Have a Documentary — Hey, Have Four!

Here’s a snapshot of some new documentary DVDs, recently received at the Dallas Public Library.

Tower, directed by Keith Maitland.

On August 1, 1966, I was 12 and living in Brooklyn, NY. Charles Whitman’s noon hour mass shooting that day from the University of Texas/Austin’s Tower – a way-foreign locale to me back then – was something probably beyond all our comprehension at the time. I would always remember Whitman’s name, though little did America know that his rampage was only the beginning of a decades-long siege of carnage for this nation.

This unique documentary combines animated recreations of that day’s event – yes, animated – with authentic footage and personal interviews of campus survivors. That animation may seem jarring at first, but it is so skillfully done, and the words of witnesses and victims (both real and cartoonish) so compelling that I soon grew accustomed to the film’s “gimmick”.

What viewers will take away from this memorable work are instances of amazing heroism from that day. Before the era of campus-wide Twitter warnings, SWAT teams, and “shelter in place,” Whitman was finally stopped by two Austin policemen and a deputized private citizen, using only standard-issue firearms along with adrenaline, keen ears, and courage.

During the 90-minute rampage, Claire, a wounded eight-months-pregnant student, was completely alone on the 100-degree pavement – until Rita, a fellow student and total stranger, willingly lay next to her on the concrete. They could only wait and hope for rescue as they chatted, but Rita helped save Claire’s life by keeping her conscious, until other brave young people risked death by breaking cover and carrying Claire to safety, in full view of the sniper. (She would survive; her baby would not.)

Stories like these make Tower quite amazing. It’s both a testament to the human spirit in moments of senseless crisis, and a powerful portrayal of America’s baptism by fire that day, in arguably the first instance of what would become an all-too-familiar national ritual.

Olympic Pride, American Prejudice, directed by Deborah Riley Draper.

At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, African-American Jesse Owens won four gold medals, disproving Adolf Hitler’s assumptions about Aryan superiority. However, as this fascinating film shows, Owens was not the only black member of America’s team that year: there were 18 such athletes, in track & field, and boxing. Some of Owens’s teammates would also win medals, while others failed to reach their event finals, but all represented this nation with dignity – which they often failed to find upon their return home.

While they were treated well in Germany, Jim Crow America would largely stymie the athletes’ lives and careers after the Games. Among several powerful post-Berlin stories: one runner worked as a street sweeper, and always wore his official U.S. team jacket while on duty. Anyone interested in sports/Olympic history will find this documentary enlightening and moving.

What happened, Miss Simone? directed by Liz Garbus.

This Oscar-nominated biography of outspoken jazz singer/civil rights activist Nina Simone includes extensive performance footage, plus interviews with Simone and her family, associates and contemporaries, in a close look at the career and private life of one of the 20th century’s most compelling artists. Trained as a classical pianist hoping to perform Bach at Carnegie Hall someday, Simone fell into jazz by chance, and became enmeshed in the civil rights movement after the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, after which she wrote and performed hard-hitting, sometimes banned, songs like “Mississippi Goddam”.

Unfortunately, Simone’s undiagnosed bipolar disorder eventually led to unpredictable behavior both onstage and off. Her final years were spent abroad in scattershot “comeback” attempts, isolated from family and the audiences who had revered her for decades. This film offers an engrossing portrait of a fascinating woman who was both somewhat a product of her time, and ahead of the curve. (The DVD set also includes a CD of Simone recordings.)

Florence Foster Jenkins: A World Of Her Own, produced by Donald Collup.

The legend of “FFJ” was resurrected in 2016, thanks in part to the feature biopic starring Meryl Streep. But in this film, Fort Worth native Collup blends archival photographs, 1936excerpts from memoirs and personal reminiscences, plus, of course, copious samples of Jenkins’s vocal prowess (??) to illustrate, with tongue lightly in cheek, the life of this unique woman.

Born in 1868, Jenkins was both moneyed and passionate about music. As a New York society “club woman,” she oversaw much musical entertainment for that city’s elite masses over several decades. Yet she herself always longed to be a singer and took lessons to that end. Though it had to have been apparent to her brave teachers that the talent was simply not there, nary a negative word was evidently tossed her way and thus she soldiered on, making recordings that actually sold well, and achieving a dream by renting out Carnegie Hall for a sold-out concert in October 1944 – an event at which thousands cheered and also laughed in disbelief. When a few courageous music critics dared offer scathing opinions of the event in print, the shock to Jenkins’s system precipitated a heart attack, from which she died a month later.

