for Britain’s Channel 4 Television in 1982, he and Channel 4’s Commissioning Editor for Music Andy Park wanted to collaborate again. Park suggested Mugge create a portrait of African American gospel star Andraé Crouch. But Mugge, a longtime fan of soul and pop singer Al Green, countered that suggestion. Mugge figured that Green’s rejection of soul music to become a Memphis-based preacher and gospel singer perhaps made him a richer potential subject. (Interestingly, Green was kicked out of the family home while in his teens, after his religiously devout father caught him listening to Jackie Wilson).

Indeed.

Park agreed. Mugge needed 13 months to secure Green’s approval, getting his approval only days before the planned Seventh Anniversary Celebration of Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle. That Sunday afternoon church service featured not only Green’s usual church choir and musicians, but also a second choir from Ellington, South Carolina and most of Green’s touring musicians and backup singers. Mugge arranged to document that December 18, 1983 service with three 16mm cameras and a 24-track audio recording truck, making it the first (and reportedly still the only) Al Green church service to be committed to film, Gospel According to Al Green.

While in Memphis, Mugge and his crew went on to film an interview with legendary Hi Records producer Willie Mitchell (who had produced and co-written Green’s commercial hits of the ‘70s), a studio rehearsal featuring Green and his musicians and an extended interview with Green himself. In Green’s interview, he explored his early days in the music business, his creation of such popular hits as “Tired of Being Alone” and “I Can’t Get Next to You”, the traumatic events that led to his abandoning of his successful soul and pop career, the purchase of the Memphis church building which he transformed into a church of his own, and the ways in which his soul and gospel backgrounds had each informed the other.

Image result for Mary Woodson White
Mary and Al

Perhaps the most emotional part of Green’s interview was his discussion of the so-called “hot grits incident,” wherein spurned girlfriend Mary Woodson White assaulted him in the shower of his Memphis home with a pot of boiling hot grits, then ran to another room of his house where she shot and killed herself. (Although she was already married, White reportedly became upset when Green refused to marry her). This interview, conducted two days after his church service, was the first occasion on which he discussed this experience publicly, and he included facts that even his own band members had never heard.

In February of 1984, Mugge also filmed Green and his band in concert at the Officers Club of Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., this time utilizing four 16mm cameras and the same Nashville-based 24-track recording truck he had hired to record the Memphis church service. It should be noted that, at that point in Rev. Green’s career, he had embraced the Southern fundamentalist notion that blues, rhythm ‘n’ blues, and rock n’ roll were “music of the Devil,” and that, therefore, he should now perform only gospel music.

However, among the numbers Green performed at the D.C. concert was Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” which exists somewhere between soul and gospel. In addition, during the staged rehearsal in Memphis, Green agreed to perform “Let’s Stay Together,” which had been one of his biggest commercial successes and now represented a recurring theme in the film. Along with fragments of a few more hits he performed during his interview, these songs helped to depict “Al Green the pop star” who had preceded “Al Green the pastor.”

Among the top Memphis musicians who appear in this film are, number one, Lawrence H. “Larry” Lee, Jr., who was best known for touring with Green and for performing at Woodstock and elsewhere with Jimi Hendrix’s Gypsy Sun and Rainbows; and number two, Mabon Lewis “Teenie” Hodges, who co-wrote Green’s hits “Take Me to the River” and “Love and Happiness” and toured and recorded widely as a guitarist with the Hi Records Rhythm Section. Lee can be seen performing in the church service and rehearsal sequences of the film, and Hodges can be heard, and briefly seen, playing incidental guitar behind Green during much of his interview. Sadly, both men are now deceased.

