Archive for June, 2009

Depp Does Dillinger

- June 29th, 2009

I wrote this blog post on the movie Public Enemies and the real story of gangster John Dillinger back in February. With the movie opening July 1, I thought it might be interesting for anyone who missed it the first time around.


Johnny Depp as John Dillinger

Director Michael Mann‘s 1930s mobster movie Public Enemies will be gangbusters when it opens on July 1.

Public Enemies stars Johnny Depp as murderous American folk-hero bandit John Dillinger and Christian Bale as murderous FBI manhunter Melvin (“Little Mel”) Purvis. Talk about electricity.


Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis

We’ll look at Depp, Bale and the movie later, but first let’s look at the real John Dillinger and his gangster era.


John Dillinger, 1934

The key thing to remember about John Dillinger — one of the most notorious criminals in U.S. history, the man branded “Public Enemy No. 1″ by J. Edgar Hoover — is that his whole bank-robbing, guns-blazing, headline-grabbing career lasted just one year.

Dillinger robbed his first bank in Daleville, Indiana, on July 17, 1933, and he was shot dead (perhaps executed) by FBI agents outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater on July 22, 1934.

In that brief reign of terror, Dillinger and his gangs (there were two distinct Dillinger gangs) robbed only 12 banks by my count, but killed at least eight people (half of them lawmen) and wounded at least a dozen others.

They also broke out of a prison and a jail, broke into a jail, and took over at least three police stations to seize their arsenals of Thompson submachine guns, other weaponry and bulletproof vests.

In October 1933, fear of Dillinger was so great the governor of Indiana called up the National Guard and armoured cars patrolled Indianapolis streets 24 hours a day for several weeks (sort of like Toronto’s Mayor Mel and the Great Snow Emergency of 1999).

The other thing to remember about Dillinger is that he was quite a young guy, only 30 years old during most of his crime spree.

Johnny Depp looks younger than Dillinger but is, in fact, 15 years older than Dillinger was when he died.

Part of the reason Dillinger looked so old was that he had spent most of his 20s in prison, definitely a hardening and aging experience.

Born in Indiana, Dillinger was a wild child, a petty criminal by his teen years. Twenty-year-old Dillinger joined the U.S. Navy in 1923 to avoid a prison sentence on auto theft charges, but deserted within a few months to return to Indiana and a life of crime.


Dillinger about the time he joined the Navy

Shortly after marrying a pretty teenager in 1924, Dillinger botched an attempt to rob a grocery store owner walking home with his day’s take.

Dillinger took his father’s advice to plead guilty in hopes of leniency — and the judge threw the book at him. On Sept. 16, 1924, Dillinger began serving a 10-to-20-year prison sentence for assault and robbery.


Dillinger goes to prison

That’s where Dillinger’s real education as a bigtime criminal happened. He learned at the feet of older, more experienced bandits and thugs like Harry Pierpont, Charles Makley, Russell Clark and Canadian John “Red” Hamilton. But Dillinger the novice had become the older men’s leader by the time he was paroled from Indiana State Prison on May 22, 1933.


Canadian gangster John “Red” Hamilton hooked up with Dillinger in Indiana State Prison

And that is where the legend of the daring and dangerous Dillinger began.

Determined to get his gang out of prison, Dillinger and two accomplices robbed four banks through the summer of 1933 to build a warchest for the jailbreak.

The outside gang members bribed a guard to smuggle weapons to the other gang members still in Indiana State Prison. Ten prisoners armed with Dillinger’s smuggled weapons busted out of the prison on Sept. 26, 1933.

But four days before the prison break, Dillinger had been arrested and locked up in the Allen County Jail in Lima, Ohio.

So what did Dillinger’s gang do? Run for cover?

No. On Oct. 12, 1933, Pierpont, Makley and Clark walked into the Lima jail while Red Hamilton and Ed Shouse stood watch outside. Pierpont shot Sheriff Jesse Sarber dead and the gang escaped with Dillinger.

Over the next two weeks, they seized the arsenals of two Indiana police stations and begin robbing banks across the American Midwest.

ASIDE: How could cold-blooded killers like these ever conceivably become folk heroes? Because, at a time when people were being dispossessed of their homes and farms by bank foreclosure, the Dillinger gang would sometimes steal or burn mortgages held in banks they were robbing. No mortgage, no foreclosure. I doubt it really happened that much, but the myth of Dillinger as Robin Hood grew quickly.

With plenty of money now and every cop in the Midwest looking for them, the gang decided to hide out for a while, first in Florida (where they celebrated the arrival of Jan.1, 1934, by firing their Tommy guns on the beach) and later in Arizona.


Filming Public Enemies

Dillinger, meanwhile, made a detour back to the Midwest, robbing an Indiana bank with two gang members and killing a police officer on Jan. 15, 1934, before picking up girlfriend Billie Frechette in Chicago.


