Monday, August 2, 2010

Hollywood Comes To Humboldt Street & TEXAS!

Hollywood Comes To Humboldt Street
(a slight digression into everyday life)
(07/26 -29/10)
It's something I've been dreading: the leaflets were finally going up on block. We were informed that film crews for 'Blue Bloods', a new cop drama starring Tom Sellick, would be coming to Humboldt Street. We residents were to remove our cars upon risk of (well, no risk -certain) towing, starting at 10PM Wednesday. The crews would have use of our block until 11PM Thursday. Now I've always liked the idea of Greenpoint's low-key film renaissance. After all, the American movie industry was practically born in Brooklyn and Long Island before it followed the sun to Southern California. In the '20's', Vitagraph Studios pioneered the sound era right here in Brooklyn (check Jolson's 'A Plantation Act' -1926 -it's on 'Youtube along with everything else). Even The Marx Brothers first feature (The Cocoanuts -1929) was shot a stone's throw away on the Kaufman Sound Stages in Long Island City. Until recently however, the industry here was so low-profile that most people couldn't imagine it was being carried on right under their noses. Sergei's best friend went slack-jawed when I pointed out "The Naked Brothers Band' was being filmed in the neighborhood. For him what comes out of the TV or on a movie screen was the result of some unimaginable, far-off, almost mystical process.
"Oh, are they from Hollywood?" he quizzically asked.
"No, they're from around the block".

The once-in-a-lifetime thrill when one Hollywood production or another brought it's glamor (and stars!) into our everyday worlds -'oh I met Kirk Douglas -he was really nice!' was one thing -it's another when the 'dream factory' decides you're just a squatter on their back lot. We learned all about this when we lived in the East Village. There seemed to be a production underway on our block every other week (Don't step over that cable in your doorway! Cross the street! Don't come out!). Now it was happening here, and once the production companies decide your neighborhood is their latest push-over, they'll be here one after the other. Already, before 'Blue Bloods' would wrap up on Thursday night, 'The Good Wife' would kick in, banning parking on four blocks adjacent to us.

By Tuesday afternoon the guy sent by the production crew to start holding parking -a day before their permit - wouldn't move his traffic cone back two feet so I could fit into a spot and let my kid out of the car. Nothing brings out the crank in me like being bossed around by some parking thug from a film crew. And this was only Tuesday afternoon. I finally called the location coordinator listed on the warning leaflet. There seem to be two types of people who get the responsibility of having to respond to the irate residents of the neighborhoods about to be invaded by film crews: the reasonable sounding, 'let them get it off their chests' type -like the nice guy from 'The Good Wife' who listened to me vent for longer than he really had to; and the 'how dare you peasants say anything about us using your home as a prop/parking lot for our important clients?' sort -like the terse and impatient young woman who answered the phone for 'Blue Bloods'. I asked if they intended to actually shoot on our block, or were they merely holding parking for a few days for the production crews. "No shooting" she replied curtly, "we're just using the block to park production vehicles". The next day they were moving lights, booms, etc into 716 Humboldt Street -a few doors up from me -so how would you categorize her response to my question? By Wednesday morning there were traffic cones lining both sides of the block.

Thursday morning I had to drive Sergei to the last day of his Bard summer enrichment program. Returning home I fruitlessly searched for a legal spot in the neighborhood for almost an hour. It's a game of automotive musical chairs that I despise. I had work to do before returning to Sergei's 'commencement', the normal 'alternate side of the street' parking restrictions had gone into effect across Greenpoint and I would be towed. To his credit, after several calls, the location manager allowed me to park in the spacious production parking lot (where most of their vehicles should have been in the first place) several blocks away. I guess I'm an 'ingrate'. I walked home and glowered. I glowered while some actor sat idling his car's engine in front of my house. I glowered while some assistant harassed two old ladies who wanted to retrieve some things from their home.

Soon more talent showed up. Sure enough, they were decked out in the ridiculous regalia that costume designers imagine the murderous members of youth gangs to wear. Of course, once again low-crime Greenpoint was serving as a stand-in for some inner-city hotbed of violence. Now, why don't the location scouts really go for authenticity and actually shoot in the so-called 'Ghetto'? The working people of those neighborhoods (and the really authentic examples of the bad dudes who 'Blue Bloods' was trying to portray) wouldn't stand for it. I don't blame them. At least the carefully contrived racial diversity of the 'gang' was heartening. If America's street gangs alone were really so well integrated, we would have come a long way to healing our country's long-festering racial divisions.