The resulting 96-minute film, Gospel According to Al Green, had its world premiere presentation in the summer of 1984 at Filmfest Munchen (a film festival in Munich, Germany), its television premiere over Britain’s Channel 4 later that fall, and its U.S. theatrical premiere at Coolidge Corner outside Boston a year later. After each of the two opening night screenings on October 25, 1985, Green sat on the Coolidge Corner stage and, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, freely offered the commercial hits that he had mostly refused to perform during the making of Mugge’s film, thereby demonstrating his storied unpredictability. Naturally, audience members at both shows were enchanted by his presentation, and since these and other premiere screenings, the film has been in constant release around the world.Image result for al green 2014

As to Rev. Green—now Bishop Green—this past December, he and his congregation celebrated the fortieth anniversary of his Full Gospel Tabernacle church. For MVD Visual’s new worldwide Blu-ray and DVD releases, director Mugge has overseen 4K remastering of the film and created a new 17-minute video titled Soul and Spirit: Robert Mugge on the Making of Gospel According to Al Green. Other bonus features include audio of Green’s entire 1983 interview, audio of the climactic final hour of Green’s seventh anniversary church service, an extended film version of a key song from the church service, and the personal telephone answering machine message Green recorded for Mugge in the mid-’80s.

“As Good As You” is a bittersweet, poignant and funny lesbian drama

First Run Features continues to live up to its name. What else were you expecting?

FRF offers the Los Angeles theatrical premiere of As Good As You on June 9 at Laemmle’s Music Hall. The lesbian drama/comedy—named winner of Best LGBT Film by Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival—marks the feature film debut of Heather de Michele. The screenplay is by Gretchen M. Michelfeld, executive produced by Michelfeld and produced by Reena Dutt. Another reason to celebrate Pride Week.

Laura Heisler leads an outstanding cast in this poignant and witty film about a bereaved woman searching for meaning and purpose in the aftermath of her wife’s death. Jo (Heisler) enlists her brother-in-law Jamie (Bryan Dechart) as a sperm donor in an effort to salvage her dream of raising a family. Along the way she leans a bit too heavily on her two best friends, a lesbian punk photographer named Lisa (Anna Fitzwater) and a straight male barfly named Nate (Raoul Bhaneja).

The film also features Peter Maloney, Karis Campbell, Elizabeth Herring and Annie Potts. The story is consistently tender in its portrayal of grief, even as the film becomes a kind of willful, triumphant comedy. Director de Michele navigates the tonal shifts with good timing, taste and craftsmanship.

Director Heather de Michele is a co-founder of the NY comedy troupe Lesbian Pulporama, which included playwright Michelfeld and her late partner. The film is inspired by Michelfeld’s own story and partly a tribute to her partner, also a performer in the troop who died in 2012, made by close personal friends. It is the first feature for both director and writer. In fact, de Michele’s partner plays Lisa in the film.

“Lesbian pregnancy, infertility, hormone shots, artificial insemination–these were subjects I hadn’t seen explored in film yet,” de Michele explains. “I told Gretchen she should get on that; then her partner got sick and it all stopped. Once she passed, too shortly thereafter, Gretchen dove back into her work. She needed to write. We were all grieving madly. The story of As Good As You became a hybrid of all of these experiences. It’s deeply personal for both of us. ”

IF YOU GO
Laemmle Music Hall
9036 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211
310.274.6869
laemmle.com

 

The brilliant “King Charles III” comes to DVD after critical UK and Broadway acclaim

A willful king . . . a prophetic ghost . . . family betrayals . . . revenge! It sounds like a play by Shakespeare, but it’s a drama about the future. Masterpiece presents an adaptation of the Tony-nominated Broadway show King Charles III, starring the late Tim Pigott-Smith as Prince Charles after his accession to the throne, sometime in the years ahead.

King Charles III, a co-production with the BBC, will be available on DVD June 27. The program will also be available for digital download.

Pigott-Smith, who died unexpectedly on April 7, had appeared in several Masterpiece productions, including The Jewel in the Crown and Downton Abbey. “The Masterpiece family is heartbroken at the loss of Tim Pigott-Smith, a wonderful actor and a warm and charming man,” says Executive Producer Rebecca Eaton. “We are going to miss him.”

