(Following is a profile of local film luminary George Figgs that I wrote - in corporate-friendly "perky voice" - for my workplace's blog. Librarians love George! - Tom Warner)
"Orpheum George" Figgs
How many people can say they’ve picked
out movies for Jesus Christ at their local library? Well, the folks in Pratt
Central’s Sights & Sounds Department have had that honor – regularly, in
OK, technically Pratt library regular George Figgs (pictured left) isn’t the historical
Jesus whose birthday Christians celebrate each December 25th - he’s much too young, for one
thing (even though he is an AARP
member!) and he was born in Hampden rather than Bethlehem - but he played the Messiah in John Waters’ 1970
cult film Multiple
Maniacs. It’s not exactly the most historically accurate portrayal, either, but look it up in the Internet
Movie Database and
there it is plain as day: “George Figgs, Jesus
That’s a pretty lofty credit for any
actor, but it’s only one feather in George’s signature hat (yes, George always wears a stylish hat) - and
certainly better than his scarecrow role in Waters’ twisted Oz short Dorothy, the Kansas City Pothead.
Besides being a regular “Dreamlander” player in all
of John Waters’s feature films except Cry-Baby (though in less-lofty
roles ranging from an asylum inmate to a “Neuter”), the multi-talented actor-artist-writer-projectionist-film
curator/historian is also a regular at Pratt Central, where he loads up on as many
documentaries and foreign films as he can carry back to the light rail stop
(not to mention anything to do with his beloved Edgar Allen Poe, about whom
he’s written a screenplay).
Watch George Figgs as hairdresser Dribbles in John Waters' "Female Trouble"
George Figgs as hairdresser Dribbles in John Waters' "Female Trouble"
His movie mania is a holdover from his
days running his arthouse “temple of celluloid,” the Opheum Theater, in Fells Point from 1990-1999 and
“Orpheum George” (as he’s known around town) is still an avid cineaste and an
iconic fixture in the local arts scene; just last year the 66-year-old film
buff curated the acclaimed three-day, 10-filmRetroCineFestat the University of
Baltimore and is currently planning a film revival series in partnership with Station
North’s Autograph Playhouse. (And he also appears in Jeffrey
Schwartz’s new documentary, I Am Divine, talking about his dearly departed
friend Glen Milstead, better known as John Waters superstar “Divine.”)
But more importantly, George Figgs
represents the kind of patron for whom Pratt Library’s free services are
ideally suited during these tough economic times. As a retiree on a fixed
income, George can neither afford to join NetFlix nor to see movies at the Cineplex. That’s why he loves the fact that he can grab armfuls of free DVDs at Central, which he calls
“the best deal in town for the financially challenged!”
“I have to live on Social Security and
food stamps” George says. “I can’t afford to go see new releases or even
revival films at The Charles unless I get a pass.” Luckily, George is a fan of
the kind of films Sights & Sounds prides itself on – classic film noir
crime dramas, award-winning documentaries, and a wide range of foreign films
from around the world. He still has his VCR, so he can further utilize our
large, and often overlooked, eclectic collection of VHS tapes. And when he's unable to make it downtown, George likes to stream movies on his laptop at home, using our handy Web guide to the best sites to "Watch Movies, TV Shows and More Online for Free." (He's a particular fan of the free movie site Open Culture.)
Besides checking out our films, George has taken full advantage of our reference services, as well. Since we subscribe to the entertainment industry pay service IMDbPro, which lists contact information for over 10,000 companies and 65,000, George was able to get legal clearance for all his RetroCineFest film screenings via the studio phone numbers and emails we found there. And he was elated when, eager to have famous independent movie director-producer Roger Corman read his Edgar Allen Poe screenplay, we not only got him an address to mail his script to, but a direct phone number that enabled him to talk to Mr. Corman in person!
We're elated to service a Baltimore film legend - and so glad he takes advantage of all the free services available at the library!
