Tuesday 29 March 2011

Law & Order: Fake People (otherwise known as characters)

            This will be a fairly quick one, as there are both too many and not enough characters named Richard. No doubt there have been several perps, victims, and sleazy defense attorneys named Richard throughout the existence of the many Law & Order shows. I have restrained myself from attempting to catalogue them all. I may have a weird obsession with the name Richard, but I am not insane. There are a couple of pseudo-prominent characters named Richard, though, so I’ll mention them.
            The first Richard is the son of Elliott Stabler, a detective on SVU. For a while Richard, also called both Dickie and Dick, is Stabler’s only son; later, Stabler and his wife have a late-in-life/we’re-not-actually-getting-divorced son, named after Elliott. Richard Stabler has a twin sister, Elizabeth, and the two of them appear briefly, as little kids, in an early SVU episode. Stabler is with them at a park, he loses sight of them for two seconds, they seem to be gone, and he nearly has a freak-out thinking his kids are being molested that very moment. They aren’t, but the scene clearly says, “Elliott is really invested in catching pedophiles because he has kids.” As if we really needed that; it’s a hallmark of Stabler that he mentions his general hatred of pedophiles and his great love of his kids in nearly every episode.
            Dickie doesn’t appear for years, until the season ten episode “Lunacy,” which features Richard “Dick” Finley, Stabler’s old mentor from the Marines and the guy after whom he named his son. Finley is played by guest star James Brolin, which naturally means he is the perp. Seriously, why is the famous guest star always the bad guy? I guess it’s because it’s a better role than “rape victim,” but it tends to take the suspense out of the mystery. If only real policing were that easy. Just hunt down the most famous person connected with your victim and book ‘em. You know they did it.
            Anyway, Finley is part of the space program and he’s a smooth, confident dude. In fact, he is so pimp-tastic he scores a date with Olivia, only to have it ruined when Stabler busts in to arrest him. Stabler figured it out thanks to his son, whose opportune appearance and sage teenage wisdom give Stabler an idea.
            Since Elliott named his son after Finley, he has Dickie (who admits to Olivia he prefers to be called “Dick”) stop by the station to say hello. Finley gives Dick a space program souvenir (a little rocket or something else vaguely phallic), and the Stablers go home. The Stabler men have some TV-style meaningful conversation on the trip back to Queens, and Dick tells Elliott that “people would kill for a chance to go into space.” Or something like that. And bam! Elliott realizes his old mentor has indeed killed so that he has a better chance of going into space. Snap! My favorite part of that TV-convo, though, came when Elliott was telling Dick about his younger days, mentioned something about when he got married, and Dick realizes his sister was born pretty soon thereafter. “You knock Mom up?!” he half stated, half asked. That’s got to be one of my favorite SVU lines ever.
            Dick’s main episode is the season eleven episode “Turmoil,” in which he has a recovering drug-addict best friend who gets murdered. Whoops, should have put a spoiler alert in there. Anyway, in this episode Dick is revealed to be struggling a bit in school and such, but it all works out in the end (aside from the dead friend). I must admit I kind of forget the details of this episode, I just remember thinking the Dick character in this episode didn’t totally add up with the more with-it Dick of the earlier, astronaut episode.
            That’s it for fake Dicks in Law & Order. I totally approve of Elliott having a kid named Richard, and I even more approve that the show tried to have it make sense by giving Stabler a mentor named Richard. Because you know Dick Wolf named Elliott’s son after himself. You just know it.

