Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Toys

Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

Nothing gets you drunk like listening to two long-playing David Soul albums in a row.

Wait.  I can't start at the end.  I have to start at the beginning.  The very beginning is that I was attending college in 1980 at Slippery Rock State College.  They had not yet changed the name to Slippery Rock "University of Pennsylvania," nor had they changed the sports teams names from Rockets to (ugh!) "The Pride."

On our turntables back then were a number of good records from great Pittsburgh-centric bands like Donnie Iris, the Iron City Housrockers and Norm Nardini and the Tigers.  Great stuff, right?  But the record that started this whole thing was this unbelievably crunchy, synth-driven album full of rock-candy called "Rock 'N' Roll Enforcers" by The Silencers.  Wherever those guys are:  "Thank you."

Most people my age from the Burgh would know that record, I bet.  It was top-class of the day from the opening cut, "Modern Love," to the close ("I Can't Believe It") there's not a cut that doesn't work - possibly better today than it did back then.  Without getting too much into it, I'm trying to figure out how I can embed these precious tracks so you can enjoy them too, my decades long search to replace this lp led me to Jerry's Records on Murray Avenue in Pittsburgh.

 This is Jerry.

These are Jerry's records.

Jerry has everything.  Name it, and Jerry's got it.  The place is in a rundown second floor of a warehouse but it simply reeks of a time long-gone when album art mattered and analog ruled with every snap, crackle and pop of needle skidding on vinyl groove.  I walked in and asked the man himself about my 33 1/3 rpm quest and he said, "Yeah I got that," and he pointed over there a few rows where a lot of Pittsburgh acts were grouped together.

I picked up "Rock 'N' Roll Enforcers" and The Silencers' very tasty but different follow-up, "Romanic," which had the band trying some different things to varying degrees of success.  To my subjective way of thinking, "Sidewalk Romeo," "1 of Those Girls" and "Words Follow Words" were successful.

But we were talking about David Soul records.  David Soul was "Hutch" in the hit 70s teevee show "Starsky and Hutch."  He also had at least two albums that the missus loved back then and she found them with Jerry's help.  David Soul had a #1 hit in this country with "Don't Give Up On Us," something The Silencers never could do.

So, we had some records but we couldn't enjoy them.  The idea was to get this thing called a USB turntable which works just like any old-fashioned record player except it has a USB out that you plug right into your computer.  You load the software and your computer dumps the files into your iTunes, for example.  I had hemmed and hawed and researched and read up on any number of these turntables, but nobody stocks them and the online comments about them were hit and miss.

So on Christmas morning, my only gift - The Mountain is old and content and does not require gifts on Christmas - was a good sized box full of a Numark USB Turntable.  Missus Mountain had done the research too and I was truly surprised on Christmas.

It was flawless and easy to use and in no time I was crushing to "Head On Collision" and that mop-ass wig-out of Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn Theme."  No.  You laugh.  But The Silencers made something really great in rock and roll terms of that theme song.  Slow and grindy and full of synth and then there's that cheeky guitar run transplanted from "Secret Agent Man."  I remembered every note.

Now.  When you convert vinyl to digital, you have to play the record and you have to stand by listening while it plays so you can mark the track breaks.  And you can't do this on "fast forward."  You can't just click and copy stuff from vinyl.  You gotta do the whole album, or at least the tracks you are interested in.

I wanted the missus to have ALL of the tracks.  She enjoyed them the same way I enjoyed my music.  And so I sent her to bed and cracked open a bottle of D.G. Yuengling Black & Tan from the case I had chilling in the snow on the back porch.

A Labour of Love
Now, some of the tunes on "David Soul" are decent.  Some, like "Don't Give Up On Us," are pretty in that 1970's proto-Fogelberg way.  Some, on the other hand, well, let's just say it takes about an hour and a half to get the recording level right and spin the album and import the tracks and name them in your iTunes library.

One Black & Tan lasts a maximum of two songs when you're recording David Soul.  That's five Black & Tans per record, if you do the math.  Which brings you, dear reader, to how I couldn't feel my hands by the end of "Playing to an Audience of One" at 2 a.m.

But it is a labor of love.  Missus will have a cd that she can play on her way to work and maybe, just maybe, her day will be better if she starts out with Hutch.

Shawn K. Inlow
Osceola Mills, Pa.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Video Vault: Les Miserables

Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

In advance of Christmas Day's release of the new musical version of "Les Miserables," Vault took advantage of Turner Classic Movies' idea to show three prior versions of the film last week.  TCM decided to show the 1934 French version, the Academy Award nominated 1935 take and another from 1952.
"Cosette" by Emile Bayard (1862)

Now, Vault knows some people who are Les Miscreants.  That is, they love, love, love this story.  They've seen the massively successful Broadway production, own the soundtrack and have at one time or another had the poster just to the right....  On their wall.

Vault had missed it all AND did not want to go and see the new feature film musical wrapped in ignorance.  I had the distinct feeling it would be like going to an opera and not knowing what all the singing was about. 

