Sunday, November 04, 2018

2018 Virginia Film Festival: Ben Mankiewicz Discusses Horror Classics

Ben Mankiewicz TCM Virginia Film Festival
Ben Mankiewicz at 2018 Virginia Film Festival
Ben Mankiewicz is a journalist and film historian who is best known as a host on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), where he introduces movies, offering tidbits on how they were made or how they were received by critics and audiences, and what influences they may have had on producers, directors, and screenwriters.

Mankiewicz has been a frequent guest presenter at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville. In 2011, for instance, he introduced the 1973 Terrence Malick film, Badlands, and moderated a discussion with actress Sissy Spacek and designer Jack Fisk. This year, he will be interviewing Peter Bogdanovich (via Skype) about the “new” Orson Welles film, The Other Side of the Wind, and he has introduced two classic horror films.

Movies are in Ben Mankiewicz's blood: He is the cousin of screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz (credits include Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, and TV's Hart to Hart), grandson of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz, The Pride of the Yankees, among many other credits), and great-nephew of screenwriter, producer, and director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (inter alia, All About Eve, Guys and Dolls, Julius Caesar).

I spoke with Mankiewicz on November 3 after a screening of George A. Romero’s 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead at the Violet Crown cinema on Charlottesville's downtown mall.  This transcribed interview has been slightly condensed and edited for clarity.

RS: Last night you introduced Bride of Frankenstein; tonight you introduced Night of the Living Dead, separated by about 30 years. What were their impacts on film making? They obviously are iconic films.

Night of the Living Dead is one of the most important horror films ever made. Bride of Frankenstein, I think, is one of the best, certainly from different eras. Night of the Living Dead was made during the era, 1967 to 1976, when independent, auteur filmmaking in America was taking over -- really the ten best years of American film making. It was, and then Night of the Living Dead is a good example of that.

Bride of Frankenstein is studio film making at its finest, so they came from completely different systems. Bride of Frankenstein is not as influential as Frankenstein, because it came first, although it’s probably a better film.

It seemed to be a better film to me, watching it last night. What animated George Romero in making this film? Obviously, he had a very low budget, was working largely with what looked like amateur actors, people from community theater…

A lot of just townspeople obviously playing the zombies.

How did he put it all together? Did he know he was creating a genre?

No, no. He certainly didn’t. I mean, he had an interest, there was already zombie culture that was already a thing but he sort of figured out how they looked, how they moved, how they walked (at least on screen). [He worked] creatively with writer John Russo, who he co-wrote it with. They just set the template because there was no rule, right? You can have them do anything. And so all the things we now know, like shooting a zombie in the head, or burn them [Romero invented], because he had the news man explain it.

If I’m not mistaken, the news man [played by Charles Craig], he wrote his own stuff. That’s why it sounds so authentic. He was a real news man, if I remember correctly. But that’s certainly the way it sounds to me. Romero was like, 'Look, here’s the information I want conveyed, now you frame that and say it like it was a real news story.'

Now obviously Romero went on to make several sequels but the actors in the film, I don’t think I’ve seen any of them anywhere again.

They acted a little bit. [Leading man] Duane Jones acted a little bit. He always thought that people would identify him as Ben throughout his career. Some others worked but no, nobody went on to win an Oscar.

That’s true. Well, Ben Mankiewicz, thanks for coming to the Virginia Film Festival. I appreciate your taking time to talk to me.

Oh, I love Charlottesville, I love coming. My pleasure.

The complete audio interview with Ben Mankiewicz will be available for listening on The Score from Bearing Drift, a weekly podcast, on November 10.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

From the Archives: Virginia Senator Mark Warner discusses budget issues, independent voters

Virginia Senator Mark Warner discusses budget issues, independent voters
September 6, 2012
3:06 PM MST

As he has done almost every year since he first ran for elective office in 1996, Virginia Senator Mark Warner (D-Alexandria) marched in the annual Buena Vista Labor Day parade and spoke to a gathering of local citizens and political activists from around the state.

In an interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, Warner looked forward to what Congress is likely to do between its return from its summer recess next week and Election Day in November.

The top agenda item, he said, will be to “continue the funding of the federal government,” adding that “the Republican-Democratic leadership have agreed on a plan on that.”

‘Comprehensive debt-reduction’

Senator Mark Warner Buena Vista Rick Sincere 2012
His own priority is to “go ahead and give the confidence that the economy’s looking for” by taking on sequestration and “the comprehensive debt-reduction plan.”

