Friday, September 12, 2008

Why My Wipeout Beats Geraldo's

So, Mr. "Rivera" thinks he can splashdown in Galveston and soak up half the Gulf in his big, floopy moustache, huh? Well, THAT'S NOT A KNOIFE! You call something a hurricane wipeout, you better burst through jagged lumber, breakdance with a few fiddler crabs, come up with sand dollars in your eye sockets, break something! Hell, I've used drive-thru wet-naps with more accumulated moisture! That's why I'm dredging up this fabled clip, a primary source of edit bay guffaws since a storm named Gordon kicked me so square in the keister some 14 years ago. It ain't pretty! But with Mr. Moustache (whom I once chatted up at a Hollywood press junket) congratulating himself for being so damned tough, I felt it was necesarry I set the record straight. So instead of presenting some smarmy litany of reasons my unscheduled dip is the bestest, I'll skip right to the end, with the number one reason why MY wipeout beats Geraldo's...

1) No Geraldo.

Be safe, Texas...

Sunday Night at 8

History Channel doesn't need my help promoting one of their specials, but 102 Minutes That Changed America deserves to be seen by all who can bring themselves to re-live that horrific morning. Using video from 100 different sources, this documentary pieces together mostly amateur footage of New York's 9/ll, from the first wounded skyscraper to the sight of dazed Gothamites stumbling through the fresh rubble of an American dream. If you think you've seen all the video from the aerial attack on the World Trade Center, you're wrong. 102 Minutes presents a chronological pastiche of that morning, expertly edited and unburdened by narration. The result is total immersion; even though you know exactly how it's going to end, you can't help but hurt alongside strangers as they stare up at the impossible and mumble new conclusions.

Of course watching others suffer could be considered ghoulish and if it 102 Minutes weren't so devoid of politics I might even agree. But cut as it is with no visible slant, this television special approaches the level of historical document. Arguably the most powerful moments are those spent inside a high-rise apartment as two girls react to the second plane's fiery impact. Their panicky camera and off-cameras screams bring to mind the Blair Witch Project, except it's much more frightening - because it's undeniably real. I was also struck by the mesmerizing street level close-ups ofshcoked citizens. Shots like that are hard to watch and even harder to shoot. Whoever knew to turn their back on the pyrotechnics and focus on the faces did history an invaluable service, for those simple images help explain 9/11's impact in a way that distorted memories and overblown prose cannot.

So skip the popcorn, but watch 102 Minutes That Changed America. It's footage that simply shouldn't be forgotten and perhaps the strongest case for citizen journalism I've yet seen.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

All That Spaz

Sure, Maurice was a sports photog. But deep down inside, he was a DAN-cer. It had aways been that way, But in the rough and tumble Northwest, male pattern pirouettes were often frowned upon. So Maurice hid behind the lens and kept his Jazz Hands to himself. It wasn't always easy. At practices he found himself yearning to storm the gridiron in streamers and tights. When traveling with the team he studied the angles and coveted the spangle of all those bitchy cheerleader routines. The games were the worst, however. The crowd, the music, the lights! Maurice knew it was only a matter of time before his inner demons would win out and he'd take the field for a few impromptu hip-hop moves - or if the mood struck him - perhaps a little Cameraman Cabaret...

He only hoped the security goons would go easy on him.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Requiem for a Scene

On SceneStanding in the doorway of my office, I thought about what I’d just done. For Sale. How long would that sign sit in my yard before my bosses started asking questions? I did not know, but as I watched the late day sun stretch down the hallway, I found I did not really care. Just then the newsroom door burst open and a pretty young producer rounded the corner in her high heels, headed for the studio. I followed her, um - form, until she ducked left under the red ON AIR sign and disappeared. How in the hell had I become so miserable inside a TV station? I asked myself for the seventeenth time that day. Was a time I’d lick the wallpaper of a local affiliate‘s break room, if I thought it would share its secrets with me. But after two years of churning out weak station promos for an impetuous overlord of a boss, I was ready to flee this backwaters broadcast shack - even if it meant chewing my way through the sheetrock. Or worse, shooting news.

Patch Board PanicShoo. Ting Nooz. Did I really wanna go there? Back to the scanners and the pagers and the ass-hats? Back to the structure fires, incumbent liars and funeral pyres? Did I really want to wear a groove in the driver’s seat of some wheezing news unit as I ran down yet another case of smoking sheet-metal? Hadn’t that been the exact kind of drivel I blamed for everything just two years before? The insane pace, the lack of respect, the soul-eroding tone of living life by the newscast … these were things I truly didn’t miss - even if they did surround the coolest job I ever had. Still, I hadn’t climbed my way up this wobbly corporate stepladder to back-flip off of it without at least looking first. This promotions gig wasn’t all bad. There was the office and the assistants and the business card with ’Manager’ on it. Down the hall, another manager stepped out of the office he’d held for twenty years and rock back and forth on his heels as he eyeballed the bulletin board he’d read earlier that morning. Yeah, I was ready to shoot news again…

Bill O Neill unfocusedThat was 1997. Eleven Septembers later, I rarely ever regret my decision to come back to news. Sure, there are days when I’d rather smuggle pinecones under my eyelids than shoot another bloodmobile, but overall I’m glad to be living life out in the open. Studios and newsrooms are for people who want to trade movie quips all day. That’s cool, but I’d still rather merge into the breakdown lane of life and snake my way up to the flashing lights. So, yeah - I guess I’m glad I spent the turn of the century chasing silly news stories, I don’t even regret all those Y2K horror stories I foisted on the public. Well, there was that one with the survivalist and his homemade trail-mix. I’m telling you, those weren’t chocolate balls. But I digress - something I’d do a lot of were it not for the fresh set of deadlines I face every day. I know - YOU got deadlines too - but do you turn on the car radio to hear some yak urging viewers to watch a story you’re not even finished shooting yet? It’ll make you run a stoplight…

Keith Hale loves his job.Speaking of stoplights, I don’t run them and, as far as you my 14 year old know, I never have. What I will admit to is not enjoying every shift. Any reporter I’ve ever worked with has watched me rage at the machine before falling into a sullen funk. Usually it’s the kind of thing a good story or Chinese food can fix, but on occasion I’ve leaned into the wheel and through gritted teeth, dared the News Gods to smite me once more - just because some producer wanted me to swing by an impound lot and shoot video of some crunched up church bus. Sorry about that. You should see me other days - when I’m all alone and walkin’ the Earth like that guy from Kung-Fu, looking for kooks and imbroglios to put on the evening news. It ain’t the priesthood, nor is it as noble as your average city bus route, but it is what I feel good doing and that cannot be said of the time I spent shilling tripe, lies and videotape for the fat man of Chocowinity.

Not that I'm bitter...I'm bitteriffic!