I WAS A NINTH DEGREE BLACK BELT NARCISSIST

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We find ourselves at a funny crossroads with the end of My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. Letterman seems to have enjoyed himself and there’s been enough that long term fans can insist he’s brought something good to the table. Yet the idea that Letterman has maybe added something new to his substantial legacy would be a stretch at best. The two late night talk shows he did were very different beasts to this program designed to entertain every minute they were on air (whether they did or didn’t) and paced to reflect this while still padding out with formula wherever you could since the workload was so high you had to have some reliable mainstays. It is not surprising to find myself wistfully missing the band, the sketches and the up to date nature of that program to comment on whatever was making headlines at the time. On the other hand Letterman can do great interviews and the long leisurely pace of his Netflix show showed potential for deeper conversations. The remotes also showed great promise to have Letterman out in the field but as the show went on this aspect more and more seemed an afterthought or a side dish that deserved to be the main. By the way let me just say that I really enjoyed the opening theme tune by the always great Paul Schaeffer.

I started this program happy with the Obama episode but looking forward to his conversations outside his comfort zone with Malala Yousafzai and maybe Jay-Z. Looking back the obvious candidates bore better episodes President Obama and George Clooney remain probably the best episodes. Malala Yousafzai delivered what I was hoping for, of challenging Dave and I hope to see more of this in the future but Jay-Z was not as good and Tina Fey was mostly entertaining because of her considerable talent. Going into the last episode I decided Howard Stern’s antagonistic needling would probably make for a good episode if not terribly original.

Stern is on point throughout, I enjoyed the relaxed way he asked Dave about his Netflix show at the end of it but Stern surprisingly got serious about his own childhood and about the apologies he owed Letterman and others. It was honest and vulnerable and showed growth but it didn’t necessarily make for good entertainment with Stern even suggesting at one point I can get the Fartman costume in five minutes if this is bad addressing the audience. Stern a contemporary of Dave’s is still in the game I guess and still ‘hot’. It made me reflect on how after all the fanfare during Dave’s victory lap in 2015 that he is maybe a little out of the loop calling on favours to have people show up for this show.

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I don’t want to beat on the show, I’m a fan and this was a perfectly good hour of viewing for me with Stern who is such a talent. But its interesting to note that what followed in the form of a bonus episode prepared by Netflix where Jerry Seinfeld and Dave sat down at an industry event as two of their stars and just chatted was far more entertaining and showed a more traditional filming dynamic. They threw back and forth at considerable pace, telling the other about the greatness of their work and vehemently denying it themselves, obviously prepared with some jokes which they fired off but also building to off the cuff remarks however the conversation threw them. At one point Jerry told Letterman he did not want to talk about his kids but he give him one thing a minute later. At another point Letterman talked about the kindness of a baseball player saying good day to him in the VIP part of the crowd. Seinfeld said that was nice of the baseball player but as Letterman insisted the significance of the nature of the gesture the former sitcom star let slip that he’s not doing this past the VIP area concluding “You’re David Letterman, you idiot.” The crowd erupted.

Watching Letterman with Stern and Seinfeld shows he can still improvise something on the spot and riff with the best after coming across unmatched with Fey. I saw him on Seth Meyers the other day and some of it was downright odd as he presented a tick in a snaplock bag from his back, so absurd I’m sure some fans of his 80s work were pleased but he also told some good jokes. So we know Letterman is still sharp and funny and under the right circumstances prickly and dignified. We know he’s earnest and curious and wanting to do good in the world. We know he can still get things out of people and can make a fascinating chat in the long time format of these interviews.

So what’s next? Come back and do another 6 or 10 episodes next year. Interview people like Amal Clooney, Donald Glover, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, Ryan Coogler, Kumail Nunjiani, Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyongo, Jordan Peele, Greta Gerwig, Patty Jenkins, or Elizabeth Warren. Maybe that’s a little celebrity heavy or whatever but just for starters. Do the remotes with those people, go with them somewhere or watch them interact with their family or crews. Go to India and look at Turbines, go wherever you like, interview whoever you like and try to change the world for the better. Because I love you Dave and I was happy to have you back and I hope to see you again soon but there’s a few things we could improve upon for next year.