Friday 25 March 2011

Law & Order: Real People

            I recently returned to the US after several months abroad. And when I think of the United States (discounting my family and friends, of course), I think of one thing: Law & Order. (Dear Creator of the show: If you send me free DVDs, I promise to name drop the show on a regular basis.) I used to be all about Law & Order: SVU, but regular Law & Order has grown on me the past few years, courtesy of incessant re-runs on TNT and the sheer awesomeness of Lennie Briscoe, greatest fictional cop ever. I have even seen a few episodes of Law & Order: UK (I especially like scenes in the Old Bailey robing room, where you get to watch the lawyers put on those goofy wigs). I have also watched Law & Order: Criminal Intent, but that Goren guy creeped me out.
            What does this have to do with Dicks, you ask? Well, the man behind the magic is Dick Wolf. I had to resort to Wikipedia for information on Dick because the only thing I know about him is that he created Law & Order. And, truthfully, that’s really all you need to know.
            Dick Wolf was born Richard Anthony Wolf on 20 December 1946. His father was an advertising executive, and he must have been rich because Wolf went to Phillips Academy and the University of Pennsylvania (graduated 1969). Sadly, Wolf was a classmate of George W. Bush’s and supported his bid for the presidency! Wretched! That’s almost enough to make me stop watching Law & Order, but, like a hardened crack addict, I know I will be back soon for my next fix.
            Let’s move on to another Dick associated with the venerable Law & Order franchise: Richard Belzer, who plays John Munch on SVU. He was born 4 August 1944 in Connecticut, and it seems to have taken him a while to find his professional feet. He was kicked out of the army for failing to adequately adjust to military life, after which he learned and taught yoga. He then became a stand-up comedian (which he still does at times), and finally an actor. According to Wikipedia, he supported John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008, so I’ll give him more coverage. Apparently, he is a bit of a conspiracy theorist, just like his character John Munch. He also survived testicular cancer in 1984, which he used for material in his 1997 HBO Comedy Special “Another Lone Nut.” That’s quality right there. In 1985, he had Hulk Hogan on his cable show and asked the Hulk to show him a wrestling move. Hulk declined, Belzer persisted, and eventually Hulk put Belzer in a hold that caused Belzer to pass out and hit and cut his head on the floor when released. Hilarious. Apparently Belzer sued Hulk, but they settled out of court, which only seems fair since Belzer asked for it.
            In the end, I think Belzer will pretty much end up synonymous with John Munch for he has played that character in episodes for eight different television series and one Jimmy Kimmel Live! sketch. Munch is/was a main character on Law & Order: SVU and Homicide: Life on the Street, but he has also appeared in four episodes of regular Law & Order, and one episode each of The X-Files, The Beat, Law & Order: Trial by Jury, Arrested Development, and The Wire. Munch even appears in an episode of 30 Rock, when the characters are watching an episode of SVU. It would appear that John Munch has himself become part of a television conspiracy, to appear in as many shows as possible, so he better get on a plane soon and make his way to both London and Los Angeles. Those incarnations of Law & Order clearly won’t be complete until Munch has visited.
            Finally, there is Richard Brooks, who played ADA Paul Robinette on Law & Order seasons 1-3. Brooks was born 7 December 1962 in Cleveland, Ohio and studied at Interlochen Academy of Arts in Michigan. He had done some acting before Law & Order, but that’s probably his most famous role. Brooks has done some directing, and he has his own production company Flat Top Entertainment. This must be named after the epic flattop he wore as Robinette. Man, that haircut was something else. Speaking of flattops, Brooks also released a solo R & B album in 2000 with Flap Top Records.
            So there you have it, the real Dicks of the Law & Order family. I’m a bit sad to learn Dick Wolf supported the Dubbya, but no one’s perfect. However, given the state of the country back in 2004, I think that Wolf could be charged with “depraved indifference.” Have at him, McCoy!

