ghostbusters-trioWho ya gonna call? Back in the summer of 1984, there was only one clear answer: Ghostbusters! Bill Murray, Dan Akyroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson, an odd group of social misfits turned national heroes, could handle any paranormal problem in New York City with a light, comedic touch.

As madcap hilarity ensued on screen, cash registers rang all across Reagan’s America. Ghostbusters was the unchallenged, top-grossing movie in 1984 and has raked in nearly $230,000,000 in domestic lifetime gross since its release, making it the 55th top-grossing film of all time, according to boxofficemojo.com.

2009 marks the 25th anniversary of Ghostbusters. To celebrate this milestone, Atari, in conjunction with Sony Pictures Consumer Products Inc., is releasing Ghostbusters: The Video Game featuring a script penned by the film’s original screenwriters, Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd. The Ghostbusters game, slated for release on June 16, 2009, is certainly not the first. Activision created a Ghostbusters game for Commodore 64 in 1984. There have been at least eight versions for computer, gaming systems, and mobile phones since then. However, Ghostbusters: The Video Game is the first to feature the voices and likenesses of original cast members. It will be available on Playstation 2, Xbox 360, Microsoft Games for Windows, Wii, and Nintendo DS.

“I think that they realized that the Ghostbusters franchise will simply be an old generation’s memory unless they re-inject it into a new generation,” said Robert Thompson, Trustee Professor and Director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “The biological clock on any pop culture thing is about twenty-five years. If they don’t do it now…people are going to start forgetting.”

Hollywood producers have been looking back to the 80s’ and repackaging old blockbuster franchises for the new millennium. Paramount released Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in May, and the movie has already grossed over $750,000,000 worldwide.  The Star Wars prequels led by The Phantom Menace in 1999 have dominated the box office over the last decade.  Could a Ghostbusters sequel be far behind?

According to Variety magazine, Ghostbusters III is in the works. Ghostbusters II was released in summer 1989 to disappointing reviews and ticket sales. Columbia Pictures has hired co-executive producers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky of the hit NBC sitcom The Office to write a script that is set to feature the original cast. Although, no casting decisions have been officially announced.

The script is shrouded in mystery but rumors are swirling in cyberspace about the plot.  Apparently, the four original Ghostbusters (all in their late fifties and early sixties) will pass on the business to a younger, more vibrant team of current comedians.  One can imagine Seth Rogan, Vince Vaughn, or Jack Black suited up with proton packs raring to go, as Grandpa Bill and Dan try to teach them the ins and outs of this very risky business.

“Making a movie where they put their seal of approval on a bunch of new goofy younger people is a good idea,” said Thompson, professor of popular culture. “There’s no reason why you couldn’t do Ghostbusters and make it a good movie.”

Ghostbusters is a snapshot of the Reagan 80s: America was embroiled in a Cold War with the Soviet Union, and Americans lived with the threat of nuclear annihilation; the country had not yet been hit hard by the AIDs epidemic; political correctness and sexual harassment had yet to be defined. The next generation of Ghostbusters is living in a very different world and faces a different set of enemies. We can only wait to see how they handle America’s ghost problem in the new millennium. Are Americans poised to remember the four men who easily fought supernatural forces in order to save the world in the mid-80s’ or would they rather forget?

For more Ghostbusters on Beet Salad click here.

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The Arrival of ABBA

February 21, 2009

Tonight, I felt the spirit of ABBA: the ’70s glam, the joy, the silliness, and the ultra catchy melodies of Sweden’s world-famous band backed by the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. ABBA has arrived and they brought their disco ball with them.

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ARRIVAL, from Sweden, is only one of nearly fifty well-known ABBA tribute bands across the world (and it isn’t even the only one called ARRIVAL.) However, ARRIVAL From Sweden is the only band that has exclusive rights to wear exact replicas of ABBA’s original costumes.

And what costumes they are! White satin ponchos over shiny spandex bodysuits, thigh-high boots, and purple shimmery bow ties adorn the lead vocalists, Victoria Norback (Frida) and Jenny Guftafson (Agnetha). Bell-bottom jumpsuits, sequined scarves, and white platforms for the men, Rolf Ivraeus (Benny) and Henrick Paulson (Bjorn). The members of ARRIVAL wear their costumes with reverence, like Marines suiting up in their dress whites for a formal dance with their sweethearts. You can’t help but love them for their earnestness and dedication to the cause of spreading the gooey goodness of ABBA’s sound and style. They are global ministers of peace in troubled times.

