Monthly Archives: February 2004

City Hall — NUSA Rears Its Ugly Head


NUSA Rears Its Ugly Head

In what has become a controversial rite of passage for many of Birmingham’s neighborhood leaders, the Birmingham City Council voted at the February 17 meeting to approve funding to send 250 neighborhood officers to the annual Neighborhoods USA Conference (NUSA), scheduled for May 26 through 29 in Hollywood, Florida. Last year’s conference in Chattanooga sparked heated debate when the City Council approved spending $150,000 to send 226 representatives—reportedly a much larger number than other participating cities routinely send—to the four-day symposium.

This year, as much as $198,000 will be taken from neighborhood spending allocations to once again finance a NUSA trip. Some on the council are irate that tax dollars will be wasted while residents complain about flooding, abandoned buildings, and an alarming crime rate.

Though faced with a $16 million deficit in fiscal year 2004, city officials continue to toss money around like Mardi Gras beads.

As is so often the case, the grandstanding Councilor Bert Miller was surprisingly candid about why he supports the conference expenditure. While praising neighborhood leaders for outstanding performance in general, Miller made no bones about his motivation as a NUSA cheerleader: “We’re sitting here beating up on our neighborhood people that put us in office, and I’m not going to do that,” Miller said. “I’ve got more sense than that. Let’s support the people who’ve supported us. In a year and a half we’re going right back to these same people to try to hold these [council] seats again. And these people will not forget this day. I support y’all 100 percent!”

Councilor Carol Reynolds, who is adamantly opposed to the expenditure, complained that she had received e-mail from all over the country expressing disgust with the behavior of some Birmingham attendees at last year’s conference. “I cannot support $49,000 a day to go to a conference with the history of representation that has occurred. We have projects that you should be using these dollars for, and this is frivolous!” Perhaps in response to Miller’s confession that he was supporting the delegation in order to ensure his re-election to the council, Reynolds noted that less than one-half of one percent of Birmingham voters participated in neighborhood officer elections.

Miller, who is no stranger to hurling accusations of racism at any who would disagree with him, resorted to a cheap shot in response to Reynolds’ accounts of misconduct. “I hope this is not divided along racial lines about saying our people don’t know how to act, because our people know how to act. I’m very offended by that.” Reynolds vehemently objected, as did Councilor Elias Hendricks, who also acknowledged receiving similar e-mail complaints about some representatives’ behavior, which included, among other undisclosed grievances, fish frys held on hotel balconies in violation of hotel regulations.

Mayor Bernard Kincaid, whose office recommended the conference expenditure, increased the funding of each neighborhood from $3,000 to $10,000 during his first term. Neighborhoods are required to spend at least $7,000 of their yearly allocation on capital projects, defined by state law as “anything that has a shelf life of 10 years or more,” according to Kincaid. Most neighborhoods spend the bulk of their unearmarked money for neighborhood “Fun Days,” local festivals that usually include food and carnival rides. [Reynolds and others on the council have been critical of this type of neighborhood spending as well.] Citing the fact that neighborhood officers serve on a volunteer basis, the Mayor defended the conference workshops and the fact that neighborhood leaders are interacting with other people from other cities. Kincaid described the conference as a “bargain for the city” in maintaining the neighborhoods’ function as “an extension of government.”

Though faced with a $16 million deficit in fiscal year 2004, city officials continue to toss money around like Mardi Gras beads. According to the NUSA web site (, among the activities offered to NUSA attendees at the 1995 NUSA Conference in Birmingham was a junket to the Birmingham Race Course. How betting on dogs soothes the fears of neighborhood residents preoccupied with blight and declining property values remains a mystery. At last year’s conference in Chattanooga, prospective Birmingham mayoral candidates held receptions to entertain neighborhood leaders. Being courted by those who approve the funds to finance such conference trips should give pause to neighborhood officials traveling on the city’s dime. &

Dead Folks 2005, Cinema part 1

Dead Folks 2005, Cinema part 1

A look back at the notable names and personalities who called it quits last year.

February 24, 2005

Janet Leigh

The shower scene in Psycho must be one of the top five most recognized moments in cinema history. For the uninitiated, it is certainly one of the most disturbing. Leigh herself was not troubled by the scene during its production, which called for some 50 setups. Yet after seeing the final result on screen, the actress chose never to take a shower again (apparently a bath makes the bather less vulnerable). Leigh (77) had some excellent turns in Orson Welles’ quirky thriller Touch of Evil (another film in which she is menaced in a hotel room) and opposite Frank Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate. Daughter Jamie Lee Curtis enjoyed status as a scream queen during the 1970s and early ’80s, most famously in Halloween, in which Jamie was basically following in Mom’s footsteps. An older generation of film fans remember Janet Leigh as one of the dolls in MGM’s mid-1950s stable of buxom gals, as well as her much publicized marriage to screen idol Tony Curtis. Their short-lived domestic bliss was detailed, ad nauseam, in brilliant Kodachrome for all the screen tabloids. —D.P.