King Charles III playwright Mike Bartlett remembers him as “one of the real greats, both as an actor and a man.”

Daringly scripted in blank verse by Bartlett and directed by Rupert Goold King Charles III focuses on the crisis-strewn transition of power after the eventual death of Queen Elizabeth II, currently the longest-serving monarch in British history. For his part, Charles is the longest heir-in-waiting ever, and Bartlett envisions the turmoil that rocks the monarchy when his turn finally comes.

Also starring are Oliver Chris as Charles’s heir, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge; Charlotte Riley as William’s bride, Kate; Richard Goulding as Charles’s younger son, Prince Harry; Tamara Lawrance as Harry’s love interest and self-proclaimed revolutionary, Jess Edwards; Margot Leicester as Charles’s doting wife, Camilla; and Adam James as the polished British prime minister, Tristan Evans.

The original London staging of King Charles III won Best New Play accolades from both the Laurence Olivier Awards and the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards. Moving across the Atlantic, it garnered five Tony nominations during its Broadway run. The New York Times hailed the production as “flat-out brilliant … dazzlingly presumptuous.” And in London, The New Statesman marveled at the playwright’s audacity: “If the Lord Chamberlain still policed the stage, Bartlett would be in the Tower.”

Shakespeare-lovers will detect echoes of Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard III, and Henry IV, among other of the Bard’s works. They will also revel in the rhythmic music of blank verse—unrhymed iambic pentameter—which captures the natural flow of the English language and which Elizabethan dramatists helped popularize, revived by Bartlett to startling effect.

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” That piece of blank verse is from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part II, and it perfectly portrays the hero’s quandary in King Charles III.

 

Chances are you will love the bittersweet “My Mother and Other Strangers”

Chances are . . .

Hattie Morahan and Aaron Staton star as a village teacher and U.S. air force officer whose chance meeting in Northern Ireland during World War II leads to a friendship that blossoms into something deeper.

Welcome to Masterpiece: My Mother and Other Strangers (PBS Distribution), coming to DVD on July 11. Also starring is Owen McDonnell as the teacher’s dour but loving husband, along with Eileen O’Higgins, Michael Nevin, Des McAleer, Kate Phillips, Fiona Button and Ciarán Hinds.

During its recent UK broadcast, viewers and critics were deeply moved by this bittersweet tale. “No other recent drama has captured quite so keenly a sense of the complex, hidden, unspoken desires that can roil away beneath even the quietest surface,” wrote the reviewer for The Telegraph, who added, “Hattie Morahan is superb.”

Shot on the stunningly beautiful Ards Peninsula in Northern Ireland, the film portrays the culture clash when a U.S. bomber base is established near the fictional village of Moybeg in 1943, bringing hundreds of gum-chewing, swing-band-listening American airmen to a remote Ulster farming community, with its winsome women and stolid workingmen.

The action is framed from the point of view of a young boy, Francis Coyne (played by Nevin, with voiceover of Francis as an older man by Hinds). Francis’s childhood is populated by strangers. On the one hand, there are the friendly Americans in their Jeeps and airplanes, who treat him like a little brother. Then there is his mother, Rose (Morahan), an upright Englishwoman who married Michael Coyne (McDonnell) and moved to his hometown, Moybeg, where she is raising their three children, teaching in the village school, and tending a grocery shop next to Michael’s pub. Despite being a pillar of the community, Rose has never fit in. She speaks more properly than the locals, loves English literature, and has a lively interest in the wider world.

Into this isolated domain comes Captain Ronald Dreyfus (Staton), U.S. Army Air Forces, who encounters Rose during a walk on the heath. When they meet again, he quotes her a line from Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott”—one of her favorite poems.

Captain Dreyfus is as reserved as Rose is. But in his capacity as base liaison officer, he has occasion to see her frequently: dealing with a fracas between airmen and regulars at the pub, arranging for an army nurse (Phillips) to care for a sick child, and planning a Christmas party for the school.