Ultimately, the block put up with the inconvenience. To be honest, a lot of neighborhood people find the prospect of catching a glimpse of the back of Tom Sellick's stand-in's head exciting. So they had no problem with being walked over for three days by people who despise them. No wonder the Polish are mercilessly denigrated with impunity (along with Catholics) by the entertainment world. It's certainly a large reason neighborhoods (besides the low cost) such as this become booked up as round the clock film locations par excellence. Passive, generally law-abiding residents, totally taken for granted by their political representatives. And oddly (well not so odd, really) enough, why these neighborhoods are so attractive to hipsterization. (think about it: The East Village, Williamsburg's Northside, now Greenpoint... I leave the rest to the sociologists -unless I'm given a grant, of course). I never bothered to see if Tom Sellick (or his stand-in) showed up. Just lame actors uncomfortably draped in rented NYPD uniforms and beefy representatives from the Teamsters Union idling in their Escalades 'supervising' the production. Despairing of a future of living in a ready-made set for TV land, I called my friend Mitch who lives up the block. "What if they decide to use that house as a main character's home or something?" I asked.
"Don't worry" Mitch sagely replied "Tom Sellick hasn't had a successful show since 'Magnum P.I.'.

(07/14 -18/10)

The sign of Buc-ee. Buc-ee emblazoned boxer shorts are available along with over twenty varieties of jerky at the Texas mega-service station.

Okay enough grousing, now for something more 'fun'. Once more, I've got to thank all of our friends in The Lone Star State, especially The Ugly Beats (www.theuglybeats) and our American agent Roggie Baer ( who made our 4-show trip to Texas so much fun -and possible! I always say a trip to Texas is like visiting another country, which of course at one point it was. We arrived in Austin just in time to head over to one of America's great record stores Waterloo ( for one of the band's best 'in-store' performances ever. I recalled filming there over a quarter of a century ago when 'The Cutting Edge' came to town for it's infamous Austin special. Although I had already resolved to eat nothing but Tex-Mex and barbecue the entire time I was in Texas, it was over to the east side for spirited Bastile Day celebrations at Justine's. France it is not, but Justine's did have ample outdoor seating in the warm Texas night, impromptu fireworks and a performance by friend and former Stray Cat Danny Harvey. The next day we hit the road with the Ugly Beats for Dallas and our shows at the 'Double Wide'.

Dallas (theme music please...)
Whenever I drive into Dallas from the south the theme music from the TV show begins to thunder in my head. Try it. We headed for the Belmont Hotel (from $ a beautifully renovated old-style 'motor court' on a bluff overlooking the downtown skyline. There's a cool cocktail lounge with terrace and a trendy barbecue restaurant. With a few hours to spare and the thermometer still pinned in the '100's', I headed for the pool. I was spending some time trying to get a shot of the hipster with the skyline in the background when a woman sidled up to me in the water. She wanted to know if I was covertly trying to take pictures of their children frolicking in the pool. I hadn't given that any thought, but I had noticed that their toddler wasn't equipped with a 'swimmy' diaper. Sure enough, the next morning the pool was closed 'for maintenance'.

Ken Fox, Dallas

Since Dallas is so close to Waco, this is 'Dr. Pepper' country. Texas bartenders can even dispense the stuff from their 'soda guns', so I decided on an evening-long experiment of Dr. Pepper and rum. I was hoping it would be something like 'Moxie' and rum. Interesting, but I'd say the throne of the 'cuba libré' is secure.

service -Texas size. Buc-ee's, I-45 in Madisonville, TX on the road to Houston.

Quo vadis? former Fly-Rite Boy, now ace drummer of The Ugly Beats Bobby Trimble, ponders Buc-ee's overwhelming selection of jerky. 'Beaver Nuggets' are also available. Not a meat product, 'beaver nuggets' are actually sugar-glazed puffed corn. We all agreed they'd be better in a bowl of milk for breakfast.

"no... no... no..." Alice Berry, DRT -formerly of Hillbilly Frankenstein, with 'Tippi Hedren' Barbie (note Tippi's suit).

We were graciously invited to the stylishly decorated bungalow of long-time friend Alice Berry in 'The Heights' (elevation 25 feet above steamy downtown Houston). The city was founded near the swampy place where Sam Houston turned on and shattered Santa Ana's army in the Texas War Of Independence. Somehow I missed the colossal statue of Sam that everyone said we passed on the way into town. Perhaps the boys were, in the words of Huntz Hall, "suffering from haloukinayshuns' caused by a cigarette that ain't quite legal" -if I didn't know better. The night's proceedings at Houston's Continental Club, a great complex that includes several bars, outdoor lounges and a late-night record shop, might have been the best of the mini-tour. That is, if not for Austin.

The Ugly Beats make a 'Bee Line' at The Continental, Houston -buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

Please excuse the quip about marijuana, which was in poor taste. In much better taste was the local branch of Luling City Market ( where we stopped before leaving town for a lunch of Texas-style barbecue -juicy beef brisket, pork ribs and smoked sausage links. Sold by the weight sans plats, Joe Emery commented that "if your barbecue's not served on paper, you're in the wrong place!" I always figured that if the pit didn't have at least one citation from the Department of Health, then you knew you were in the wrong place. Then on to Austin, where we wrapped up our Texas swing at Austin's own 'Continental Club' -exactly where The Fleshtones played on our first transcontinental tour for 'Up Front' in 1981. You'll find footage of the sweltering scene on FB.

-Peter Zaremba

next (finally): Homeland Insecurity, Roman (un)Holiday and Sjock! Sjock! Sjock!