The 44-year-old Lutherville Republican is charged with driving while
under the influence of alcohol, a headlight violation and negligent
driving, police said. He allegedly had a blood-alcohol level that was
more than twice the legal limit. An officer
observed the vehicle traveling with no headlights and saw it come to a
sudden stop at a red light, passing the crosswalk of the intersection.
the officer tried to stop the councilman, Huff drove a half-block and
pulled into the parking lot of the Brooks-Huff Tire & Auto Center in
the 900 block of York Road, a business his family owns, according to
the statement of charges.
“Don’t you know who I am?” he allegedly
told the officer when asked for his driver’s license and vehicle
registration card. “You stopped me on my own property.”
I highlighted the part the story detailing how this shameless dirtball pol tried to avoid getting arrested by stopping at his family's "own property" at Brooks-Huff Tire & Auto Center in Towson because...synchronicity!...barely two months later my girlfriend Amy had to go to Brooks-Huff to have them install the four new tires she had purchased on the Internet. And - surprise! - her experience here was just as dodgy and ludicrous as Councilman Huff's ridiculous claim that he was immune to prosecution because he pulled into his family business' lot. Though the staff there were exceedingly nice to her, she said she felt like she was in a sitcom, an automotive Comedy of Errors. In a nutshell, what Amy and the auto center staff experienced was akin to what Strother Martin's sadistic prison warden in Cool Hand Luke (1967) termed "a failure to communicate." I'll say!
I purchased a set of tires online from http://tirebuyer.com,
and needed a shop to send them to. On tirebuyer a list of recommended
shops is given, so I chose this place which had mostly positive
Well, maybe I would have been better off having the tires put on
at Mr.Tire. I had an appointment at 10 to have the work done. I came in
and clearly stated why I was there.I also asked for my wiper blades to
be replaced. (My rear wiper blade was hanging off.} My info was verified
in their computer, and I decided to wait there at the shop.
minutes later, my name was called, and one of the people at the counter
told me that my car looked fine, but that it needed new tires. Well,
umm, that is why I was there, and what I had clearly stated when I came
in. So he looked confused, glanced at a piece of paper and apologized.
Back I went to the waiting area.
After some time passed, they called my
name again, and I was hopeful that my car was ready. But it was a
different gentleman, who told me that my car would need new tires.
Again. And again, this person looked confused and looked at the piece of
paper, and apologized. Back to the waiting room I went.
passed. I get called out again. Again I was hopeful. But I was told
that there was a problem, that one of my wipers is special and not in
stock, but that they can get it within a reasonable time. Fine, I said.
Back in the waiting room once more. (Thank goodness Kindles really hold a
Finally, my name was called again, and I was told - hallelujah
- that my car was really ready! I paid my bill, walked out the door,
and -- my wiper blade was still hanging off! I went back in and told
them the work wasn't done. Someone came out and said that the blade
still hadn't come in! So back into the waiting room I went again!
12:30 I was finally out the door. I was given cards for two free oil
changes, and the guy at the counter apologized and said things are
usually "not like that." But I will not be going back to find out. I
felt like I was in a sitcom!!! I don't know what the problem was, but my
experience was ridiculous.
"Ack! My experience was ridiculous!"
In life, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression and if I was the manager, I would have serviced Amy free-of-charge after such an exasperating customer experience. (And remember, Amy's nice; anyone else - like me - would have had a conniption!) Failing that, I wonder: is there a police charge for Working Under the Influence? (WUI)? If so, write up the ticket!
"Here I am a record on a jukebox/A little piece of plastic with a hole - oh!/Play me - Play me and my plastic turns to gold"- 10cc, "Worst Band in the World"
"Record keeps on spinning/Makes my life worth living...Record keeps on turning/All the hits I'm learning/Play forever in my mind" - The Tweeds, "I Need That Record"
Since 2007, the third Saturday in April had been celebrated across the world as Record Store Day. In honor of this auspicious event, this post includes a shout-out to six documentaries I've found that address the independent record store - whose numbers are growing ever more scarce, despite a sudden resurgence of interest in vinyl by both fans and record-releasing bands alike - including this year's official Record Store Day film, LAST SHOP STANDING: THE RISE, FALL AND REBIRTH OF THE INDEPENDENT RECORD SHOP (UK, 2012).