Billie Frechette

Dillinger and Frechette reached Tucson, Arizona, on Jan. 21, 1934, but within days the entire gang was rounded up after firefighters responding to a hotel room fire recognized one of the gang members from a mugshot in a detective magazine.

Three states — Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana — all tried to extradite the bandits, but an Indiana district attorney, Robert Estill, flew directly to Tucson and talked Arizona authorities into turning Dillinger over to him personally.

On Jan. 29, a struggling Dillinger was forced onto a small plane under armed guard and flown in stages back to Midway Airport in Chicago.

From there he was taken to the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, Indiana, just across the state line from Chicago, where he was held while awaiting arraignment for the murder of William O’Malley, the cop he shot during the Jan. 15 bank robbery in nearby East Chicago, Indiana.

The other gang members were put on a train in chains and shipped off to Ohio to stand trial for the murder of Sheriff Sarber when they broke Dillinger out of the Lima jail. That’s basically the end of Dillinger’s first gang. Most of them met bad ends but none of them ever rejoined Dillinger — except in hell (had to put that in — it was just too ’30s).

(I know this seems to be going on forever. I’ll try to make the second half of Dillinger’s year of the gun shorter — but I doubt I’ll succeed.)

It was now the end of January 1934 and Dillinger was behind bars in Crown Point, Indiana. The Lake County Jail was built in 1882, attached to the county sheriff’s residence. The sheriff at that time was Lillian Holley, a 42-year-old mother of twins serving out her slain husband’s term as sheriff.


Sheriff’s residence, front right, with jail behind it. Building on left is the courthouse

Crown Point was swarming with police, national guardsmen, reporters and photographers. Dillinger made his first appearance before Judge William Murray in the adjoining county courthouse in shackles and surrounded by 50 guards on Feb. 5, 1934.

In the jail, photographers persuaded Holley, DA Estill and other lawmen to pose with Dillinger. Estill wrapped his arm around Dillinger as the cop-killing gunman leaned his arm on Estill’s shoulder and smiled like a Cheshire cat.


Sheriff Lilian Holley, DA Robert Estill and Dillinger in famous Crown Point photo

What a dumb thing for Holley and Estill to do. And one they would regret for the rest of their lives after Dillinger broke out of the “escape-proof” jail with what was probably a wooden replica of a gun on March 3, 1934.

There are many different stories about whether the “gun” was real or a fake.

One story has Dillinger’s crooked lawyer. five-foot-nothing Louis Piquett, paying $3,500 to have a real Colt .38 smuggled in to Dillinger. According to another story, a German woodworker in Chicago carved a wooden facsimile that girlfriend Billie Frechette slipped to Dillinger during a visit. (Now, really, why would she risk smuggling a fake gun when she could just as easily give him a real gun?) In a third story (the one I think is most likely true), Dillinger made the fake gun himself, using the wooden top of a prison washboard and black shoe polish.


Is it or isn’t it?

Lou Baker, warden of the jail, testified before Judge Murray immediately after the jailbreak that it was a fake gun, but outside court said something to the effect of “Jeez, I’m in big trouble now, aren’t I?” and retracted his statement.

Whether it was real or fake, the gun did its job. On the morning of Saturday, March 3, Dillinger used it to gain control first of a trustie janitor with keys to the cells, then a deputy sheriff, then Warden Baker and four other guards.

Dillinger now had the guards’ real weapons and also got two Thompson sub-machine guns from the jail office.

Dillinger freed other prisoners and three of them elected to make the breakout with him. Dillinger gave one of the Tommy guns to Herbert Youngblood, facing trial for murder, and the group headed for the jail garage at the back of the building.

On the way, Dillinger captured three farmers who were volunteer guards. In the enclosed garage, he took control of even more people — a garage mechanic, the jail cook and his assistants, several more trusties … and Warden Baker’s mother-in-law.

By this point, Dillinger had seized 33 people in the jail without one shot being fired.

In the garage, two of the escaping prisoners got cold feet and backed out. Dillinger and Youngblood, both facing the death penalty, took two hostages — Deputy Sheriff Ernest Blunk and mechanic Edward Saager — and make their getaway in Sheriff Lillian Holley’s own car, a Ford V-8.

ASIDE: In May 1934, Henry Ford received a letter supposedly written by John Dillinger, praising the reliability of Ford vehicles and claiming they were the only cars Dillinger trusted for getaways. Ford actually used the letter in advertisements, although handwriting analysis later proved it to be fake — possibly the creation of one of Ford’s admen.

However, a month earlier Ford had received a letter from Bonnie and Clyde (which he also used in ads) praising his “dandy car.” This one was actually real. It was signed “Clyde Champion Barrow” but the handwriting was that of Bonnie Parker. Bonnie was generally the writer of the couple’s many letters to newspapers and law officers. Curled up in the passenger seat, she would scribble her notes and poems as Clyde drove his beloved Fords down the Dustbowl backroads of Texas, Oklaholma and Louisiana.