Just how bad a singer was she? This film’s soundtrack confirms that she was astonishingly awful. But its largely straightforward narrative takes a “just the facts” approach to her story, reminding us that while Jenkins may have been seriously delusional, she sincerely desired to bring pleasure to one and all. To paraphrase her most famous remark: “People may have said I couldn’t sing, but no one could say that I didn’t sing.” And so she did. (For an additional view of her life and times, look for the book Florence! Foster!! Jenkins!!! by Darryl Bullock.)

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My friend told me I could copyright my poetry by sealing it in an envelope and mailing it to myself. She called it a “poor man’s copyright.” I want to make sure no one else can steal my work. Does this really work?

Thanks for the question! This is one we hear about all the time, and you’re smart to do some research before going ahead. Your creative work is important, and it’s a good idea to make sure you get to decide when it gets used, and how.

According to copyright.gov, the official website of the United States Copyright Office, the long-held belief that sending your work to yourself through the postal service is just a myth. The stamped date on an unopened envelope doesn’t prove that you created the document. To quote the experts:

“The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a ‘poor man’s copyright.’ There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.”

The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section on copyright.gov  answers a lot of basic questions about how to protect your work. It’s a great place to start looking for information. They cover what copyright protects, the difference between a copyright and a patent, how copyright works internationally, and what benefits registering your copyright gives.

There’s also a subject guide on the Library website that can take you to some great resources on copyright. The subject guide can help you investigate an existing copyright to find out who owns the rights to the work or, more importantly for you, how to file for copyright yourself.

If the online information doesn’t cut it, you can request a book through our catalog, or just drop by the Central Library Downtown. The 6th floor maintains a Patent & Trademark Resource Center that includes a bunch of materials on Copyright and intellectual property. We aren’t lawyers, but we can point you to good information, and our staff can help point you to the next step. 

And of course the Patent & Trademark Resource Center also sponsors workshops that cover information about the difference between patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Check with the 6th floor staff, or call 214-670-1468 to register for classes.

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William Faulkner’s Favorite TV Show!

I’ve got a tough sell ahead of me. I’m going to recommend a TV series that lasted only two seasons and featured a homely cast, stagey acting, and choppy editing. The show is Car 54, Where Are You?, a half-hour police-precinct-based sitcom which aired from 1961 to 1963. But William Faulkner liked it.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read, But Believe Some of It
William Faulkner reputedly hated television, but made an exception in the case of Car 54, never missing an episode. Believe that, but please don’t believe the descriptions of the series that say things like “misadventures of a pair of bumbling policemen, Gunther Toody and Francis Muldoon, from New York’s 53rd precinct in the Bronx.” That makes the show sound utterly conventional.

Oh, those are their names, all right, and that’s where they work, but Toody and Muldoon’s Bronx universe simply won’t accommodate the word “bumbling.” Car 54’s universe in one in which the richest woman in the precinct got that way by peddling pretzels and not paying for a peddler’s license; in which a habitual drunk doesn’t need to touch a drop—he talks himself drunk; in which people try to make plaster casts of your feet without your knowing it; in which every bird in the Bronx says “I hate Captain Block;” and in which the cops make elaborate preparations to celebrate something, but none of them know what it is they’re celebrating or where the celebration is.

Believable, Or At Least Acceptable
Some of these plot points may seem just too weird, but that’s because I’ve isolated them. In context, the weirdness of the show is rendered watchable—even believable, if taken on its own terms—by what must have been a hand-picked lot of thoroughly unbeautiful comic actors. Joe E. Ross (Car 54’s Officer Gunther Toody) was a stand-up comic with a craggy face and ears like you wouldn’t believe; Fred Gwynne (Officer Francis Muldoon, later Herman Munster on The Munsters) describes himself as “6-foot-3, and 5-foot-3 of me is face.” Al Lewis (Officer Leo Schnauser, later The Munsters’s Grandpa) is the only actor I’ve ever seen who squints with his entire head; the brilliant Charlotte Rae (Schnauser’s wife, Sylvia) often yells her lines while performing facial contortions that look like someone’s pulling taffy.

Actually, everyone in the show yells their lines, or at least gives every word full voice and extra expression; this mannered delivery combined with the actors’ tendency always to face the camera gives the show an air of operatic staginess that works especially well with the fast, often complicated verbal humor. The speed and sharpness of the satire is further enhanced by the editing—which sometimes looks kind of rough, but that roughness often fits perfectly with the alternate world that the show operates in.

Hmmm. It seems that I’ve unwittingly spun the negatives I listed at the outset so that they’ve become positives—everything that looks like a shortcoming ends up serving the cockeyed landscape of Car 54’s comedy. And the show’s mere sixty-episode run means you can binge-watch the entire series of half hour installments over the course of a single weekend. Twice, if you want to.

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This year, my resolution is to get into better shape, eat better and live a healthy lifestyle that I can maintain. I’ve been struggling for years with an unhealthy lifestyle, and I want to learn from other people who have been in the same boat as me. Can the library help find resources to help me achieve my goals?