As the Modfather Paul Weller says, "There are so few record shops left that we should all treasure those remaining." Weller is performing live, along with Irish rockers The Strypes, at East London's Rough Trade Records this day. (Many local record stores are also featuring live music today.) And Weller, like many other musicians (in a new tradition I like), is releasing a new single - on vinyl - to coincide with the tribute to record stores.
Thanks to 12XU Records, so is my boy Tommy Keene, who's re-releasing a picture sleeve edition of his double A-side "Back To Zero Now"/"Mr Roland."
I'm surprised that Amy Linthicum neglected to tell me that her favorite stadium rockers Queen used the occasion of Record Store Day to release Queen's First EP, a 7-inch vinyl compilation initially released in 1977, on CD - as well as a contest to win an autographed Brian May guitar! (I know Dave Wright probably already has it!).
And Baltimore's own Double Dagger (who are officially no more) released their swan song(s) album, 333 today. I don't know much about this group featuring our friend Donna Bowen's drummer son Denny, but am looking forward to seeing the documentary about them at this year's Maryland Film Festival, If We Shout Loud Enough.
The documentary profiles the record store owner and Maryland native who founded Joe's Record Paradise located on Georgia Avenue in Silver
Spring in 1974 (which later had a brief Baltimore outlet in Lauraville on Harford Road).
The AFI's capsule description reads: "A product of two of Maryland's seminal families - the Lees and the Blairs - Joe Lee was kicked out of prep school and rejected the world of politics and business that so many of his family embraced. This film documents the unique personality of a man who paved his own path, exploring both the history of Lee's storied political family and the deep musical traditions of the Baltimore-Washington area. Rare archival footage, rollicking music and poignant interviews help set the scene."
The record store owner - and fans - credo
Along with Chick Veditz's Chick's Legendary Records in Mt. Washington, Vinyl Discoveries on Belair Road in Hamilton, and Skip Groff's Yesterday and Today Records in Rockville (not to mention all the others like Record Theater, the old Record & Tape Trader in Rodgers Forge - where I bought so many punk-New Wave singles and LPs! - Record & Tape Collectors, etc., etc.), Joe's Record Paradise was one of the great area record stores. Lee and director Michael Streissguth (Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison) will be in attendance. But if you can't make it to the AFI Silver tonight, check out one or all of the following docs (or re-watch Hi-Fidelity if you're in the mood for a feature film). And be sure to read the wonderful book Record Store Days (which I just checked out of the library today!).
Based on the successful book of the same name by Graham Jones, LAST SHOP STANDING is a
50-minute documentary that was released on 10 September 2012. It is a
celebration of the unique spirit of comradeship and entrepreneurial
ingenuity that has enabled so many shops to keep operating successfully
against the backdrop of massive changes in the music industry, the
biggest recession in years, the growth of online file sharing and the
explosion of choice in music consumption.
Not long ago there was a record shop on every high street, but over
500 independent record stores have closed during the last few years.
Record shops were always more than retail outlets, they are part of our
culture; they support new bands and local talent. A place for musicians
and music fans to congregate, to browse away a few hours, to walk away
with music they didn’t know existed.
The film features appearances by musicians and industry insiders
including Johnny Marr, Norman Cook, Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, Nerina
Pallot and Richard Hawley , but the real stars are the record shop
owners, their stories are the stuff of folklore! The film tells the full
story, holds back no punches, but also celebrates and promotes our
great independent record stores."
I love Johnny Marr's description of record stores as "a library for your ears and your mind" and his characterization of listening to .mp3s as an ultimately "vague...infinite experience" that doesn't engage like the "bookend-ed" start-flip-and-finish ritual of listening to records. Digital playlists are not engaging because they "never kind of...complete." Exactly!
Marr's comments mirror those of Norton Records impresario Miriam Linna in Brett Milano's Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting: "A record is that object that you can hold and watch and learn from. Look at the label, it's got all that information that somebody wanted to give you. There's the names of the people who wrote the songs, the names of who published it, and maybe where the record comes from - if you don't find that one, it's just another mystery to solve. And the record, that's a couple of minutes of instant gratification; it's as good as a good cup of coffee. And it's a common denominator, you want people to be clued in. You play someone a great record and they don't react to it, you know it's time to get them out of your house." That's engagement; that's living in the moment!
