the candler blog

The Hollywood Personal Egg Service That Wasn’t

Movies

I really wish this Marlon Brando “personal eggs” story over on Dangerous Minds were true. One has to hand it to graphic designer Cris Shapan, though: it’s a helluva good fake.

Shapan sets up the story like this: years after his great uncle, Art Berkell, passed away, Shapan found a folder labeled “Joe Flynn” among his effects containing a treasure trove of items related to the Disney stable actor and McHale’s Navy star.

There was also a pack of matches labeled “Joe Flynn’s Personal Eggs,” featuring a caricature of the actor, as well as a snapshot of a delivery truck painted in a similar fashion, and other related clippings. I’m thinking, what the hell was this?

So Shapan calls up his father. Flynn, he says, raised chickens and used to cook eggs for friends every Sunday morning.

Unfortunately, everything changed when actor Wally Cox slipped up and told his friend Marlon Brando about the breakfasts. Brando immediately called Flynn and demanded to be included. Soon, Sunday mornings weren’t enough; he started showing up at Flynn’s door at all hours, demanding his “personal” eggs.

Flynn ended up leasing space from Shapan’s great uncle and started selling his eggs to subsidize Brando’s great appetite. Once he landed McHale’s Navy, Flynn doubled down on his personal egg service and came up with an in-home eggs-on-tap system. But then:

As the returns diminished from their friendship, Flynn, in a brazen attempt to exploit their association, published a bizarre, full-page ad featuring Brando’s likeness and apparent endorsement—without Brando’s permission. The copy I obtained was printed in a business monthly published by a local Chamber of Commerce, but I was told that it popped up in a number of Los Angeles area publications and circulated for roughly a year before Brando found out, and he was livid.

As hoaxes go this one is excellent. It’s believable enough to be true, but marginal enough to not want to verify. Shapan provides photos, a news clipping, advertisements, a receipt with Brando’s name and actual address on it, as well as letters from lawyers and other actors. It’s all extremely convincing.

The first thing that should have set off anyone’s alarm is the author. Shapan, who also goes by Clarington Shpoo, is a designer and visual effects artist on Comedy Central’s Kroll Show who has been designing fake retro print items and videos for some time. These comedy album covers make the rounds from time to time. In 2013 Shapan published a fake Purina cat food ad featuring Brian Eno. The ad lives on, though the original Dangerous Minds post has since been taken down.

The “personal eggs” narrative and accompanying illustrations are something else, though. It’s just so expansive and expertly woven together. The photo of Brando smiling at an egg in the above ad is great, but it appears to be a photoshopped version of this shot (personal egg ad on the left, original on the right):

Now, I’ll admit that I can’t figure out where that photo of Brando came from. It pops up on a number of sites by way of a reverse Google Image search, but I’m not sure of its original context.

The news clipping’s first sentence is riddled with mistakes:

Actor Joe Flynn, best known as Dr. Bringhamton on the ABC drama “Mac Hale’s Navy…”

Flynn played Captain Binghamton, the show’s title is spelled “McHale’s” and, of course, it was a comedy. That seems like an awful lot of missteps, but it’s also down home and folksy enough for a low circulation newsletter.

The best part of this whole yarn is Shapan’s choice of Flynn, whose death happens to have a life of its own on the Internet. Here’s how Shapan puts it:

As for Flynn himself, in the summer of ‘74 he was found naked and dead at the bottom of his swimming pool—some say under mysterious circumstances—at the age of 49, and his dream of pre-scrambled eggs for the hungry masses apparently died with him.

Contemporary reports of Flynn’s death say he drowned swimming alone at his Bel Air home. His being naked seems to be a bit of poetic license on Shapan’s part. Those “mysterious circumstances” come from a story that’s been floating around the web for over a decade: that Flynn was possibly murdered after proclaiming on The Merv Griffin Show, “I have info that would rock Hollywood should it get out.” This same sentence also appears all over the web (including The New York Times, quoting the “All Movie Guide”):

In the 1970’s, Flynn was instrumental in helping members of the Screen Actor’s Guild receive more equitable distribution of residual payments.

A cursory search of the web didn’t turn up any other stories about Joe Flynn’s involvement with SAG residual negotiations, though that only feeds a murderous conspiracy theory, right?

