Tag Archives: Baltimore

Robert F. Chew

CHEW

Robert F. Chew, the Baltimore-born actor and teacher, just died of heart failure at the very premature age of 52. Not only was Chew a superb actor — his character Proposition Joe was a mainstay of The Wire — but he was also a mentor to many of the young actors who filled out the show’s huge supporting cast. In interviews, Chew said that some two dozen of his students had roles in the show, including the four young men — Michael (Tristan Wilds),  Namond (Julito McCullum), Randy (Maestro Harrell), and Dukie (Jermaine Crawford) — whose fates are determined in the show’s harrowing fourth season. He also helped Felicia “Snoop” Pearson shape her amazing performance as an enforcer for drug lord Marlo Stanfield, a role Stephen King called one of the most terrifying female villains he’d ever seen.

I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say Proposition Joe is one of the show’s most beloved characters, a Dickensian figure with Falstaffian girth and plenty of salty wit. Though Joe is a presence in all five seasons, he really came into his own in the third, when his maneuvering to keep the street-level drug trade quiet and bloodless mirrored Bunny Colvin’s plot to channel drug dealers into nonviolent “free zones.” With his inch-thick Bawmer accent and droll manner, Chew could inject humor into any exchange.

Dave Simon, the show’s co-creator, was shrewd enough to alter the show in response to what the actors were doing, and he wrote scenes to spotlight Chew’s acting chops, such as the hilarious bit in which Prop Joe adopts four different voices and personae to track down a police officer with a few phone calls.

I’m not sure who should get credit for some of the other character touches for Prop Joe, but I always thought it was interesting that of all the high-end drug dealers using legitimate businesses to conceal their operations, Joe’s base was a repair shop. Time and again, we get glimpses of Joe working on small appliances, acting as a fixer in more ways than one. Joe also seems emotionally invested in bringing old things back to useful life. It makes his final conversation with his nephew, Cheese, all the more poignant. 

I recently sprang The Wire on another unsuspecting soul, who unsurprisingly ended up completely gripped by all five seasons. What did surprise me was a subtle detail that I managed not to see until now, even though I’ve watched the whole thing several times over. As the final cut in its running critique of the drug war, The Wire ends with the same bloody ecosystem in place, only with new faces. Michael takes Omar’s place as a stickup man plaguing the dealers. Marlo has moved into Stringer’s slot as the gangster trying to go straight, though his volatile temperament makes success far less likely. Bubbles has cleaned up his act, but Dukie, school dropout and addict-in-training, will follow his old downward path. Randy is on his way to becoming another Bodie, a child of a barely functional group home who has learned to hide his decent impulses under a rock-hard mask. And Kennard seems destined to become an even more vicious version of Marlo.

But even as the partners change and the dance continues, nobody seems ready to take the place of Proposition Joe. (The only possible contender, Slim Charles, for all his street smarts and loyalty to his old boss, doesn’t have the organizational savvy to run his own shop.) So the only player not replaced is the one who exercised some ameliorating effect on the savagery of the game. I guess that says everything we need to know about where the story will go from here.       

 

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Friday finds

I couldn’t care less about the Emmy awards, but the nominees for “Outstanding Main Title Design” were pretty amazing. The design for Game of Thrones is my personal fave, but The Art of the Title has a rundown on them all. Beware: This beguiling site is one of the most fiendishly irresistible time-sucks on the Internets.

A handy guide to the characters of Charles Dickens.

Lectures by well-known writers, now available online.

No, Mr. G, no! I’ll be good, I promise! Just don’t play that country music again!

A set of Spotify playlists for writers, including Thomas Pynchon, Ann Patchett, and Haruki Murakami.

Have you visited the High Line yet? You really owe it to yourself.

Looking for Proust and finding Verlaine.

What All My Children has in common with the Icelandic sagas.

“I don’t recall all the particulars of my first [science fiction and fantasy convention], but it was held in Baltimore at some point in the early 80s, I believe, and coincided with Poe’s birthday. I attended with a friend of mine. One high point was watching Fritz Leiber read ‘The Raven’ at Poe’s grave. One expected him, when finished, to open up a casket and crawl inside. Another was attending a panel that featured Stephen King, among others. He sat down with a brown paper bag, opened it, and pulled out a six pack of beer, which he proceeded to drink from as the panel progressed. I’ve often thought in the years since, when I’ve been trapped on hijacked or just plain boring panels, that I should have followed his example.”

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Friday finds

Paying last respects to Gil Scott-Heron. And again. And again. And again. A list of his essential recordings.

A great day at Harper’s Ferry.

Jump cut or match cut? All I know is, it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in a movie.

Call me a geek, call me a nerd, but I really am looking forward to seeing these.

“I imagined taking a knife and cutting into the earth, opening it up, an initial violence and pain that in time would heal. The grass would grow back, but the initial cut would remain a pure flat surface in the earth with a polished, mirrored surface, much like the surface on a geode when you cut it  and polish the edge. The need for the names to be on the memorial would become the memorial; there was no need to embellish the design further. The people and their names would allow everyone to respond and remember.”

Paul Theroux and VS Naipaul are buds again. Here is video proof. Take the Naipaul-inspired authorial gender test.

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Friday finds

beowulfillo

OIM ‘ERE TER PAINT YER MOON-STAH! For a mere six bucks, Will scored this striking 1939 edition of Beowulf with gorgeous illustrations by Lynd Ward. Grendel’s mom doesn’t look much like Angelina Jolie, but the paintings (and the black-and-white spot illustrations) look great anyway.

How do you bend a bunch of roughneck Baltimore middle-schoolers to your will? You threaten them with Doc Watson, of course.

A paleontologist ponders the anatomy and physiology of Godzilla (PDF). A photographer considers the skyline possibilities of a Godzilla-shaped skyscraper in Tokyo. And if you think Godzilla’s scary, better not get his lawyers mad at you. Watch the Japanese Godzilla kick the American retread to the curb — or do I mean the Sydney Opera House?

Montclair resident Janice Harayda pens One-Minute Book Reviews.

Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows is 110 years old, but it still makes Gary Kamiya feel 14 again. Laura Miller recalls how the religous themes in C.S. Lewis’ “Narnia” books started her on the road to skepticism.

Real-life people who inspired pop songs: Holly Woodlawn (“Walk on the Wild Side”), Melanie Coe (“She’s Leaving Home”), and Suzanne Verdal (“Suzanne”), among others.

Spend some quality time with the New York Public Library Video Series.

Here’s where to find out how Jacques Barzun, Emily Post, Franz Kafka and T.C. Boyle organized their days.

Check out the Canal City waterworks:

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