Saturday 19 March 2011

Richard Dadd

            A few weeks ago I was at the Tate Britain, looking at paintings (which is pretty much what you do at an art museum), when I stumbled across a work by Richard Dadd. I was mildly intrigued at first, mainly because his name is Richard (duh!) and because I could imagine my brother making the inane crack, “What a dad,” on seeing the surname. I became really interested, though, when the information card (technically called an “extended object label,” according to a friend who does museum studies) mentioned that Richard Dadd had mental problems, murdered his dadd (hehe), and spent a good portion of his life at Bethlem Hospital, better known as Bedlam. I knew I had to look Richard Dadd up.
            Dadd was born in Kent on 1 August 1817. He was the fourth of seven children, and a couple of his siblings also developed mental problems. He began drawing around age 13, and, when Dadd was 18, the family moved to London, where his father’s work (carver and bronze worker) gave Richard access to some artists, who might have tutored him (he apparently showed knowledge of the techniques of miniature painting, which he probably did not pick up by simply drawing in Kent). When he was 20, he was accepted to the Royal Academy. While in attendance, he became friends with several other Victorians painters such as John Phillip and Augustus Egg, among others. Dadd was quite successful at the Royal Academy, winning medals for drawing and painting and exhibiting some early paintings. He was also noted for his kindness and good humor; he had a sweet disposition. In 1842 he executed woodcut illustrations for Samuel Carter Hall's Book of British Ballads and painted scenes for the interior of a lord’s house in Grosvenor Square. Clearly, Dadd was on the path of success.
            In was, however, in 1842 that it all began to fall apart. Dadd accompanied Sir Thomas Phillips on a tour of Europe and the Middle East. Dadd was fine throughout their visits to Italy and Turkey, but began to suffer from mental illness in Egypt. For several months, Phillips explained Dadd’s odd behavior as exhaustion or sunstroke, but it became increasingly difficult to make that explanation believable. In early 1843 in Italy, Dadd became violent towards Phillips and said he felt an urge to attack the pope during one of the pontiff’s public appearances in Rome. By the time the group reached Paris, Dadd’s psychosis had become so acute that he returned to London in late May.
            Dadd’s later discussions of his life and mental state revealed he believed he was called on by Osiris to do battle with the devil. Tricky thing was, the devil could assume any shape he liked and was everywhere. Although Dadd’s father assured the public that Richard was fine, he had a doctor examine the painter, who was declared to be of unsound mind.
            Nevertheless, Dadd’s father accompanied his son on a trip to Kent in late August 1843. It seems this was supposed to be a sort of get-well trip, for Dadd had apparently promised to talk to his father about his mental state. Instead of talking, though, Richard murdered his father by attacking him with a knife and razor.
            Richard immediately fled to Calais in France, where, despite being detained on account of his bloodstained clothes, he was later freed.  (Whose bright idea was that?) By that time, though, a search was on for Dadd because a brother of his rightly suspected that Richard had killed their father. After trying to cut the throat of another traveler, Richard was taken into custody in Paris and sent to an asylum. He admitted he had murdered his father (well, actually he admitted he had murdered the devil in disguise), and he even had a hit list; his father had been at the top of this list.
            Dadd was not returned to England until late July 1844. He pled guilty and was sentenced to the criminal lunatic department of Bedlam. He stayed there until late July 1864, when he was removed to Broadmoor, a new, improved state asylum. Here he remained until his January 1886 death from tuberculosis. Despite continuing to suffer from delusions, Dadd remained intellectually active throughout his life, reading Latin satires and playing the violin.
            Dadd actually did his most famous paintings while at Bedlam. This includes The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke, the painting I saw at the Tate Britain. This painting is incredibly, almost obsessively, detailed. It seemed more like a fantastical photograph than something a person had painted by hand.
            Dadd was clearly a gifted painter. I won’t go into details because I am not an art critic or an art historian. His work is pretty darn cool, which is good enough for me.
            One website (linked below) mentions that some scholars claim Dadd was suffering from bipolar disorder. I think it sounds more like he was suffering from (paranoid) schizophrenia, which tends to hit in the twenties (thereby fitting Dadd’s timeline) and causes its sufferers to hear voices (such as Osiris). However, I’m neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist, so don’t take my word for it.
            So there you have the rather tragic and fascinating tale of Richard Dadd. It is probably a testimony of his desire to paint that he was able to do his greatest work while in a nineteenth-century mental hospital. Conditions were less than ideal in those places.

Want to know more about Dadd? There’s a Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Dadd), but I found the following to be a much better website. I got most of my information there (and from the glorious Oxford DNB).


Also, follow this link to see the eight works by Dadd housed at the Tate Britain.