Real Bonnie and Clyde letters above. Fake Dillinger letter below

A few miles out of town, Dillinger and Youngblood released the hostages and headed for Chicago where they dumped the sheriff’s car and split up (Youngblood was killed in a shootout about 10 days later). By crossing the state line from Indiana into Illinois in a stolen car, Dillinger had violated a federal law — the Dyer Act — thus bringing in the FBI (then known as the United States Bureau of Investigation) for the first time.

Within days of his escape, Dillinger has rounded up a new gang of hoodlums including psychotic killer Lester Gillis (better known as Baby Face Nelson), the delightfully named Homer Van Meter, Eddie Green, Tommy Carroll and old pal Red Hamilton.

The new Dillinger gang launched a crime spree of bank robberies, shootouts and narrow escapes — most of the time with wives and girlfriends in tow. Several of the gang members were wounded, including Dillinger, but the violence continued to roll across the Midwest through March and April.


Melvin Purvis

On April 9, Billie Frechette was arrested in a Chicago bar by Melvin Purvis, head of the Chicago office of the FBI (well, really the USBI). Dillinger escaped unnoticed as the arrest was going down. He decided things were getting too hot and it was time to lay low for a while.

On April 20, the gang and their molls took refuge in a northern Wisconsin tourist camp called Little Bohemia Lodge. During Prohibition, Little Bohemia had often been used as a stopover point by liquor smugglers and other gangsters crossing the border, so this crew of shady characters should have been nothing new to owners Emil and Nan Wanatka.

But it was. They were scared witless. Nan Wanatka managed to get word out that the gang was holed up in their cabins. Two days later the FBI (USBI) and local lawmen surrounded the lodge and its cabins.

Then everything went to hell.

First the posse shot three passing locals they mistook for gang members, killing one. Now alerted, the heavily armed gang opened a barrage of machine gun fire and took off in different directions. Baby Face Nelson killed one lawman and wounded another in the shootout.

Unbelievably the entire gang escaped unscathed, although three of their women were captured, including Baby Face’s wife.

Fleeing in one car, Dillinger, Van Meter and Hamilton got into another gun battle with police in Minnesota the next day. Hamilton died of his wounds, but Dillinger and Van Meter escaped and disappeared for a month.

On May 24, the two were approached by police in East Chicago and Van Meter opened fire with his Tommy gun, killing two officers.

The fugitives disappeared again, hunkering down in the homes of Chicago confederates. A gangland doctor performed bad plastic surgery on Dillinger and Van Meter in early June and partially burned off their fingerprints with acid.

The two split up temporarily but reunited with Baby Face Nelson and two of Nelson’s friends on June 30 to rob a bank in South Bend, Indiana.

The gang got about $30,000 but the getaway went badly. A police officer was killed and two bank employees and two bystanders were wounded. Van Meter was also shot in the head, but was well enough to attend the Chicago World’s Fair with Dillinger and their girlfriends 10 days later.

That would be the gang’s final bank robbery, although Dillinger continued to plan one last big heist to finance his getaway to Mexico.


Polly Hamilton

During the summer, with Billie Frechette in jail, Dillinger had hooked up with a new girlfriend, Polly Hamilton. With every lawman in the country looking for him, Dillinger squired Polly around Chicago, taking her to nightclubs and movies as well as to the world’s fair.


Public Enemy No. 1

On June 22, 1934 — the same day he was declared Public Enemy No. 1 — they celebrated Dillinger’s 31st birthday with champagne at the French Casino nightclub. The next evening they returned to celebrate Polly’s birthday.

But the end was near. Enter The Lady In Red.


Anna Sage, The Lady in Red

A Romanian woman variously known as Ana Cumpanas (her real name) and Anna Sage was a friend and neighbour of Dillinger and Hamilton. Anna Sage had also been convicted of keeping a brothel in Gary, Indiana, and was facing deportation to Romania.

Anna Sage’s lover was a corrupt cop from East Chicago. She convinced him to put her in touch with the FBI (USBI) in hopes of cutting a deal that would quash her deportation and give her the Dillinger reward money.

A meeting was arranged with Special Agents Melvin Purvis and Sam Cowley.

ASIDE: Melvin Purvis, a Southern lawyer who was almost as ambitious and almost as creepy as FBI (USBI) director J. Edgar Hoover, joined the bureau in 1927. Purvis had been appointed to his Chicago post directly by U.S. President Herbert Hoover in 1932 shortly before he left the White House. The other Hoover — J. Edgar, head of the FBI (USBI) since 1924 — didn’t like having a rival not beholden to him in a powerful position like Purvis’ Chicago plum.

When the Pruvis-led raid on the Little Bohemia Lodge turned into a fiasco, Hoover took the opportunity to appoint another special agent, Sam Cowley, head of the Dillinger Squad even though he couldn’t remove Purvis as head of the Chicago office.

Purvis later swore up and down that no promises were made to Anna Sage at that meeting, but almost nothing Purvis swore to during this period could be taken at face value. In any case, Sage left the meeting believing her troubles were over and ready to finger Dillinger to the FBI (USBI).