So I settled in last week and did my due diligence.  All for you, dear reader.  Let the Voice of the Mountain be your libretto.

For the unwashed - I am now not among the unwashed, but for those of you who still ARE - Victor Hugo's epic novel was first published in 1862 and follows the life of an ex-convict, Jean Valjean, from 1815 to the June Rebellion of 1832.  The main story arc follows Valjean's road to redemption even while he is hounded over the years by the relentless Inspector Javert, who is intent on putting parole violator Valjean back in prison.

Various set-pieces propel the story, which is usually divided into three phases of the life of the protagonist.  First is a feat of heroic strength for which the prisoner is paroled.  Second is when the hero receives a great kindness from a priest and rises to prominence under an assumed name and, risking everything, he saves a wrongly accused man from conviction.  The third is when he rescues Cosette's love, a young French rebel, from the barricades.

Throughout, Valjean's legendary strength and character are called into play.  The primary subplot involves a single mother, Fantine, who struggles to support a child, Cosette, who has been left in the care of the villainous Thenardieres.  The vile innkeeper and his screeching wife have no end of extorting the impoverished Fantine.  It is the general corruption of the society at large that pits itself so heavily against the mighty shoulders of the incorruptible Valjean, who swears to protect Cosette as a father.

It IS a great story, one of the longest (1800 pages or so) in the history of the (translated to English) language, and one reduced innumerable times to celluloid.

Top Class: Harry Baur (1934)
And in my time perusing the TCM films, I found the earliest one to be the best.  Running nearly 5 hours in length, it hews the most closely to the novel and benefits immensely from such texture and detail.  Each character, from Harry Baur's (at left) incomperable performance as Valjean to the threadbare Florelle (Fantine) and the waifish child Josseline Gael (Cosette), can scarcely be rivaled.  In fact, there is a brief sequence in this French version where the child seems to walk right out of Bayard's haunting rendering (above) from the original novel.

Charles Laughton as Javert (1935)
The 1935 adaptation starred Fredric March as the hero and Charles Laughton as Javert.  Running only two hours, by comparison, it hardly leaves enough time for the characters to be fleshed out.  The actors have to do a lot in a little time and the film suffers.  Further, Laughton's very round face struggles to carry the hardness of such a driven character even while his acting prowess is equal to the complex, dynamic role.

The 1952 version starring Michael Rennie leaves even more film on the cutting room floor at 105 minutes.  And while Rennie cuts a dashing figure and the film has some charms, it is as if you're watching the Cliff's Notes version on fast forward.

All that said, I am sure most of us in this fast paced world don't have enough time to slow down for a 5 hour feature film.  Therefore, you may, armed with this information, be ready for Hugh Jackman in the lead and Russell Crowe as Javert.  Frankly, that sounds like a top notch pairing.  And at 157 minutes, it may have just enough broth to make soup.

Until next time.  Enjoy!

Shawn K. Inlow
Osceola Mills, Pa.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Music from the Mountain

Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

Gun Violence?  Not today.

The video was shot in 2009 at our practice piano as my brother-in-law and my son, then 13 years of age, practiced a piece they were getting ready for Christmas services at our church, the Presby in Osceola Mills, Pa.

I had been studying most of the week over issues of gun violence with the aim of posting a serious discussion of the issue today.  I've been tracking down bits of information and taking a number of readers' thoughts very seriously with the intent of synthesizing something reasonable around the issue of gun violence which has thrust itself center stage of late.  And that will come.

But I can't.  Not today.  Its Christmas Eve, you know.  And The Mountain prefers to rejoice.

Instead of dwelling on the vile, I'm going to dwell on the sublime and share with you some very personal moments around the Christmas season with some Christmas music I think you'll enjoy.

I want to share with you how blessed my family and how blessed my church is.  What goes on in our church on most Sunday mornings is pretty good stuff and we have a church organist who quite simply rocks the house on Christmas Eve.  Here is a rehearsal of some Vivaldi our organist has in store for our congregation for tonight's service. 
You've heard me, if you've been following the Voice of the Mountain over its first week, talk about the brother-in-law who lives in the  basement, right?  Well that brother-in-law's name is Brett Albert, he is my wife's twin brother, and he is a classically trained pianist with heavy jazz leanings.  And he, dear readers, has devoted his talents for decades at the church where he grew up.  So I wanted to share with you a few film clips of the master, in his lair (our sanctuary), getting ready for a Christmas service.  For the Vivaldi piece, no, we do not have a chamber orchestra in our church.  That's Brett laying down layer upon layer of music on a synthesizer in the choir loft.  Makes for a nice Sunday morning, anyone in our place will tell you.

The next piece is a 2010 rehearsal with Brett and my then 14 year old son doing a Joy To the World medley.

Now, this last one is another preview for Brett's special Christmas music this year.  He's really been into playing with heavy layering lately.  You should have seen the congregation a few months ago when he tossed in a full workup of rolling thunder in one piece.  Crazy.  In this one, "Mary Did You Know," which is one of our favorites at the Presby, Brett's got the full orchestra working here and you can hear him putting in all of his big fat jazz chords too.