ARRIVAL played all the hits: Knowing me Knowing You, Dancing Queen, SOS, Fernando, Mama Mia. They played them so convincingly and with such heart, I often got chills. And then I felt ridiculous. But, then again, Fernando is just a freakishly good song.

Buried Treasures

February 19, 2009

dsc00486They say never look a gift horse in the mouth.  But what if that horse is hauling three truck loads of free, rare and historic 78-rpm records to your door?

In July, When Syracuse University received a gift of about 200,000 78-rpm records from the family of the late Morton Savada, the library’s holdings doubled in size, making it the largest collection of antique 78-rpm records in the world outside the Library of Congress. The donation, consisting of Savada’s entire inventory from his famed “Records Revisited” store in Manhattan, garnered national attention after the story was picked up by the Associated Press and The New York Times. As University officials bask in the glow of good publicity, the anxious library staff is faced with the task of unloading and cataloguing 1,300 boxes of records.

“The biggest challenge is to catalog the recordings,” said Suzanne Thorin, Dean of the Libraries at SU. “So that they can be found by scholars and others who want to listen to or study them. The size of the collection is daunting, yet the collection is so rich in history that we believe it must be available.”

The painstaking job of cataloguing the collection must be broken down into manageable steps. According to Melinda Dermody, head of arts and humanities services for the SU Library, the first stage is determining which records are duplicated within the collection. Because Savada ran a record store, he had multiple copies of albums. Next, the audio archive research specialist will compare the Savada collection with the current 78 collection at SU. If the library already owns a copy of a particular record, the specialist will decide which copy is in better condition. Extra copies will be sold. As for the extra copies, “there are other archives that might want donations of the ones we aren’t able to use,” said Dermody. Selling the extras, possibly through auctioneers, is also an option.

Absorbing the collection will be SU’s Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive, commonly known as Belfer Archive. Located in a small stone building next to the Bird Library on the SU campus, the Belfer’s storage is already at maximum capacity. Meanwhile, the Savada Collection sits in the basement of the Warehouse, SU’s satellite building near Armory Square, where it will remain until a new off-site storage facility is built.

Constructed in 1982, The Belfer Archive was the first building in the world specially designed to house audio collections. Savada, familiar with the archive and its staff from his meetings with the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC), bestowed his legacy to Belfer upon his death on February 11, 2008.

But users can’t just waltz into the Belfer, grab a stack of 78s, and play them on one of the archive’s many antique turntables. Whereas Savada’s store was made for browsing, records in the Savada Collection will be made available in a digital format on special request, to protect these fragile records from unnecessary wear and tear.

Developed at the turn of the century, the 78-rpm disk is the ancestor of the modern LP. The records ranging from 10 to 16 inches in diameter are made out of various materials such as shellac, lacquer, vinyl or even aluminum. Thick and heavy, each disk weighs nearly a one-half pound, and the entire Savada collection weighs in at about 50 tons.  By the mid-1950s, the 78-rpm record was replaced by the LP which plays at 33 rpm.

Library staff members are not quite sure what they will find in the boxes, as Savada never catalogued his store. However, the majority of the 78s are thought to have been produced from 1930-1950.

“I think that the context of these recordings are important in the teaching world,” said Thorin. “Because, yes, there are Duke Ellington recordings, and yes, the music industry can use them, but there are also speeches, spoken word, recordings sent overseas during WWII. These are ways for the social history of the country to come alive for students.”

The donation from Savada reestablishes the Belfer Archive and Syracuse University as one of the core audio collections in the United States, along with Yale, Stanford, the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress, according to Thorin. SU’s status as a top audio archive audio research laboratory slipped in the late 80s due to budget cuts, Thorin, a former Opera singer and music lover, began the process of reviving and restructuring Belfer two years ago.  The University won a $250,000 grant last year from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to catalog its existing collection of 78s recorded on the Decca label.

Thorin estimates that the process of cataloging the Savada collection will take several years. “Trying to prioritize to get the hottest stuff out first is the way libraries do it,” she said. “We hope we will get another Mellon grant to continue the work.”

“If we hadn’t started (restructuring) and we hadn’t received the grant, I don’t think I would have taken the Savada Collection,” Thorin said. “We’re experiencing a kind of ressurection. I think Belfer is the crown jewel of Syracuse University.

For a audio soundslide on the Savada Collection click here.

Learning to Love the Snow

February 13, 2009

A Syracuse winter rages on till March. Snow piles up in towering ten-foot mounds on the edge of parking lots—hills of dirty gray ice. The winter is ugly and relentless, and, by mid-January, even a psychologically sound person may succumb to despair. When the sun peaks out from under thick cloud cover, I savor the fleeting moments of blue skies and light. The city snow is depressing. But, just 20 minutes away, the snow at Beaver Lake can be magical.