That would require two stages, Warner said, but “chances are we won’t [do it] because both national campaigns in the last sixty days before the election probably can’t show any level of compromise that’s going to be needed.”

Warner said he hopes that Congress “will have a bipartisan plan to put on the desk either of Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney after the election,” noting that he personally favors the re-election of President Obama.

“Whoever is elected,” he said, “we’re going to have to work with that individual to get this problem fixed.”

Asked whether the failure of Congress to pass a budget over the past three years has had an effect on business confidence and the economic recovery, Warner replied that “we’ve had this debate before.”

‘Political document’

Senator Mark Warner Buena Vista Labor Day 2012 Rick Sincere
There is “a budget in place,” he said emphatically. “It was part of the Budget Control Act that passed last year and this year. This will also set the appropriations level for the coming year.”

What Congress has not provided, he said, “is a long-term plan but frankly,” he pointed out, “the federal budget document is a political document. It doesn’t have the force of law.”

This contrasts, Warner explained, with his experience as a business executive and as a governor, when “we had budgets we had to meet” or face adverse consequences.

“What we need is a real plan with consequences,” he continued, “so that Congress doesn’t try to put a plan in place and then, when they care to, continue to spend or create new initiatives without any responsibility.”

The bipartisan coalition of six senators known as the Gang of Six, which included Warner, had proposed “budget control restrictions that would make sure that budgets that were adopted couldn’t be breached in the dark of night.”

‘Folks were mad’

Warner also commented on what former Governor Tim Kaine, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate from Virginia this year, could do to attract the votes of those who cast ballots for neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney in the presidential race.

“My sense is that 2010 was a year where folks were mad and a lot of folks got to Congress and expressed that anger by just saying no to everything,” he said.

“That didn’t move the country forward,” he explained, adding: “As a matter of fact, we’re in a deeper hole.”

The 2012 election will be different from the 2010 election, Warner predicted.

“My sense is that what people are looking for now, more than party labels, or even ideological labels, are [candidates] who can actually get stuff fixed and,” he concluded, “I think at the end of the day that’s been part of Tim Kaine’s record.”

Thursday, August 02, 2018

From the Archives: State Senate candidate TJ Aldous wants people to ‘achieve their dreams’

State Senate candidate TJ Aldous wants people to ‘achieve their dreams’
August 2, 2011 9:24 PM MST

Voters in Charlottesville will see the name of only one Republican candidate on the ballot when they go to the polls on November 8. TJ Aldous Virginia state senate Creigh Deeds
That will be TJ Aldous, an Albemarle County attorney who is running against incumbent state Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Hot Springs) in the 25th state Senate District, which stretches from Charlottesville in the east to Bath County, touching the West Virginia border.

The 25th district also includes 19 precincts in Albemarle County (and parts of three others) as well as Alleghany, Highland, Nelson, and Rockbridge counties, plus the cities of Buena Vista, Covington, and Lexington.

Aldous announced his candidacy on June 28 in press conferences held in both Charlottesville and Buena Vista. In an interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner on July 2 in Crozet, Aldous said that he began considering a run for office about a month prior to his official announcement.

‘More efficient and more responsive’
What motivated him to run, he said, were his concerns about the economy and “the direction that our country’s headed.”

In order to succeed in an election campaign against an incumbent who is seeking his third full term, Aldous said that “we need people to come together from all walks of life to see the changes that need to be made in our system in order to be better and to be more efficient and more responsive to the people.”

Aldous said that he has observed how people “are expressing that they’re tired of where we are and they want to see something change in how our system works.”

Asked to name the top three issues he will emphasize as he campaigns, Aldous provided a single-minded reply.

“Right now,” he said, “the thing that’s on everybody’s mind is jobs. Jobs and the economy. Say top three? Jobs and the economy, jobs and the economy, jobs and the economy.”

He added, however, that “there are other things that are important to people. There [are] social issues that are important to people. There are other things that are important such as providing an environment where people are free to be able to explore the things that they want to do in their lives, where they aren’t subject to regulation, where they aren’t subject to someone always telling them that they can or can’t do something. So I think those are the things that are most important.”

‘Liberal establishment’
To earn the votes of libertarian voters in the 25th Senate District, Aldous suggested that “we all ought to come together [and] work together to be united in moving against the liberal establishment.”

That can be accomplished, he said, “by finding common goals and common interests. There are a lot of things that I think we all agree on. You look at libertarians, you look at a lot of friends are libertarian, you look at people who are involved in the Tea Party, they have a lot of things in common with what the libertarians want, they have a lot of things in common with what some people would call RINO Republicans want.”

