Levene, Bruce — James Dean in Mendocino

John Steinbeck’s novel, “East of Eden” was published September 1952 and the movie-made soon thereafter-is the subject of this edition of Radio Curious. Our guest is Bruce Levene, author of “James Dean in Mendocino: The Filming of East of Eden.” The Mendocino Film Festival will screen “East of Eden” on Friday, November 21 and Sunday, November 23, 2014.

Soon after “East of Eden” was published, plans began immediately for a motion picture. Warner Brothers bought the rights and director Elia Kazan hired playwright screenwriter, Paul Osborn to write the film script. After several attempts to encompass the sprawling 560-page novel, they decided to use only the last 90 pages—the story of Adam Trask, his sons Aron and Cal, their mother Kate, and the girl Abra.

It’s a story about the search for love, the desperate search for his father’s love, by the son Cal, the fanciful search for his mother’s love by Aron, and the futile quest by Adam for the love of all humanity. John Steinbeck wrote of his book, “The subject is the only one that man has used of his theme. The existence, the balance, the battle and the victory and permanent war between wisdom and ignorance, light and darkness, good and evil.”

By 1954, when Kazan began searching for locale to use for the filming of “East of Eden,” neither Monterey nor Salinas, where the stories took place, looked much like California in 1917. Warner Brothers had made “Johnny Belinda” in Mendocino in 1947, which might have influenced the director.

Or perhaps as one wire service reported:  “Like many other voyagers, he just wandered up the Mendocino Coast and found what he was looking for.”

In late April, preparations for filming began and the fist day of shooting took place on May 27. In that amazingly brief time the Mendocino scenes were completed and by June 3, the Warner Brothers production team was gone, leaving local residents with fond remembrances.

Bruce Levene writes, “I first saw “East of Eden” on the fan tail of a US Navy destroyer in the Caribbean in 1956. I’d read the book but never traveled west of Des Moines. California was unseen, Mendocino was unheard of. I thought “East Eden” had been filmed in Monterey and Salinas, wherever they were.”

“East of Eden” became Levene’s favorite motion picture. Not particularly because of James Dean, although he was certainly unforgettable.

“Whatever the man was in real life, saint or sinner,” Bruce Levene writes, “we will never really know.  It’s undeniable however, that in front of an audience or camera he was remarkable. And that, for an actor, is the best thing that can be said. Dean was just something else.”

For Bruce Levene, it was how he felt about the whole movie—the shoreline, the town, it’s people, the actors: Julie Harris, Joe Van Fleet, Raymond Massey and Burl Ives (Massey and Ives didn’t go to Mendocino), and Leonard Rosenman’s wonderful music. A totality in feeling, rare in motion pictures, was only enhanced to Bruce Levene when he moved to Mendocino in 1969.

When Bruce Levene and I visited from his home in Mendocino, California, on November 11, 2014, I asked him what prompted him to write his book “James Dean in Mendocino.”

The book Bruce Levene recommends is “The Immense Journey” by Loren Eiseley.

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Dammann, Dr. Grace –Dr. Grace Dammann: In Her Own Words

In our last interview we visited with the producers and directors of the film “States of Grace,” about the life of a woman honored by The Dalai Lama for her medical work at the height of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, Ca.

In this edition of Radio Curious we visit with that woman, Dr. Grace Dammann.  Dr. Grace had a near death experience resulting from a head-on collision on the Golden Gate Bridge in 2008.  She awoke 48 comatose days later after multiple surgeries for, as she says, “trashed bones and internal organs.”  With her cognitive abilities in tact, she began rehabilitation and was able to go home a year later.  Now, in 2014 she has returned to work as the Medical Director of the Pain Clinic at the Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, California, where she had previously worked as a physician for 18 years. 

Notwithstanding her confinement to a wheelchair she proudly describes her legal efforts to urge the Golden Gate Bridge Authority to install a dividing barrier intended to prevent future head-on collisions on the bridge.  The installation is scheduled to being in the fall of 2014.