Both would-be lovers fight against the stronger feelings that are overwhelming them—emotions that are increasingly evident to those around them.

Wary of betraying her husband, Rose feels seized by some otherworldly force, a sentiment she can only recognize from a piece of literature—Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights—which she quotes from memory: “Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!”

 

Lionel Richie and his Commodores gets two vinyl releases with extended tune time

Heaven knows this would happen sooner than later. Commodores, the 1977 self-titled fifth studio album by the pop-funk-soul band known as the “Black Beatles,” will get a vinyl LP release from UMe, along with a special edition in blue vinyl for fans and collectors, on June 16. Both releases were cut from the original, unfaded masters, delivering on vinyl for the first time longer versions of seven of the nine tracks.Image result for commodores fifth lp

The original album spent eight weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard R&B/Soul albums chart and was the group’s first crossover record, peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, thanks to a pair of very different hit singles: the up-tempo “Brick House” and the sensuous Lionel Richie ballad, “Easy”.

“Easy,” the first single released from the album, reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B (known then as the Hot Soul Singles) chart and No. 4 on the Hot 100, and paved the way for Richie’s pop emergence. The song was an international hit, reaching the Top 10 in the U.K. and New Zealand and the Top 20 in Ireland and Canada.

“Brick House”, featuring the distinctive funky vocals of drummer Walter “Clyde” Orange and Ronald LaPread’s heavy-bottom bass line, which formed the foundation of the song, went to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. A group composition, its lyrics–celebrating a woman’s looks and her confidence in them–were written by Shirley Hanna-King, wife of the band’s trumpet player William “WAK” King, who initially claimed authorship before he admitted the truth.

Also featured on the LP is “Zoom”, a collaboration between Richie and Ronald LaPread. Although never officially released as a single, “Zoom” became one of the Commodores’, and Richie’s, best-known tunes. In the U.K., in fact, the LP was titled Zoom.

The Commodores were originally formed from two groups, the Mystics and the Jays, in 1968 at Tuskegee Institute, where the band members were students, signing with Motown in November, 1972 after opening for The Jackson 5 on tour. The group made a brief appearance in the 1978 film, Thank God It’s Friday, performing “Too Hot Ta Trot”.

Image result for lionel richie commodores

Songs from Commodores have enjoyed a long life in the guise of covers and samples. Fergie sampled “Zoom” on her song “All That I Got (The Make-Up Song)”, from her album The Dutchess. It has also been sampled by Snoop Dogg on “Pimpin’ Aint EZ”, a 2009 collaboration with R. Kelly from his album Malice N’ Wonderland); E-40 (from its 1998 album The Element of Surprise), Tricky (“Tricky Kid” from his 1996 album, Pre-Millennium Tension) and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (“Everytime” from their 2010 album, Uni5: The World’s Enemy).

Faith No More recorded a cover of “Easy” during the studio sessions for its 1992 album Angel Dust, following its repeated performances during their live shows, and it became an international hit in several countries, including Australia, where it went to #1, Norway, the U.K., Finland, Belgium, Ireland, New Zealand, Switzerland and Netherlands. The song was sampled by rap group Geto Boys for “Six Feet Deep” from their 1993 album, Til Death Do Us Part and by Cam’ron for his song, “Hey Ma.”

“Brick House” was the sampled foundation for the title cut of Foxy Brown’s hit LP, Ill Na Na, while the original was featured in the 1995 film Houseguest, the 1999 film Muppets From Space and the 2002 feature Undercover Brother. Prince’s ex-wife Mayte released a rap version of the song, “House of Brick,” on NPG Records in 1995, with Prince himself singing the chorus and verses. That same year, Dread Zeppelin covered the song as “Brick House (of the Holy)” on its Led Zeppelin-esque album No Quarter Pounder, while Rob Zombie, collaborating with Lionel Richie and Trina, did a version on his House of 1000 Corpses soundtrack in 2003.

