Ghost Sites of the Web

Web 1.0 history, forgotten web celebrities, old web sites, commentary, and news by Steve Baldwin. Published erratically since 1996.

September 27, 2008

In Praise of Paul Newman

Update 9/26/2008: Paul Newman has died at his home in Connecticut.

(original article, posted 8/13/2008)


I'm certainly not alone in being troubled by news that Paul Newman is gravely ill. Paul Newman is a great actor and more importantly, a great human being, who's given almost a quarter of a billion dollars to charity and has touched many lives with his kindness. To celebrate his life, I've been watching a lot of Paul Newman movies recently. Without further ado, here are my picks for the Top 10 Best Paul Newman Movies of all time. I've linked title text to Amazon in case you want to check out any of these works yourself and add them to your DVD library.

1. The Hustler (1962) This classic, atmospheric film has much more than electrifying performances from Newman, Piper Laurie, Jackie Gleason, and George C. Scott. It's a no holds-barred look at what it takes to succeed in America, and the supreme costs one must pay for doing so. If you only watch one Paul Newman film, this is the one to see.

2. Hud (1963) Newman's Hud is the unforgettable Texan anti-hero, an unprincipled man of absolute self-centered nastiness. This beautifully filmed (by James Wong Howe) tragic drama features unforgettable performances by Melvyn Douglas, Patricia Neal, and Brandon De Wilde.

3. The Verdict (1982) Paul Newman's breathtaking performance as a 50-ish, washed-up alcoholic lawyer who realizes that his one path left open for redemption is through a trial by fire. Screenplay by David Mamet, direction by Sydney Lumet, with a stellar supporting performance by Jack Warden. This film is flawless and if The Hustler and Hud weren't such brilliant works, The Verdict would be #1 on this list.

4. Slap Shot (1977) Quite possibly the best, most hilariously endearing movie about sports ever made, with Newman, as coach Reggie Dunlop, attempting to coax one more championship from a doomed New York state hockey team filled with miscreants and misfits. A true classic that was way ahead of its time and still packs belly-laughs today.

5. Harper (1966) A New Age noir sleeper based on Ross Macdonald's "The Moving Target," Harper has it all: dysfunctional LA families, a shady mystic guru, fast fists, fillies, gunplay, and treachery. This film's score by Johnny Mandel is one of the best of the 1960s. An excellent cast is rounded out by Lauren Bacall, Julie Harris, Robert Wagner, and Strother Martin.

6. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) The quintessential Western buddy film that was a monster hit when it was released and still charms.

7. Cool Hand Luke (1967) I suppose that Cool Hand Luke will be the film that Paul Newman will ultimately be remembered for, because the character of Luke so completely expresses the alienation and rebellion of the 1960s. Even though Luke isn't exactly a brainiac, Newman's intelligence shines through the part of the doomed work camp convict.

8. The Color of Money (1986) A sequel to The Hustler directed by Martin Scorcese, this film captures Fast Eddie Felton twenty years into his career, a sadder, wiser, but no less formidable man. I'm not a big Tom Cruise fan but Tom is great as a young pool hustler that Fast Eddie takes under his wing. If you've got the middle-age blues The Color of Money will cure ya!

9. Absence of Malice (1981) A terrific "message picture" that probes big questions about the responsibility of the media, and yet doesn't fail to thoroughly entertain. Another Sydney Pollack classic with a stellar cast, including Sally Field as an overzealous newspaper reporter.

10. The Drowning Pool (1975) A stylish, dark sequel to Harper, The Drowning Pool takes Lew Harper to Los Angeles, where he meets a qualitatively different sort of degradation and despair. Few sequels match the originals in quality: the Drowning Pool manages to be just as good as Harper. Joanne Woodward is excellent as Harper's doomed paramour.

Yeah, I know: I had to leave a bunch of great Paul Newman movies off this list, including Winning (the film that got Paul into car racing), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (a romp directed by John Huston), The Long Hot Summer (plenty of fireworks between Newman and Woodward), The Sting (a classic scam twister), Road to Perdition (Paul's last film), and lots of others that I haven't seen yet or seen recently enough to evaluate. Maybe a "top 10" list for Paul Newman doesn't do his work justice at all!

While I dearly hope that all the rumors about Paul's health are false, we're all mortals, and Paul has left us so much in his films and in his life that he'll be with us for a long long time: as long, anyway, as there are intelligent people willing to create, as well as watch, intelligent movies.

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July 18, 2008

The Seekers in 1964: I Know I'll Never Find Another You

The Seekers were the heirs to The Weavers in the early 1960s and their early work is flawless. As a sound engineer, I especially enjoy the shots of classic recording equipment. "I Know I'll Never Find Another You" was a worldwide smash and you can't claim to remember the early 1960's without it being ensconced in your brain. Enjoy!

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July 15, 2008

The Wanton Destruction of Washington Square Park

Longtime Greenwich Village resident and activist Sharon Woolums fought for three years to save Washington Square Park. In the video above, she sings about the forces that ultimately doomed the park to a radical redesign.

One of the most familiar places in my life was Greenwich Village's Washington Square Park. While I no longer live in Manhattan, I grew up just a few blocks from the park, spent many hours there, and always accepted that it was a sacred institution that wouldn't be sacrificed to the interests of developers. So I was shocked when I visited the park a few weeks ago and saw that it had been fenced up, torn down, denuded of ancient trees, and basically destroyed, all in the interests of making it "better utilized" (i.e. more conducive to gentrification).

