Letter From LA: Super Bowl Issue

Posted on April 16, 2023
Filed Under Culture, Greed, Letter From LA, Politics | Leave a Comment

In honor of Super Bowl Sunday and the Chinese surveillance balloons that flew across the country for several days two weeks ago, I decided to revisit John Frankenheimer’s 1977 “Black Sunday,” a thriller about terrorists who commandeer the Goodyear blimp with a plan to murder 80,000 spectators at the 1976 Super Bowl in Miami, Florida. The film stars Bruce Dern in his typical over-the-edge hair-flying wildly acting mode as an ex-Vietnam War POW who wants to wreak revenge on the American public for his mistreatment after seven years of imprisonment in North Vietnam; after he was brainwashed by the Viet Cong into making a filmed apology for the war, he was returned to the states and court-martialed. He now is a Goodyear blimp pilot for CBS News. Guiding him in this endeavor is Marthe Keller, a member of Black September, a Palestinian militant group that was responsible for the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Hot on their trail is Robert Shaw as an Israeli counter-terrorist Mossad agent.

Frankenheimer, who was a master of a cinema of alienation and paranoia, was just past his creative peak with this film, having directed “Birdman of Alcatraz” and “The Manchurian Candidate” in 1962, “Seven Days in May” and “The Train” in 1965, “Seconds” and “Grand Prix” in 1966. After a string of mediocre outings he returned to boxoffice success with 1975’s “French Connection II”; as a reward, Paramount and producer Robert Evans gave him the helm of “Black Sunday.” One of his last films was the highly successful “Ronin” (1998), which featured great non-CGI car chases, a web of political intrigue, and an international cast that included Robert De Niro, Jean Reno and Jonathan Pryce.

“Black Sunday” was based on the 1975 book by Thomas Harris, who went on to pen “The Silence of the Lambs” (1988). The screenplay was co-written by Ernest Lehman (“The King and I,” “North by Northwest,” “West Side Story,” “The Sound of Music,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “Hello, Dolly!”), Kenneth Ross (“The Day of the Jackal,” “The Odessa File”) and the great screenwriter and man-about-town Ivan Moffat (“Giant”).

The film is a pretty straight-forward thriller, with plenty of violence, blood, car chases, and a few twists and turns. The direction and editing are intelligent and about as fine-tuned as one can get on the big screen. The production had the cooperation of the National Football League, which allowed filming during Super Bowl X on January 18, 1976, at the Miami Orange Bowl. Dern held the film together with his performance as a deranged PTSD Vietnam veteran; Swiss actress Keller, who rose to fame in the US as Dustin Hoffman’s girlfriend in “Marathon Man” (1976), lacked charisma and depth in her role as a terrorist; she subsequently went on to work in the theatre and opera in Europe. Shaw — who played Israeli agent Kabakov as if in a trance — made his US film breakthrough with his role as a Russian assassin in the second James Bond film, “From Russia with Love (1963); he subsequently earned a Supporting Actor Academy Award for “A Man for All Seasons” (1966). He played mobster Doyle Lonnegan in “The Sting” (1973), a subway-hijacker in “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” (1974) and, of course, the shark-obsessed fisherman Quint in “Jaws” (1975), probably his best-known role. He died quite young — 51 — of a heart attack in August, 1978.

All in all, “Black Sunday” is fun viewing and will keep you on the proverbial “edge of your seat.” So after today’s game, crack open that last can of beer, open up that last bag of chips and wings, and enjoy the fictional mayhem. The film is streaming now on Amazon Prime; Arrow Video will release a special edition Blu-ray loaded with features on March 28.

The only thing missing from the film was the result of the day’s championship game: The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Dallas Cowboys 21–17.


Odd Fact:

According to the online newspaper Alternet, “a study published in the journal Neuropsychologia has shown that religious fundamentalism is, in part, the result of a functional impairment in a brain region known as the prefrontal cortex. The findings suggest that damage to particular areas of the prefrontal cortex indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by diminishing cognitive flexibility and openness — a psychology term that describes a personality trait which involves dimensions like curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness.”


Sad Fact:

From writer Jill Lepore’s article about facebook in the July 26, 2021 issue of “The New Yorker” (“Mission Impossible: How Facebook’s pledge to bring the world together wound up pulling us apart”): “more than half of all Americans were getting their news from social media” and “studies have consistently shown that the more time people spend on Facebook the worse their mental health becomes; Facebooking is also correlated with increased sedentariness, a diminishment of meaningful face-to-face relationships, and a decline in real-world social activities.”


Mustang SUV

Back in my July 2021 Letter I lamented the introduction of the Lamborghini and Ferrari SUVs; now comes even more mind-boggling news on the automobile front. Apparently, Ford introduced an all-electric Mustang-SUV crossover in the 2021 model year; despite modest sales of 28,089 in the first nine months of 2022 (about a quarter of the sales of Tesla models) they have not been in evidence on the streets of Los Angeles. I finally caught sight of one — parked in front of a 99 Cents Only store in Hollywood — and I wasn’t impressed. The automotive press has had mixed feelings about the Ford Mustang Mach-E — “despite the name it’s no Mustang” and a “Mustang crossover is sacrilegious,” but Car and Driver was impressed enough to give it the magazine’s inaugural EV of the Year award in 2021. And this year’s version — with a starting price of $47,495 — has a GT Performance model that zooms to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. Better to get the kids to school on time.


This issue of Letter From LA is being sent out via email and the Substack publishing platform. Substack, founded in 2017 in San Francisco, provides an easy-to-use publishing template that not only sends out professional-looking email newsletters and posts, but aggregates those emails in web-based archives. Substack has become very popular with mainstream and independent journalists, critics and authors; some of the writers that use the service include investigative journalists Glenn Greenwald and Seymour Hersh, culture critic Anne Helen Petersen, music essayist Robert Christgau, and food writer Alison Roman. The beauty of Substack is their hands-off attitude; there is basically no censorship. And it’s up to the writers whether or not they want to charge for their writing (Substack takes 10 percent of subscription prices).

Letter From LA on Substack will, of course, remain free. But there is also the option for readers to opt in for a subscription — it’s always nice for a writer to get paid for their work. So, unless I hear from you otherwise, I’ll port your name over into my Substack mailing list (just for Letter From LA; and, to reiterate, it’s still free).

The online archive of past Letters From LA is located at: https://letterfromla.substack.com/

Til next time,


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