Dr. Grace and I visited by phone from her home at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, in Muir Beach, California on May 23, 2014.  We began our conversation when I asked her describe her current station on the continuum of her life’s experience. 

The book Dr. Grace Dammann recommends is “The Last of the Just,” by Andre Schwarz-Bart. 

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Cohen, Helen & Lipman, Mark –”States of Grace:”  Difficult to Imagine – Impossible to Comprehend

On May 21, 2008 Dr. Grace Damman was crushed in a head-on collision on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.  Her abdominal organs were shoved into her lung cavity and her bones and muscles were extensively injured. 

A practicing Buddhist, Dr. Grace engaged her spirituality to survive this crisis, heal and accept the new terms of her life.  Three years and 15 surgeries later, Dr. Grace Damman became the Medical Director of the Pain Clinic at San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital where she had previously worked as a physician for 18 years.

“States of Grace” is a documentary film about Dr. Grace Damman, produced and directed by Helen Cohen and Mark Lipman, our guests on this edition of Radio Curious.  We visited by phone from their home in San Francisco, California, on May 16, 2014, and began our conversation with Helen Cohen describing her friend, Dr. Grace.

The films Helen Cohen recommends are “The Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Guest of Cindy Sherman.” The film Mark Lipman recommends is “Sherman’s March.”

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Silha, Stephen — The Puckish Whimsical Life of James Broughton

The puckishly whimsical life and times of poet and film maker James Broughton is the topic of this edition of Radio Curious in a visit with Stephen Silha, the producer and director of “Big Joy,” a biographical film of the life and times of James Broughton.   

Broughton believed that in order to live an authentic life we each should follow our own weird. He says:

“I don’t know what the left is doing said the right hand.

But it looks fascinating.”

And:

“I may be infecting the whole body

said the Head

but they’ll never amputate me.”

Stephen Silha and I visited by phone from his home near Seattle, Washington on Mother’s Day, 2014.  He began our conversation by telling us what drew him to make a film about his friend James Broughton.   

The book Stephen Silha recommends is “The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon,” by Tom Spanbauer.

The music in this week’s edition of Radio Curious is “Twirl” by Norman Arnold, from the movie, “Big Joy.”

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Donahue, Terry — Alloy Orchestra: New Music for Silent Films

The Alloy Orchestra is a group of multitalented musicians with widely diverse abilities, based near Boston, Massachusetts.  This group provides live, in house orchestral backup to the Chaplin, Keaton and other classic silent films of the 1920s.

Our guest in this edition of Radio Curious is Terry Donahue, an Alloy Orchestra partner, a skilled player of the accordion, musical saw, drums and bells, to name only a few.

Terry Donahue and I visited by phone from his home near Boston Massachusetts, on May 10, 2013, and began with his description of the composition of the Alloy Orchestra.

The book Terry Donahue recommends is “Accordion Crimes,” by Annie Proulx, and “Delicatessen” a French film.

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Samuelson, Kristine — 20,000 Crows in Tokyo

The more than 20,000 crows that inhabit the largest metropolis in the world, have come to be an imposing and sometimes harassing influence on the daily lives of the people with whom these clever birds share the city of Tokyo, Japan.

“Tokyo Waka: A City Poem” is a film poem about these crows and their people. In this edition of Radio Curious we visit with filmmaker Kristine Samuelson, a Professor of Humanistic Studies in the Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University. She is the co-creator, along with her husband John Haptas, of the film “Tokyo Waka.”  Their website is Stylofilms.

Our visit with Kristine Samuelson from her home in Berkeley, California on May 3, 2013 began when I asked her to describe the nature of their film poem.

Kristine Samuelson recommends two films: “Oblivion,” and “Underground Orchestra,” by Heddy Honigmann, a Peruvian born Dutch filmmaker.