Janet Leigh (click for larger version)

Carlo DiPalma

There is an immediately recognizable visual style in Woody Allen’s films made after the mid-1980s, most notably in Hannah and Her Sisters, Shadows and Fog, Radio Days, Alice, and Deconstructing Harry. Several characters may be in a living room, a hotel lobby, or on a Manhattan sidewalk while a scene continues with almost imperceptible zooms, few if any edits, cuts, close-ups, or shifts in camera angle. Because Allen is uniquely adept at staging entire scenes for such “master shots,” and because Carlo DiPalma (79) understood how to capture those scenes without rendering dull, static images, DiPalma’s colleagues often referred to him as the “master of the master shot.” The pair collaborated on 12 films, most of which also boast a trademark honeyed glow that DiPalma achieved without filters, making him a master of lighting in the bargain.

The cinematographer acquired these skills during the Italian neo-realist heyday of the 1940s and early 1950s, but refined his craft, to much acclaim, during the 1960s with Michelangelo Antonioni and Bernardo Bertolucci. In fact, DiPalma was behind the camera for Blowup, Antonioni’s stylized, enigmatic mystery that became an internationally recognized symbol of the swinging ’60s. —D.P.

Rodney Dangerfield

“When I started in show business, I played one club that was so far out that my act was reviewed in Field and Stream,” went one Rodney Dangerfield (82) joke about his life without respect. It took him until age 42—his second attempt at making a living as a comic—to parlay his many years of failure into a staple of pop culture. “I get no respect” was a mantra that would be his ticket to stardom. No comic has ever been more successful mining the same concept over and over. With one hand constantly loosening his necktie as if it were a noose, Rodney Dangerfield’s bulging eyes, sweat-drenched face, and natural delivery of one-liners landed him on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” more than 70 times. He starred in the films Caddyshack, Easy Money, and Back to School, among others. In 1995, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rejected Dangerfield’s application for membership. Outcry from fans forced the Academy to change its mind, but Dangerfield declined the offer. —E.R.

Fay Wray

Fans of Femme Fatale or Fangoria magazine appreciate the type of actress (phenomenal babe) who spends her career in B-to-Z horror films and thrillers, most of which go directly to video or the cable movie channels. Occasionally one of these dolls breaks into the mainstream, but most of them enjoy being almost famous strictly for their killer bodies and their screams. Now that she’s passed on, perhaps Fay Wray (96) will become the patron saint of these gals, considering that she started the whole thing more than 70 years ago.

Fay Wray (click for larger version)

Yes, that’s Wray, circa 1933, in the hands of a giant gorilla named Kong as he makes his way through Manhattan and up the side of the Empire State building. During the long production of that epic thriller, Wray was loaned out to other studios for such obscure movies as Doctor X, The Vampire Bat, and a mean little action-adventure film with Joel McCrea called The Most Dangerous Game. By the time she was perched with the big guy atop the world’s tallest skyscraper, Wray was known as “the scream queen.” One might argue that she helped make the building famous. Someone thinks so, because the lights on the building were dimmed for 15 minutes last summer to honor Wray’s passing. The actress (actually an extremely fetching brunette in her other roles) maintained a sense of humor about her association with the New York landmark, remarking in 1993, “Every time I’m in New York I say a little prayer when passing the Empire State Building. A good friend of mine died up there.” —D.P.

John Randolph

The balding character actor with a beaming smile and thoughtful eyes seems to have been middle-aged his entire screen career, but that’s because his work was stalled in the 1950s after he was blacklisted. An original member of the Actors Studio, Randolph (88) distinguished himself on stage before making his motion picture debut in 1955 in The Naked City. A decade later John Frankenheimer cast him in the science fiction film Seconds, and Randolph’s career as a character player on television and in motion pictures took off. He was outstanding as Jack Nicholson’s mobster father in Prizzi’s Honor and as the bookstore tycoon in You’ve Got Mail. Randolph also made brief appearances in almost every television series ever made, but he may be remembered for his recurring role as the dad on “Roseanne.” An unrepentant socialist, Randolph was active in leftist causes most of his life, eventually chairing the Council of Soviet-American Friendship, which arguably casts the blacklisting matter in an entirely different light. —D.P.

