Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Top Chef Production Assistant write up...

It begins with a fantasy.
“Hello, Padma.”
“Hello, Clint.”
I ask, “May I tell you about Alaska, about how much I love Alaska?”
Padma leans in and levels her gaze, “Yes. Tell me about Alaska. Tell me how much you love Alaska.”
And then, as it is a fantasy after all, I would sip a Baltic Porter and take a bite of perfectly cooked lamb, draw upon my obsession with Alaska, and I would tell Padma … everything.
To read the rest of the story click here...

Only salmon fishing on the Kenai could tear me away from a Sunday afternoon on PBS. It was time to settle in front of the rabbit ears with a Coke, some saltine crackers, and a few slices of cheddar. “Sneak Previews” was on, hosted by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.
I’d root for Ebert as the two bickered. Siskel was the movie snob, but Ebert loved movies the way a normal person loved movies. For example, he didn’t ding an action flick if it lacked character development. He dinged it if it was boring. He would, of course, praise a movie that could integrate comedy, drama, and action – as well as acting, plot, and good technique. Yet Ebert wasn’t so unrealistic to think that all movies needed or even should need all these elements. He reviewed movies on their intent. Was the comedy funny? Was the drama sad? Did the action film thrill?
If you wanted to know how good a movie could be, you watched Siskel, read Janet Maslin at the New York Times, or listened to Kenneth Turan on NPR. If you wanted to know if the movie was any good as is, you went to Ebert.
Ebert was a great defender of movies. Movies are marshmallow creations that can change the course of society. I love movies and hate myself for loving movies. Ebert helps me feel better about movies. Sure, he lamented the film industry’s focus on action flicks and teen comedies, but good movies he considered required viewing. A good movie can offer a window into another culture, how people unlike you live, and how they get along in the world. A good movie expands a viewer’s horizon and helps develop empathy.
“I believe empathy is the most essential quality of civilization.” Ebert once wrote.
I think about that when I see movies like “On the Ice”, the Barrow murder mystery that came out last year. “On the Ice” is an Alaskan movie that exemplifies what Ebert was talking about – a cold and frosty window on village-Alaska. You walk out of the theater with a lot more understanding, and empathy, for those who live in the arctic.
Only in the last decade did I understand how well received Roger Ebert was as a writer. Forget the thumb-driven distillation of his reviews; read his reviews. I have a couple litmus tests for good writing. One is whether the writer used the word “synergy.” I believe, based on nothing, that any time someone reads the word “synergy,” a puppy dies. I work in government, and I’m sure the word has convinced people to join the tea party. Can you blame them? What a horrendous word! Utilize is a terrible word too. But I’m off the rails here. Ebert never used the word “synergy,” at least there were no Google results for “+roger +ebert +synergy.” His writing was conversational yet tight, easily read but not stupid. And you can be damn sure Ebert’s love of the language never allowed him to write “Best. Movie. Ever.”
Ebert’s love of movies was highlighted in nearly every one of those beautiful and approachable reviews. His reviews were often more enjoyable than the movies covered. He really wanted movies to succeed. If they were not too bad, he would offer suggestions. Ebert could get snarky, but that was rare and for whatever reason, the movie deserved it. Here’s a bit from his review of “North,” an Elijah Wood film from the early ‘90s: “I hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it.” I would not recommend this film.
Ebert was a smart guy. It’s said he had a photographic memory. He could describe a scene from any movie he ever saw. But that’s only data. How he processed all that data with his gut reactions into concise, readable reviews and essays is what made him wise. “Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you,” he wrote. Ebert wanted you to know whether or not a film had a visceral impact. Did the film make you feel something? Anything more was just extra.
His commentary extended beyond individual movies. He often decried the ratings system. The MPAA mystified Ebert. Why would they allow inexcusably violent films to get PG ratings, yet a stray nipple in a skinny dip scene of an otherwise tame movie would earn an R. Of course, particularly toward the end of this life as he struggled with cancer, his writings covered bigger issues of life and death. At his TED talk, family and friends read experts from his writings on his cancer and the loss of his salivary glands, his jaw, his voice. It is one of the more touching things I’ve ever seen.
Ebert was, in this crumbling culture of bullying, fear and anger, a voice of decency. That’s kind of amazing considering his job was to be a critic. He is someone I try to emulate in my own small time film and TV commentary. The man’s impact far exceeded the sum of his roles as journalist, TV personality, and critic. He exemplified synergy. He was … The best. Reviewer. Ever.
Rest in peace, Roger Ebert.
• Clint J. Farr can be contacted at
Tattoo Nation: the art of skin ink
 Gold Town to show documentary in celebration of Pair-a-Dice Tattoo Parlor's 15th anniversary


 I do not have a tattoo. I’ve never wanted a tattoo. I’ll likely never get a tattoo. I don’t understand why a person would ever get a tattoo. Women, with tattoos, intimidate me. Though that’s mostly because women intimidate me.