I write a lot about the inevitable passage of time and the erosion it causes to cyber properties on this web site. Still, it was a blow to see one of my neighborhood's major gathering places looking like a desert, and I got angry enough about it to produce the video embedded above, starring community activist Sharon Woolums, who fought valiently for three years to save the Park, but was ultimately defeated by powerful entrenched interests. You can learn more about the ghastly destruction of Washington Square Park over at

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July 11, 2008

The Tragedy of Loren Feldman

Prominent videoblogger Loren Feldman had everything going for him. Named "one of the the freshest voices in digital media" by A-list Silicon Valley kingmakers, including C|Net's Charles Cooper, dubbed "a new age Lenny Bruce" by others, Feldman's upward trajectory into the top ranks of video blogging seemed unstoppable throughout 2007 and the Spring of 2008, accelerating markedly as Feldman launched a new series of videos brilliantly mocking the tech industry's most pompous tech bloggers using hand puppets.

Feldman's shtick (angry urban man on the rampage against technology industry snake oil salesman and false cyber-prophets) wasn't a new idea, but his execution brought a refreshing immediacy that was a perfect antidote to the widespread and cowardly practice of mass, anonymous flame-throwing that passes for discourse on the Web. Feldman's opinons were his own, he wasn't afraid to tell us who he was, and if you didn't like it, well tough. You could love Feldman, hate him, but you couldn't ignore him, because he was real -- a rare quality in a medium drowning in illusion enabled by rampant anonymity.

After years of struggling on the margins of the Blogosphere, the riches were poised to flow to Feldman, first from C|Net, which in early June signed Feldman and his production company, 1938 Media, to a writing and video production deal, and then Verizon, which was to open Feldman's brand of in your face, take no prisoners iconoclasm to the wireless carrier's 3 million VCast subscribers. If anyone was going to prove, after the Amanda Congdon/ABC fiasco, that Bloggers were ready to dish to the mainstream, it was going to be Feldman. And yet, in a blink of an eye, both of these "big fish" (as Feldman called them) dropped Feldman like the hottest of hot potatoes, hours after a controversial 2007 video, "Where Are The Black Tech Bloggers" surfaced, reigniting a firestorm of criticism that all had thought was forgotten. Today, Feldman has been reduced to fending off multiple attackers accusing him of racism from a lonely Twitter outpost, despite the fact that he profusely apologized about the whole affair more than a year ago.

There are lessons for us all in Feldman's dizzying rise and fall. While the Web allows an unparalleled level of creative freedom, content creators are still responsible for what they create, and the mere fact that a given "edgy" work was created one or ten years ago provides no protection against those offended by it. The greatest illusion of today's world is that we are free, whereas in fact we all live in a Panopticon where any past writing can be held against us. Whatever freedom we enjoy is constrained by its economic context. There is a vast difference between serving up a Blog post and making a few pennies against it via Adsense and serving up the same content through a content licensing agreement. It's not so much the money -- it's who you take it from, and Feldman should have known this. In Faustian fashion, if you're a Verizon subcontractor, you have to abide by Verizon's rules.

Of course, we all likely have skeletons in our closets, comments we made in the middle of the night that we regret making but cannot delete, or e-mails sent in piques of anger. What happened to Feldman can happen to any of us, and this kind of affair will increase in frequency as the Myspace/Facebook generations begins to confront the indelibility of digital communications. Feldman is a unique talent but like Faust, Icarus, and Lenny Bruce, he ran into a wall he himself created, and my hope is that he will soon stop blaming others and begin to more seriously think about the responsibilities that come with creative freedom.

The real tragedy of Loren Feldman is that 95 percent of the people who will now be exposed to his work through this controversy will not look past "Where Are the Black Tech Bloggers" to appreciate his other work, which is funny, probing, and right on the money. In the world of the Panopticon, things are neither forgotten nor forgiven, which makes it a uniquely terrifying medium for anyone seeking to push the envelope of discourse.

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July 10, 2008

This Whole Nasty Loren Feldman/1938 Media Business

Loren Feldman's Controversial "Where Are the Black Bloggers" Video

Verizon has nailed Loren Feldman, whose quixotic but occasionally hilarious videos have won the hearts and minds of thousands. But Verizon renaged from the agreement to make Feldman's clips available to its mobile network after protesters alleged that a video recorded by Feldman last year entitled "Where Are the Black Tech Bloggers" promoted anti-African-American stereotypes.

I generally like Feldman because he takes aim at powerful and pompous tech industry people with the power to hurt him back, and this may have been what happened to him this time around. But I don't think "Where Are The Black Tech Bloggers" is funny, nor is it even true. There have been several notable black tech bloggers, notably Steve Gilliard (1964-2007) who blogged about tech copiously from the late 1990s to 2003.

In my view, Feldman fell short by not acknowledging that African Americans have been, are, and will be important members of the Blogging scene when he created "Where Are The Black Tech Bloggers." Even those who believe that Mr. Feldman's wish for "a different cultural view of technology" is sincere should be troubled that he didn't better research his subject before creating this video.

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