I'll let Brett play you all out while I wish you all the joy of the season.  Thanks to the brother-in-law and Mountain Junior for allowing me to share their talent in such a public way.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Shawn K. Inlow
Osceola Mills, Pa.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Climate, Football, Feedback

Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

Good morning, Mountaineers!  We've gotten our first snow of the year but it's one of those snows that doesn't know what it wants to do.  With temperatures hovering around freezing you don't get snow so much as gloop.  Slushy ice-water that freezes and refreezes.  But this is nothing compared to some of the freak storms I've seen.

I had personally noted climate shift while on patrol over 20 years as a Pennsylvania State Trooper.  Over time, gone were the bitter winter nights where you couldn't bear to get out of the car.  Nights where breathing hurt and exposed skin quickly blistered faded early in my career.  Over my police career, I've seen a shift in weather patterns where late winter early spring storms were massive.  There was a blizzard in March, I believe, in the early 1990s where the governor closed all the roads and we had to patrol in Humvees driven by local National Guardsmen.

Then there was the weird ice storm of Valentine's Day, 2007.  It was a steroid freak of a storm which affected everything from the Great Lakes to the east coast.  But in Pennsylvania, it took on a strange characteristic of being an Ice Storm.  Highways were closed down-east for days on end.  People stranded in massive backlogs on the highways snuggled up and went to sleep and ran out of gas.  I had heard there was something like a foot of ice on some highways.

Again, it was a late winter storm.  Patrolling in that storm was actually a bit scary in these mountains.  Trees were going down everywhere.  If you were helping some stranded motorist, you'd hear the trees snapping - the sound was like gunshots - under the weight of the ice.  You'd hear a mighty crack and quickly glance up to see if you were going to get killed by a falling tree.

It was as if the seasons had begun sliding around the calendar with actual winter happening after January and then the weather events were classically weird.  I think that's because the average winter temperature here (not a scientific assertion) seems to have risen slightly over time.  I always go outside without a coat and marvel how much I enjoy these North Carolina Winters in Pennsylvania.

Thus, the little weather event we had last night.  The temperature was just above or just at freezing, so the precipitation couldn't decide how it wanted to be.  I'll be rain.  No, I think I'll be slush.  No, I'll be ice, I think, I feel a chill coming on!  The Inuit in Alaska, I'm told, have something like 100 different words for snow.  

Point is, when it stays cold for elongate periods of time you get these nice little Hallmark Card snow events.  But it doesn't seem to anymore around here.  I'll wait for this crusty, icy snow to melt in a few days.

Hell, last year, on New Years' Eve, we cooked out on the back deck.  Strange.

I'm reclaiming the word "football" in the USA.  I was a life-long Pittsburgh Steeler fan as anyone who knows me growing up in the 1970s can tell you.  But I'm not anymore.  I have been struck by a long trend in American professional football toward violence and I feel like a little 100 by 50 yard field just isn't big enough when you're talking about 22 giant men fighting over ten yards of space.  The Canadian field is much bigger and I'm sure their game is a bit different because of it.

No, I can't watch American football anymore.

I hereby reclaim the term "football" for the sport we Americans call "soccer."  The Mountain says there's "football" - which is ancient and actually played primarily with the feet and involves kicking and chasing a round ball around a field that can be a maximum of 130 x 100 yards - and then there's "American Football" - which is newer and has a bean-shaped thing which you primarily carry or throw with your hands.

A football match is 90 minutes with no commercials.  It actually takes 90 minutes.
An American football game is 60 minutes but takes about 4 hours to watch on teevee.  Brief periods of action separated by long stints of busty women selling you on the idea that BEER makes you more ATTRACTIVE.

Where I live, here in Central Pennsylvania, in the heart of these good mountains, I have been involved with football since Pele came to the New York Cosmos in the 1970s and touched off the wildfire that spread the sport across this country.  We are all the children of Pele.

Also, since then, I've spent more than 30 years teaching the kids of Clearfield and Philipsburg, Pa. about the game I love.  There is Santa, and he spreads toys and holiday cheer.  There is Christ, and he spreads love and eternal life.  And those guys have done really well.  And then there is me, and I spread the love of the game.  It's a tiny thing, in comparison, but I'm doing that thing I spoke about earlier this week:  being kind wherever you are.  And so I am a football Johnny Appleseed.  And I've seen thousands of young sprouts develop into wonderful young people who express their joy in the beautiful game.

Recently, our school, Philipsburg-Osceola High School, won its first ever district title.  I had been the program's first head coach from 1993-1995 and we did okay.  And I've returned over the last three years and we're doing okay.

Meanwhile, the American professional league, MLS, is doing okay.  But the real action is in Europe.  I follow a big club from Birmingham, England, called Aston Villa.  And they are never in the mix for the Premier League Title, but that doesn't matter.  There's good football in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, all OVER Europe, and we're into this thing called the Champions' League where the titans of each European country vie every year to see who is the boss of the land.  You might call it a football superbowl or something.