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Beaver Lake Nature Center, located in Baldwinsville, NY, is a 650-acre Onondaga County park that features miles of trails crisscrossing gentle pine-covered hills. It’s picturesque in summer, vibrant in fall, but in winter it truly sparkles, and one of the best ways to explore this winter wonderland is on snowshoes.

I’ve always considered snowshoeing to be a rather folksy, wholesome activity. I’m a city girl, and, therefore, I am rarely inclined to engage in folksy, wholesome activities. I’ve survived eight Russian winters in the bitter cold of St. Petersburg, drinking brandy on the streets at night to keep warm walking to and from rock clubs. I avoided nature in the winter months, because it is treacherous and unpredictable: innocent victims are impaled my icicles, mauled by bears, or simply lose limbs to hypothermia. In winter, Russians huddle together at home and hibernate. Everyone’s late for work and can excuse sick days by explaining, “I just wasn’t in a good mood.” The country comes to a grinding halt for 10 long days in January for winter holidays. There are vacations to Egypt for those who can afford it. There’s vodka for those who can’t.

For three dollars, Syracuse city slickers can participate in a Saturday afternoon snowshoeing clinic at Beaver Lake. Our group, consisting mainly of SU grad students, arrived at 12:30 pm for our date with Meg, a Beaver Lake Nature Center guide. None of us had ever been snowshoeing before.

Meg handed us our wooden shoes resembling narrow tennis rackets and explained how to attach them to our boots. Before we set off, she discussed the different types of turns: the daisy turn, where you rotate bit by bit, slowly creating a flower in the snow, the wide turn, where you turn out one foot at a 90 degree angle and lift your other foot to join it, and the more difficult jump turn, which requires serious athleticism and frequent falling.

Treading lightly over several feet of fluffy, untracked snow is physically demanding. But it’s also vigorous and rewarding, especially when the sun is shining and the air is crisp and sweet. As a child, I loved to put on my snow pants on a winter day and play in the woods behind our house, scooping up handfuls of blue-white snow to munch on as I walked under leafless oak trees. I satisfied my fresh snow craving with Beaver Lake’s finest flakes: crunchy, refreshing, with a slight earthy flavor. Meg led the way across meadows and packed trails pointing out squirrel tracks and beech trees. For a couple of hours, winter’s not so bad at all.

bloodtrailRichard Parry’s astonishing documentary, Blood Trail, follows the career of American Photographer Robert King as he covers conflicts in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo, and Iraq. Chasing a dream of capturing Pulitzer Prize-winning photos, King stalks the bloody battlefields of war-torn cities. He knows that pictures of dead bodies sell the best.

We first meet King in 1993 when he is a naïve twenty-four year old living at the Sarajevo Holiday Inn.  Clueless about the conflict but eager to get his hands dirty, he was mocked by veteran reporters for his inexperience. Oblivious, King smokes endless cigarettes and keeps a journal of his ambitions in the candlelight of his modest room: a romantic prelude to the ensuing violence.

When King gets his first taste of the frontline, he is visibly terrified; the camera follows him as he runs across an empty field, armed with only his Nikon, as sniper fire flies overhead.

In a Tennessee drawl, King describes his motivation to photograph wars, citing his self-destructive tendencies and attraction to extreme lifestyles as key factors. When he’s not out in the trenches, he self-medicates with drugs and alcohol.  After witnessing brutal attacks in Chechnya, he is understandably shell-shocked. In moments of peace in downtown Grozny, he sets off firecrackers and cackles hysterically.

Parry intersperses graphic footage of battles with interviews with King taken on a hunting trip in Tennessee. As King recounts his experience covering wars, he frequently stops to take aim at deer grazing nearby.  Dressed in camouflage, with a shotgun in hand, King explains how hunting in the woods provides him with the solitude he needs to “decompress”.

King is certainly a contradictory character, but he comes across as honest, humble, and genuinely interested in understanding himself and the bloodthirsty world where he makes his living. He has become desensitized to horrific violence and that disturbs him. He is the American everyman thrust into exotic foreign countries to record death. We get a sense that King himself doesn’t know how to process what he’s seen, and he’s taking photos for a public that doesn’t want to look. When Parry asks him if he’s cynical at the end of the film, King doesn’t know how to answer. He merely says that he’s had to step over hundreds of dead bodies during his lifetime.

Written in September 2008 at the Toronto International Film Festival.