That opportunity came the next day — Sunday, July 22, 1934 — when Sage called the FBI about 5:30 p.m. to tell them Dillinger was taking her and Polly Hamilton to a movie later that night. The only problem was she didn’t know which theatre it would be — the Marbro or the Biograph.

We all know now it was the Biograph, but Purvis and Cowley had to split up their force to stake out both venues.

About 8:15 p.m. Dillinger and the two women arrived at the Biograph for the 8:30 p.m. showing of Manhattan Melodrama, an MGM crime drama starring Clark Gable, William Powell and Myrna Loy.

With Dillinger inside the Biograph, Purvis and Cowley called their men back from the Marbro, assembling a force of about 20 lawmen.

When people began leaving the theatre about 10:30 p.m., Purvis was standing near the exit to identify Dillinger. He would light a cigar to signal the other agents and local police to move in.

Dillinger came out with the women, Purvis lit his cigar, Dillinger stared him straight in the eye and took off running. He made it as far as the opening of an alley beside the theatre before he was gunned down.

One of two agents — Charles Winstead or Herman Hollis — was said to have fired the shot that killed Dillinger, but that’s open to speculation.

According to official bureau accounts, Dillinger (who supposedly had a Colt automatic in his hand) was hit by two shots, one that entered the outlaw’s left side and the other that entered his back as he was falling and came out near the right eye. In the official account, Dillinger was already dead by the time he hit the ground. When Special Agent Purvis knelt beside him to speak to Dillinger, there was no response.

ASIDE: The gun Dillinger was supposedly carrying was later presented to J. Edgar Hoover for his personal collection of memorabilia. When the collection was being catalogued after Hoover’s death in 1972, the gun’s serial number was checked. The weapon was manufactured in 1935, a year after Dillinger had been killed, supposedly with that weapon in his hand.


The “Dillinger” Colt automatic

Now it gets interesting. For one thing, the Dillinger autopsy report indicated he was shot four times — two bullets grazing his face, one hitting his left side and the other entering the back of his neck and exiting below the right eye. Not much difference really, just the two facial grazes really differing — but listen to this.

When another legendary gangster, Pretty Boy Floyd, was finally tracked down by Purvis, his agents and local Ohio police in October 1934, the psycho gunman was only wounded in the shootout. Two local policemen who participated in the capture (including Chester Smith, the cop who wounded Floyd) later stated that Purvis bent over the wounded and disarmed gangster, spoke to him briefly, then stood up and ordered Special Agent Herman Hollis (remember him from the Biograph) to finish off Pretty Boy. Hollis supposedly shot him dead.

So, doesn’t it seem at least possible that Dillinger wasn’t in fact dead as he lay sprawled in the alley? Isn’t it at least possible that Purvis bent over the wounded man and spoke a few final words to him before placing his gun at the back of Dillinger’s head and blowing his brains out?

It may not have happened that way, but the execution of Pretty Boy Floyd certainly means it’s a possibility.

In any case, the gangster era was pretty much over. Bonnie and Clyde, the Barker Gang, Machine Gun Kelly, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson and the rest of Dillinger’s gang were all wiped out or jailed within a few months of each other in 1934 and early 1935.


J. Edgar Hoover with his live-in lover, Clyde Tolson

ASIDE: Victory over the gangs was sweet for J. Edgar Hoover. Because of his success in the war on crime, the U.S. Bureau of Investigation was re-formed as the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935, with increased powers, manpower and money. Hoover held the post of director of the FBI until his death in 1972. Accounts of his abuse of power are prodigious.

Hoover also got his revenge on Purvis. After “Little Mel” had done his dirty work crushing the gangs, Hoover forced Purvis out of the FBI in 1935. Purvis returned to the practice of law and later got into business, but his family always maintained Hoover blocked any further advancement of Purvis in law enforcement. Purvis died in 1960 of a bullet wound from a pistol given to him by fellow agents when he resigned from the FBI. His death was ruled suicide.

Let’s go back to Chicago on the night of July 22, 1934, again for a minute. From the death scene, Dillinger was taken to the nearby Alexian Brothers Hospital where he was pronounced dead. The body was then moved to the Cook County morgue where a bizarre spectacle took place.

As morgue attendants cleaned up the body and prepared it for later embalming, hundreds of spectators filed through the morgue gawking at the dead, naked body of Dillinger the desperado. Flashbulbs popped, recording the morgue photos you see here. It was a carnival atmosphere in the house of death.

Some of those photos also sparked an urban legend about Dillinger that Johnny Depp addresses a little later in this post.

As for Anna Sage, she received $5,000 of the Dillinger reward money but was deported to Romania in 1936. She died there in 1947.

ASIDE: Anna Sage was identified in newspapers at the time as the mysterious Lady In Red who fingered Dillinger. Sage was actually wearing an orange and white outfit (agreed on in advance so agents would know her). The artificial lights of the Biograph marquee made the orange dress appear red.