And that's as good as it gets unless you are talking about the World Cup.  Football is the only sport that has a true world championship.  When American Football crowns its "world champion," that's decided each year from one of 32 teams that exist in the USA.  But it takes 4 years to qualify for the World Cup and almost every country on the planet vies to make it through to the final tournament.  To become the real world champion in the real game of football, is a titanic achievement.  If the United States ever wins the World Cup, my ears will fall off.

This concludes the first week of the Voice of the Mountain and something like 2,000 people have checked in to share ideas and see what the mad guy from Osceola Mills is raving about now.  Thanks for visiting, everyone, and please feel free to forward on the link to friends you think might enjoy our company.
I've had some interesting feedback both in the message boards below, where you can leave your own thoughts, and in private notes sent along.

Early in the week, we talked about violence in our culture and I was stunned by some of the readership's responses.  I'd also received an interesting bundle of information from Tom Elling on gun control issues that I'm going to form a post around when I can do some research around the issue.  Tom is an advocate of the second amendment and I think his views are important.

I spoke a few days ago in the post titled "Electioneering" about my skepticism about the integrity of electronic voting in the US.  I was interested to find out that the discussion that ensued was more about the character of Rachel Maddow (who I admire) rather than the issue I was trying to highlight by using a clip from her Nov. 7, 2012 show.  My ears were blistered by a vulgar tirade from Ryan Hertlein (who does not admire Ms. Maddow) and I was charmed by the reasoned response from Jim Ritter, whose permission I'm trying to get to use his take wholesale.  Jim's take was factual and concise and made me rethink something I'd said.

My favorite moment of the week, though, was during yesterday's Thursday Poetry Corner.  It gave me a sense of pleasure to share with you an original poem evoking winter and the innocence of childhood.

Until Monday, have a safe and joyous holiday season!

Shawn K. Inlow
Osceola Mills, Pa.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Poetry Corner: The Incredible Larry

Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

Today, and on subsequent Thursdays, I'll be sharing with you some original poems.  I hope you enjoy them.  So far, the Voice of the Mountain has been about cultural issues and politics, global warming, violence in our society, and electioneering... um, vote rigging, not the awesome Radiohead song.

Where it comes to music, I am trying to enlist some friends to put up some original music for you.  Music that nobody on the planet has ever heard before.  It is just another way to stretch our creative muscles.  You can judge whether or not I have any vocal ability when that day comes.  I write songs and sing but cannot write music or play an instrument.  I need collaboration.  And lots of it.

I am thinking soon to begin to publish a serialized science fiction story, called "Solid," and aim to take you on a near future trip to Los Angeles, the Pacific Ocean, the American Desert, near and deep space.  I hope also to turn you on to a very good young graphic artist in my family, if he's willing to do some art for the serialized story.

For my first piece of Thursday Poetry Corner, here is something I wrote about the magic of childhood and kind of in the spirit of Christmas.  I felt like the blog shouldn't always be so heavy. 


The Incredible Larry

"There is a moment at the dawning of each day
When there is the possibility of magic."  - s.inlow

The Incredible Larry played in the snow.
Incredible was a wizard, you know.
Still, his mother was unaware
Of the pre-breakfast magic that was happening there.

The Incredible Larry whirled in the snow,
Tossing his mittens as high as they'd go,
Tracking his footprints on top of the ground,
Stretching his snow-suited arms all around.

Jumping and rolling and plopping and laughing
Lolling and plowing and angel wing flapping.
Quietly weaving a little kid spell.
Knowing things even a mother can't tell.

Larry, the name his parents bestowed.
Incredible, the name the wind whispered low.
He gathered enough stuff and crafted a ball,
Then whipped up two more to make it stand tall.

And he braced himself versus the wind he was fighting,
Ever so watchful as dawn was alighting.
The first ray of morning came down from the skies
And refracted, reflected, through the purest of eyes.

Then Larry breathed the incredibly softest of sighs.
Then the light and the steam of his breath carried back
To a snowman that stood in a snow angel track.
On the arm of the wind, past a footprint, a mitten,

These gifts of a boy to a snowman were given:
The light and a sigh at the breaking of day,
Just as the sun sent the stars on their way.
Just then, with the gift of a moment released,
The world rested for once, unaware, and at peace.

Then a call rang out from the porch up above.
"Oh, Incredible!  Come in!  It's breakfast time, Love!"
Larry wondered how mother could know his real  name
As the chill of the dawn was erased by hearth-flame.

While outside...
In the sight of a snow-man on the side of a hill
Are these gifts of small pleasures laid perfectly still.
The wants and the needs of all people fulfilled,
All there for the taking.   Pick them up, if you will.

Shawn K. Inlow
Osceola Mills, Pa. send me YOUR poem.  I'll put it up on the blog on a Thursday.  And Merry Christmas to you and all your families.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

Rachel Maddow is the smartest woman on teevee.  No, she is.  And while she's an avowed liberal - dirty word, right? - and a lesbian, she still journalistically cleans just about everyone left standing's clock.  Because no matter what you label or libel her she's just way smarter than most of us.  And she's got a teevee show where she gets to flex.

