Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Worst Good Friday

When I heard tornadoes were swooping through central Tennessee, I knew my old sensei wouldn't be far behind. Then a stream of Facebook updates confirmed it: Andy Cordan was on the ground in Murfreesboro. The following account is that of a sole news gatherer operating on adrenaline and muscle memory. Is it any wonder I used to try snatching the pebble from his hand?

Friday starts with my 125 pound gas grill flipping upside down on my deck outside my bedroom window at 4am. I thought it was SWAT setting off a flash bang grenade - executing a search warrant. 6 hours later, I am driving into the heart of the animal. Rain lashing my windshield.I am alone. Dangerous. The car is rocking back and forth as my tires hydroplane at 70 mph. This is a true set back for the VJ system. where's my boy Al when I need him. I have one hand on the steering wheel. One hand on my cell phone. My third hand is holding the camera. Yes - my third hand. Have you ever chased a tornado by listening to four weathercasters storm- track? Welcome to the Merry Go Round Ride of Insanity...

After driving down I-65 twice, to the Dyer Observatory once, and through Cool Springs. I finally get on 840 East to Murfreesboro. I get as far as the I-24 exit. Cars are stacked a mile long. Two dozen THP cars are racing up the shoulder. Fire trucks are blaring down country roads. Cell phones don't work. People are shell shocked and it feels, at least for a moment like the world is coming to an end. The sky is still angry.

A Murfreesboro cop yells at me to get my car out of the road. I drive through the road block figuring he can't leave his post and I can always tell him i didn't hear what he said. I drive to the Blackman community. Trees are tooth picks. Roofs are stripped clean. Roads are impassable. I walk through a swamp of mud and 3 inches of water. I get to a woman with a muddy face crying in a truck. She is petting her little dog....she starts to cry. She tells me about praying to god and watching her television swirl over her head as the roof flew off to munchkin land. She tells me that is the worst Good Friday but also the best Good Friday. "God protected us" she will say over and over.

I want to take my video back to the station to get it on the air, but dryer people order me to stay put and wait for a live truck that is still caught in all that traffic I have fought and cheated and lied my way through. I drive over a curb and down a one way street. I am running over metal and bricks and how my tires don't shred I don't know. I end up parking at a BP station and lugging all my gear half a mile to the live truck.

Within minutes I am on live TV for as long as I can talk. I don't know a damn thing about this part of town, but as most of you know I can talk, so I start spewing. Cars are upside down. Buildings torn apart. People look like zombies. I'm sopping wet and I keep talking. Live shot after live shot. I can't see any of the coverage, but I hear it in my earpiece. it sounds to me like the old News 2 showed up for this bad boy. All in all, I'm beat...Happy Easter all. --- Andy Cordan

Friday, April 10, 2009

Anchorman 2: Road Trip!

Above, the Channel Four News Team hits the road in the follow-up to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. This time however Will Farrell only makes a fleeting appearance, as much of the action takes place in the scotch-free field. But that doesn't shitcan the hi-jinks! Not with turtlenecked wonder Monte Oliver, swingin' news shooter Lenny Shalopowitz, some nameless female and the ever swaggering Dax Braxton along for the ride. Together these leisure suited Lotharios make their way across a disco-infested heartland as they go live and local across the fruited plain. All goes groovy until a crosstown station launches their own road show, setting up a cross-country rally that ends in a fireball of Winnebago parts and overly decorous belt buckles. Early screening garnered favorable reviews - with only a few critics objecting to the 17 minute fight-scene montage. Soundtrack by Mac Davis - with special appearance by Snoop Dawg. PG-13. In theaters July 4th.

(Thanks and apologies to Sean Browning
and his father David for abiding the desecration of this treasure.)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Cue the Ruminants

I first dragged a camera into the North Carolina Zoo twelve years ago, eager to show my El Ocho elders I could do more than chauffeur ingenues in musty live trucks. Boy, did I score - for you ain't gotta be Spielberg to cop killer footage at a zoo. We're talking hillocks and aviaries, swishing hippos and packs of giddy ten year olds...yes, if your nerves can take it there's easy cinema where the wild things are. Case in point: today's quickie visit to the longneck exhibit. Seems two new arrivals lacked proper monikers and my pal Rod Hackney thought our viewers might like a crack at it. Clearly, this is a job for your friendly neighborhood lenslinger - which is why I followed a giant "L" in the sky all the way to Asheboro. What unfurled won't be shipped off to the Smithsonian, but I'll remember it always as a thoroughly good Thursday. Or at least until I return for a ostrich lobbyist, a flatulent rattlesnake, a polar bear dance-off...

You get the idea.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Text of the Wretched

writers block 001According to the research team here at the Lenslinger Institute, THIS is post number 1,444. As totals go it's pretty random, but it feels significant if only because Viewfinder BLUES has been a bit hazy as of late. What can I tell ya - even career cameramen lose their focus once in awhile. But rather than bore you with my usual sesquipedalian soul searching, I'll just say this: Writing is HARD! If I could summon the muse whenever I wanted, I wouldn't still be lifting heavy objects for a living. As it is, my penchant for bleeding on the keyboard each evening has morphed into a fortnight of utter frustration. That's a lot of angst for what's ostensibly a hobby, sp lease understand if I pretend this lapse never happened. There, I feel better already. Now let's get to the news - or lack thereof...