What is needed, he noted, is “to pull those same common things together and move forward in doing something that will be that will change the liberal thought that’s in Richmond, especially in the Senate.”

Although his campaign had just begun at the time of the interview, Aldous said that he had already traveled throughout the district.

“I’ve been over to Bath County, I’ve been over to Highland County, I’ve been over to Covington and Alleghany County,” he said. “I’ve been to Buena Vista and Lexington and Rockbridge and Nelson County. I’ve been all over.”

Aldous concluded by summarizing the central vision of his campaign.

“What we really need,” he said, is “to be focused on helping people achieve their dreams. We can do that by reducing regulation, by making government simpler, by making it more responsive to the people. That’s what I want to see.”

TJ Aldous has an undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University and law degrees from the University of Kansas and New York University. Raised in Hershey, Pennsylvania, he has also lived and worked in Richmond and Denver, as well as serving as a missionary in Argentina for two years.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on August 2, 2011. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

From the Archives: Libertarian youth leader from New Zealand discusses his party’s politics

Libertarian youth leader from New Zealand discusses his party’s politics
May 22, 2012 12:25 PM MST

Libertarians are not active in politics solely in the United States. There are libertarian movements and political parties scattered through the Western democracies.

Peter McCaffrey New Zealand ACT Party Rick Sincere
In New Zealand, for instance, there is the ACT Party. That name may seem funny, at first, until one understands that it began as an acronym.

Peter McCaffrey was a parliamentary candidate for the ACT Party in 2008 and 2011, when he was just 21 and 24 years old, respectively. He recently sat down for an interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner during a Republican Liberty Caucus social event.

At the time, McCaffrey was traveling through the United States on his way to take a job with a free-market think-tank in Regina, Saskatchewan.

About that acronym

The letters A-C-T, he explained, “used to stand for the ‘Association of Consumers and Taxpayers.’ That was when ACT was set up as a think-tank” almost 20 years ago.

“New Zealand adopted the mixed-member proportional electoral system” in 1994, he continued, with plans to hold the first election under that system in 1996. At that time, “the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers decided that with the implementation of a proportional electoral system, actually it would be better to be set up as a party rather than a think tank and so it became the ACT Party.”

The initials do not “stand for anything now but that’s the origin of the name,” McCaffrey said.

‘Classical liberal’

He describes the party as “a classical liberal party but there’s a bit of a fusion there.”

Peter McCaffrey Rick Sincere New Zealand politics ACT Party youth libertarianOlder members, he explained, tend to be “more conservative-leaning” or split among liberals and conservatives, while “the younger membership tends to be much more liberal, even leaning towards libertarian.”

During the most recent parliamentary elections in November 2011, McCaffrey explained, the party’s “main focus was on the economy, getting tax rates down, [and] cutting regulation,” as well as advocating for school choice.

“We’ve been doing a big push for charter schools,” he said.

“In New Zealand, we have some private schools that are generally privately funded and we have state schools that are state-funded and state-run but there’s not a lot of choice in between those, so we ran a big push for more choice in education,” he said.

During the election campaign, he noted, the ACT Party made a coalition agreement with the National Party, a conservative party in New Zealand, and the two partners “pushed for an implementation of some trials of charter schools in New Zealand.” As a result, he said, “we’ll be setting up a couple of charter schools, one in South Auckland and one in Christ Church and hopefully more over the next three years as part of that deal.”

Under the new charter school law, he explained, the schools may “be run by any number of different non-profit organizations. Whether that’s Iwi, which are local Maori groups (Maori are the indigenous people in New Zealand) or charities, church groups, anything like that will be able to set up a school and run it.”

The new rules allow “more flexibility in the arrangements of the school so that there’s more choice for people in which schools they send their children to,” he said.

Liberalized drug laws

Generally, McCaffrey said, the ACT Party does not “get too involved in social issues. We try to focus on economics but that doesn’t always happen. Our leader last year” -- Donald Brash, a former New Zealand reserve bank governor – “surprised a lot of the journalists when he came out in support of liberalization of marijuana laws,” including decriminalization or legalization. That position came after heavy lobbying on the part of “some of the younger members of the party.”

That position, he pointed out, “startled a lot of people and maybe scared off some of our older members and supporters but it really got the media talking about the issue. It surprised a lot of people who saw us as sort of an old white conservative party, which, I think, was good for the image of the party long run.”

McCaffrey’s own involvement in ACT is relatively recent but it has spanned his whole adult life, so far.