I have a video that I want you to watch of the first segment of Rachel's show from the day after (11/7/12) the recent presidential election.  It may be the best essay she's ever written.  She begins with a repeating theme of "We're not going to (blank)," where she fills in an alarming number of alarming actual proposals made by the Clown-Car full of candidates that was the republican primary field this year.

Then she segues around 12:50 into a repeating theme of a litany of what "really" happened before rolling into a call for the republican party to wake up after a theme of things some republicans believe that are provably false.

But, before you click the video below, I want you to know that I think Rachel misses one key point in this particularly expert analysis.  I'll point it out after you spend the next 15 minutes with the smartest woman on teevee.  I think - and maybe some of my conservative friends would do me the service of telling me whether or not I'm right - this is cough syrup for the republican party.

At about 10:50 of this segment we get to watch a series of wildly inaccurate predictions about the upcoming elections and then we get the pure horror-show of Fox News' election night coverage.  Here is the sticking point that I'm concerned with.  

Let me digress.  I was a journalist for about ten years before I became a Pennsylvania State Trooper.  Now that I'm retired, I'm going back to journalism and writing again...  Thank you for visiting.  But Rachel, in my view, reads something slightly wrong here.  She posits that the GOP operatives on display here were "so sure" and "didn't see it coming," but I think she gets the reason wrong.

Journalism and police work are quite alike in that we spend time looking at a lot of liars and people with certain agendas.  It is our job to find the truth.  To investigate.  And sometimes you have to consider not what you see but why you see it.

We don't have to question that we see Karl Rove - a villain in my book - doing a spit take.  We don't have to question that Karl Rove, one of the - if not THE biggest fundraiser for Mitt Romney, is sitting there on the "fair and balanced" channel telling that network what to do with its coverage.  I mean, if you are still watching Fox "News" after this blatant display, I charge that you are simply not an objective person.

It isn't that we watch Rove and Fox humiliate themselves journalistically.  They do that every day, almost never this spectacularly.  What we need to think about is why we see it.

Conveniently, The Mountain has an opinion about this.  And some of the hunches I'm exploring here may not be exactly correct, but my years of reporting and police work tell me some things about this key segment of the clip.  I am kind of trusting my well-trained eyes.  I know a liar when I see one.  Spent years arresting them and putting them in jail.  Was trained in human behavior - called "kinesics" - when a person is lying.  And I think I see through Karl Rove here.

Karl IS incredulous.  Because I think he's sitting there on national teevee engaged in stealing the election and it didn't, for whatever reason, happen.  The fix was in.  And it didn't work.  And Karl is seen losing his mind.  This is one of those moments when a fly of truth gets through the screen and gets on teevee, but you have to really think about what you're seeing.

"We've had one instance when something was prematurely called," says Rove.  Why, yes, we have.  And it was in the 2000 election in Florida where the state was being called for Al Gore and... waitaminit - suddenly Fox "News" called the election for George W. Bush.  And we all saw how THAT played out.  The rogue known as "Bush's Brain" is still at work, wheedling and plotting behind the throne, a villainous Wormtongue playing at power.

"I have the chair of the Romney campaign in Ohio on the other end of the line," Rove splutters.  "And he's refreshing the page every few seconds."

Yes.  He goes to the 2000 election where - I believe - the presidency was stolen by his team.  And then he goes to Ohio, where a monkey is refreshing the official page that is supposed to tell them they won... But it didn't.

So, what I'm talking about is electronic vote tampering.  Here is a YouTube video of a Pennsylvania voter trying to cast his vote for Obama on an electronic voting machine and it keeps registering his support for Romney instead.

I don't trust electronic voting machines.  They can be tampered with relatively easily and they can - apparently - malfunction.  How interesting that this particular machine only malfunctioned in the race for president.  How can that be?

Well, in Ohio, for instance, partisan GOP secretaries of state like Ken Blackwell in 2004 FACED CHARGES of widespread computer voting fraud.  Interestingly, a key republican IT guru, Michael Connell, who was deposed in the case, never got to testify since he died when his Piper Saratoga crashed in 2008 when he was flying home to Ohio from D.C.  The case, without the key witness, was finally dismissed this year.

I believe that the GOP got away with stealing an election for at least the second time in Ohio in 2004.  And I think, as this former NSA analyst thinks, they've been doing it for a long time.

And I think that's the why I've been looking for.  I think that's why we saw Karl Rove losing his marbles live on teevee on election night.  Because the fix was in and SOMETHING went wrong.

And until there is a uniform voting process in our country that uses a verifiable paper trail on election day, I feel that electronic vote totals are untrustworthy.  Perhaps we ought to remove partisan hacks like Katharine Harris and Ken Blackwell and Jon Husted from the process of running state elections.  Yeah, that's the ticket!  Take the cookie-thieves out of the democracy cookie jar.

I tell ya, somebody oughtta put the grab on Karl Rove and inject him with some truth serum and see how that little pig squeals.  Chubby is up to something.

