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“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me. ”
Fred Rogers

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If you time it right next Tuesday you can catch the unusual double feature of Mr. Rogers  (Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Full Metal Jacket at the Enzian Theater in Maitland, Florida.  Catch the documentary on Fred Rogers at 6:30, grab a food and a drink at Eden Bar, and then catch the Stanley Kubrick war classic at 9:30. (Therapy afterward optional.)

How many times will you get to do that in your life?

I had the opportunity to cross paths with Fred Rogers twice in my life. The first time was in 1997 when my wife was playing a piano duet in the music building at Rollins College.  As my wife and I were talking after the recital Mr. Rogers came up and said to my wide in his super nice and friendly manner, “I really enjoyed your music.”

Mr. Rogers also played the piano and went to Rollins College where he met his musician wife. She later received a book from him with a nice note.

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My second Mr. Rogers encounter was when I was taking photos at the Rollins Chapel carrying equipment and he opened the door for me. It was like having Forrest Gump open the door for you. (Speaking of…Tom Hanks will be playing Mr. Rogers in the movie You Are My Friend coming out next year from a script by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and  Noah Harpster. )

Fred Rogers received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1998 and may have taken one of the more unusual routes to Hollywood Blvd. He born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania (where golfing legend Arnold Palmer was also born) and after Rollins attended Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and became an ordained Presbyterian minister before launching his TV class show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. 

Here’s a little Mr. Rogers inspiration for you today.

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P.S. In the early 60s (1961/1962) author and theologian R.C. Sproul was starting his training at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary just as Fred Rogers was finishing his education there. In 1971 Sproul started the Ligonier Valley Study Center in Stahlstown, PA. (Stahstown, Ligonier, and Latrobe are all neighboring towns within a ten-mile radius of each other.)

Sproul later moved to Orlando and in the 90s when I was just a few years out of film school and looking for “Hollywood East” I produced many videos and a radio program with Sproul and he told me he’d gone to seminary with Fred Rogers.

Proving once again that it’s a small, small world with many surprising twists and turns.

P.P.S.

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Won’t you be my neighbor? (“Full Metal Jacket” version.)

Related post:
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Hollywood East (written after R.C. Sproul died last year)

Scott W. Smith

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When I was in high school there was a guy who was cut from a different mold and I always wondered what happened to him. I thought of him after seeing The Hurt Locker because to be on a bomb squad one has to come from a different mold.

Daws only weighed 135 pounds and he not only played football, he was a nose guard. (Not the place for little guys.) But he was tough. His helmet actually had the paint scratched off the front of it from hitting other helmets so hard. After one game which we lost we could hear him on the practice field in the dark hitting the blocking sled–which would not have the pads on it. Daws was a warrior and I’d be very surprised if he didn’t end up in the military.

One of the things I like best about The Hurt Locker is it isn’t about the war, but about the warrior. The kind of person that is more comfortable disarming a bomb than grocery shopping or updating his Facebook status.

Movies made in and around the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (In the Valley of Elah, Rendition, Lions for Lambs, The Kingdom, Brothers , Redacted ,  A Mighty Heart, The Messenger) have one thing in common–they don’t find much of an audience. Unfortunately, The Hurt Locker joins the club.

Unfortunately, because it’s a great film. Time magazine called it “A near-perfect movie” and recently it tied Avatar with nine Academy Award nominations. Perhaps it will find a life on DVD.

While audiences have supported many films about war (including the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, & Viet Nam) Iraq appears to be a different monster. I’m not sure why this is the case, but I can speculate. Time would seem to be the first factor. I seem to recall an interview where screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart said that one of the troubles with getting An Officer and a Gentleman made was the lingering effect of the Viet Nam War.

Keep in mind that An Officer and a Gentleman was not a movie about Viet Nam, just military centered. The movie got made and was a box office hit, but it came out in 1982–eight years after US involvement ended. Granted The Green Berets was released in 1968 (during the war in Viet Nam) but that was because it was a film John Wayne wanted to make. But generally, the war in Viet Nam was avoided by Hollywood at first.

Certainly, The Deer Hunter (1978) dealt with the lingering effects of returning home from Viet Nam, but that is still four years removed from the conflict.  Apocalypse Now is almost its own genre that transcended Viet Nam, but still didn’t come out until 1979.

I think Platoon was the first movie that was a hard look at Viet Nam that found an audience, but that was 1986– a full 12 years after the war.  Then Viet Nam was in vogue in Hollywood, Good Morning Viet Nam (1987), Full Metal Jacket. (1987) , The Hanoi Hilton (1987), Hamburger Hill (1987), Casualties of War (1989) and Born on the Fourth of July(1989).

So I think time is needed for audiences to be comfortable reflecting on Iraq. When I last checked, we were still in Iraq. We’re still in Afghanistan.  And I think we now realize we will always be in a war with terrorism.

The second reason I think audiences aren’t fond of movies about Iraq is the shear politics of the matter. It’s hard for the word propaganda not to come up. People generally don’t like to heavy-handed arguments from either side. (Though I should point out that that Michael Moore’s documnetary Fahrenheit 9/11 made $119 million domestic/$222 million worldwide (on a $6 million budget.)

And thirdly, movies are largely about entertainment. Definitions usually include the words amusement, diversion, and pleasure. That doesn’t mean we don’t make difficult films–just pointing out that it is hard for those films to find an audience no matter how well they are made. We’ll see how Buried does this spring (about a an American contractor in Iraq) –sounds like an interesting twist and was well-received at Sundance.

The Gulf War was short lives and out of that came Three Kings and Jarhead that did find audiences but the expenses were so high that the domestic box office was below their budgets. Courage Under Fire (1996) had a solid cast Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, and a newcomer named Matt Damon and the budget was estimated to be below $50. million and made $60 million domestic and topped $100 million worldwide.

But with all those statistics there are said to be over  100 Iraq/Afghanistan-centered war movies in development.

How has Dear John been able to have a big box office run? I haven’t seen the film, but words that reviewers are fond of using are “syrupy,” “sentimental” and “schmaltzy.” Not the kind of film my high school friend Daws would be interested in seeing, but enough people were for it to double its money in just two weeks.

Related post: Screenwriting from Hell

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