Short Takes: November/December 2020

EVENTS


Holiday Wreath Making Workshop
with Mary Louise Hagler

Sacred Heart Cultural Center hosts local floral and lifestyle designer, Mary Louise Hagler, in a hands-on workshop to create a holiday wreath. Participants are encouraged to bring items from their own backyard. All other supplies will be provided.
November 21. Cost is $45. Reserve your spot by calling 706.826.4700.


Virtual Travel
Want to travel the world without leaving the River Region? 

With travel restrictions still in place for many parts of the world, you can still experience new places while taking a virtual run, complete with videos, highlights, interesting foods and fun information. Participants will even receive a commemorative postcard with a personal photo.

Experience Travel & Virtual Run Around the World 2020
Saturday, December 5
North Augusta Greeneway
Visit, thebestraces.com for more details!


Give the gift of art! 

A “Create with Me To Go Box” from the Morris Museum of Art is the perfect gift for the child in your life. With a new project available each month, the box includes supplies, instructions, artist highlight, link to a how-to video and a surprise. The box is also affordable at $14, plus shipping.

For more information, call 706.828.3867 or email, education@themorris.org

 


 

50 YEARS OF ‘RAMBLIN’ RHODES CONTINUES IN AUGUSTA MAGAZINE
by Don ‘Ramblin’ Rhodes

Can it really be 57 years ago that a nervous young journalist just days after graduating from Chamblee (Ga.) High School found himself in a small dressing room at Atlanta’s Chastain Park amphitheater interviewing the “Queen of Broadway” herself, Ethel Merman?

After all, this was the same legendary star who had created the Broadway role of Annie Oakley in “Annie Get Your Gun and co-starred in the movie “There’s No Business Like Show Business opposite Marilyn Monroe.

But somehow Ed Danus, publicist for the 1963 Summer Season of “Theater Under The Stars,” thought my writings for affluent readers of the weekly North DeKalb Record might put some paying patrons in that large outdoor venue.

That same summer Danus also let me interview Atlanta native Bert Parks, who annually sang “There She Is, Miss America” on nationwide live television to the new title winner and who was starring in “The Music Man,” and Blanche Thebom, the Metropolitan Opera star who was playing the title role in “Call Me Madam.”

Those first awkward interviews led to conversations on the phone and in person with hundreds of other celebrities of all kinds including for my weekly “Ramblin’ Rhodes” music column. 

It observed its 50th anniversary recently from its first publication in the Savannah (Georgia) Evening Press on October 31, 1970.

Most of you readers came to know this column regularly through the entertainment pages of the Augusta Herald and The Augusta Chronicle until last March when the COVID-19 crisis put an indefinite halt to the weekly Applause tab section that depends on entertainment advertising.

No entertainment.  No paid advertising.  Simple as that. 

Ashlee Duren, my friend and confidant who also is the publisher of Athens and Augusta magazines, proposed continuing my column in the two magazines along with the new “Mezzanine” column by my friend and fellow entertainment journalist Steven Uhles.

Both Steven and I served as editors of the Applause section and both acted in shows with The Augusta Players.  And we both love the creative and historic music scenes in Athens and Augusta and on regional, national and international levels. 

My life has been blessed talking face-to-face with superstar personalities ranging from John Lennon and Barbra Streisand to Captain Kangaroo and Minnie Pearl.

But the truth is that I love just as much to talk with local creative musicians and artists who never will have a hit record or a sold-out show, but who love using their talents to support community projects and entertain hospitalized children, handicapped seniors and recovering veterans.

Those part-time entertainers making people happy in trying times are the true “stars” in my book.

Back in 1982, Robert K. Oermann, the respected country music historian, described yours truly in The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville as “the longest running country music columnist in America.”

So, if God is willing and the creeks don’t rise as Hank Williams used to say, look for this column in future issues of Augusta and Athens magazines.

And keep those cards and letters coming either by snail mail or the email version.

—-

Don Rhodes can be reached at don.rhodes@morris.com or Morris Communications Co., 725 Broad St. Augusta, GA 30901.