No doubt part of my recent literary inaction results from too much social networking. A while back I told you of my fondness for Facebook; lately I've been diddling with Twitter. That makes me no different than any other on-line blowhard. These days it seems everyone is blathering in 140 characters or less. I was skeptical at first, but since then have crafted an incoming stream of industry updates I'm quite happy with. That said, tell me more than twice what kind of sandwich you're having and I'm un-following you faster than you can type one more masturbatory sentence about the cable guy being late...

But enough new media, let's go old school. Broadcast Engineering is an industry magazine known for the kind of schematic analysis that makes this lonely technophobe's temple throb. But even a caveman like me has cracked open an issue or two, thanks to a burgeoning friendship with one Spring Suptic. I first met Spring in Vegas last year. It was the B-Roll Bash; I was pounding free liquor and she was asking interesting questions. Since that chance conversation we've kept in touch and recently she generously interviewed me on a wide range of broadcast topics. Though she never led me to believe I'd make the cover, I do have a skimpy swimsuit or two ready - just in case. For now, you'll have to settle for a few juicy quotes in this article...

There goes the neighborhood...Finally tonight, I'd like to do something I swore I never would: the obligatory pet post. Ever since Al Gore pulled the first intact blog out of his nose, push-button publishers have extolled the virtues and vitamin regiments of their respective Fluffies and Fidos. Well, this is different - for just this week my lovely bride found the canine companion she's been looking for all these many moons. Meet 'Stravinsky', a rescue mutt my 15 year old daughter named after one of her favorite composers. He's only been with us a few days now, but already this once imperiled pooch has wormed his way into my hollow photog heart. I just wonder if the little guy yet realizes he hit the lottery, for now he has a fenced-in empire, three doting females and a crabby master who has to admit, he's awfully cute. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go dodge a few droppings on my way to the mailbox. Perhaps I'll write about it.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

For the Love of Groucho

Growing up, it never dawned on me what a fan of Groucho Marx I was. I thought whoever drew Bugs Bunny invented that wandering wiseguy shtick; I even gave Hawkeye Pierce full credit for perfecting the leering retort. Little did I know they - and countless others - merely co-opted that persona from the middle child of a rambling vaudeville brood. Julius Henry Marx was that and so much more. Acerbic, goofy, aloof: some of my favorite adjectives describe the man most Earthlings knew as 'Groucho'. I know this because I just finished Stephan Kanfer's exhaustive biography of the man. 437 pages, to be exact. Sure, it seems excessive, but when you consider all that Marx accomplished in his 87 years in show business, it averages out just right...

Groucho of course came to prominence in the dying days of vaudeville. Led by one mother of a stage-mother, he and his brothers formed a kind of comedy heretofore unseen in the seedy dives that passed for live theater back then. All the Marxes were funny, but the middle kid Julius possessed a rare mix of verbal lethality and loose-limbed goofiness. Those qualities and a truckload of bad puns helped propel the Marx Brothers to superstardom, a novel enough concept back then. Just as their gowing fame outstripped their diminishing venues, along came radio, followed by cinema. Soon, audiences the world over were imitating Groucho's slouching lope, rapid fire delivery and elastic eyebrows. Yes, long before Howard Stern built an empire on his own shortcomings, Chico, Zeppo, Harpo and Groucho were the Kings of all Media.

But it didn't stop there. When the Marx brothers disbanded to chase their individual demons, Groucho wiped the greasepaint off his upper lip and conquered the burgeoning world of TV quiz shows. For 17 years he hosted 'You Bet Your Life', leaving all who passed before him humbled by his lightning quick one-liners. If that weren't enough the middle Marx brother harbored literary ambitions as well. While he never wrote the book he felt he had in him, his comebacks and prose are studied to this very day. And yet still, Groucho wasn't through. Thanks to the piss and vinegar that flowed so freely through his veins, the man with the ever present stogie outlived his siblings and his critics. Perhaps his only miscue was dying the same week as Elvis Presley, a rare bit of bad timing that robbed him of the post-mortem acolytes he so deserved.

Thirty-five years later, his legacy endures. Perhaps the original one-name celebrity, he is instantly recognizable even in silhouette. To don a pair of Groucho glasses is to instantly adopt a wise-ass attitude - even if you're so young, you don't know why. A cursory search of YouTube unearths more material than one can watch in one setting. That said, Groucho was not an easy man to know. Indifferent if not cruel to the many women in his life, the most famous Marx (Karl notwithstanding) carried with him more than a little misogyny. Vindictive, cheap, and insensitive, the master of snappy comebacks was, as his latest biographer so aptly puts it, 'a depressive clown' who grew into the most influential comic of the 20th century. Not bad for a mouthy Jewish kid with a painted-on moustache...