I think it’s finally time to move on to the movie.


Director Michael Mann

Director Michael Mann is a great stickler for detail. For his 1992 film, The Last of the Mohicans, Mann had a wilderness fortress built exactly as it would have been constructed in the 1750s. The entire cast’s costumes were made by hand exactly as they would have been sewn in that period.

So it’s not surprising that Public Enemies will have a very authentic feel.

The cars and clothing should be exact in every detail. (It was actually the myth of John Dillinger only driving Fords that got me started on this whole Dillinger thing.)

Mann filmed the movie in the spring and summer of 2008, trying to match as closely as possible the seasonal timeline of real-life events.

And many of the locations you see in the movie are the actual locations where the real events happened. For example, Dillinger’s escape from the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, Indiana, was filmed in the real jail, which hasn’t been used as a jail for decades but still exists.

ASIDE: Lillian Holley, the sheriff who posed with Dillinger and whose car was used in the bandit’s getaway, continued to live in Crown Point for the rest of her life, dying in 1995 at age 103. The local ordinance, enacted in 1882, that required the sheriff of Lake County to live in the residence attached to the jail was finally dropped in 1958.

The Little Bohemia shootout was filmed at the real Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitawish Waters, Wisconsin, which remains exactly as it was in 1934.

And the Biograph Theater you see in Public Enemies is the real Biograph Theater at 2433-43 Lincoln Avenue in Chicago where John Dillinger saw Manhattan Melodrama. Mann rented the entire block where the theatre stands and redressed it to look as closely as possible like it did in July 1934.

ASIDE: The Biograph, which opened in 1914, was completely renovated about five years ago and is now a live theatre venue. It was designated a Chicago landmark in 2001, but came close to being torn down several times in the decades before that. In 1974, then-owner Bill Durante closed the Biograph because he refused to show violent films and he said that was all the paying public wanted to see anymore. Durante had refused to show the 1974 Dillinger film starring Warren Oates because … it was too violent.

Now let’s move on to the cast of Public Enemies.


Johnny Depp

You know Johnny Depp is going to be whacked-out great as John Dillinger.

ASIDE: Leonardo DiCaprio was originally supposed to play Dillinger but dropped out after delays in the original production schedule. (Whew!)


Christian Bale

And Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis? Oh, his Purvis is going to be just as crazy as Depp’s Dillinger. Bale’s recorded on-set tantrum that everyone heard a few weeks ago can do nothing but increase the nutsy buzz about his Purvis.

Here are some of the other cast members:

Marian Cotillard (who won the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in 2007′s La Vie en Rose) plays Dillinger’s true love, Billie Frechette.

Leelee Sobieski plays final girlfriend Polly Hamilton and Serbian actress Branka Katic (Bill Hendrickson’s fourth wife on the HBO bigamy series Big Love) is the infamous Anna Sage.

Stephen Graham (Snatch, Gangs of New York) is Baby Face Nelson. Channing Tatum, a relative unknown, plays Pretty Boy Floyd. Stephen Dorff is Dillinger’s sidekick Homer Van Meter. Australian actor Jason Clarke plays Canadian gangster Red Hamilton.

Billy Crudup gets to work his chops as J. Edgar Hoover.

Playing Sheriff Lillian Holley is Lili Taylor (Mystic Pizza, Say Anything…) who, at 42, is the same age Holley was when Dillinger busted out of her jail.

And now for the grand finale.

Here’s why Johnny Depp worried he wasn’t man enough to play John Dillinger.

Depp told Rolling Stone magazine in an interview published in January 2008 that he had heard Dillinger was extremely well-endowed in a masculine kind of way.

Here’s Depp’s take on the subject, as quoted in Rolling Stone:

“There’s some very famous photographs of Dillinger on the morgue slab, and there’s one particular angle, with the sheet over him, and it’s (his penis), like, 25 inches, man. The speculation was that he was in the wrong racket. But you read further, and it was a crank on the other side that the sheet had been draped over, making it look like he was packing, you know, Mr. Ed’s shotgun.”

So there you have it, from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. And here’s the photo Depp was talking about. Sorry to make you wait so long.

CLICK HERE for the New York Times review of Public Enemies.

Win Mariposa Folk Festival passes

- June 24th, 2009

Buffy Sainte Marie
Buffy Sainte Marie

Do you like good music? Yeah! Yeah!

Well, I’ve got a contest for you.

I have two pairs of weekend passes to the Mariposa Folk Festival at beautiful Tudhope Park in Orillia on July 3-4-5. One pair is adult (for ages 25 +) and the other pair is youth (ages 17-24). Kids 16 and under are admitted free, by the way.

Now these are not freebie passes to promote Mariposa. These were my personal tickets, which I bought back in December before the lineup was even nailed down. Unfortunately, I am not able to go this year — and that’s your good luck.

