Weblog of Leland Rucker
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Category — Movies

Sweet Lunacy Comes to YouTube

It was ten years ago, on March 24, 2001, that Sweet Lunacy: A Brief History of Boulder Rock, was first screened at the Boulder Theatre, the opening act for the 25th reunion concert of Dusty Drapes and the Dusters.

Don Chapman and I had worked on and off for more than two years on the documentary, commissioned and funded by a grant from the Boulder Arts Commission for Boulder Municipal Channel Eight. We filmed a host of people who had been part of the music scene in Boulder from the 1950s, when Ray Imel Sr. and Rex Barker opened Tulagi, through the Astronauts, Flash Cadillac, the Dusters, Michael Woody and the Too High Band, Judy Roderick, Zephyr, Firefall, Big Head Todd and the Monsters and many others  into the 1980s, when the Fox Theatre began hosting live shows, and boiled down more than 30 hours of interviews into a one-hour documentary.

Don put the finishing touches on it that morning, and standing there watching it amongst my friends and more than a thousand people for whom it was made was one of the great hours of my life. It has been showing regularly since its release on Channel Eight.

But for ten years, that’s the only way people could see it. Because of budget and staff cuts, Channel Eight no longer makes copies of the film available. At present, it is only available if you have access to Channel 8, and it is not on a regular schedule, so it is truly accessible to only a scant few people.

Meanwhile, requests for it have remained pretty steady over the years. It was originally made for VHS (remember that?), and in a digital world many people who only have it in that format might no longer be able to access it. Others who were interviewed or played a part in the film have never seen it. I get emails inquiring about it, but beyond burning and sending a physical copy, there is no legitimate way for people outside of Boulder to see it.

The arts commission’s only charge to Don and me was to get it in front of as many people as possible, and the way to do that today is to make it available on YouTube. It needs at least the chance to go viral.

It’s now at sweetlunacyboulder, chopped into four easily digestible 15-minute segments, thanks to the lovely and talented Lauren Winton. I have added some notes so you know what’s in each segment, and I’m sure I’ll be playing with annotation and other stuff to make it more easily understood. More about Sweet Lunacy and its making here.

If you are interested in screening the film, please contact me at leland.rucker@gmail.com. But most of all, please, enjoy.

April 1, 2011   1 Comment

The Dude is Not In!

Ever feel like this?

From my favorite movie about friendship.

(Tip of the cap to Doc Reptile for making my morning.)

Photo by Scott Replogle
Photo by Scott Replogle

September 18, 2009   1 Comment

Second Thoughts About Woodstock

Forty years ago this weekend I was driving out of New York, where I had spent the summer as a counselor at Camp Pioneer on the shores of Lake Erie in Angola, New York, on my way back to Kansas City. It had been an exciting summer. We looked up at the moon on the night Neil Armstrong walked there. I had played guitar and performed for the first time and bought the Crosby, Stills & Nash album while there.

About the time two of my counselor colleagues and I hit Pennsylvania, we heard on the radio about a music festival northwest of New York City that was closing roads and causing mass confusion.

The Life magazine special-edition version of Woodstock. I spent hours looking at the large photos.

News and photos of the event were ubiquitous, especially after pictures came out of nude, stoned hippies celebrating the rain, the music and seemingly, life itself. Newspapers and magazines, including Life, Rolling Stone and The New York Times, covered the event.

Seven months later, on March 26, 1970, I stood in line for opening night of Woodstock, the movie, a sprawling documentary that celebrated rock music, peace, love and dope as well as an audience of hundreds of thousands enduring a monsoon, food shortages, bad acid and impossible conditions. The film seemed as long as the festival itself and featured some of the most diverse, celebrated artists of the period at their peaks — Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Santana, Sly Stone, Crosby, Stills and Nash etc. – in brilliant color and dazzling, close-up camera angles. Woodstock literally made the careers of everyone who appeared in it. I went back the second night and saw it again, my enthusiasm stoked, and I bought into the hype hook, line and sinker, as you can see from a letter I wrote to my best friend after seeing the film for the first time.

As I began learning more about the background of the festival and the forces behind it, I began to realize that there were actually two events. The first was the three-day gathering itself; the second was the documentary that showed it. The latter was one version of what happened, but it was a carefully edited version, and for those of us who weren’t there, which is most of us, it’s really the only version.

