TV

Requiem for a Forelorned Monster: Jonathan Frid (1924 - 2012) and 'Dark Shadows'

In some ways, he was much more than Barnabas Collins. In many ways, that's all he was.

Okay, so his connection to cinema is specious at best. He starred in the first motion picture adaptation of the classic late '60s horror soap, and supposedly has a cameo in the new Tim Burton reboot. He appeared in a single TV movie, and Oliver Stone's first full length feature (the schlocky Seizure). After that, nothing. No long running role on a nightly drama. No standing sitcom part as the quirky next door neighbor. Aside from personal appearances and stage work, Jonathan Frid was famous for one thing and one thing only - Dan Curtis' insanely addictive Dark Shadows. As Barnabas Collins, the time-hopping vampire cursed with both a lust for blood and a romantic's heart, he became an instant household icon. But beyond his supernatural stardom, there remained the typical actor's tale.

Frid was born in Canada. He served in the military and graduated from McMaster University. He then attended The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, and received a Masters Degree in directing from Yale. While a student, he won a role in a play by William Snyder, and he would up spending the next three decades in the theater. Hoping to parlay his performances into a bit more financial gain (he planned on becoming an acting coach), Frid prepared to move to Hollywood. As luck would have it, his agent called informing him of the role on Shadows. Needless to say, he stayed put in NYC and, within weeks, became the talk of daytime television.

Unless you were alive during the era (and especially if you were elementary school age or older), you can't comprehend the impact Dark Shadows had. It was so unusual, so outside the boundaries of the typical housewife melodrama that it instantly became a bastion of considered cool. College kids cut classes to see the latest installment of the five day a week spectacle, while those younger ran home from their school (or bus stop) to catch the further macabre mishaps of the Collins clan. With its legendary theme and baroque Northeastern location, the entire experience came across as something akin to Hammer's House of the Seven Gables. It was steeped in Gothic givens, but thanks to creator Curtis and his clever casting, it became a pure pop phenomenon.

And sitting front and center was Frid. From his dapper mannerisms and classically trained voice, to the numerous presupposed subtexts his character represented (why was Barnabas always berating poor meek and timid Willie Loomis...), Barnabas was unlike anything the medium had seen. Sure, television had attempted to turn the horrific into the humorous with such laugh track anomalies as The Addams Family and The Munsters. But Dark Shadows represented the first time a series skirted the boundaries of the supernatural while trying to maintain something more than a monster-of-the-week dynamic. Sure, the show eventually devolved into whatever creature the writers could come up with (what, exactly, are the Leviathans again???) for their continuing storylines, but few could forget Frid, or his frighteningly forceful performance.

With fame came frequency, and then massive merchandising. There were books and magazine spreads, toys emblazoned with Barnabas' image and even a board game based on the show. Popular chat show broadcasts by Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin always seemed to have time for Frid and his friends, and even the occasional variety hour found a way to work in the lonely vampire now and again. Few remember the series outside of the lovelorn member of the living dead. Mention Burke Devlin or the pre-ghost story plots about car accidents and reckless revenge and only the die-hards will nod in appreciation. When he arrived around episode 210, Barnabas changed everything. The show went from novelty to well known, and its star from mystery to major league name.

So it's strange that Frid couldn't - or perhaps, wouldn't - parlay that place into something more sustainable, celebrity wise. Stereotyping could be to blame, as could clueless studio suits. Sure, he was the major attraction at any Comic-con style convention he attended and his aura projected something beyond his role as a melancholy neckbiter, but that wasn't enough. Even during latter attempts to revive Shadows, few could see the selected stars - Ben Cross...Alec Newman...and perhaps the best choice of the three, Johnny Depp - as being better than Frid. The reason, of course, was quite obvious. Thanks to MPI's decision to release every single episode of the late '60s/early '70s series on DVD, fans could obsess over their favorite entertainment abnormality and its mythic monster.

In turn, Frid became even more majestic, his every nuance and artistic construal appreciated and interpreted over and over again. Today, many read a homoerotic overtone to his byplay with Willie, while others use the reticent romantic for an entire subcategory of Anne Rice/Twilight inspired twaddle. There is no arguing his place in horror's history - he was the post-modern magnification of everything Bram Stoker envisioned when he brought the bedeviled creature to the page. Sure, the Peace Generation gestures and unusual nature of the concept may have confused many, but as time tempered the overall idea, Dark Shadows became a classic. Frid was as integral in that process as the premise built for him. Luckily, Barnabas lives forever.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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