Yes, we can! The 5th floor of the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library wants to help you reach your healthy lifestyle goals for 2017, especially when you start to lose momentum from the New Year’s push for making healthy changes. Whether you are a college student looking to avoid the “freshman 15,” a workaholic with little free time, or someone who is interested in making sure your diet is free-trade and organically certified to be a more socially and ecologically conscious consumer, we have resources to guide, encourage, and inspire you along your journey to a healthier you.

Are you starting a specific diet? We have information for check-out on diets from Atkins to the Zone! You can search by subject on the online catalog search to see availability or have materials sent to your home branch for pickup. Also, navigate to the Online Health Resources information page through the Locations tab of the library homepage and select 5th floor Business and Technology from the Central Units pull-down. The Consumer Health and Resources section has links to the USDA National Nutrition Database for Standard Reference as well as the USDA Food Access Research Atlas. Both are tools to understand nutritional data and food access. Or if you prefer to come see us in person, please come by the 5th floor either by elevator or stairs (it’s definitely an exercise opportunity) and we can be your guide to checking out what we have on the floor.

Many of our healthy lifestyle resources are grouped together on the shelves. Discover interesting titles like  The Smart Student’s Guide to Healthy Living, The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition,  Designed to Move: the Science-Backed Program to Fight Sitting Disease and Enjoy Lifelong Health, or The Diet Myth: Why the Secret to Health and Weight Loss is Already in Your Gut. And we won’t send you on your way until you have found some supplemental cookbooks that are geared toward healthy, nutritious food to complement the healthy lifestyles that you will be learning about, too.

Following an active lifestyle and nutritious diet plan often make great New Year’s resolutions, but after a few months, people lose interest or give up. Finding an author to inspire you at those low points will help push you through those difficult times and carry some momentum through plateaus in progress. For some people, inspiration comes from learning about others overcoming similar problems; for others, it’s getting clearly-planned activities laid out over the course of weeks and months. Whatever style motivates you, we have those stories and guides available for check-out. Come and learn about what can work for you!


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I just heard about the concert series that happens on Sundays at the Central Library. Who organized that, how long has it been going on and how much are tickets?

It’s funny you should ask that because 2017 marks some significant anniversaries for the series and the Library’s relationship to it but before we get into that, I need to emphasize that the concerts are free. No tickets needed!

Katherine Siochi, a New-York based harpist who performed in November of 2016.

The concerts, held on Sundays at 3 p.m., have been hosted by the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library since the building opened in 1982, which means the series will celebrate its 35th year at the Library in 2017. Prior to 1982, the concerts were hosted by the Dallas Museum of Art, then known as the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts; that earlier phase of its life began in 1937, so that puts the series at 80—yes, eighty—years old in ’17. And they’ve been presented free of charge the entire time.

The concert schedule runs from September through late November and January through April, a schedule that corresponds roughly to the fall and spring semesters of most schools and colleges. The whole operation has always and primarily been the work of the Dallas Alumni Chapter of Mu Phi Epsilon, a professional music fraternity. Members of that organization recruit and schedule the performances with a little assistance from the Library’s Fine Arts Division.

Throughout its exceptionally long lifespan, the series has retained many features: the concerts have always been free; they feature mostly classical music, although recent years have seen some jazz and world music acts; there has been a consistent effort to maintain the one-hour format, so the concerts are usually finished by 4 p.m.; and the concerts have been held in the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library’s first floor auditorium ever since the Library started hosting the concerts.

That auditorium houses a seven-foot Steinway Model B grand piano which the Library would not have were it not for Mu Phi Epsilon. John and Frances Stuart purchased and donated the piano to the Library in 1983 in memory of their daughter, Betty Lynne, with the intention of enhancing the concerts with a superior instrument. Frances Stuart was a member and officer of the Mu Phi Epsilon, and the Stuarts’ donation has played an important role in much of the music presented in the series—and it’s hard to believe that it has always been free.

Many of the concerts feature local musicians, but some are more local than others. Some of the year-to-year regulars, like the North Dallas Trombone Choir or the students from Jan Sloman’s violin studio, are from Dallas; but some of the musicians probably don’t think of themselves as local at all—I’m talking about the groups like the Abilene Chamber Players and Mount Vernon Music, here. But the concert schedule sometimes features musicians from outside the state.

After the winter break, the concerts start up again on January 29, 2017 at 3 p.m., with a performance by Dr. Leslie Spotz, Professor of Piano at Stephenville’s Tarleton State University. Her program will include a piece by a local composer celebrating the—depending on how you figure it—35- or 80-year history of the series, so Mu Phi Epsilon and the Central Library are hoping you’ll be able to make it.

And did I mention that it’s free?

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