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Makepeace, Anne — We Still Live Here: Revival of the Wampanoag Language

The film “We Still Live Here,” tells the story of the revival of an indigenous Native American language that was not spoken or written for over 100 years. Our guest in this edition of Radio Curious is Anne Makepeace, the writer and producer of the documentary film.

The Wampanoag people of Southeastern Massachusetts ensured the survival of the Pilgrims in New England, and lived to regret it. After nearly 400 years of forced cultural assimilation the Wampanoags have brought their language home again.

Radio Curious visited with Anne Makepeace from her home in northwestern Connecticut on April 29, 2013, and she began by pronouncing “We Still Live Here” in Wampanoag.

The films Anne Makepeace recommends are “The Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “Dersu Uzala.”

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Trimpin — Music and Thought: Pushing the Limits

Pushing limits in music and thought is the topic of this edition of Radio Curious as we visit with Trimpin, a man who makes music from unusual instruments.  He is the star of documentary film about his life’s work Trimpin, who uses a single word for his name received a Mac Arthur Genius Grant 1997.

He asserts that he is trying to “go beyond human physical limitations to play instruments in such a way that no matter how complex the composition or the timing, it can be pushed over the limits.”  The music, he said, starts with a sound in his head.  He then transforms that notion for us to hear.  The film Trimpin will be show at the Mendocino Film Festival the first weekend of June 2012, in Mendocino California.

I spoke with Trimpin from his studio in Seattle, Washington, on May 19, 2012, and asked him to comment on the characterization where he is described as a mad-scientist, a magician, or possibly a tour guide.

Rather than recommending a book, Trimpin said that he gave up reading sometime ago and replaced it with thinking.  He’d “rather think than read,” he said.

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Arlyck, Ralph — The Film Maker’s film: Following Sean… Technique and Life’s Stories

Sean, a four year old child living with his parents in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco in 1969 was the star of a short film about his life. He spoke openly his free-spirited parents, his crash pad home, watching cops bust head, and smoking pot.  Ralph Arlyck made the film while a student at San Francisco State University.

Thirty years later he located Sean and his family, and created the film Following Sean. Ralph Arlyck, our guest on this edition of Radio Curious has produced and directed more than a dozen prizewinning films.  Following Sean, is a film as much about Ralph Arlyck’s life as it is about Sean’s.  It will be shown at the Mendocino Film Festival, held in Mendocino, California, the first weekend of June, 2012, where Arlyck will receive the Albert Maysles Award for Excellence in Documentary Film Filmmaking.

Ralph Arlyck and I visited by phone from his home in Poughkeepsie, New York, on May 14, 2012, and began when I asked him how Following Sean also became a story of Arlyck’s own life.

The film Ralph Arlyck recommends isPatience (After Sebald,)” a British Film by Grant Gee.

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Reuther, Sasha — The United Auto Workers Union: Its Effect on American Life

As we all know every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  The reaction, however is not necessarily equal in time or unity.  It’s often spread over time with serial impacts.

In this edition of Radio Curious we focus on the treatment of workers in the automobile industry in the United States beginning in the early years of the 20th century.  The story is portrayed in “Brothers on the Line,” a film about Walter, Ray and Victor Reuther, three brothers from West Virginia who organized the United Auto Workers Union beginning in the 1920s.  With access to the National Archives, the Wayne State University Labor History Library and family records, Sasha Reuther, Victor’s grandson, directed the film.  It chronicles the working conditions and the successful strikes at the big three auto plants in Michigan; the political power of the United Auto Workers Union, and its involvement in the civil rights movement.  It also explains why Detroit, Michigan became the richest city in the United States in the 1950s.

“Brothers On The Line” will be shown June 3, 2012 at the Mendocino Film Festival, in Mendocino, California.

Sasha Reuther and I visited by phone from his office in New York City on May 7, 2012.  We began when I asked him what happened once the automobile became a useful, if not necessary tool of life.

The book that Sasha Reuther recommends is “U.A.W. and the Heyday of American Liberalism, 1945 -1968,” by Kevin Boyle.

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