Luke Doucet
Luke Doucet

You now have a chance to win one of the two pairs of weekend passes to see great headliners like Luke Doucet, Jenn Grant and Basia Bulat (on Friday), The Proclaimers, Steven Page and Daniel Lanois (on Saturday), and Fred Penner, Valdy and the great Buffy Sainte Marie (on Sunday). Plus there will be about 30 other acts from Ken Whitely to Nancy White, from The Dixie Flyers to The Skydiggers on the festival’s various stages and in workshops throughout the weekend.

To get the full dope on the Mariposa Folk Festival, go to www.mariposafolk.com.

The regular price for the adult weekend passes is $94 each and for the youth weekend passes is $49 each, so these prizes aren’t chicken feed — but even if you don’t win, you can still afford to go for an incredible weekend of music.

Here’s what you have to do to win one of the two pair of weekend passes to Mariposa:

Send me an e-mail at alanparker@sympatico.ca telling me in 50 words or less why you would like to go to the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia July 3-4-5, 2009.

Only one entry per e-mail address will be accepted and only e-mails received by me before Noon on Sunday, June 28, 2009, will be eligible.

Be sure to tell me which pair of passes you are after — the adult (ages 25 +) or youth (ages 17-24) pair.

Don’t enter the contest unless you really want to go. My whole point in doing this is to make sure the passes don’t go to waste and four people have a really good time at one of the world’s great roots music festivals.

So send me you words and I will pick the winners, notify you if you’ve won by e-mail and get the passes in the mail to you via priority post on Monday morning.

Good luck and good pickin’.

Luminato sucks

- June 16th, 2009

Well folks, Luminato is over for another year. Did you even notice it was here? Did this 10-day arts festival that is supposed to enhance our lives and vibrate the city with creativity do one damn thing to brighten your life?

I doubt it.

I may not be Toronto’s most tuned-in, artsy guy but I love to experience exciting creative events — especially for free — and there was not one iota of the Luminato programme that touched my life.

Did it touch you in any way? Tell me if it did.

I’ll fight anyone to the death who wants to cut real local arts and culture funding, but Luminato has nothing to do with that. Luminato is, in my opinion, a bullshit event that pays about $4 million tax dollars annually to arts organizations and bureaucracies both here and internationally to stage performances in Toronto that no one in Toronto or Buenos Aires or Budapest or Ulan Bator really gives a hoot about — if they weren’t subsidized.

There are plenty of great publicly supported, publicly enjoyed arts events in Toronto (Nuit Blache for one, although I wish they had kept it a real winter all-night festival like it’s supposed to be). But Luminato is not in that mix.

The emperor has no clothes. Luminato has no purpose.

It’s an insiders event for the people who organize it, who perform in it, who are invited to it and who profit from it. It is not an ecstatic cultural party for the people of Toronto, it does not build a bedrock of creative experience for people who live and work and struggle and beg and steal and cry and die here, it does not give us some kind of international cachet (for whatever that is worth), it does not do a damn thing for the people or the vibrant-but-broke arts community of Toronto except siphon off $4 million dollars a year from other projects that could really make Toronto a better place.

Right now, there are probably a dozen squirming worms from Luminato throwing hissy fits about what I’m writing. Want to know who they are? Just go to the Wikipedia listing for Luminato and you will see their names.

The whole Wikipedia listing — I’m assuming it was done by a paid minion for Luminato, correct me if I’m wrong — is a bureaucratic funding document. The listing hardly talks about art or the human experience. It talks about who holds what position in the organization.

Take a look at that list. I’m seeing dozens of names of people with titles like coordinator, manager, assistant, administrator, specialist — not painter, drummer, dancer, actor, lighting technician, production designer.

Well, all that would be well and good if Luminato was really a big deal that enthralled and enchanted the city and the world — but it isn’t.

I’m willing to bet the Luminato thingies spend more money bringing friendly insiders and semi-celebs to Toronto for the event than real people from around the world (using their own money) spend coming to attend Luminato.

The worms are squirming again but they can’t prove me wrong. They have absolutely nothing except spurious “estimates” to indicate how many people from elsewhere come to Toronto specifically for the Luminato experience.

My estimate — which is as good as theirs — lies somewhere between “diddley” and ” “squat.”

If the Luminato folks really want to add to the debate, they would tell us just how much money is spent on enticing and squiring people for Luminato who never actually sing for their supper.

As for locals, ask 10 friends: Did any of them attend a single Luminato event?

When you have your answer, ask yourself another question: Wouldn’t you rather spend that same amount of public money to give Toronto’s terrific local artists and performers a grand stage — and a paycheck — to show the world their stuff?

I bet you would.

Movie Predictions: How Did I Do?

- June 15th, 2009

Travolta

Four months ago, I did a blog blast on movies coming out in the spring that I though were worth seeing. Below is the original blog post.

I was big on This Side of the Truth — but it’s gone through a name change (reverting to its working title, The Invention Of Lying) and been pushed back to a September opening. I think all bets are off on this one.