One other thing. Shapan’s great uncle, Art Berkell? Now, it’s possible Shapan chose a name at random (or even that that was his great uncle’s name), but there is in fact a Berkell in Los Angeles that would fit the profile of the story. He pops up in articles about George Franklin Smith, “the first pilot to eject from a jet traveling at supersonic speed…and live!” When Smith’s F-100 crashed off Laguna Beach in 1955, “Los Angeles businessman Art Berkell,” who was out in the water fishing, rescued Smith. Turns out Berkell “had captained an air-sea rescue launch, and had fished some 275 downed airmen from the ocean” during World War II.

So Shapan’s hoax is a stroke of genius. Pulling the thread on the personal egg service actually does yield some strange Hollywood and Los Angeles lore. Which is why I really wish the whole thing were true. But a well-done fake is a story in and of itself, I suppose. Dig into it; there are quite a few nice touches to the story I haven’t mentioned here. Hopefully Dangerous Minds keeps this one up.

Prime Confusion

Technology

Stephen Hackett, trying to understand what Amazon Prime (which is on sale today) is:

It’s all very confusing, and my guess is that most users are like me and basically only use their Prime membership for the shipping benefits.

I have a Prime account and I honestly have no clue if it’s worth it for me. I don’t feel like I take advantage the shipping nearly enough and the only ancillary product that I use (rarely) is Prime Instant Video.

Stephen’s piece is a great breakdown of how confusing Prime has become, but there’s one point he trips up on:

Amazon doesn’t have an advertising business, but they do sell Prime.

Amazon absolutely has an advertising business, a massive one. Amazon has been selling ads for years in what has become a billion dollar side business.1 You can buy an ad on the web or on mobile; you can buy an ad on a Kindle. They now sell video ads, too. Even affiliate links, a program I take part in, is a form of advertising. Amazon is a retailer, but Amazon is also an ad company (and has been for a long time).

Every single current Kindle E-reader can be bought with or without advertising, or what Amazon calls “Special Offers.” You can opt out of these for an additional $20, but it’s clear that Amazon considers the ad-supported Kindle the main device.2

But this is the magic of the whole thing. Amazon’s advertising is so surreptitious and, crucially, so darn helpful, most of us forget it even exists.

So Stephen can be forgiven for falling for one of the greatest tricks Jeff Bezos and Amazon have ever pulled. “Tens of millions” of people pay for Prime accounts, likely sold it thinking the flagship feature, “FREE Two-Day Shipping,” is actually free. Nothing, not even the two-day shipping, is free with Amazon Prime. On top of that, customers pay, with a $20 savings, for the opportunity to be advertised to on their Kindles.

None of this is necessarily bad, but it sure is confusing. Which is why it’s best not to even think about it and just keep paying for Prime, which is what I’ll probably do the next time my membership bill comes.

  1. That may be small potatoes next to Google’s $50 billion, but a billion ain’t nothing.

  2. The advertised price of Kindles always refers to the ad-supported version. The “Special Deals” are always written about in the positive, so the $79 Kindle “With Special Offers” seems like it comes with more than the $99 Kindle “Without Special Offers.” There isn’t even a direct URL to get to any of the non-ad-supported Kindles.

Pirating the 2015 Oscars: HD Edition

Andy Baio has been tracking pirated Oscar films for over a decade. This year’s findings:

The big change: A staggering 44% of this year’s crop of nominees leaked as a high-quality rip from some source outside of traditional screeners or retail releases — the highest percentage since I started tracking films in 2003.

The leaked copies on offer are often of a much higher quality than the DVDs sent out to Oscar voters. Studios and distributors go to great lengths (and expense) to lock down screeners,1 but it’s looking like it’s becoming a moot point. There are better copies floating around in the ether.

  1. Visual and digital watermarks, barcoding tied to the recipient, etc.

The Limits of American Cinephilia

Books, Link, Movies

Richard Brody on the late Amos Vogel and, by extension, the film communities of New York and Paris:

Vogel’s screenings and seminars primed the pump and stimulated interest in a broad range of filmmakers, but it didn’t launch a generation. The Cahiers critics-turned-New Wave directors and their American acolytes, including Richard Roud, Peter Bogdanovich, and Andrew Sarris, did.

Brody’s jumping off point is the publication of Be Sand, Not Oil: The Life and Work of Amos Vogel, a new book of essays by and about the film programmer and teacher.

