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Televangelism for the jet-set: The rise & fall of the ‘World Action Singers’ of the 1970s

“The World Action Singers, ORU students who love to sing as they prepare for their responsibilities in tomorrow’s world.” In the 1970s Richard Roberts greeted millions of Americans on his evangelist father’s prime-time television specials and syndicated weekly programs. His group the World Action Singers flew all over the globe in a private jet to exotic locations such as Hollywood, Alaska, Hawaii, London, and Japan, earning them the nickname “The Worldly Action Swingers.” Meanwhile, back home at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma they were reportedly receiving 32,000 pieces of fan mail a day. By 1980, despite their near-perfect public image, The World Action Singers found themselves facing multiple scandals, serious financial crises, and a loss of approximately 40% of their audience.

Oral Roberts was a televangelist pioneer who trained a generation of jet-setting, superstar pastors. In the sixties, he hired Oklahoma architect Frank Wallace to sculpt a multimillion-dollar dream campus in one of Tulsa’s classiest suburbs. When it opened in 1967, ORU’s space-age academy resembled Disney’s Tomorrowland and instantly became the finest example of modern architecture at any university in the world. Located in a sunken garden in the heart of the campus, a 200-foot Googie-influenced building called The Prayer Tower was topped by a gas flame which lit up the evening sky. Pylon-like columns, gold-tinted windows, CityPlex Towers, a state-of-the-art Aerobics Center, and a geodesic dome gave ORU a Jetson’s city quality. It was a building named Baby Mabee which opened in 1971 that was used as a television studio for the production of Roberts’ specials. (FYI, Elvis Presley’s live album Elvis - Sold Out! was recorded at the adjacent Mabee Center in 1974).

Oral’s third son, Richard Roberts was working as a singer at parties and pizza parlors in the Tulsa area. When it came time for college he rebelled against his father by attending the University of Kansas instead of ORU and married his girlfriend Patti against the wishes of his family and friends. Soon after, Oral called Richard and Patti into his study, sat them down by the fireplace and began to weep. Oral explained that he had a terrible dream where God told him that if they should continue living an “unchristian life” outside of ORU then they would be killed in a plane crash. Richard and Patti immediately returned to Tulsa and formed the wholesome, singing and dancing sensations the World Action Singers made up of a dozen elite ORU students including Kathie Epstein who would later become known as Kathie Lee Gifford. With flashy sets, costumes, well-choreographed dance sequences, the World Action Singers were an overnight success and reached millions of viewers every week.

But while Richard and Patti maintained a Ken & Barbie facade on television, behind the scenes their behavior was far from perfect. Richard had a reputation for off-campus smoking, drinking, and womanizing. He even maintained a difficult reputation on-set, and one day snapped at producer Jerry Sholes by exclaiming, “Is he a director or a pussy?” without any regard to the Christian students within earshot. As the 1970s went on it became increasingly difficult for Richard to put in a full work day, he was often MIA or leaving set early to go golfing. Meanwhile, ORU was knee-deep in cash: the Roberts enjoying vacations, expensive cars, shopping trips, and flying around the world in luxury, all at the expense of the school. Frank Schaeffer (son of the famous Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer) was the first to call Richard and Patti out on their behavior, describing their lifestyle as “poisonous.” According to Frank, his confrontation with the Roberts was successful, with Richard finally admitting “You’re right, you’re right, this is terrible. We need to get out.”

In 1977, Oral Robert’s prophecy came true in a shocking roundabout turn of events when Rebecca Roberts (Oral’s oldest child) and her husband were killed in a plane crash. Soon after, Richard and Patti’s marriage fell apart. Oral previously had a strict policy against divorce, however, he bent the rules and gave Patti permission to end the marriage. She later described it as “a corporate marriage designed not to upset the flow of dollars into the prized ministry.” Controversy quickly arose when the divorce went public, and combined with serious financial crises regarding construction on the campus, the Roberts began facing opposition from even their most devoted followers in the early ‘80s. Despite Richard’s fast efforts to re-marry (he wed a 23-year-old named Lindsay Salem within a year of the divorce), ORU would never fully recover. Over the next several decades the university would rake up about $52.5 million in debt which left its once beautiful campus in shambles. The Prayer Tower considered the symbol of the university, became rusty, and the tiled steps to the library ended up in complete disarray, missing almost all of its tiles.