So, I'll bring this all home with a little Jon Stewart.  If you must watch teevee, the least you can do is sanitize yourself with Rachel Maddow (the smartest woman on teevee, remember) or you can shower off all the B.S. with Jon Stewart

Feel free to comment below and thanks for visiting.  Please feel free, if you think the writing is valuable, to pass along the link to friends. 

Shawn K. Inlow
Osceola Mills, Pa.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Return of the Son of Video Vault

Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

Once, a long time ago, I was approached by friends at a little daily newspaper, The Progress, in Clearfield, Pa. to write a regular film column to spruce up the paper's weekly lifestyles page.  Amy Barrett-Duke was in charge of the paper that I had once worked for, having taken the reigns after my wife had left the job to work for the Department of Public Welfare.

Amy named the column The Video Vault and I spent my time looking for good films that most people had missed.  I wrote the column in one form or another for - my God - ten years.  Almost exclusively without pay.  Mostly because it was fun.

And while I wrote this column, The Progress almost never laid it out properly.  Or they had some copy editor changing my copy and misspelling actors' names after I had poured over the copy with a fine tooth comb so they couldn't possibly mess it up.  And they were never able to sell the column locally to any of the numerous independent video stores even while I tried in print to drive the paper's readers to certain local video stores.

A perk I got, was that one store, Adventure Video in Philipsburg, Pa., run by a friend, Lenny Martin, would give me films for free before they were released to video so I could prepare a column to hit right when the film was available to rent.  As it turned out, a few people would look for the column and then go and look for the film I was featuring at the store.  And Lenny would make a buck on a movie that nobody saw coming.  Nice.

I mean, I was writing about French movies in Central Pennsylvania to an audience that was all about the latest slasher movie.  But I knew better.  I know quality when I see it and I believed that if you informed people about a great little film they'd missed - even if it was subtitled - you could give them something very rewarding.  You could share film art and you could have a conversation in the middle of nowhere about it and people would respond.  And, you know, people did respond.  The motto of Video Vault was and is:  "Life is Too Short for Bad Movies."

Another friend, Sam Ettaro, who was working at a little multi-media start-up called Harmony Multi-Media, saw my content as fodder for a Video Vault segment that he would produce for one of the local television outlets, WJAC in Johnstown, Pa., and online.  It didn't last long and we only did a few pieces, but I thought we could mix print, television and the web to craft the Video Vault into something really cool.

Did not work out.  Sam, who I saw as a brilliant creative mind, was squeezed out of his company in an awful lawsuit.  The Progress would not work with other providers in television or the web, seeing them as competitors rather than seeing the benefit of using crossover media to mutual benefit.  Long story short, I covered film for about ten years with no direction but my own and never made a nickel off it.

I think the column helped the local independent video retailers, though, even while their market was being eaten up by big chains, cheap sales at Wal-Mart and the advent of Netflix... and now the powerful advent of video on demand.  And the video stores where I live are still alive and kicking.  And they still make an honest effort to get copies of those little films that nobody ever heard about that Video Vault was so devoted to.

I used the column to publicize locally a young filmmaker from Curwensville,  Pa.  Levi Abrino graduated from Penn State in a dual major and then went on to the prestigious Tisch School of Film at New York University where he continued to pursue a career in film.  I put his student films on local video store shelves for people to rent for free and wrote articles devoted to that.  I spent time as a local producer for his NYU films and wrote about that.  One of Levi's good friends, Luke Matheny, won the Oscar in 2010 for his short film, "God of Love," on which Levi served as editor.

The nice thing about not being paid for something is you can do what you want.  Some things never change.

So with that in mind, I bring to the Voice of the Mountain the reincarnate of the column so dear to my heart.  Like the Frankenstein Monster, you can't kill it, so I bring you a film column:  The Return of the Son of Video Vault.  My aim, as always, is to find movies you've missed that you ought to see.  Remember:  Life is too short for bad movies!

Son Of Vault

"Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale"
2010 - Jalmari Helander
Rated R / 84 minutes

Here's a rare and interesting thing; an original, effective and interesting horror film.  It explores Christmas in the way only a filmmaker from a Nordic country could do, setting itself up in the dour whiteness of the arctic north amid Finish takes on the Santa Claus myth that are wickedly creepy.

I mean, certain films by Lars von Trier or, even more precisely, "Let the Right One In," just soak into that rather depressive tone that fits so neatly into those cold white landscapes and Director Jalmari Helander… Heh-heh.  Helander… is right there with those other directors.

Some Santa myths explore a more Grim's Fairy Tale take that centers on child guilt and punishment and Helander exploits this terrain almost perfectly.

The film centers on young Pietari (Onni Tommila), who lives in a remote part of Finland and is thinking about whether he's been naughty this year as Christmas Day is barreling closer and closer.  The boy thinks maybe he shouldn't have crossed the border to see what the American miners have been excavating in the ominous mountain that overlooks his isolated home.

Of course, Pietari is a true believer in Christmas - as any good film on the topic needs - but, even though he attempts to atone for his mistakes,  he cannot imagine what Christmas Day might hold.