Vogel, I’ll admit, is someone I have heard of but know little about. The aforelinked piece is illuminating and I’d like to know more. I’m adding his 1974 Film as a Subversive Art to my must read list.

(via MUBI Notebook.)

Top Ten Films That I Saw in 2014

Movies

Every December I take the time to tally up the total number of released films I’ve seen for the previous year. I use Mike D’Angelo’s well-maintained NYC master list as a guide. It’s never as high a number as I want it to be.

I think I should be seeing some sixty to seventy current films a year. Last year I saw fifty-one films. This year I saw thirty-five. So, quite a bit off the mark, but there’s always next year.

Of those thirty-five films, though, some cream did rise to the top. So here they are, the ten 2014 films I liked the most.

1. The Dance of Reality, Alejandro Jodorowsky

How strange that, after a nearly two-and-half decade hiatus from filmmaking, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s newest film was overshadowed by Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary (that I haven’t seen) covering his failed attempt to bring Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel to the big screen in the 1970s.1 I understand the fascination with projects that never were, but if viewers have to pick, they should seek out the octogenarian director’s latest film. His advanced age be damned, The Dance of Reality has more verve for life than any other film I watched this year. Be warned, though, this autobiographical story is decidedly an “after dark” picture. It’s gross and strange and lovely and a wonder to behold. You’re not likely to see anything else like anytime soon.

2. Boyhood, Richard Linklater

I’m not above admitting that part of what’s so impressive about Richard Linklater’s chronicle of a boy’s life is that he pulled it off at all. But just rising to the occasion isn’t always enough; Boyhood actually holds up. There are scenes that affected me in ways I didn’t expect. Linklater instills scenes with senses of childlike wonderment and irrational dread, which are reminders of the positives and negatives that we’re only young once.

3. Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Alejandro G. Iñárritu

If Boyhood is impressive for its temporal expanse, Birdman is impressive for its spatial economy. Taking place (mostly) in a single Broadway theater and unfolding in (mostly) a single take, Iñárritu’s film is at times brutalizing. It’s full of fast-talking and always moving characters (think Sorkin walk-and-talk taken to its logical conclusion) that are hard to love but fun to watch. I’m not impressed by all long takes by virtue of their being difficult, however, Emmanuel Lubezki’s wandering camera is a thing of beauty.

4. Gone Girl, David Fincher

Though probably not winning over any niche title design awards, Fincher’s latest had me from the get go with the incredibly simple opening credits. It’s just well-paced still images with fading words on top, but it immediately sets up the thriller to come. Trust no one, not even words. Having not read Gillian Flynn’s novel, I went into the film completely blind. It’s an excellent, taut, thriller. Hitchcockian. Fincherian. Duh.

5. Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch

Easily the most rock and roll film of the year. Happy to see anyone, least of all Jarmusch, riffing on the vampire romance genre. Let’s call it the thinking person’s Twilight.

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson

This one’s up there for my favorite Wes Anderson film. He’s a director I don’t usually enjoy, but this story dovetails nicely with his usual twee bag of tricks. There are so many things done right in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but each achievement stands in the shadows of the mighty Ralph Fiennes. His is one of those performances that one could never imagine, could never see come to life from reading a script alone. It’s a beautiful, tender and towering outing for him. The whole ball of yarn unravels without his nailing it.

7. Policeman, Nadav Lapid

I saw Policeman at the New York Film Festival in 2011, when I called it one of the best undistributed films of the year. It finally saw a small US release this year, so it makes the list. Here’s what I had to say about it in a piece about Israeli Oscar contenders:

Policeman is a slow, haunting story that depicts the separate travails of both an anti-terrorism police officer and a small band of Israeli extremists. Through acts of violence, the one swears to protect what Israel stands for while the other vows to change it by any means necessary.

8. Non-Stop, Jaume Collet-Serra

Okay, so it’s a Liam Neeson action film on a plane. There’s, decidedly, a lot of silliness in this film, but the plot is astonishingly good. Trust me on this one.

9. Neighbors, Nicholas Stoller

The comedy chops of Zac Efron and Rose Byrne come out in unexpected ways here. Joke after joke hit dead on target.

10. Edge of Tomorrow, Doug Liman

Solid sci-fi that feels like a videogame, but I don’t hate it. Groundhog Day with guns and aliens.