Learning in high school

“I turned 18 in 2005,” he said, which is the voting age in New Zealand, as it is in the United States.

While he was still in high school, he said, “I just read the web sites of all the main parties that were in the parliament and had a bit of a think. ACT seemed to make the most sense, and so I voted for ACT in 2005,” the first year he was eligible to cast a ballot.

Then, he said, “having voted for ACT, when I got to university, there was a table at the orientation week for ACT on Campus, which is the youth wing of the ACT Party. I signed up to ACT on Campus and then over the next couple of years I got more and more involved in the ACT on Campus group and also in the party itself.”

McCaffrey explained that the “party is very open to young people, volunteers coming in, even coming into the parliamentary offices, helping out, volunteering, doing research -- all that sort of stuff -- so just sort of slowly I got more and more involved.”

Eventually, he “ended up being the ACT on Campus president, leading the youth wing of the party” and later he was selected to serve on “the board for the Wellington region” (equivalent to the unit committee of an American political party) “and stood as a candidate for the party for parliament in 2008 and 2011 in my local district,” Otaki.

He was not elected, however, noting modestly that “to be honest, my district isn’t a very good area for ACT, so I was kind of the only one who was willing to do it in my area.”

That turn of events, of course, is what brought McCaffrey to North America, where he continues to work on the sorts of issues that brought him into politics in his native New Zealand.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on May 22, 2012. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

From the Archives: Actress Tracey Ullman reflects on citizenship and equality at Monticello

Actress Tracey Ullman reflects on citizenship and equality at Monticello
July 4, 2010 4:28 PM MST

Tracey Ullman at Monticello, July 4, 2010
Tracey Ullman at Monticello, July 4, 2010
At the 48th annual Independence Day naturalization ceremony at Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello on July 4, the featured speaker was actress and comedienne Tracey Ullman, who has won seven Emmy Awards® for her work in television. Her self-named Fox-TV show of the 1980s introduced the world interstitially to The Simpsons.

Ullman is a dual British-American citizen. Born and raised in Slough, England, she has lived and worked in the United States for 25 years and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2006.

In her remarks to the 71 immigrants from more than two dozen countries (from Afghanistan and Armenia to Uzbekistan and Vietnam), Ullman emphasized how her early impressions of America were those of “confidence,” that the American attitude was one of “if you want it, come and get it.”

After the ceremony, Ullman sat down for a one-on-one interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, answering questions about citizenship, the American dream, and what she finds valuable in the American founding.

Subjects and Citizens
Noting that it was recently revealed that, in his draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote the word “subjects” and smudged it out so he could replace it with “citizens,” Ullman talked about the difference between “subject” and “citizen,” because she has been both.

She said she was pleased to learn about Jefferson’s editing, that “he changed it, that he moved on, that he made the change.”

“Yes,” she said, “I have been a subject and now a citizen and it’s interesting. I just think that we are equal. There’s no one better than us. We’re not paying people millions of pounds to be better than us,” as the British pay their royal family.

“I’ve never been a royalist,” Ullman explained, “and that [equality] is something that really appealed to me about America.”

Image of Confidence
Tracey Ullman Monticello citizenship
When she was growing up as a girl in England, Ullman absorbed many images of America that she saw on television. What most impressed her, she said, “was the Olympics,” not only because American athletes won so many gold medals, but “it was the confidence,” they exhibited.

In addition, she said, “it was that ‘you can be anyone you want to be’” attitude and “kindness,” as well as “inspirational people like Lily Tomlin. I impersonated her at my school when I was like 10. I said, ‘I want to be Lily Tomlin. I want to be Gilda Radner.’”

Ullman joked that “our images of America were like Dallas, when I was a kid, like soap operas and things” but even so, when she first arrived in the United States at the age of 20, she was “very inspired.”

Citizenship Test
Since Ullman so recently went through the naturalization process, she spoke about the most surprising things she learned as she prepared for the citizenship test.

One was, she laughed, a question about two forms used by the immigration authorities, the N-200 and the N-400. That’s “a real question,” she said, and applicants had to know the difference between those forms. “I think they’ve dropped that one now, it’s a little obscure.”

She was most impressed, however, by the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, which is why, she said, it is so inspiring “to be here, where Thomas Jefferson” lived. He was “so forward thinking,” for his time, Ullman remarked, and that is why she remembers “really being impressed with the words of the Founding Fathers, in particular Thomas Jefferson, who was just so enlightened and so brave and so incredible at that time and still holds up” today.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on July 4, 2010. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.