More after the jump…

Posted by Doug Jones | Discussion
‘Smash the State’: Joey Shithead of D.O.A. is running for political office
09:11 am


Joey Shithead

via Greens of British Columbia
West Coast punk legend Joey “Shithead” Keithley of D.O.A. is running for office in Burnaby, B.C. Keithley will stand as Green Party candidate for Member of the Legislative Assembly in the May 9 election. His promise:

If I am elected I will be a strong voice for regular folks, the same way I have been in DOA. These are some of the issues I will fight for: affordable housing, creation of jobs through green technology and alternative energy, lower cost daycare, affordable post-secondary education and income equality. I will also stand against the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline that threatens BC’s beautiful coast with potential spills of dirty tar sands oil from Alberta. I will also work towards making the 1% pay their fair share.

More after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Discussion
Labor of love: Writer-director-star Alice Lowe on homicidal motherhood & the making of ‘Prevenge’
10:45 am


Horror Films
Alice Lowe

Alice Lowe’s horror black comedy Prevenge, as you may have gathered from my last post, is pretty likely to be my favorite film of the year (though there’s some fierce competition, for sure.) A hilariously bleak look at motherhood and murder, Prevenge is the story of mother-to-be Ruth who, after the tragic death of her unborn baby’s father, starts to hear the child’s voice. And it is telling her to kill.

The film is packed to bursting point with wicked laughs, stomach-turning violence and, perhaps most surprisingly of all, genuine pathos, the kind of work that gives you faith that independent cinema is still capable of turning out films that are both fresh and brilliant. Written, directed and starring Lowe herself in the lead role, Prevenge was made on a shoe-string budget over the course of three weeks, all while Lowe was heavily pregnant. While it might mark her first time behind the camera to helm a feature, as an actress and a writer Lowe is a seasoned pro, lending her formidable talents to work as diverse and quality as The Mighty Boosh, Sherlock, Snuff Box, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and Sightseers.

We’re long time fans of Alice Lowe’s work here at Dangerous Minds, so it was a real treat to finally nab an exclusive interview with this dark comedy powerhouse. I caught up with her on International Women’s Day to talk about Prevenge, producing films, and the trials of juggling motherhood with an artistic career.

Dangerous Minds: Which one was harder? Making a film or giving birth?

Alice Lowe: Giving birth! If I had to compare the two, making a feature film is pretty easy. No, it’s still pretty nerve wracking! But that’s one of the things that made me do it because, compared to childbirth, I thought “oh it’s just a feature film, who cares?” If I hadn’t been pregnant I would have been like: “My precious first feature!” I maybe wouldn’t have made it because I was so scared of it not being perfect. As it was, I wasn’t that stressed to be honest, I was just enjoying it.

So far the critical reaction to Prevenge has been very positive. How have you found the reception to the film?

Alice Lowe: It’s amazing! I don’t think it’s gonna hit me until about a year’s time because I just haven’t stopped. Making the film, having a baby, editing the film with my baby, finishing the film in time for the Venice Film Festival, it’s all just been a whirlwind, really. I haven’t had a chance to stop and take stock. Because it was so low budget, we just didn’t have any expectations. I was thinking: “If I can make a film then that’s brilliant, it doesn’t really matter what it’s like.” Haha! Honestly, I was just glad to get a feature under my belt, because features notoriously don’t mix well with childcare. So I didn’t really have any expectations, but I certainly didn’t expect to still be promoting it now and people to still be talking about it!

As ‘Dr Liz Asher’ in ‘Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace’
Prevenge is your first feature film as director. Was there any particular template that you were working to as a first time director, either for a low-budget horror or just more generally?

Alice Lowe: Initially I did think it would be easier to do a revenge film because you have a narrative template. You don’t necessarily need to see the preamble, what has happened before, you can just take the audience on this journey of a revenge spree, and to a set timetable. So that’s quite useful. Taxi Driver was a big influence though, as I had often thought there was room for a female Taxi Driver-type film.

Yes, there’s definitely a kind of Travis Bickle-ish aspect to Prevenge‘s Ruth. As for the comedy side of this film, which is just as important as the horror, that’s a tricky balancing act but one you’ve pulled off brilliantly. Did you have any inspirations or templates when it came to this kind of fusion of horror and black comedy?

Alice Lowe:  Well, horror and humor has become quite a British thing, I think. I mean, going back to Ealing Studios there is horror mixed in with comedy there. But you know I also wanted to put drama in there as well, and pathos, and that to me is a bigger experiment in the film, as I didn’t know if anything else had done that successfully. And that’s about having the confidence to steer the audience into these different gears, essentially. That was a labor of love in the edit. Even though I wrote the script as a mixture of genres, I had an epiphany during the actual shooting when I realized that it didn’t have to be any one genre, we just tried to make it as good as possible. Same as with the music, really. While there are lots of influences, it has to be an idiosyncratic thing because it’s really this one person’s journey. So it’s allowed to feel quite new and strange as long as it is managed skilfully.