Track listings

Title /Vinyl Reissue Track Time / Original LP track time

Side One
1. Squeeze the Fruit 3:03/same

2. Funny Feelings 5:57/4:53

3. Heaven Knows 6:16/4:46

4. Zoom 7:06/6:46

Side Two
1. Won’t You Come Dance With Me 4:08/3:50

2. Brick House  3:46/3:30

3. Funky Situation 4:12/3:46

4. Patch It Up 4:02/same

5. Easy 4:50/4:15

 

MHz gems are imported to the U.S. Think priests and liars, murder and betrayal and a French Ironsides

It’s worth the wait. On Tuesday, June 27, MHz Networks premieres the latest installments in the long-running Italian TV series, Detective Montalbano, A Nest of Vipers and According to Protocal. Both will be released Day-and-Date in the United States on its SVOD platform, MHz Choice and on its DVD imprint, MHz on DVD.

Based on the blockbuster crime novels by Andrea Camilleri, the episodes depict life in the fictional Sicilian town of Vigata–where the pace of life is slower, there are few cars and home cooking abounds. (Seconds are mandatory.)

Detective Montalbano (portrayed by Luca Zingaretti) heads the police department, solving crimes with his always loyal and sometimes effective police squad who find themselves crossing paths with housewives and fisherman, priests and liars, saints and Mafia dons. MHz Networks will also release the first two seasons of the French detective series, Caïn on DVD.  Bruno Debrandt stars as the wheelchair-bound Captain Fred Caïn who’s smarter, quicker and more mobile than most able-bodied people.

Detective Montalbano: Episodes 28 & 29
Murder, betrayal, office politics, temptation . . . it’s all in a day’s work for Detective Salvo Montalbano. With intuition and a cadre of police officers, Montalbano solves crimes in the fictional small city of Vigata. This work brings him across the paths of unforgettable characters who could only come from Sicily. He also wages a personal war with his own demons, which fight against his professional ideals and personal commitment to beautiful long-distance girlfriend, Livia. Yet there’s always time to indulge a long-standing flirtation with his ultimate temptress, Italian cuisine. The series is filmed in the ancient, sun-washed Sicilian city of Ragusa, and is based on the international best-selling mystery novels by Andrea Camiller.

A Nest of Vipers
A man arrives at his father’s home to find him dead, murdered with a shotgun while drinking coffee in the kitchen. With no sign of forced entry, it’s clear the victim knew his murderer. Finding locals with possible motives is easy, because he spent a lifetime exploiting young women and making enemies of fellow townspeople. Montalbano also discovers that the victim wasn’t just shot, but had been poisoned hours earlier. It’s as if two murderers had decided that night, independently of one another, to kill him.

According to Protocol A beautiful, beaten woman manages to drive herself to an apartment building, where she collapses and dies in the foyer. Her intent seems to have been to direct investigators to one of the building’s tenants. During the investigation – in which Ingrid and Livia meet for the first time–the team uncovers a world of vice and hypocrisy that leaves them all in shock. Montalbano also strikes up a friendship with his new neighbor, a retired judge haunted by the idea that true justice and objectivity may not be possible.

Caïn: Season 1 and Cain Season Season 2
In this darkly comic French crime series wheelchair-bound police captain Fred Caïn (played by able-bodied Bruno Debrandt) is quicker and more mobile than most able-bodied people. In his investigations, he spins circles around suspects and digs deep inside the darkest hidden corners of the human mind. A motorcycle accident caused by speeding and his own use of narcotics has left him unable to walk, but clear-eyed about criminality and motive. Image result for Cain Season 2 MHzHe’s left the drugs behind but a dark sense of humor remains, and his disdain for ‘bipeds’ can make him difficult to work with. He uses his disability to his advantage by breaking with convention and the law without an ounce of shame or trepidation. Only army veteran Lucie Delambre can handle him as a partner, and his friend and boss Jacques Moretti runs interference for him with the higher-ups. Set in Marseille, Caïn is a crime drama with a twist, a police procedural that focuses on psychology and the human being behind the criminal.   Season 1 includes: Jealousy Justice Judge and be Judged The Attacker Confusion Under The Skin Hostages Innocence

