Africa hot?

Man it’s hot. It’s like Africa hot. Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of hot.– Biloxi Blues

On the other hand, there’s the past few weeks.

Those of you back in the U.S. know that large parts of the country have been suffering from a heat wave.  There have been days over 100F in places where there are seldom days over 100F.

Meanwhile back here in Africa, we’ve been having what passes for a cold spell.  Okay, nobody would call it cold, except maybe someone who grew up here (yes, they’re wearing jackets and I’ve seen a wool hat or two on the overnight guards), but it’s been downright comfortable.  Accompanying the moderate temperatures most days have been lowered humidity and a mild breeze.  Maybe I can bring some of it back with me when I head home at the end of the month.

As you probably didn’t hear during the debt ceiling coverage, the President of Benin was in Washington visiting President Obama last week.  That’s him in the middle.  He, along with three other African Presidents recently elected or reelected were invited to the White House.  What that meant here was that most of the government wasn’t available for consultations because they were in Washington with Boni Yayi, which has its good and bad aspects :-).

You may have seen in the news this week that Oprah will be getting a special Oscar at the ceremony this year.  If you read a little further down, you may have seen James Earl Jones is getting one too.  By this time you probably moved onto the horoscope (if you were reading a newspaper, which nobody does anymore), so you probably missed that the third person getting a special Oscar, for his lifetime achievement, was a person with the unimpressive sounding moniker of Dick Smith.  Unless you fit into one of two categories (or both) you’ve probably never heard of Dick Smith.  One is those who have an interest in the people behind the scenes in the motion picture industry, and the other is his relatives.  I fall into both categories. He’s my uncle, and a piece of his work proudly serves as a conversation piece in my living room.

You know his work.  He won an earlier Oscar for his work in Amadeus.  He created Hal Holbrook’s makeup for Mark Twain Tonight and Brando’s for the Godfather.  He got Linda Blair to spin her head around and spit green pea soup. He aged Dustin Hoffman to 103 in Little Big Man and turned him into Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy.  And if being a great makeup artist was all he had done, he’d still deserve the award, but he’s probably made his greatest contribution to the art as a teacher.

I remember his showing me (and I was only a child at the time, but I think he was so excited he showed it to everyone who would sit still) an 8mm film this high school student had sent him showing off his skills at that young age in makeup and stop motion animation.  That was Rick Baker.  There is a whole generation, maybe two, of makeup artists who learned from Dick Smith, because he loved to teach, and he loved to share.  In invented many of the standard techniques used to this day, and taught everybody how to use them.  I was interviewing a makeup artist up in Canada on the set of Space Cases (a kids SF show on Nickelodeon) who had to do a lot of alien makeup.  Where did he learn?  He took a class with Dick Smith.

And he was an uncle who let his nephew wander through his basement workshop, showed him how he accomplished some of his most interesting makeups and effects.  I had no real interest in taking up the craft, but there was always something fascinating about how he took a difficult film challenge and found a way to make it happen, back in the days before you could use CGI to do anything.

The lifetime achievement awards are given out at a dinner the day before the big show on TV.  They may show a short clip during the telecast.  Look for it, but more than that, go back and watch one of the films I mentioned above, or Altered States, or Starman (from which my “conversation piece” comes), or any of the dozens of films on which he worked.

Finally, a followup on my last post.  You may have learned, at some point, of Achilles’ Paradox.  One version says you can never reach the end of a race because before you do, you have to get halfway there, and then halfway of the remainder, and so on, getting closer and closer but never to the finish line.  A hamstring injury is kinda like that.  A day after my embarrassing muscle pull while standing still, it was better, and has continued to get a little better each day, but doesn’t seem to ever be getting to the finish line.

At least not yet.


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