State of Play got good reviews and did okay business. Earth, the same. Angels & Demons will do what it does.

Bruno has been pushed back a few weeks to, I think, a July opening.

Night at the Museum 2 was a monster hit — and very good. The Lonely Maiden got a name change to The Maiden Heist, went into limited release in May and probably won’t be seen again until its DVD release … if ever.

Up just went up and up and up.

Land of the Lost went down and down and down. But Year One looks like it will be a lot of fun.

Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 lives up to its (my) advance billing.

In a couple of days we’ll look at another February blog post about Nine Movies I Didn’t Want To See. Was I right or wrong? We’ll find out, but first, check out the ones I wanted to see…

9 Movies To See In Spring ’09

With the Academy Awards coming up on Sunday, we’re going to make this whole week movie week.

We’ll kick it off with a list of nine movies worth seeing in theatres this spring. I can’t guarantee they will be great, but they’ve all got a better-than-average shot at it.

They’re listed in the order of their planned release (date in brackets). Most of those dates are set in stone, but one or two of the later ones may change opening days.

The next blog (in a day or two) will be on nine movies I have no interest in seeing (but you may have). Those nine are heavy on high-testosterone action flicks and chick flicks (if that’s what you call a Sandra Bullock movie, although I don’t know many women who like Sandra Bullock).

Later on in the week, we’ll have blog posts about Johnny Depp, James Bond and a few other interesting bits and pieces of celluloid lore.

But first … 9 Movies To See In Spring ‘09:

1. This Side Of The Truth (March 20)
Comedy with great cast: Writer-director Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe with Tina Fey, Christopher Guest, Louis C.K., Jeffrey Tambor, Patrick Stewart and Jason Bateman.
In a world where nobody knows how to lie, Ricky Gervais tells the first fib — and likes it. The movie’s working title was Invention of Lying.

2. State Of Play (April 17)
Drama-thriller with Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Helen Mirren and Jason Bateman (again).
An investigative reporter (Crowe) uncovers murder and coverup in Washington, D.C.

3. Earth (April 22 — Earth Day, of course)
An animal documentary from Disney Nature on a grand yet intimate scale.

4. Angels & Demons (May 15)
The Da Vinci Code star (Tom Hanks) and director (Ron Howard) are back.
I liked Angels & Demons better than The Da Vinci Code in book form. I think the same will be true of the movie versions. And I expect Hanks and Howard learned a lot from their Da Vinci missteps.

5. Bruno (May 15)
Sacha Baron Cohen’s character Bruno, the gay Borat, does America.

Night2

6. Tie: One will be a hit and one will be a miss.

Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian (May 22)
Ben Stiller is back as security guard Larry and Robin Williams is back as Teddy Roosevelt.

The Lonely Maiden (May 29)
Morgan Freeman, Christopher Walken and William H. Macy as three museum guards who set out to steal art they should be guarding. Should be good with this cast of master muggers.

7. Up (May 29)
Pixar animation about grumpy old man and kid with gumption in a high-flying adventure. From the directors who brought you Monsters Inc.

YearOne

8. Tie: One will be a hit and one will be a miss.

Land Of The Lost (June 5)
Named after the ‘70s TV series, Land Of The Lost sees Will Farrell and a couple of sidekicks time-travel back to the age of the dinosaurs.

Year One (June 19)
Harold Ramis comedy in which two men (Jack Black and Michael Cera) wander through Biblical times. I think it’s Jack Black’s time for another hit.

9. The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3 (June 12)
Denzel Washington and John Travolta in remake of 1960s subway hijacking thriller. It’s Denzel, baby, and Travolta as a villain. Oh boy, oh boy.

Bonus hits:

Here are a few good niche movies opening this spring which didn’t make the Top 9 list.

Brothers At War (March 13)
A documentary about two brothers who are U.S. soldiers in Iraq and a third brother who is a filmmaker seeking to know why the other two are there.

Paris 36 (April 3)
A French comedy-drama about three music hall stagehands who put on their own show in the middle of the (last) Depression.

The Soloist (April 24)
Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx in a soulful, sensitive buddies pic. If anyone can pull it off, it’s those two guys.

The Limits of Control (May 22)
Crime-drama directed by Jim Jarmusch with great cast — Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray and John Hurt.

Drag Me To Hell (May 29)
Horror master Sam Raimi returns to form with a haunted house chiller that’s a killer thriller.

Famous Last Words: Gunslingers And Desperados

- June 9th, 2009

Some of these men were Wild West lawmen. Some were outlaws. Some were both, occasionally at the same time. Some died violently, others peacefully in bed. The one common thread is that they were all killers — except for poor old Tom “Black Jack” Ketchum, whose sad story is the last one we’ll look at in this post.

By the way, I’ve never been able to figure out why the nicknames of outlaws had nothing to do with their real names. I guess it was just another form of alias.