As Ruth in ‘Prevenge’

You not only wrote and directed this film, which is an achievement in itself - while being heavily pregnant, let’s not forget - but you also starred in it too. I found your performance really powerful, giving murderous mum-to-be Ruth a gravitas and an empathy that strangely complimented the fear and the belly laughs. It’s quite a feat. So can you tell me how you approached Prevenge as an acting gig?

Alice Lowe: I knew I wouldn’t have any time to get into character. There just wasn’t enough time! I had to channel what I was feeling, the intensity of being pregnant, through the performance. But I’ve done a lot of low budget films, not directing necessarily but writing them, and I always know what I am doing with my character and sometimes what I fear, as a director, is that I can’t convey to an actor what I want them to do. Especially when it’s a complex character that is pushing and pulling the audience’s sympathies in different directions. You have to give something for the crew to latch on to. If the central performance is wobbly, the whole thing could become wobbly! So I had to carry the whole thing through and I couldn’t have any vanity about the performance at all. We needed ten seconds of me by the window, we got it, we moved on, there was no other take, no sense of me doing it for four hours. But in a way I was confident to do that because I knew the character inside out. I had written her. I knew what I was doing. And I don’t like to watch playback because I don’t like to be too self-conscious. I had to be in the zone. and when you have a small budget and a small crew, it enables you to do good performances anyway because there was very little set-up, re-setting, lighting and all that. There was very little down time, so you’re just acting the whole time, 24/7. We were just immersed in it, the same as when we shot Sightseers. Which is quite good because you forget you’re acting. You’re just being it. That has a very favorable impact on the performance.

And I presume you were given carte blanche by the producers to do whatever you wanted?

Alice Lowe: Yeah pretty much, I mean they would look over stuff and give me help or feedback if I wanted it but really they just let me get on with it. It was me and the editor, really, pushing through with this experience of the edit. in terms of the script, we didn’t have time for re-writes or anything like that. I basically wrote the script in about a week, having thought about it and written a pitch document before that. I mean, we had to change things as we went along, like when we couldn’t get a particular location and things like that, but in effect it was a first draft.

As David Bowie on ‘Snuff Box’
Wow! That is impressive. So do you think you were liberated artistically by these low-budget/indie constraints?

Alice Lowe: Yes I do actually. I think it gave me faith in the simplicity of a narrative that people will accept. I knew that to be able to film it in such a short time it would have to be long scenes. I knew I was writing it as a series of two-handers, each scene was one other actor, one location and one long scene. It’s like little bits of theater really, and it’s funny because people don’t really comment on that. I thought we would get a lot more criticism because it is such a simple narrative. I mean we did get some criticism, but not as much as I thought we would.

For me the challenge was to write characters that felt modern and recognizable, but they’re not operating to a conventional script. I wanted the audience to feel that this was really happening. You know, how life is unexpected, people don’t do what you think they’ll do. Bringing stuff to life so there’s a vibrancy of performance. And again, that’s something that comes from the low-budget set-up, because everyone knows we may only get one take at this and it’s quite exciting. I just know the film wouldn’t have got made through a conventional development system. People would have said: “You can’t have a scene this long”, “There’s too much dialogue”, “What’s this bit about?”, “This joke doesn’t work.” There would have been so much of that. It drives me insane! Those kinds of people. You just think “Have you ever directed a film? Or written anything? Have you ever made people laugh? Ever in your life?” The kind of people you have to accept feedback from don’t know how to make a film! 

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
‘Show Me Your Soul’: Amazing ‘Soul Train’ documentary from French television
09:24 am

Pop Culture

Soul Train

Show Me Your Soul: The Soul Train Years is a 2013 documentary produced for French television by filmmaker Pascal Forneri (who also directed the critically-acclaimed 2010 documentary Gainsbourg & his Girls). It uses wonderful rare footage, archival photographs, and brand new interviews to take the very first in-depth look at the history of Soul Train. Forneri not only highlights the amazing soul and R&B artists who performed on the program over its 35 year, 1,100 episode run, but also the real stars of the show: the in-studio dancers who would set the standard for future generations of contemporary urban dance.

