August is weird, so more summer movies.

I’ve gotten to the point of summer-induced restlessness that going to the movies is a form of release, an escape from this never-ending August and a stifling apartment. This week, I saw my first-ever film at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, which is a gem of a theater – it’s near Lincoln Center, one of my favorite parts of the city, and shows smaller, independent films. And while at most big theaters – your Regals and AMCs – take you up, up, up (I do love the escalator ride to a high-level theater at the Times Square AMC) there is something wonderful about going underground to the theaters at Lincoln Plaza. The box office is right on the street, and all the theaters are inside, below.

I saw the new documentary “Best of Enemies,” and I just got the feeling that most of us in the audience were there for some kind of summer escape. Probably 50% of us were there alone, and while I have no idea what brought each individual to the theater that night, I like to think it was a combination of not having a partner willing enough to sit through such a micro-niche film, and just wanting to get out of damn house.

If you have a love for retro TV graphics, you’ll adore “Best of Enemies.” Actually, there are a lot of other reasons to love it, but that was what I found initially attractive. The 60s were so crazy! The documentary explored the William F. Buckley vs. Gore Vidal debates staged by ABC after each night of the 1968 nominating conventions. It was a genius programming idea at the time – something to boost ABC in the ratings and separate it from the other networks doing the same wall-to-wall convention coverage.

They had a great range of talking heads coloring the conversation – the one I found most interesting was a linguist from Columbia University who shed light on Buckley and Vidal’s voices. They spoke in an educated tone, bordering on a British accent, and it would be unthinkable for an intellectual voice like that to be taken seriously on TV today. I thought that was an interesting element to highlight.

There were interesting anecdotes from their personal lives, as well. I went into it knowing the names Buckley and Vidal, but didn’t really know concrete things about them, and now I do. It was interesting to hear about their personal and political sides, from biographers, writers and my personal favorite, Dick Cavett.

The documentary paints the Buckley-Vidal debates as the direct cause of today’s proliferation of talking heads and debate surrounding political conversation, which I don’t know if I entirely buy, but it raises some interesting points. Right before I saw the film, I listened to John Powers’ review on Fresh Air, and I found Dick Cavett’s contributions as a talking head especially interesting in light of what Powers said: “In the grand historical sweep, the Vidal-Buckley encounter’s true meaning isn’t really political. Rather, it marked the end of the days when literary figures and public intellectuals still had prestige. Days when writers like Vidal, Buckley, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and James Baldwin – all men, you’ll notice – could actually be regular guests on the Tonight Show.” Even if today’s media debate doesn’t directly descend from Buckley-Vidal, it’s at least interesting to view it in light of the idea.

And speaking of late-night, the other best piece of media I consumed this week was GQ’s Stephen Colbert cover story. I can hardly wait for September 8 now, when his Late Show begins. I mourned (well, still mourn) Letterman’s departure but this story has turned my curiosity about what Colbert’s show will look like into excitement over what it could be.

I never watched The Colbert Report, save for a few clips here and there, and I kind of regret that I didn’t get into politics before the Colbert-Jon Stewart era was nearing its end. BUT. Colbert is fascinating. This was a great profile and it was also Colbert letting it be a great profile through what he revealed and how he revealed it. He was disarming.

“Here. Look at this. The Death Mask of Agamemnon.”

Advertisements

February 9, 1964

Fifty years ago today, the Beatles played the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time, and music in America changed forever.

black and white beatles ed sullivan

That day seems so magical to me. Part of the reason I love it is because it happened on February 9. What ever happens on February 9? It’s the dead of winter, and in 1964, the country was still reeling from JFK’s death. Some of the sadness was lifted when that British band took the stage on American TV. In his introduction of the band, Ed Sullivan said it best: “…this city never has witnessed the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool who call themselves The Beatles.”

The Beatles were different, and that gigantic television audience knew it. I think the root of my love for the band is that they were wholly different. They didn’t come along and play better versions of the same kind of music that had been around for years. They played music no one had ever thought was possible. No one had even imagined that kind of music existing. The Beatles created it, and everything was different afterwards.

Looking at February 9, 1964 from my vantage point in 2014, what really fascinates me about the Beatles’ first Ed Sullivan show appearance is that nothing like it could happen today. No one band, person, movie or television show could capture our collective attention anymore. Sixty percent of the American TV audience watched the Beatles’ performance. Today, you wouldn’t get 60 percent of people to tune in for live coverage of an alien invasion.

I was thinking about this earlier in the week after reading a fantastic New York magazine interview with Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels. Discussing the differences between how SNL did comedy in the 70s and how it does comedy now, he noted:

At that point, you had a complete unity generationally—in music, movies, politics, and sports. It’s much more fragmented now, so half the people watching Drake’s show, maybe 60 to 70 percent, didn’t know him. Even news is fragmented now. There used to be much more cohesion—everyone saw the helicopter take the people out of Saigon. I don’t know whether people know what’s going on in Fallujah right now.

We don’t have the same cultural touchstones anymore, but I don’t necessarily bemoan that. We have a wealth of amazing media options. I’ll watch my obscure TV show, you watch yours. Everyone’s happy. But with our fragmented media world, nothing will bring us together in the same way. You have to wonder if a band like the Beatles would break through with the same force in 2014, but it’s hard to put their music in today’s context because today’s music wouldn’t be here without them.

I’m kicking myself for not taking advantage of more NYC-based Beatles events leading up to this 50th anniversary, but I am definitely going to visit the Beatles exhibit at the New York Public Library before it closes in May. The Beatles popped up all over the place on TV this past week, though, including a segment on NBC Nightly News (it doesn’t get more perfect than Brian Williams talking about the Beatles) and David Letterman’s awesome week-long tribute to the band. Letterman’s show, of course, tapes in the Ed Sullivan Theater, where the Beatles actually played on February 9, 1964. When Paul McCartney visited his show in 2009, he talked at length about the Beatles’ first Ed Sullivan appearance:

This week, Letterman had all his music guests play Beatles songs. Lenny Kravitz’s “Get Back” was pretty great:

Fifty years later, the Beatles are still a cultural force, and their first Ed Sullivan appearance is still a television milestone. February 9, 1964 was quite the day.