Morgan Earp
MORGAN EARP
Tombstone, Arizona, 1882

“I can’t see a damn thing.”

Context: Wyatt Earp’s younger brother was shot in the back while playing pool in a Tombstone poolhall six months after the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral. Morgan’s assassination (as his tombstone called it) was thought to be revenge for the O.K. Corral killings. Morgan’s spine was shattered by a rifle shot and he died within an hour. Wyatt was watching the pool game and carried his brother to an adjoining parlour. Wyatt wrote in his memoirs that Morgan whispered the above last words to him in reference to a conversation the brothers had earlier about whether or not a dying man would see heaven in his last moments alive. After Morgan died, Wyatt went on what has become known as the Earp Vendetta Ride in which Wyatt and his posse killed at least four men, all of whom Wyatt believed were involved in his brother’s murder.

Wyatt Earp
WYATT EARP
Los Angeles, 1929

“Suppose, suppose …”

Context: Earp was one of the Wild West’s most famous — and murderous — lawmen/gunslingers, taming such rough cow towns as Dodge City and Tombstone with his brothers and associates like Doc Holliday. Yet Earp was one of the few to live to a ripe old age and die in his own bed (probably of prostate cancer) in a small apartment in Los Angeles. During his last years, Earp was a friend of early Western cowboy movie stars like Tom Mix and William S. Hart. He also befriended a young bit actor who later said his conversations with Earp were the basis for the character of Western lawmen he played as the movie icon John Wayne.

Bat Masterson and Earp
BAT MASTERSON
(Left above with Wyatt Earp)

New York City, 1921

“There are those who argue that everything breaks even in this old dump of a world of ours. I suppose these ginks who argue that way hold that because the rich man gets ice in the summer and the poor man gets it in the winter things are breaking even for both. Maybe so, but I’ll swear I can’t see it that way.”

Context: Masterson was born in Quebec but moved to the U.S. with his Irish immigrant family at a young age. He was a friend and colleague of the Earp brothers. After a long career as buffalo hunter, lawman and gambler in the West, Masterson was appointed a deputy U.S. marshal in New York City in 1908 by his friend, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt. When Roosevelt’s appointees were booted from office by the next president, William Howard Taft, Masterson became a fulltime newspaper columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph (a gig he had started parttime in 1904). Masterson was found dead of a heart attack, slumped over his typewriter in the Morning Telegraph offices in 1921 with the above words on the sheet of paper in his typewriter. His last column was published posthumously.

Cherokee Bill
CRAWFORD (CHEROKEE BILL) GOLDSBY
Centre above with captors

Fort Smith, Arkansas, 1896

“Hell no, I came here to die, not to make a speech.”

Context: Cherokee Bill was the son of a sergeant in the U.S. Army’s famed black 10th Cavalry “buffalo soldiers” and a Cherokee mother. Goldsby led a gang that terrorized the Indian Territory for two years before he was betrayed by associates and sentenced to execution — twice — by “Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker. In the 21 years he presided over the federal court for the Western District of Arkansas (1875-1896), Judge Parker tried 13,490 cases and sentenced 156 men and four women to hang. Of those, 79 were actually strung up — including six at one time during Parker’s first year on the bench in Fort Smith. The above quote was Cherokee Bill’s snarled response on the gallows when hangman Campbell Eoff asked Goldsby if he had any last words.

Billy the Kid
HENRY (BILLY THE KID) McCARTY
Fort Sumner, New Mexico, 1881

“Quien es? Quien es?” (Who is it? Who is it?)

Context: Billy the Kid was only 21 when he said these words to a shadowy figure that turned out to be Sheriff Pat Garrett, who shot the Kid dead. McCarty (better known by his alias, William H. Bonney) killed between 10 and 21 men during his short life as a cowboy combatant in the Lincoln County War and later as an outlaw. Billy the Kid was not well known outside New Mexico during his lifetime, but became famous the next year when Garrett published a ghost-written biography titled The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid. Based on the above photograph it was taken for granted that Billy the Kid was left-handed until about 10 years ago, when a close examination of the photo determined that the negative had been reversed and the Kid was actually a right-handed gunslinger.

Black Jack Ketchum
TOM (“BLACK JACK”) KETCHUM
Clayton, New Mexico, 1901

“Goodbye. Bury my grave deep. All right, hurry up.”

Context: Black Jack was a train robber and member of the Hole in the Wall Gang and engaged in numerous gunfights with posses — but he almost certainly never killed anyone. Instead, he was sentenced to death for the crime of “felonious assault upon a railway train” — a punishment later found to be unconstitutional, but too late for Black Jack.

GORE WARNING: There’s a rather gruesome photo coming up soon.

Adding insult to injury, the execution was botched and the noose ripped Black Jack’s head off when he plunged through the gallows’ trap door. Black Jack’s head was sewn back on before he was buried. The photo below is a post card from the time showing executioners kneeling behind Black Jack’s decapitated corpse. His head is on the ground in front of the body.

Decapitated