Several recurring Soul Train dancers are spotlighted in this documentary who provide a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how the show came together. Most of the dancers were not professionally trained, they would spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets to fly themselves out to Hollywood from cities all over the U.S. to be on the show. Those determined few who didn’t make the cut at the audition would sneak themselves onto the studio lot by any means necessary: including one dancer who got onto the set by hiding himself in the trunk of a car. As the show’s popularity in American households increased, so did the dancer’s popularity: week after week they’d try to outdo one another. First by their dance moves which became more and more wild, then by their fashion choices. Some dancers were so eager to get in front of the camera that they started bringing in props (a man known as “Mr. X” became famous for his dance routine that included a large, oversized toothbrush). Dancers began getting recognized on the streets of their home cities as if they were veritable celebrities.

Visionary host Don Cornelius always stated that Soul Train was a home for soul artists regardless of their race, and featured a long list of white artists who appealed to black audiences: Gino Vannelli, David Bowie, Beastie Boys, Elton John, Teena Marie, Hall & Oates, Pet Shop Boys, and Spandau Ballet were amongst the many white artists who appeared on the program over the years. As music trends slowly began to change, Don Cornelius struggled to keep Soul Train true to his original vision. When disco went mainstream, Cornelius made sure the show focused on only the most soulful disco artists that were being played on the radio. When rap music went commercial, however, Cornelius could not hide his contempt for the genre and made it very clear from the beginning that he wouldn’t get behind hip hop. Forneri documents this well, showing footage of Cornelius hanging his head in disgust following a performance by Public Enemy. As he slowly approaches Chuck D. and Flavor Fav for an interview he begins with a very long pause, and then exclaims, “That was frightening.” In the middle of a Kurtis Blow interview, Cornelius awkwardly admits on television “It’s so much fun, I mean, it doesn’t make sense to old guys like me. I don’t understand why they love it so much but that ain’t my job is it? My job is to deal with it and we’re dealing with it,” which was followed by uncomfortable laughter from the studio audience.
Watch ‘Show Me Your Soul: The Soul Train Years’ after the jump…

Posted by Doug Jones | Discussion
‘Kodoku Meatball Machine’: Nipple guns, four tons of blood and a shitload of gore and mayhem
01:11 pm


Yoshihiro Nishimura

Yoshihiro Nishimura’s over-the-top, body-horror, sci-fi/fantasy Kodoku Meatball Machine had its world premiere at SXSW this past week and it more than lived up to its hype for being a splatter epic. In a video introduction to the film, director Nishimura claimed he used over four tons of fake blood in the movie. That might be a bit of hyperbole but Kodoku Meatball Machine has more arterial spray than the Bellagio Hotel has dancing waters. It’s a hilarious gorefest that combines sublime silliness with some cutting social satire. Plot? We don’t need no stinking plot! This film is a frenetic mash-up (literally) of everything we love about Japanese science fiction and horror. Shit happens. And keeps happening. Things fall out of the sky, humans mutate, chicks blow people away with nipple guns and limbs are severed with the maniacal zeal of a meth-crazed chef at Benihana.

Nishimura, who directed the insane Tokyo Gore Police and the 2007 short film Meatball Machine: Reject of Death, is justly renown for his superb special effects creations and wild makeup. He’s worked on dozens of Japanese horror films, creating brilliantly inventive costumes, prosthetics, masks and jaw-dropping visual mayhem featuring heavy metal samurais, wildly choreographedswordplay, kung foolery and flesh-fused weaponry from the planet Id. The cartoonish excess of his creations keeps them from being truly horrifying. There’s too much wit and absurdity in what’s on the screen to be truly upsetting. Laughter displaces screams in Nishimura’s bloody phantasmagorias. His atom-age nightmares are surrealist twists on Shaw Brother Toho flicks of the 1960s and 70s…with loads of viscera and severed limbs. A chase scene involving a topless woman astride a mutant who is half-man and half-motorcycle is like something from a demented western. Yee haw! 

Cinematographer Keizo Suzuki has given Kodoku Meatball Machine a neon sheen that recalls some of Nicolas Refn’s recent work and there’s an eerie nightclub scene that evokes the palette and vibe of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Some groovy stop-motion animation comes on like Ray Harryhausen on DMT and a load of intentionally cheesy special effects give the movie a deranged hallucinatory brilliance. The second half of the film is a relentless mindfuck.

Fans of Takashi Miike, Sion Sono, and Shin’ya Tsukamoto will find Kodoku Meatball Machine an irresistible hoot and folks who’ve never experienced extreme Japanese cinema will be introduced to a unique viewing experience that really has no western equivalent in the world of film.

Watch the trailer for ‘Kodoku Meatball Machine’ after the jump…

Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
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