Was it an important gathering of the tribe? A cultural milestone? Proof that the hippie generation could live in peace and love no matter the obstacles? Yes and no. For some it was blissful; for others, not so much. Mike Jahn, the Times rock critic who covered the festival, wrote recently:

“Woodstock was far from the mythological wonder, but that 90 percent of the attending were miserable and would have left after the first night had transportation been available. I spent time with them, not with the celebs backstage where it was dry and there was food and drugs. They were huddled under blankets in the rain, looking more like those photos of the fields of bodies at Gettysburg than like the nudes prancing in the lake or the celebs shouting ‘far out’ at one another and gabbing about the wonder of it all.”

Actually, for anybody watching at the time, the euphoria over Woodstock’s wonderfulness faded rather quickly and dramatically. It should be seen in the context of another outdoor event that took place less than four months later. On December 6, 1969, a festival headlined by the Rolling Stones at a speedway near Altamont, California, also captured with cameras, showed the darker underbelly of the peace-and-love subculture. The cameras caught Mick Jagger, then the king of rock, pathetically trying to calm an unruly crowd that had gotten ugly and confrontational. The resulting film, Gimme Shelter, showed one homicide, but there were other drowning deaths, and two others killed in an automobile hit-and-run. It wasn’t pretty, and it dampened the enthusiasm I felt about Woodstock Nation.

Woodstock wasn’t really a celebration of the Sixties as it was a harbinger of what was to come. The marketing of the event began almost immediately. I bought a Life special issue with lots of large photos of the event in the fall of 1969 (see photo). Posters of the event proliferated. Many of those who appeared in the film and on the album became superstars. The release of the Woodstock album, which featured two records of selected music from the festival, certainly caught the ear of my generation, but more importantly, caught the attention of record executives eager to cash in on the burgeoning rock phenomenon. Add advances in touring sound and stage technology, and Woodstock helped usher in the era of rock superstardom, big tours and even bigger money.

The myth of Woodstock is that we think we remember the event when we actually only remember the movie. And the truth is that Woodstock was much less about the decade it closed down than the one it begat.

August 13, 2009   2 Comments

Sweet Lunacy Now Seems From a Galaxy Far Away

Flash Cadillac: "Lunacy, but sweet lunacy" -- G Brown

Flash Cadillac: "Lunacy, but sweet lunacy" -- G Brown

Friday night Billie and I went down to the Boulder Theatre for the 40th Reunion of Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids. It was a great show, but for me the coolest part was the the alumni set, which featured the original members of Flash back in the days when they ruled the Tulagi stage. For one brief moment, among the rush of fantastic oldies, I got to experience the memories of a band that I have only seen on film.

I think it was 1999 when Don Chapman and I were first approached to do a documentary film about the history of Boulder rock’n'roll. The Boulder Arts Commission, which approached us, was exploring ways to approach documenting the town’s musical heritage, and it was a subject in which I was interested, at least in part because I had done such a poor job of it in my days as a reporter back in the print days.

Don and I produced and directed the film by ourselves. I made a huge list of names, and among the first people we contacted were Harold Fielden, onstage Friday night as the drummer for the original Flash Cadillac and unofficial keeper of the flame as head of the 4-Nikators, the longest-running local band and probably worth a movie all its own, and erstwhile Denver music historian G Brown, who served beer to Glenn Frey and Don Henley in Tulagi in 1971 while they told him how famous they were going to be. We followed our noses from there, and went off from there, finally interviewing about thirty people in the next couple of years while amassing all the archive, period photographs, videos and recordings we could appropriate or transfer from Super-Eight technology.

It took us about three months to pare down thirty-five hours of interviews into some kind of cohesive story. Included are glimpses into long-shuttered dives the Blue Note and Shannon’s and recordings studios like Caribou and Mountain Ears amidst long-ago tales and period footage of the Astronauts, Flash, Tommy Bolin, Candy Givens, Zephyr, Otis Taylor, Steven Stills, Stevie Wonder, Richie Furay, Chris Daniels, Woody and the Peckers, Woody and the Too High Band, Firefall, Poco, Joe Walsh, Chris Hillman, Judy Roderick and Big Head Todd and the Monsters and Dusty Drapes and the Dusters, a bunch of hippies who cut their hair and played country swing, among many more.