A documentary feature examining why over 3000 independent record stores have closed across the U.S. in the past decade.
Description: "Guerilla filmmaker Brendan Toller unleashes "an
elegy for a vanishing subculture...a lively, bittersweet film that
examines - with caustic humor, brutal candor, and, ultimately, great
affection - why roughly 3,000 indie record stores have closed across the
nation over the past decade," (Johnathan Perry, Boston Globe). A
tour-de-force tale of greed, media consolidation, homogenized radio, big
box stores, downloading, and technological shifts in the music industry
told through candid interviews, crestfallen record store owners,
startling statistics, and eye-popping animation. Fat cats or our
favorite record stores? You decide."
Cast:Glenn Branca, Pat Carney, Noam Chomsky, Chris Frantz, Bob
Gruen, Patterson Hood, Lenny Kaye, Ian MacKaye, Legs McNeil, Thurston
Moore, Mike Watt
RECORD STORE DAY - THE DOCUMENTARY uses great archival footage of record plant production and current
interviews with leaders of music explaining an audiophile's holiday and
some of their favorite records and what Record Store Day means to them. Interestingly, one interviewee (Doyle Davis of Nashville's Grimeys) claims that the idea for Record Store Day originated right here in Baltimore, tracing its roots to the (2008?) Noise in the Basement Conference where "guys who own record stores sitting around, spit-balling ideas" hatched this great notion of countering the gloomy predictions of record stores going out of business.
What goes around, comes around
SOUND IT OUT The Very Last Record Shop in Teesside, UK www.sounditoutdoc.com
a documentary by Jeanie Finlay, 2011, UK, 75 minutes
I could kick myself that I missed this when it screened at the 2011 Rehoboth Independent Film Festival because it's hard to find (Netflix doesn't have it and there's only a trailer available online, though BBC Four did air a 60-minute version online for a while) other than purchasing it directly from the film's official web site.
This was the official film of RECORD STORE DAY 2011. Sound It Out Records in Teesside, England is run by "the dryly philosophical Tom Butchart,
whose wealth of knowledge helps his customers to find the song they’ve
just heard in the pub or to track down that elusive rare vinyl they need
to add to their collection." Official film web site synopsis:
"Over the last five years an independent record shop has closed in the UK every three days.
SOUND IT OUT is a documentary portrait of the very last surviving vinyl record shop in Teesside, North East England.
A cultural haven in one of the most deprived areas in the UK, SOUND
IT OUT documents a place that is thriving against the odds and the local
community that keeps it alive. Directed by Jeanie Finlay who grew up
three miles from the shop.
A distinctive, funny and intimate film about men, the North and the irreplaceable role music plays in our lives.
I just found out about this documentary from the director of Grateful Dawg (2000). It documents "the most famous record store in the world," Village Music of Mill Valley, CA, which closed on September 30, 2007. Anticipating the end, the brother and sister director-producer team of Gillian (Grateful Dawg, Keepin’ Time)
and Monroe Grisman "documented the comings and goings of customers,
in-store performances (DJ Shadow DJing in-store every day for 30 days),
and the eventual closing of the famous Dutch door of the record store.," according to a detailed review of this film by the blog site fleamarketfunk. The filmmakers raised funds via a Kickstarter campaign and are currently screening their completed documentary at film festivals (the first screening was at the Sonoma International Film Festival, April 12, 2013.) Though the official web site link is broken, there are Facebook and Twitter links for it, as well as the following trailer (featuring fans Bonnie Raitt, Bettye Lavette, B.B. King, Huey Lewis, Bob Weir and Elvis Costello):
Official Kickstarter site synopsis: "Director George Lucas researched the soundtrack for
"American Graffiti" at the store and B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Sammy
Hagar, Ry Cooder, Cab Calloway, Jerry Garcia, Huey Lewis and Elvis
Costello are among the many stars that have hung out and shopped there
over the years. One could always discover something new in this enclave
of vintage vinyl and vast memorabilia – enough to rival any respectable
American cultural museum.