Russ Meyer

A scene from Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (click for larger version)

Only Western civilization could produce savages like Russ Meyer, who truly understood the course of conflict in the wild. As the world’s greatest director of (human) nature films—including Supervixens and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Meyer (82) spent the ’60s and ’70s making fantastic soap operas in which large-breasted women romance, fornicate, and engage in mortal combat with white-trash men. His instincts as an outdoor filmmaker were guided by far more than inexpensive sets; granted a big Hollywood budget with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Meyer simply had his warring tribes fighting in the arenas of Beverly Hills mansions. Like any auteur towards the end of his career, Meyer recognized the fulfillment of his vision, working towards a complete overview of his lifelong obsession with the female animal: a multimedia project entitled The Breast of Russ Meyer. When you’re the Marlin Perkins of mammaries, being witty is a secondary concern.

And on a personal note: The above was written in the present tense for a 1994 series of trading cards entitled Crackpots & Visionaries. The cartoonist assigned to illustrate the card was a friend of Meyer’s, and was concerned that my bio was disrespectful. He sent it off to Meyer who gave his approval. I met Meyer the next year, and we talked so much about his military years and Alabama—where he kept a fishing cabin—that his films barely got mentioned. A truly great guy, and what a shame to lose him to Alzheimer’s this past year. —J.R.T.

Ron O’Neal

Go and watch Superfly again—it’s pretty impressive how Curtis Mayfield’s score actually says more than any dialogue in the actual movie. Ron O’Neal (66) really saved film in his amazing turn as the titular drug dealer. Too bad that he was facing the same studio system as Pam Grier. There was no place for a black leading man with that kind of charisma, so O’Neal was stuck in the lousy sequel Superfly T.N.T. His complex villainy also couldn’t save The Master Gunfighter, which was heavily hyped as Tom Laughlin’s bid to expand his empire beyond the Billy Jack franchise. O’Neal survived the ’70s, though, and would go on to steal plenty of scenes as a dashing character actor in films such as Red Dawn and The Final Countdown. —J.R.T.

Paul Winfield

As another sign of Hollywood cluelessness in the ’70s, Paul Winfield (62) was regularly cast as a salt-o’-the-earth black man in rural films such as Sounder. In truth, Winfield was more like a black Christopher Walken than a male Cicely Tyson. His rich, fruity voice was put to its best use as the gloating narrator providing sordid details about various nice towns on the A&E Channel’s “City Confidential” crime documentary series. Winfield’s weird presence had also been put to better use in the ’70s with Trouble Man and Conrack, while the ’80s provided him with a turn as a cunning record executive in a Wiseguy story arc. He never quite got the defining role that he deserved, but Winfield made a lot of mediocre films suddenly seem dangerous just by his mere presence. —J.R.T.

Mercedes McCambridge

The old National Lampoon gag went basically like this: how to tell Mercedes McCambridge from Barbara Stanwyck? Barbara carries a whip; Mercedes is named after a car. The joke is a mild allusion to Stanwyck’s rather butch role in the television western series “The Big Valley,” as well as to McCambridge’s minor cult status as, well, a screen dyke. To understand how McCambridge (85) might have established herself as an icon of the celluloid closet, simply witness her roles in Giant and Johnny Guitar. Those turns as the toughest old broads in the west can make Charles Bronson look swishy. If those roles fail to convince, then her leather-clad villainess in Touch of Evil should remove any doubts.

McCambridge was one of the original members of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater, justifiably so because the actress was a phenomenal voice talent. She was familiar to listeners tuning into “Inner Sanctum Ford Theater,” “I Love a Mystery,” and other programs from the radio era. Her most unique job in that capacity came many years later when McCambridge provided the voice of demon-possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist. —David Pelfrey

The Set List — Jimmy Hall

2004-02-12 tracking Music section

By J.R. Taylor, Ed Reynolds, Bart Grooms

“Blow and suck as hard as you can!” That’s the advice former Wet Willie vocalist and harmonica dynamo Jimmy Hall gave local harpist Topper Price during a one-time harmonica lesson decades ago. “Jimmy can sing like an angel,” Price elaborated. “He’s the biggest single reason I do what I do today.” Jimmy Hall has inspired more than just the locals. After an extended stint in the 1970s working every beer shack between New York and L.A.— where Hall’s reputation as a hip-shaking, Dixie-fried Mick Jagger (right down to the big lips) established the band Wet Willie as a Southern heavyweight on par with the Allman Brothers and Marshall Tucker Band— the Mobile native went on to earn a Grammy nomination for his vocal work on Jeff Beck’s Flash in 1985. In fact, Hall came very close to joining the Jeff Beck Group as lead vocalist, a position held at one time by none other than Rod Stewart. He later played sax and harmonica while serving as Hank Williams, Jr.’s bandleader. When Hall performs at the Oasis, he’ll be backed up by Birmingham’s finest: Tim Boykin on guitar, Leif Bondarenko on drums, Eric Onimus on bass, and Macey Taylor on piano. (Friday, February 13, at The Oasis.) —Ed Reynolds