Season 2 includes: Suicide Ornella Cain and Abel, Part 1 Cain and Abel, Part 2 The Island Bad Boy Duels God, Caïn, etc…

New customers receive a free 30-Day Trial. For more information or to subscribe, go to www.mhzchoice.com.

The full list of MHz Choice premieres can be found here: MHz Choice Premiere Schedule.

 

K.J. Howe is not a mystery: She simply has written a damn good thriller, “The Freedom Broker”

We were fascinated by The Freedom Broker (Quercus, $26.99), the debut novel by K.J. Howe. Actually, it’s better described as a mystery . . . a book that almost drowns readers as they swim throughout the world of freedom brokers, those whose sole job is to brings hostages home. “You’re alive,” says Howe, “but not really living, dependent on your captors for absolutely everything.” The tome introduced us to The tome introduced us of Thea Paris, a female freedom broker.

Those who know us know we relish the underbelly of life (think Frank Sinatra Jr. kidnapped; better yet, think about Patty Hearst) so we wanted to chat with Howe about her words and wisdom, hoping there’s another trip to Paris.

There are many authors writing mysteries. How did you make sure your book idea was fresh and different?

From where do ideas come?
Growing up, I lived all over the world, as my father worked in telecommunications. I experienced many adventures in places like Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Puerto Rico, Austria and Switzerland. Several locales had a shadow of danger associated with them, so when I started writing, I chose the international thriller genre. It was an ideal fit.  I discovered there were a group of 30 elite kidnap negotiators who travel to the globe’s hotspots to bring hostages home. This led to the creation of Thea Paris.  For Thea, rescuing hostages is more than a job; it’s a calling, as she had a very personal experience with kidnapping when her brother was abducted at 12.Image result for K.J. Howe

Kidnapping intrigued me; it’s a purgatory of sorts. Hostages have to deal with intense hardship, loneliness, boredom and the terror of waking up every day wondering if it might be their last. I’ve spent the last three years immersed in this world to bring verisimilitude to the series.  I have the deepest respect for these freedom brokers who risk their own lives to help people in captivity.

For me, ideas tend to sprout when I’m researching a topic, and the story grows from there. When I read novels, I like to be entertained and also learn something.  I tried to integrate interesting facts about kidnapping in The Freedom Fighter so that people can understand more about this international growing crisis.

I know you worked with and interviewed Dr. Frank Grimm and Peter Moore before stepping in the shoes of a K&R negotiator. What did you learn that surprised you? What pre-conceived notions were blown away?
Spending time with these experts has been an illuminating experience. There are over 40,000 reported kidnappings every year—and that means around five people are abducted with every hour that passes.  Kidnapping has become an international crisis, and the problem continues to grow; terrorist organizations are using it as a fundraising mechanism, and displaced military and police in struggling countries are turning to kidnapping as a way of putting food on the table for their families.

One shocker was on the insurance side of the business. It is the one type of insurance where if benefactors know they are covered, the insurance may be null and void.  The reason for this is to protect against people “kidnapping” themselves and collecting the ransom.  Kidnap and ransom insurance coverage can go up to 50 million dollars.

It used to be that targets were mostly executives in foreign countries and high net-worth individuals. This is no longer the case.  Journalists, aid workers, missionaries and everyday people are targeted.  It’s important to be cautious if you are traveling to an area where there is a high risk of kidnapping.  My website www.kjhowe.com has a  map of the world that highlights hot zones.