What made Village Music so unique was its proprietor, John Goddard, a
one-of-a-kind music historian and collector who bought the shop in 1968,
after working there as a teenager. For countless musicians, John has
been a tremendous resource, mentor and friend as well as a nexus for the
entire musical community – reviving the careers of forgotten artists
and staging some of the most unforgettable concert parties at the
legendary Sweetwater saloon. But like so many other independents,
Village and John fell victim to the economic shifts of the town and the
music industry, unable to compete in the iPod era, the rise of the CD
and changes in taste among young music buyers."
Village Music was more than just a retail shop with records in it, according to the director. "It was also like a museum of music across many genres and eras of pop culture...People made
pilgrimages from around the world to pay one last visit to this store.
It was an amazing experience to be along for the ride over the last 8
months of the stores existence and we captured it all. This film truly is a labor of love for us as it is a story that
needs to be told and shared with the world,” he said. “It is a story
that all will be able to relate to (even if they are growing up now in
the world of downloads and file sharing).”
I look forward to seeing this film when it becomes more widely available.
FOR THE RECORDS
directed by Hazel Sheffield and Emily Judem, USA, 2012, 33 minutes
Lastly, I just heard about this one, which laments the demise of Bleeker Bob's Records in New York City. It was produced by the online news publication Capital New York.
Synopsis from Stereogum: "Legendary Greenwich Village record store Bleecker Bob’s, a shop that has
been there for pretty much every notable incarnation of the modern NYC
music scene, will be leaving it’s West 3rd Street location as the
landlord seeks to increase the storefront’s rent to the very expensive
level of the modern day West Village. Capital New York has put together a
30-minute documentary about the store and its future called For The Records,
a film that features interviews with Bob Plotnik — who opened up
Bleecker Bob’s in the ’60s, right in the heart of the Greenwich Village
folk scene — and other characters integral in the store’s legacy. "
From Hazel Sheffield and Emily Judem's article for Capital New York:
Bob Plotnik quit law to open up a record store in Greenwich Village in
the '60s, the only thing he wanted was to get hold of his favorite
street doo-wop records ahead of everyone else.
couldn’t have known that the store would still be there nearly 50 years
later—that it would survive the introduction of cassettes, CDs and MP3s,
outlast CBGB, even stay open after Bob had a huge stroke and handed the
store over to his colleagues to run.
And though "Bleecker Bob" is
identified with some of the great names of rock and roll through the
decades, and especially downtown movements from the Village's folk scene
through punk, new wave and alternative music, now, time is finally
catching up with the oldest record store in the Village.
cracks in the black and white linoleum floor. Dust gathers on Bob’s
collection of art deco clocks, many of which have stopped. Though the
landlord of their building on West Third Street has been good to Bob
over the years, he’s finally putting the rent up in line with prices in
the area. Bleecker Bob’s is getting priced out.
Bleecker Bob’s will stay open until the landlord has found a new tenant.
When it goes, it will take with it a huge part of the history of the
Village. And it looks unlikely to find a new place to open up. Here,
meet the people who made the store a New York institution, and watch as
they struggle to decide what's next. And, next time you're in the
neighborhood, stop in while you can.
Sadly, Bleecker Bob's record store has since been replaced by a
frozen yogurt joint, which gives countless record junkies The Big Chill.
(This is the original post I wrote about some of the more interesting people that frequent the library where I work. A much shorter, edited version will appear later on Pratt's blog site. - TW)
Here at Pratt, we interact with a lot of interesting - even
(dare we say) “unusual” – people that frequent the library on a regular basis.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Sights & Sounds (SAS) Department
on the main floor of the Central Library.
Not only is this department a busy passageway between the
Central Hall lobby and the Annex’s Public Computer Center, but it’s also home
to a large collection of both educational and popular entertainment audiovisual
materials –everything from fiction audiobooks and music CDs to DVDs of popular television
series, Hollywood movies, critically-acclaimed foreign films and award-winning
documentaries addressing every conceivable topic.