Mezzanine – The Magic of Movies

According to family legend, my first movie was Planet of the Apes. My parents, desperate for a night out after my somewhat difficult birth, packed up the family sedan — the AMC Rambler that not long before brought my parents to California from the frozen climes of Cleveland, Ohio—and sought out the nearest drive-in. While I, quite obviously, have no recollection of this evening out, I like to believe it proved formative, because I’ve been a devout movie fan ever since.

As a distracted and often emotional child, a darkened theater provided solace. It was where my mind could go quiet, where all that was expected was for me to enjoy a story. Some of my earliest memories are tied up in celluloid — evenings spent at movie theaters taking in family fare that seemingly always involved an animal of some kind. Benji the dog. Elsa the lion. Ben the bear.

And while my taste in movies evolved, my love of the experience remained. Movie theaters became a sacred and transportive space. To this day, I can feel my chemistry change when the lights dim.

That’s why I’m scared.

Recently, Regal Cinemas, a large national chain with a significant presence in the Augusta market, announced before it was closing all of its theaters for the foreseeable future. It’s easy to understand why. Rightfully spooked by a virus that loves the easy pickings of a crowded room, audiences have stayed away from the select cinemas that were allowed to reopen. And while the movie pickings were admittedly slim, even a highly anticipated film such as Christopher Nolan’s fever-dream thriller Tenet failed to bring audiences back to the movies. As a result, planned releases have either been sold to streaming services or pushed back ad infinitum. And these are big movies. Disney movies. James Bond movies. Marvel movies. Movies that, pre-COVID-19, would have been considered all-but-certain moneymakers. My sanctuary, and the sanctuary of so many million others, has been infected and affected.

But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.

Recently, I went to see a movie at a local theater. And while the house was mostly empty — I counted eight people, myself included — I clearly was not alone. The movie I went to see was the fourth most-popular movie in America that week and grossed almost $1 million. While those aren’t exactly blockbuster stats, it should be noted that the movie in question, The Empire Strikes Back, had recently turned 40.

While I’m sure Disney, which now owns the Star Wars franchise, is appreciative of the money the movie continues to bring in, I think there is something less obvious and, for movie fans, more important going on. Re-releasing Empire (or Raiders of the Lost Ark, which I saw with six people a few weeks earlier) was never about dollars and cents. It was about transition and, in an odd sort of way, reviving lost traditions.

It should be noted that I still am not comfortable with going to movies the way we once did. Masks or no, the shoulder-to-shoulder new-release audience feels months — if not longer — away. But the revival, the curated film sought and brought for a specific audience, seems like a safe place to start. There are no inflated budgets to cover, no marketing costs to recoup. Advanced ticket sales and assigned seating make social distancing easy. Low ticket costs (my family of four saw Luke Skywalker get Forced around for $5 a head) mean there’s more money to spend on the local cinema’s real moneymaker — soft drinks and popcorn. This kind of screening keeps theaters open. It keeps audiences entertained and, more importantly, trained.

I could have watched Empire at home. It’s streaming. I own the Blu-ray. It would have been easy. But easy isn’t always better. We see enough content — movies, series, sports — at home. We see so much, in fact, that nothing feels special. Nothing feels like an event. It’s easy to disengage. It’s easy to change the channel. Even the biggest movies start to feel small. I know I was falling into the trap of believing that my couch was as comfortable as any cinema seat. But by making the movie-going experience feel, once again, like an event, theater owners might just save the cinematic experience. Going to the movies was once something to be savored. Maybe it can be again. Be careful. Be cautious. Be aware. But also be willing, when the time is right, to return the movies.

I promise, it can be just as wondrous as you remember.

This issue’s Mezzanine is brought to you by The Budos Band, Antkind: A Novel by Charlie Kaufman and the fried asparagus at Takosushi.

 


Photo credits:
Wreath photo by Chris Thelen
“Create with me to go box” photo courtesy of The Morris Museum of Art
Ramblin Rhodes photo courtesy of Don Rhodes
Theater photo by Krists Luhaers on Unsplash

Appears in the November/December 2020 issue of Augusta Magazine.

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