Are you a mystery reader? Who are some favorite authors?
Crime fiction is my favorite genre. I’m an avid fan of authors like Greg Iles and his incredible Natchez Burning trilogy; David Morrell, the creator of Rambo and author of more than 40 bestsellers; Andrew Gross, whose latest book The One Man really resonated with me; and Lisa Gardner, as every book she writes is a guaranteed great read.

Are you scared to read mysteries at night?
I don’t mind dark fiction, day or night. I find it fascinating.  That said, sometimes I am scared to start a good crime novel in the evening, as I might stay up all night reading it!

Do you know Mary Roberts Rinehart, highly regarded as the first female mystery author who is now an icon?
Yes, if I’m not mistaken, the talented author of The Circular Staircase is attributed with creating the well-known phrase, “the butler did it” in her novel The Door, where the butler actually did the crime. Mary also spoke publicly about her breast cancer in 1947 when health issues were not openly discussed.  She was a trailblazer in the book world, and I have a great deal of respect for her work.

You both gave us thrills. Talk about Thrillerfest.
It is a conference held every July in Manhattan for thriller enthusiasts. I have the honor of being the executive director of this week-long event.  We welcome more than 1,000 people, including some of the top names in the genre.  We host a day at the FBI, where special agents talk about their area of expertise.  We also offer an event called PitchFest where aspiring authors pitch their novels to agents, editors and producers.  Add in workshops, spotlight interviews, panels and cocktail parties, and we have summer camp for anyone who loves page-turning fiction.  This year, we have a blockbuster line-up that includes Lee Child, Lisa Gardner, C.J. Box, Nelson DeMille, Charlaine Harris, Steve Berry, J.A. Jance, and many others.  Visit thrillerfest.com for more information.

I have Type II diabetes. My mother had Type I, and I know the struggle of living with the disease. Having known Mary Tyler Moore, who did much to fight diabetes, I know the struggles she confronted. What are your struggles? What keeps you from reaching for a piece of gooey cake you know you should not (must not?) have?
There are more than 29 million Americans who have this illness, and, sadly, the numbers are on the rise.  My character Thea Paris has Type 1 Diabetes.  I’m a former medical writer, and my grandfather had diabetes, so this issue strikes home with me.  I remember watching him inject himself with needles, and that left an indelible impression.  I wanted to feature a strong, talented woman with diabetes to inspire people with any chronic illness to keep striving for their dreams.  Anything is possible with the right determination.  As for that gooey cake, I try to always think long-term gain vs. immediate gratification!

 

PBS Distribution about to serve a most tasty “American Masters: The Art of Craft,” the life and flavors of Jaqcues Pepin

Hungry for a special treat? Leave it to PBS Distribution who is about to serve American Masters: The Art of Craft on DVD. This culinary journey traces the life of Jaqcues Pépin, a young immigrant with movie-star looks and a charming Gallic accent, who elevated essential kitchen techniques to an art form to become one of America’s most beloved food icons. The delight goes on the table when it’s released June 6; the program will also be available for digital download.

The program traces his journey from his childhood in the countryside of wartime France, where his family’s tradition of running homegrown restaurants propelled him into an early culinary career.Image result for pepin jacques

At the age of 13, Pépin leaves home to begin a formal apprenticeship at the distinguished Grand Hôtel de l’Europe. His first break comes at 16, when, as the sole chef, he cooks the fireman’s banquet in the alpine resort town of Bellegarde, a success that results in his first newspaper photo op. “I start to realize that I could put some of myself in the food. It didn’t have to be exactly the way my mother wanted it to be,” says Pépin, recalling this pivotal moment in his life.

Nearly 17, Pépin moves to Paris, initially without a job, and eventually works at dozens of restaurants learning about classical cooking. He trains under Lucien Diat at the Hotel Plaza Athénée where the emphasis is on technique. Four years later, he is drafted into the Navy, but because his older brother is already on the front, Pépin is assigned to stay in Paris as a cook at Navy headquarters.