Steve Swenson, who fronted Dusty Drapes and the Dusters in the 1970s here in Boulder, called us in late 2000 with plans to bring the Dusters, all ten of them, back to Boulder for a reunion show, and we quickly decided that the documentary would be the perfect fit as an opening act. That happened March 24, 2001, when I stood amidst a sold-out crowd at the Boulder Theatre to see the premiere of Sweet Lunacy: A Short History of Boulder Rock. I hadn’t seen the film in its entirety — Don had put the finishing touches on it that morning — and witnessing it there, among more than a thousand people, most of whom it was made for, was about as good as it gets for this music historian.

I mention all this because Sweet Lunacy is screening this Friday night in the main auditorium at the Boulder Public Library,  1000 Canyon Boulevard, at 7 p.m.  It’s FREE – and the filmmakers will be on hand, too. Hope you can make it.

If you can’t, Channel 8 has the documentary available for streaming here.

You’ll need a fast internet connection and QuickTime Player on your computer to view it.  Scroll down the program drop down to “Sweet Lunacy”; load the program and click play.  With a slower connection, it will become a slide show with good audio.  With a dial-up connection you may be out of luck to view on the internet.  The DVD is available for check-out at the Boulder Public Library.  DVD copies are available for $10; Contact me at leland.rucker@gmail.com.

My colleague and friend David Kirby, who is writing a story about the film in this week’s Boulder Weekly (out on Thursday), turned me onto this 2001 Westword story. Hope you can make the show.

March 9, 2009   1 Comment

A High-Wire Crime With An Artistic Punch Line

I remembered that a guy walked on a high wire between the buildings of the World Trade Center in New York in 1974, but it wasn’t until this week that I found out the story behind that lunatic, lyrical event through James Marsh’s documentary Man On Wire, now on DVD.

Man on Wire poster. © Jim Moore

Man on Wire poster. Photo © Jim Moore

Philippe Petit was the man who walked for almost 45 minutes, with police ready to arrest him as soon as he walked off the wire, 1350 feet above the ground between the Twin Towers. Petit, a French tightrope walker, became obsessed with performing the stunt after seeing a story about the towers’ construction.

The story is reconstructed through interviews with Petit and the people who helped him carry out this “artistic crime,” and as we find out, most accomplices knew that what they were doing was illegal, but were also aware that the only person who could be hurt by this was Petit, who as you’ll find out, had to do this.

Petit is as interesting an obsessive as you’ll ever find. The idea of walking between the towers is lunatic fringe stuff, but listening to Petit and his friends, you begin to see how this disparate group of people come to pull off this amazing feat and believe in it as the highest in performance art.

Besides enjoying Petit’s charismatic enthusiasm, I found the story just funnier than hell. It takes seven years to pull off the stunt, and Petit travels to the U.S. to case the buildings and charters a helicopter to take photos of the buildings’ roofs. Their attempts to get their equipment to the 110th floors of each building, if a bit unnerving remembering what happened to those buildings, have great comic energy, and at the top, they wind up hiding from security guards under tarps and almost lose the tightrope, which weighed more than two hundred pounds, between the buildings, expending hours of energy just pulling it taut.

Director James Marsh tells the story through contemporary interviews, 1970s film footage of the conspirators preparing for the walk, coverage of Petit’s earlier high-profile stunts, the first being the walk between the towers of Notre Dame, and still photography of the Twin Towers walk.

I kept trying to remember where I had seen photographer Jim Moore‘s work before. He shot rock musicians in the early seventies, where I saw his name in Creem and Rolling Stone. He continues to photograph musicians and artists. There is no film footage of the walks, but Moore’s photographs are dizzyingly graphic and lyrical in their own way.

Marsh pulls no punches, showing how his relationship with his friends deteriorated after Petit became a celebrity. But in the end, it’s a very human story about real people who get caught up in an extraordinary event.

January 25, 2009   No Comments

The Lord God Bird Comes to Film

The Nature Conservancy put out this hat in 2005 after birders said they saw an ivory billed woodpecker.

The Nature Conservancy put out this hat in 2005 after birders said they saw an ivory billed woodpecker.

We caught a screening of The Lord God Bird up at CU Sunday night. The director, George Butler, was there to answer questions afterwards, and the director of Pumping Iron and The Endurance: Shackleford’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition hopes that the documentary about the ivory-billed woodpecker will be in theatrical release and on television sometime next year.