Dillinger Escape Plan
They don’t introduce their songs by name, since that’ll interfere with what this band likely wants to imagine as a sonic assault. It’s also kind of a serious musician pose—which is desperately needed when you’re an acclaimed cutting-edge band hoping that nobody notices that your jagged metal sound is really just rap-rockin’ nü-metal without the sponsorships. (Saturday, February 14, at the Homewood Armory, 6 p.m., $10 adv.) —J.R. Taylor

Flickerstick/Blue Epic
For those with a sense of instant nostalgia, Flickerstick was the big winner on a legit-rock version of American Idol. The resultant album had about the same impact as Justin Guarini’s. So, the dumbest possible thing would be to play up this generic band’s shortcomings with a live album, as they did with the aptly-titled Causing a Catastrophe. Couldn’t they have just made a beach movie with Bijou Phillips? That tense little EP from locals Blue Epic is holding up pretty well, though, although those pleading vocals are probably best served by a five-song format. (Sunday, February 15, The Nick, $7.) —J.R.T.

Mindy Smith and Eliot Morris
She took off after stealing a Dolly Parton tribute from her famous contemporaries, and One Moment More updates Smith’s “Jolene” with harmony vocals from Dolly herself. That’s actually a distraction, though, since Smith’s big talent is that she’s the first great song stylist to come out of Nashville since the early Countrypolitan days. She’s styling her own songs, as we’re reminded by her appearing with Eliot Morris in a concert packaged as a night of singer/songwriters. She writes some beautiful tunes, but watching her pull them off is a real event. You’d never know that she has one of the most limited voices in Nashville. (Thursday, February 19, WorkPlay, 8 p.m. $8.) —J.R.T.

The Red Clay Ramblers
They’re the New Christy Minstrels of string bands, if only because nobody can ever remember the guy who writes their original songs. And if I told you, you’d think I was making fun of his name. Still, the Red Clay Ramblers are also important purveyors of the American songbook, and are versatile enough to toss off some prehistoric jazz and classic novelty tunes. At least the name has become a franchise unto itself, so the band will likely go on in perpetuity. We weren’t that lucky with Tiny Tim. (Saturday, February 21, 8 p.m. and Sunday, February 22, 2:30 p.m. at the Hoover Public Library. Sold out.) —J.R.T.

Smile Empty Soul perform at Banana Joe’s. (click for larger version)

Smile Empty Soul
Last year’s self-titled debut allowed Smile Empty Soul to break new ground in the realm of rock bands that blame their parents for everything. In fact, resentment is pretty much this band’s main product. They resent intrusive parents and neglectful parents—not to mention strip malls and religion. But angry young Sean Danielsen also resents drug use, so there’s something to separate them from Rage Against The Machine. Danielsen probably also resents not being around in 1988, since he’s got a pretty sharp sense of melody that would’ve guaranteed a five-year career arc back in the day. Danielsen wouldn’t have shot his profits up his arm, either. He probably resents the people who did. (Tuesday, February 24, Banana Joes, 8:30 p.m., $5, 18+.) —J.R.T.


Sweet Honey in the Rock perform at the Alys Stephens Center. (click for larger version)

Karen Gruber
Karen Gruber, a fine jazz vocalist, will perform with drummer Sonny Harris’ trio at Moonlight Music Café in Vestavia. Gruber is a thoughtful, articulate singer with a sensual touch to her expression, and she swings in an understated, effective manner. (Wednesday, February 25, Moonlight Music Café, 8 p.m., $10.) —Bart Grooms

Sweet Honey in the Rock at Alys Stephens Center
If you’ve never had the experience of seeing and hearing this a cappella group, get ready to be blown away by their artistry, message, and sheer vocal power. Founded by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon in 1973, this ensemble of six black women (and an expressive sign language interpreter) draws deeply from the well of black church music, adding blues, jazz, and folk tunes for seasoning. Their material ranges from the overtly spiritual to topical explorations of international justice and freedom issues. (Friday, February 27, Alys Stephens Center, 8 p.m., $22-$42.) —B.G.