Now an accomplished chef, he is assigned to create special dinners for the top brass and becomes the personal chef for three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. But Pépin understands that in the late ’50s, the cook, even if “first chef,” is really at the bottom of the social scale and viewed as the help. Not content cooking in French palaces; Pépin decides to move to the United States in ’59.

In New York, Pépin lands a job at Le Pavillon, the most influential French restaurant in the country, and soon meets the three people he calls the “Trinity of Cooking”: Craig Claiborne, food editor of The New York Times; James Beard; and Julia Child. In later years, he partners with Child on a television series, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, for which he and Child win a Daytime Emmy in 2001.

While at Le Pavillon, Pépin is courted for the position of “first chef” in the new Kennedy White House, a position he turns down. Instead, he goes to work in the kitchens of Howard Johnson’s hotel and restaurant chain (1960–70) where he learns about mass production, marketing, food chemistry, and American popular food.

In 1974, a near-fatal car accident is the catalyst that pushes Pépin’s life in a different direction as writer, teacher, and ultimately a media star. With his early landmark books on the fundamentals of culinary craft, La Technique (1976) and La Methôde (1978), and television shows, Pépin ushers in a new era in American food culture.

An American citizen for more than half a century, at age 81, Pépin continues to crisscross the country teaching, cooking, speaking, consulting, and enjoying the celebrity generated by 14 television shows, nearly 30 cookbooks, and accolades including the French Legion of Honor, France’s highest honor.

Interviews with Pépin’s wife Gloria and daughter Claudine, culinary stars and media personalities including José Andrés, Daniel Boulud, Anthony Bourdain, Tom Colicchio, Rachael Ray, Marcus Samuelsson and Fareed Zakaria, offer insights about the man, who with his catchphrase “happy cooking” has always emphasized honesty of ingredients, simplicity of approach, and a joy for sharing food with loved ones.

The film is produced and directed by Peter L. Stein, a Peabody Award–winning documentary filmmaker who first started working with Pépin in 1989 as producer of what became Pépin’s landmark public television series Today’s Gourmet, and who went on to oversee seven seasons of cooking programs with Pépin in the ’90s.

 

Danny Garcia’s next gritty, punk-infused film: “Stiv: The Life and Times of Dead Boy”

He’s a dead boy, this Stiv Bators. He was one of the early American punk pioneers, and is primarily known for his work with The Dead Boys and The Lords of the New Church. Classic songs like “Sonic Reducer” and “Ain’t It Fun” continue to inspire fans and musicians from all walks of life.

While Bators made a few films (the camp classic John Waters film, Polyester; a  cameo appearance as “Dick Slammer”, the lead singer of “The Blender Children” in the offbeat comedy, Tapeheads), he is now the subject of the upcoming Stiv: The Life and Times of Dead Boy. It will be the first film ever made about the rowdy and controversial performer, and his life will be documented through archive footage, photography, music and all-new interviews with the people who knew him.

Acclaimed director Danny Garcia will helm the project, and already has numerous punk documentaries under his belt, such as The Rise and Fall Of The ClashLooking For Johnny and Sad Vacation: The Last Days Of Sid and Nancy.

Following in the same gritty underground style that has become Garcia’s hallmark, STIV: The Life and Times of a Dead Boy has a tentative release date of May 2018.

Bators died on June 4, 1990 in Paris, France. He was 40. Drugs? Nope. He 0was struck by a taxi in Paris. Though he was taken to a hospital, he left before seeing a doctor, after waiting several hours and assuming he was not injured. Reports indicate that he died in his sleep as the result of a traumatic brain injury. Bators, a fan of rock legend Jim Morrison, had earlier requested that his ashes be spread over Morrison’s Paris grave. He girlfriend Caroline complied.

In the director’s commentary of the film Polyester, John Waters stated that Bators’ girlfriend confessed to him that she snorted a portion of Stiv’s ashes to be closer to him.

Much less addictive than coke.