  1. Jodorowsky’s Dune grossed more than twice as much as The Dance of Reality and opened on four times as many screens.

The Final Word on #pointergate

Link, News

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, who rose to national fame last week after a local news station claimed she threw a gang sign while working to get out the vote, gets the last word on #pointergate (emphasis mine):

One frightening implication of the KSTP story and police union President Delmonico’s support of that story is their implicit assumption that I should use stereotypes to assess with whom I should or should not meet or stand or talk. As The Onion once satirically wrote, “Stereotypes are a real time saver.” It is not a good basis for decision-making, however. It blunts the humanity of the person making the judgment and creates unnecessary separation between two people in a world where more, rather than less, human connection is needed for us to move forward as a community.

Hodges for President.

Poster Children

Design, Link, Writing

Layer Tennis is a design competition run by Coudal Partners, spartan proprietors (along with Draplin Design Co.) of Field Notes, and presented by Adobe Creative Cloud. I don’t know how long it has been running and I don’t full well understand the rules or the state of play.

What I do understand is this lovely intro to today’s match from John Gruber, today’s commentator:

Words, carefully chosen, can be precise in meaning. With emoji you lose that precision, but in exchange you gain a remarkable expressiveness for feeling. An emoji is seldom worth a thousand words, but depending on the moment, it can come close. In the way that email turned everyone into a writer, emoji turn everyone into a visual communicator. That’s something.

As a fan of Coudal (by way of my favorite tiny notebooks) I’ve seen Layer Tennis pop up along my feeds for the past few weeks. I never got it. I still don’t. But I’m getting closer.

I’ll watch today’s match, then, and see where things go.

Extra Thoughts on Listen Up Philip

Movies, Review

I reviewed Listen Up Philip for Heeb Magazine. Initially I wanted to pan the film, but I sat down to re-watch it and discovered how special it actually is. It seems like a chronicle of a few horrible people, but actually it’s a film about how we deal with success.

One thing that irked me on first viewing was the film’s use of voice over. As I mention in my review, this is a knee-jerk reaction. Omniscient narrators are usually a lazy crutch used by writers who can’t build a complex character and structure a narrative at the same time. But that was an unfair assessment. Writer/director Alex Ross Perry’s narrator is there to streamline the narrative, not fix it. We meet our characters in situ and jump right into the meat of their lives. It makes the film almost uncomfortably fast-paced.

And so I came around on this one. I truly love Elisabeth Moss’s performance, though that may be linked to the fact that I feel the closest connection to Ashley, the character she portrays. She also happens to be the only character whose life seems better off by the end of the film, though that’s more a matter of opinion than fact. As I wrote for Heeb, the choice to prefer Ashley “is a personal one though, perhaps linked to my own views of success and artistic struggle.”

That’s the heart of what makes Listen Up Philip such a special work. It offers insight on success (and life) in a mature and introspective manner. I’m glad I didn’t dismiss it because I don’t like omniscient narrators (but generally I still don’t).

Middling

Andy Baio on blogging:

Twitter and Waxy Links cannibalized all the smaller posts, and as my reach grew, I started reserving blogging for more “serious” stuff — mostly longer-form research and investigative writing.

Well, fuck that.

Yup. I want to publish here more as well. And I haven’t been for the exact reasons Andy mentions. So fuck it. Let’s go.

A Primer on Not Being a Music Hater

Criticism, Link, Movies, Music

Great piece by Ryan Gantz on music listening that I think aptly applies to watching movies:

You should feel free to listen to whatever music speaks to you. I do.

But the hard thing about music (and all types of art) is that speak can mean something different for every genre, artist, and album. The emotional, tonal, and verbal vocabulary of heavy metal is almost nothing like the vocabulary of jazz. The intention and cultural contexts differ. The listening experience goals for fans of hip-hop may be at odds with what a classical music-lover wants out of a great symphony.

And that means that it often requires intellectual/emotional openness and very close listening (or, like, dancing) to understand what a piece of music is getting at, what language it’s speaking, what feelings it wants to evoke—even who its target audience might be—before we can fairly judge what’s successful or unsuccessful about it.

Gantz articulates something I try to keep in mind whenever I watch a new film, especially one that exists well outside of my comfort zone.

(via Waxy.)