You need to make an effort to see this bumpy chill fest.  It is rated R, but your teenagers will love it and it isn't inappropriate.  I was able to catch it on Netflix where it was available for screaming… uh… streaming video.

In the inevitable year-end discussions of the great Christmas films, it is high time we had a competent Christmas film in the horror genre.  I know this sounds antithetical to the season, but, no joke, this is a great little Christmas movie.


Kicking it at the Top of the J-Curve

Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

Kicking it at the top of the J-Curve

When you are a retired person you can do things like this:  Tape the "Les Miserables" Festival they were having on Turner Classic Movies last week and begin your day with the very good - very complete - 1934 French version that runs over 5 hours in length.  Then, having done your homework - I didn't have the 6 hours required to read the 1,800 page novel by Victor Hugo - you can move on to the 1935 classic (read: 2 hours) starring Fredric March and Charles Laughton before advancing to the 1952 version with Michael Rennie and so on.

It was a plan, however small.

Until my brother-in-law emerged from the basement...  My brother-in-law lives in the basement, no questions, please...  and he says, "Ain't ya watching teevee?"

Today's Voice speaks to tragedy in our culture but in a more broad way.  Bear with me, we've got a few miles to go before we sleep.   I have detected a severe reaction to the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, which I was made aware of by my brother-in-law.

When you begin your conversation with "Turn on the television, you've gotta see this," it is as sure a sign of pending graphic horror as you will ever see.  But you can't just keep watching Les Mis, you have to look.  But I got a sick feeling in my stomach.  My mind raced back to September 11, 2001, when I was home with my toddler son and the phone rang and my wife, the editor of The Progress, a small daily paper in Clearfield, Pa., said, "Turn on the teevee.  You've gotta see this."

The presses had been stopped at The Progress that day to observe the insensate violence of that day.

"What channel?" I said.

"It doesn't matter what channel," she said and hung up the phone.

My mind grappled with that.  It doesn't matter what channel?  And I woke to a new age in real-time horror.  The phone rang a while later and it was the office calling me in to report to Shanksville, Pa. as part of the response to the crash of United Airlines Flight 93.

So I'm sitting there watching the carnage in Newtown unfold but I'm not hearing much of it.  I'm thinking about how the Rodney King beating set LosAngeles ablaze with violence.  How everyone was transfixed by the run-up to the Iraq War.  How everyone was glued to the teevee for the O.J. Simpson verdict while society itself was coming unglued.

A real friend posted to Facebook about her visceral reaction to some network trotting out a 9 year-old to interview about the Newtown shootings.  While you recoil from that, I will take the reaction as a positive sign.  You need to be offended at something like that.  And it is a good sign that there is a place that is too awful to go.  And turning off the teevee is a good and natural reaction.

Consider the opinion of The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.  I think you have to click through to watch this on YouTube, but it is worth the view.

I'd like you to step on back with me though.  As I posted yesterday, sometimes I feel anxious or alone.  I feel like things are getting unhinged and it should, it should affect any decent person.  These feelings are normal, if unfortunate.  The problem is not in your set.

I wonder as I pull away whether or not each little dose of hell is a symptom instead of the disease we're all trying to put our finger on.  See, everybody's going to go talk about gun control as a political issue:

Well that's all good and alright, I guess.  It is a reasonable response to the symptom but not the disease.  Take two Motrin and call me in the morning if it doesn't clear up.  That's the problem, folks.  We're always talking about the symptom and never the cause.  We are standing on the mountain but we cannot see that truth under our feet.

No, I'm aiming at something larger.  Stay with me now.  I've been reading books like the incredible Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by the Pulitzer Prize winning author, Jared Diamond - a must read for anyone - where Diamond examines cultures in Easter Island, Central America, Polynesia, Greenland and Idaho (yes, Idaho) among others.

Check out the enumerated list on the book's Wikipedia page and you quickly see that Diamond posits the root source of societal collapse as "overpopulation relative to the practicable carrying capacity of the environment."  Now, that's a very short tell on a very complex (and I think, thrilling, anthropological history) book.

Look.  You take an ant colony, like in the Pixar movie, "A Bug's Life."  The colony exists on Ant Island and it can grow as an ant colony only so far because the island is only so big.  Never mind the grasshoppers and the rushing waters all around.  Once all the natural resources are used up, and nobody has any food left, the population has got to die off from famine.  This is the principal behind the notion of the J-Curve.

But if you take an overcrowded planet - our own Ant Island - where everyone feels so alone and powerless, could there not be another symptom besides die-off.  Like the rash you get when you are exposed to an allergen, could not our society, not unlike any animal species, exhibit other troubling side effects?

I wonder if this propensity for people to go bat-shit and start shooting isn't somehow related to anthropological population pressure.  As if that pressure somehow just causes more and more people to crack.  Examine how you can feel alone in a crowd.  Examine how Facebook just quickly encroaches upon you and unleashes this tide of information on you and you just can't manage that many "friends."

I think the ones who crack are the hopeless ones.  The isolated ones.  And the goddam teevee just makes me feel more hopeless sometimes...  Maybe if I just click back over to the middle of Les Miserables (literally, "the miserable").