Naturally, we get lots of people just looking for the latest
popular entertainment titles – be it this year’s Oscar-winning movie Argo, the new album by Justin
Timberlake, an audiobook version of Fifty Shades of Grey, or the latest
season of Downtown Abbey. But we also tend to
attract a number of regulars that might best be described as “creative” or
“artsy” types - film, music, and literature fanatics that veer off the
well-beaten track to traverse the roads less travelled.
Their ranks include local musicians Caleb
Stine,Eddie Chabon of The
Swingin’ Swamis, and Jason Sage
of Telesma; independent filmmaker and
Maryland Institute College of Art instructor Allen Moore (a frequent cinematographer for documentarian Ken
Burns); Sondheim Award-winning artist and 14-Karat Cabaret performance space
founder-curator Laure Drogoul; former John Waters "Dreamlander" cast regular and Orpheum Cinema curator George Figgs; and
experimental filmmaker-instructor Karen Yasinsky, to name but a few. We consider them to be not just Pratt patrons,
but our friends as well. But not everyone is a celebrity. Some of our most frequent
visitors are just regular citizens. People like:
Blogger Peter Geier
When he’s not talking Orioles baseball, former Pratt
volunteer and life-long “cinemaniac” Peter
Geier is foraging through our Foreign Film and Documentary racks to find
more material for his impressive film review blog, Moom Pitchers Not To Miss (which
is old Baltimorese for “moving pitchers”).
Though this well-traveled writer has lived all over the
world in the past, he currently lives within walking distance of Pratt, so he
visits our department almost daily. After stocking up on our DVDs, Peter usually
heads to the Annex to power up his laptop, jump on our Wi-Fi, and post his
In addition to knowing a lot about film, Peter’s a polyglot
who speaks four languages, including Russian, German and Turkish. In fact, when
we received some Russian language-only movies, it was Peter who checked them
out and told us what they were about!
He’s probably seen more of our collection than our staff, so
in future we might have to use him as a Viewers’ Advisory resource!
Dan the Music Man
Dan is an articulate, classically trained musician who likes
movies almost as much as classical music. Dan actually treats our “Staff Picks”
as if they were Gospel: put it on display, and Dan will press play. He has
viewed virtually every video in the
department. Yes, we said “video” – that neglected analog format seemingly
destined to appear on a future episode of
Dan is a fan of the format because, as he says, “It
seems like nobody watches videos anymore except for me, which leaves me a lot
of titles to pick from.”
Not only does this mean there’s always something on the
shelf for Dan to grab, but it’s also allowed him to discover many hidden gems “Lost
in the Stacks” of SAS (some of which have never come out on DVD) like Greta
Garbo in the original The Painted Veil (1934) or obscure documentaries
toads and cockroaches.
I've actually given Dan some videos from my massive home collection to watch and told him he could keep them. But, unlike me, he's not a pack-rat clutterer - once done, he promptly returned them, adding, "I wouldn't want to deprive someone else from getting enjoyment from them." Dan's a model citizen (and must have a very tidy apartment)!
Paula lives around the corner from the Central Library and
uses much of her free time since retiring from the Social Security Administration
roaming our aisle for foreign films, topical documentaries, and music of all
genres (though she’s most partial to jazz from the ‘20s and ‘30s and ‘40s and
vintage ‘50s and ‘60s R & B singers like Big Joe Turner).
When asked what attracts her to our Foreign Film collection,
Paula replies, “Hollywood movies are just too predictable. I like to watch
foreign films to get a better perspective on how otherpeople live and what’s going on in the
world.” Her favorite movies are the colorful song-and-dance spectaculars from
Bollywood and gritty Brazilian films like City of God (“I own a copy now”) and
Black Orpheus (“Which I never get
tired of re-watching”).
The ever-curious Paula always looks forward to checking out
our “new releases” display, and has seen so many movies that we sometimes joke,
“We’re running out of materials for you – you’ve seen everything!”
But that’s about as likely to happen as Sights & Sounds
running out of interesting patrons to assist and befriend.