Some programs deserved to stay 'lost'
By G. Michael Dobbs
Two interesting documentaries and one failed television show are featured in this week's DVD column.
I remember seeing the entrance for Toot Shor's restaurant on a trip to New York City made when I was in college in the early 1970s. It made the designation that Shors was "the world's greatest saloonkeeper."
Well, this loving, though objective, documentary made by one of Shor's grandchildren certainly explains why the description was accurate. Shor was a truly unique guy who created in the competitive world of restaurants and nightspots a joint that people still remember fondly years after its closing.
The kid from Philadelphia who parlayed a career in bars as a bouncer to an owner and host of his own place for over 20 years was clearly a great psychologist. This was a guy who was friends with Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Jackie Gleason, Frank Gifford and Frank Sinatra, among many others, but achieved those relationships not through playing up to their fame, but instead deflating it.
He also understood the way to achieve positive press was to create a bar where the press -- especially the sports writers for the city's 11 daily papers during the 1930s through 1950s -- could hang out.
Shor was a quintessential New Yorker and this entertaining documentary made me wish for the simpler times it portrayed. By the time Shor succumbed to cancer in the mid-1970s, the city that he loved had become almost unrecognizable.
Bittersweet and nostalgic, "Toots" is a great trip back to a grand guy and destination.
Quark: the Complete Series
Back in 1977, "Get Smart" co-creator Buck Henry had an idea for a sitcom that would lampoon movies such as "Star Wars" and television series such as "Buck Rogers." After all, he had great success with "Get Smart," which was a parody of spy vehicles such as the James Bond films.
The series, "Quark," was about Adam Quark, the commander of an interplanetary garbage ship who yearns for a better assignment. Although he frequently saves the day, his boss -- a giant disembodied head named "The Head" -- seldom gives him the respect he deserves.
Richard Benjamin played Quark as a basically sane man in an insane universe. He was the straight man to his crew that included a woman and her clone who were both in love with him; Gene/Jean, a person with full sets of male and female chromosomes; a walking plant who is the science officer; and a cowardly robot.
Hilarity should ensue, right? The show lasted for eight episodes.
Achieving a sort of cult status, the show is now available for reassessment through this DVD release. My verdict? It's not that funny.
Perhaps part of the problem is since 1977 there have been enough science fiction parody films to lessen the impact of the show's humor. Back in 1977 the series might have seemed fresh, but not now. The Gene/Jean character is truly obnoxious as it features the lowest of stereotypical male/female behaviors being passed off as humor.
Standard Operating Procedure
Academy Award-winning documentarian Errol Morris' latest production seemed an odd choice to me as the tragic events at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq had already been explored in the superb film "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib."
I wondered why Morris felt the need to re-tell this story. He does it very well, though, in his trademark manner of posing interviews with stylized reconstruction of actions from the story.
I've always thought that Morris' style places distance between the viewer and the subject material. While some documentaries want to thrust you into the middle of a story, Morris' work seeks a more academic, almost abstract, approach.
I think I liked the previous film better. What the two films do provide is perspective as Morris' film was made later and the additional time has added another dimension to the answers Morris posed to his interview subjects.
Either film is well worth watching and the story still creates questions that have not been adequately answered by the Bush Administration.