But writing to you, dear reader, makes me feel less alone and more hopeful.  What do we do with these situations?  We sensible people share and talk and try to be a little kinder.  Folks, I don't think it's necessarily the teevee or the gun or the perpetual war by themselves.  I think it's how the constructs of our society - all of those things, and more, together - cause hopelessness.  The answer - all you can do - is to go about and be kind.  Cause hope wherever you are.

We'll see you tomorrow and we're going on a frightful sleigh ride with the Original Santa in a movie from Finland called "Rare Exports:  A Christmas Tale."  Until tomorrow.  Enjoy!

Shawn K. Inlow
Osceola Mills, Pa.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

So I wake up some days - most days, for years now - and something is eating at me.  I can't quite put my finger on it but its big and it matters to all of us and I feel like I'm close to understanding this thing and I need to share it.  I feel anxious.  I feel like I have no control.  I feel like things are wrong.  I'm torn between wanting to murder people and to save them.  Between hating people and loving them.

These are days when I feel most desperate.  As if the wheels are coming off the world.  As if people are too stupid to see what's happening.  As if people blinded by consumption and greed are ruining everything... for everybody... and they don't care because they think they have enough money to survive.

Um.  This is not a global warming blog, though that is on my mind today.  This is a blog about everything.  It's a big picture blog.  It's an understanding all the little things you see and finding a framework where everything fits blog.   It is life as I know it blog.  And I hope to get this shit off my chest and maybe find someone else who understands.  I am an optimist.  Hello.

I am from Central Pennsylvania.  If you draw an "x" on a map of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and then Google-Earth that map and zoom in you will find me standing on top of a mountain in the exact center of the state waving up at you.  I was standing in that precise location waving as the satellite took my picture.  I can drive downhill for three hours to the south-east and get to Philadelphia.  I can drive downhill for three hours to the south-west and get to Pittsburgh.  I can drive downhill three hours to the north west and get to Erie.

When you are down in a valley, you can shout all you want and nobody will hear you or pay any attention to you.  But shout from the top of this mountain, and the sound just carries and carries.  These mountains, my home, the oldest mountains on earth, are something to behold.  When you leave them for a vacation, the best part is returning home.  Nobody thinks anything is here, where I live.  These mountains don't quake.  Hellish storms are broken up by them.  These mountains shelter us and they are kindly and yet we abuse them.

Most of the water here is polluted and it's getting worse as the fracking jackals swarm like locusts here to extract the hydrocarbons that will choke the life out of the planet in one final, dramatic, greed-inspired push toward profit over the common good.  We've seen it all before.  It is our birthright and our death-knell.

European settlers came and cut down every stand of timber that could be found until the mountain looked like some nightmare.  Then they began to dig.  And coal from this mountain fired the industrial revolution until all our streams died and the fish became poisonous to eat and the mountain bled like a dying carcass into the stream that runs red by my house.  It is dead.  Bugs don't even live in this water.  The sky was charred with coal smoke as were the lungs of the miners and the bodies of their children who got sick and died from any number of odd diseases.

If you want to cure cancer.... All the kids here have one form of cancer or another...  you need to stop polluting our world.  No need to thank the very rich men who profited from hundreds of years of primary industry and who will not stop even today when they know their bank accounts swell while the rest of us choke on the excrement of extraction.  Even while the ice caps melt and the American West is on fire and New York City and New Orleans are swallowed by the ocean.

The Mountain is an undeniable fact.  You walk upon it or go around it but you don't exactly notice it.  You draw life from it and at the end you return to it but you give it no respect.

Those big men who run the fossil fuel industry know the truth more than anyone else.  They employ the best scientists in the world to give them the straight dope and to lie to the rest of us.  They know the consequences of their actions.  They just don't care.  Either that, or they are under the delusion that they have enough money to survive the nightmare future they are bequeathing to their own children.

Meanwhile, the tanker OB River Carrier, pictured below from the Ottawa Citizen, made the first ever winter crossing of the arctic, cutting 20 days off the trip from Norway to Japan.  It was smooth sailing all the way.
We need somehow to wean the world from the destructive use of fossil fuels.  These resources are useful in many ways besides energy production and they need to be conserved.  Bill McKibben over at says that if we burn the reserves we currently have in the ground, we're basically dooming the planet for human life.  We all need to wake up.

Thanks for bearing with me today in my first ever blog post.  I'll be back in the coming days with more stuff both delightful and frightening.  I have a treatise about why, every time you look up, you see some evil shit happening on the television.  I also want to tell you before Christmas about a gleefully chilling film from Finland, "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale," that I found on instant play on Netflix.  Maybe I will convince the great young cartoon artist in my house to share a strip with you.

I guess now I push the button up there that says "publish" and we're off to the races.  I suppose there is a chat-back feature if you want to reply to the post.  I hope you do, because discussions are how we move the world forward in a positive way.

Shawn K. Inlow
Osceola Mills, Pa.

Now Hear THIS!!