The Lord God Bird is required viewing for anyone interested in endangered species. The demise of the ivory bill, a black, white and red woodpecker larger than a crow with a three-foot wingspan, is certainly one of the most compelling, saddest chapters in American history. In a capricious example of wasting natural resources, the United States clear-cut the great forests of the American Southeast in the late nineteenth century to satisfy a nation’s urge for wood products. The ensuing loss of old-growth habitat doomed the  ivory-bill, which was considered extinct by some in the early twentieth century.

The ivory bill reappeared in Louisiana in the late 1930s, when W.W. Allen and James Tanner conducted the only studies of the bird, and sightings of ivory bills have persisted into the 21st century, most not officially reported because, especially if you are a professional, you are considered a little wacky to say you have seen one. Saying so out loud can ruin a career.

Tim Gallagher, the editor of Living Bird magazine, and Bobby Harrison, know something about that. The pair reported seeing an ivory bill fly before  their canoe in Bayou de View in eastern Arkansas in 2004. The sighting and a short video taken by David Luneau that seemed to show an ivory bill in the same area convinced the prestigious Cornell Lab of Ornithology to authenticate and announce the rediscovery in 2005.

Though nobody is calling Gallagher and Harrison liars (at least out loud), not everybody agrees with Cornell’s conclusions when it comes to Luneau’s film. Some, like noted bird author David Sibley, saw a pileated woodpecker, a slightly smaller, ubiquitous bird mistaken for an ivory bill, in the film. Jerome Jackson, a respected ivory bill researcher and author, said he thinks the Arkansas birds are pileated.

The plot deepened. An ornithologist named Geoff Hill and a small band of researchers, though offering no proof beyond visual sightings and some interesting nesting cavities, say they observed a group of ivory bills in a remote, western Florida old-forest swamp.

That’s where Butler enters. The black-and-white footage of Tanner’s scientific study and the mammoth destruction of the forests graphically tells the story of the birds’ startling decline.  Butler mixes breathtaking aerial footage of what’s left of the deep swamps with on-location shots of the researchers themselves, capturing the rapture that deep obsession brings in a forbidding world of water moccasins, alligators and shifting currents.

Although Butler said he has no reason to disbelieve Gallagher and Harrison’s visual sighting, the film leaves the question of whether ivory bills are still with us open. There has been no further evidence from Arkansas after four seasons of well-funded expeditions, and nothing beyond enthusiasm in Florida. I know that the researchers and obsessives want to help this incredible bird, but deep down I kinda hope they don’t find evidence, and that remaining colonies, if they exist, can live their lives without our interference. We’ve done enough damage already.

Earlier posts on ivory bills here and here.

November 18, 2008   No Comments

Cool Hand Newman

I cried when I read the headline that Paul Newman had died. I had heard the rumors the last few months that he had cancer, but it didn’t make it any easier. As Billie said when I told her: “We grew up with him.” And indeed we did. I was attracted to his movies and characters from the time Cool Hand Luke cemented the deal right up to the last one, Empire Falls.

I’m not sure now which movie I saw first or whether I saw any of his films first-run before Cool Hand Luke, but from there on, I was hooked. I have probably missed some good ones, but the incredible number in which he played memorable roles to me is worth mentioning. The guy didn’t pick many stinkers, and he was always good in his roles.

Rally Round the Flag Boys. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Sweet Bird of Youth. The Hustler. Hud. Cool Hand Luke. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Sometimes a Great Notion. The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. The Sting. The Towering Inferno, Buffalo Bill and the Indians. Slap Shot. Ft. Apache the Bronx. Absence of Malice. The Verdict. Harry & Son. The Color of Money. Fat Man and Little Boy. Mr. and Mrs. Bridge. Nobody’s Fool. Empire Falls.

Despite all these triumphs, Newman never seemed hung up about the movie business, and this is perhaps the reason I held him in such high regard. He lived almost as far from California as you can get with a woman he married in 1958. He left acting, bored out of his brain, at the height of his celebrity, to take up auto racing. He gave away millions of dollars, and used his handsome face to sell classy products to raise money for charity. He wisely stayed out of the public eye; until the news broke that he had cancer earlier this year, I couldn’t remember his name on any supermarket tabloid headline. Paul Newman. Nothing but a class act.

September 30, 2008   No Comments