-Lloyd Marken

MY BUDDY ROG

Pulitzer Prize Winning Film Critic Roger Ebert passed away April 4, 2013 aged 70 years old. When I started dating my wife I referred to him as ‘My Buddy Rog’ whose review of Australia would ensure Karen would not refer to him as ‘Her Buddy Rog’. That’s how much his writing meant and make no mistake I do not truly consider him a friend. We never met and I never knew the man. You should leave the word friend for people truly close to you. Yet the expression ‘My Buddy Rog’ reflects something. Roger Ebert was a great writer but he wrote for everyone. He was not a snob who didn’t appreciate blockbusters but he was mercilessly witty when putting down films with poor writing or bad intentions. You really have to discover him for yourself so I will try to keep this short.

When I was 9, I was handed a copy of his 1989 Four Star Movie Guide and I quickly leafed through to find reviews on movies I knew. I was already aware of the making of movies and was interested in reading films being judged for their components. Star Wars, Superman and Who Framed Roger Rabbit were all dutifully there. As the years went by I came to read other reviews and seek out those films too. There are still many to see but this is how I came to know Roger. Through his words. I did not hear his voice when I read those reviews and having not seen most of the films what I enjoyed about the reviews was his own writing. The review for Claire’s Knee and Lucas were mesmerising. Runaway Train promised amazing visceral stunts. One review related an alcoholic smashing a battle of booze and then trying to soak it up and drink some drops from a towel. This would become more poignant with his own later revelations. I would argue some of his reviews were a work of art themselves and I direct you to his American Graffiti review for an example of why I fell in love with Ebert the writer. Here is but a taste from the master,

When I went to see George Lucas’s “American Graffiti” that whole world — a world that now seems incomparably distant and innocent — was brought back with a rush of feeling that wasn’t so much nostalgia as culture shock. Remembering my high school generation, I can only wonder at how unprepared we were for the loss of innocence that took place in America with the series of hammer blows beginning with the assassination of President Kennedy.

The great divide was November 22, 1963,and nothing was ever the same again.”

In the mid-1990s my family got a copy of Cinemania ’95 CD and I could suddenly read his reviews of films that he didn’t give 4 stars to. Then the internet came into being and I found his reviews posted on the Chicago Sun Times website with all his current reviews and one’s going back to 1985. I was going to university and studying film and often would look to see how Ebert had judged the works of these auteurs. As an American critic he was a man of his time, Pauline Kael and the like were changing the nature of film criticism as the French New Wave hit in the 1960s with Fellini doing his thing in Italy and then the great American Film Renaissance began with Altman, Coppola, De Palma, Lucas, Mazurky, Peckinpah, Scorcese, Spielberg. Film reviews used to be allocated to a journalist every week to be quickly done up for opening day but this changed as the position of films in pop culture developed and Ebert became the face of this.

In America he is probably best known for Siskel and Ebert where he and Gene Siskel sparred over their opinions of new releases. I never read Siskel’s writings but with the help of YouTube I have been able to newly discover such an indelible part of Ebert’s success. Now I know Ebert’s voice but more importantly how great the two were as a double act. What a pair.       

Ebert blogged on his website and some of his writings were part of informing my opinions as a young man. We didn’t always agree but I appreciated how well he considered this world and how much empathy he felt for his fellow humans. You didn’t have to agree with him, he welcomed discussion of the things that were important. When salivary gland cancer robbed him of his voice and transformed his appearance Ebert’s blog became a vital form of communicating to the world without relying on software to give his words a voice. His blog took on a new life those last few years when he refused to go quietly into the light. My favourite piece of his and one of my favourite pieces of writing is the following about his father http://www.rogerebert.com/rogers-journal/my-old-man

 Sometimes he poignantly referred to mortality in such late great reviews for Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work and Amour. After his death, My Life was released which is a wonderful documentary that details his life story and showed the deep bond he had with his beautiful wife Chaz. Karen watched and enjoyed My Life and liked Roger too after viewing his story. I marvel at an interview Ebert had with Howard Stern where he holds himself quite well against the shock jock. That is the man we all lost with his jaw and yet for me those last 8 years he remained as full an entity as he ever had been. It all came back to the words he wrote because they were the most important thing and he still had that. Yet the words stopped too, 3 years ago. I’ve found good critics out there since. I love some of Vulture’s and The A.V. Club’s writers on television series and I enjoy some of my fellow bloggers insights. But there is only one Roger Ebert and I miss having his opinion to read. Still there are films he reviewed I have not yet seen and reviews I have not yet read. That is the legacy of his work. I care to imagine the legacy of him is his family and friends. If that is the case, my buddy Rog gave a lot in this life for us to enjoy.

-Lloyd Marken