 And don’t even get me started on piercings.

The most significant body modification I’ve ever experienced was changing from a center part to a side part in 1988. I tried being a hippy for a couple of hours in college, but tore the beads off my neck. How the tattooed and pierced handle the hardware hanging off their body parts is beyond me.

 Granted, there was that drunk night. You know, that drunk night - maybe it was college with friends, maybe it was fishing, maybe you were alone and pathetic in a basement - but that drunk night when even the most committed tattoo teetotaler contemplates the needle. For me, it was Charlie Brown. At the time, I felt sympatico with Chuck. Decent, friendly, tries, but is put upon by this cruel cruel world. (I was young. Shut up.) So why shouldn’t I tattoo an angry Charlie Brown flipping the bird on my ankle?

Because, Clint, it’s stupid. You just don’t make body modification decisions when drunk and ornery. It’s a rule we all should have. Body modification decisions should come from a happy place of calm reflection. Then you get drunk to dull the pain of the needle.

Next week, April 15-17, the Gold Town Nickelodeon will feature “Tattoo Nation.” The film is being shown to celebrate 15 years of business for the Pair-a-Dice tattoo shop.

Tattoos are very hip now. As said in the promotional material for the film, tattoos are no longer signs of rebellion. “Tattoo Nation” tracks this progress of American tattoo culture from southern California from the 1960s, when tattoos were very much the domain of the marginalized, imprisoned, or military, to now when even my very non-rebellious family and friends contemplate skin inks. (Hey “skin inks” is almost a palindrome!)

Fortunately for me, “Tattoo Nation” does not get into body modifications beyond ink. The rebels today go for forehead knobs, claws, filed teeth, lip and ear disks, bifurcated tongues, whisker implants, and piercings. And the piercings always seem to be in the most sensitive and dangly of parts. If I had to get a piercing, I’d choose someplace random like my thigh. Look, the Libertarian in me says, “Good on ya, mate!” (The Libertarian in me is Australian for some reason). The Republican, Democrat, Green, Alaska Independence Party, and Whig in me are all slightly nauseous.

 So not only was I pleased with the focus on tattoos over other modifications, I was surprised by how beautiful the highlighted creations are. I know next to nothing about tattoos and was blown away by the art pushed into the dermis with a needle. There are men and women with their bodies entirely covered as they record every significant event in their lives on their skin. I enjoyed the slow pans over the ink. The work, especially the more modern work on body suits and sleeves is unreal. The realism these artists reach is unexpected.

One guy had a photo-realistic tattoo of Michelangelo’s Pieta tattooed to over his rib cage. That was amazing. I’ve seen the real thing and the tattoo artist nailed it. The movie points out that one reason tattoos have moved beyond rebellious subcultures into the mainstream is precisely because the art has become so good. Whereas once you may have turned your nose up to a “love” tattoo over a wilted rose, now you can get the Pieta.

The motivations behind tattooing are often honorable, reflecting a person’s history, family, heritage, pride and culture. These were not decisions made when intoxicated.

The film provides a decent education in tattooing. I now know what black and grey tattooing is and its relevance. I now know the game changing importance of moving single needle tattooing out of prisons and into modern tattoo parlors.

The technical aspects of the filmmaking were good as well. There is some intriguing camera work, use of split screen and creative editing.

Maybe it’s the technical writer in me, but I would have liked more context. This movie will most likely be enjoyed by insiders who already have an education and history with tattooing. The film’s focus was narrow. How the Chicano style of tattooing that came out of southern California in the 1970s has gone on to take over the world. There’s some mention of Asian styles but it’s mostly in passing. My guess is there are many more skin marking styles around the world that were not mentioned at all. Plus, I would have loved more nuts and bolts information on the process of tattooing. What is in the inks used today? Exactly how does the needle get the ink under the skin? How long do tattoos last and what happens to them over time?

Mostly however, this movie put me into a happy place of calm reflection ... maybe my pale skin would make a great canvas. Any use of color ought to pop! Color; like the yellow in Charlie Brown’s shirt… hmmm.

 Clint Farr can be contacted at "Tattoo Nation" will be shown at 7 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the Gold Town Nickelodeon in the Emporium Mall.