Entertainment Spotlight

Catching Up: Santana, Taj Mahal and a déjà vu ‘Blue Christmas’

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres - on Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Catching Up: Santana, Taj Mahal and a déjà vu ‘Blue Christmas’
By Ben Fong-Torres It’s short shrift time. I have a life that’s ripe (and slightly wrinkled) for blogs and tweeting; for facebooking and updating. I’m just no good at it. My last column here on AsianConnections was about the memorial in late July for my sister Shirley. My last posting on the authors’ site, Redroom, was about a radio promo tour I did (20 stops, all on the phone in my home office) for my Eagles book. On my own home page, the last thing was about hanging with...

Like a Rolling Stone

Hooray for 'Hollywood Chinese'

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Saturday, 17 May 2008

Our Ben Fong-Torres is knocked out by Arthur Dong's latest film, Hollywood Chinese . ACTION!

It's Asian American Heritage Month, and I can't think of anything better to recommend than this: Go out and see Hollywood Chinese . If it's not showing at a theater near you (more info about that, below), then keep the title in your mental bookmarks, or watch for it on Netflix.

At first glance, it's a movie made of clips; a Chinese version of That's Entertainment. By that, I mean a wide-spanning overview of film history. But, given cinema's ability to reflect society, it's also a chronicle of the Chinese, from the days of the Chinese Exclusion Act to decades of misunderstanding and degradation, to ultimate triumph.

The triumph, here, is the work of Arthur Dong . I've been an admirer of his for his social documentaries, from Sewing Woman to Forbidden City, USA to several that address gay issues and history. Now, with Hollywood Chinese , he has woven a kaleidoscopic tapestry of another slice of American life--that slice that deals with Asian Americans in movies.

This feature-length film is beautifully choreographed and edited by Dong and his team. He begins with elegant paeans to the majesty and power of the movies, from viewers who got to work in the industry. Nancy Kwan (who opens the film in glorious style, in a clip from The Flower Drum Song ), Joan Chen, Wayne Wang, B.D. Wong, Amy Tan , and Justin Lin are among the luminaries who, by testifying to the force of films, are helping establish the impact they had, on how Asian Americans were portrayed on the screen, and on the way Asian American actors were treatedand mistreated.

If this sounds like a dry documentary on racism and racial stereotyping, then I've miswritten. Hollywood Chinese is a stone knockout. Even in making his points, on how the evil Fu Manchu and the wise, simile-spouting Charlie Chan, both played by white actors, cast negative light on Asian Americans, Dong is...

Raining On a Chinese New Year Parade

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Tuesday, 04 March 2008

Our Emmy award winning Ben Fong-Torres weathers his 12th year as co-host of the SF Chinese New Year Parade televised broadcast and finds a silver lining with the weather forecast for rain - Ratings!

You know how, sometimes, those meteorologists on TV get their weather forecasts a tiny bit wrong?

Hard to believe, I know, what with all their computers and radars and satellites and fancy Doppler maps and storm tracking weaponry.
But it happened big time the other weekend, when every weather guy and gal and the radio traffic-and-weather people, and the newspapers, too, issued warnings that the San Francisco Bay Area was about to be blown off the face of the earth, by a storm that would rival the January assault that blacked out tens of thousands of homes, some of them for as long as four days and nights.

I had more to worry about than stocking up on batteries and Dewars. The weekend happened to include, on Saturday, February 23rd, the Chinese New Year Parade. I've been co-anchoring the TV coverage of it (on KTVU, Fox 2) for 11 years. This would bring me full circle in the lunar cycle, and would be the 8th year with co-host Julie Haener . Eight is an auspicious number, just as red is a lucky color, and noodles ensure longevity.

But the forecasters told of how the parade was a target of the storm; how, despite the parade's 55 year-tradition of going on, rain or shine, Ma-Ma Nature was likely to wreck floats and knock marchers off their stilts.

The parade begins at 5:30; our broadcast runs from 6 to 8 p.m., as the floats and bands and lion and dragon dancers roll past our TV position on Union Square, some of them stopping to perform for our cameras.

The rains, the prophets said, would begin around noon and build to a climax in the early evening -- say, 6 to 8 or so -- and continue into Sunday.

Julie and I, along with the parade's writer, Vicky McCuaig , prepared to deal, on the air, with the storm....

Steering Toward Rock; Rolling Toward Rats

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Saturday, 02 February 2008

Ben blogs about blurbing a beauty of a book.

Happy New Year, for the second, if not the third time (Oshogatsu, anyone?). It's the Year of the Rat, supplanting the Boar and setting off a debate, in lunar calendar circles, about whether it's 4705 or 4706. Not exactly a Blu-Ray vs. HD DVD war, but a debate, nonetheless. Do let me know how it turns out, as I want to get the year right on my checks.

My Chinese New Year rituals including cleaning my house (that is, making sure our house cleaner is OK on Comet and Windex), paying our bills (that is, sending in some minimum payments), visiting family (which goes OK, until we get into that fierce argument about Blu-Ray or HD), and, of course, co-anchoring the New Year Parade on KTVU ("Fox 2" in the S.F. Bay Area).

It's my twelfth time, and, I think, the eight consecutive year with Julie Haener (and with Robert Handa on the streets below, interviewing dignitaries). Eight, of course, is an auspicious number, so it should be a good one, even with all those rats running around the parade route, from lower Market Street through Union Square (where we will be) and into Chinatown.

Speaking of Chinatown: I just got an advance look at Fae Myenne Ng's new novel, Steer Toward Rock. I got it because the publisher was hoping for a blurb. What's a "blurb?" Good question. In fact, I wrote a blog about it for this new Web site for authors and people who like books and writing. It's called RedRoom.com. Amy Tan 's on there with her first (and quite successful) attempt at blogging.

Here's what I submitted:

I just wrote a blurb. I've done it beforequite a few times, actuallybut this was the first since the grand opening of Redroom.com, so I thought Id share my experience.

As a (cough)er, person who's been lucky enough to get a few books published, I very much appreciate blurbsthose words of praise, usually from celeb-level authors, or just plain celebs, that appear on the back of the...

It Certainly Wasn't The Same Old Song

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Friday, 21 December 2007

A punky rock song about our own Ben Fong-Torres? It's true! Read it and sing!

As many people who write books and make records are wont to do, I was Googling myself the other night. Actually, it was a variation. I was Amazoning myself, if there's such a thing. A friend had told me about finding old copies of his own books there for a penny a copy. So I went online in search of cheaper versions of myself or my books, anyway.

And that's how I happened onto a song called "Ben Fong-Torres." Not a song by me. Not a song from Almost Famous , which includes me as a character. But a tune, apparently, about me.

I couldn't believe it, but there it was. Amazon offers mp.3 downloads of some albums, so this song, from a CD called Where I Am, by Christopher Van Epps , was available for 89 cents.

I was further shocked by the original release date listed: October, 2002. This thing had been out five years and I just now stumbled across it? Maybe it was an attack on me, and nobody least of all the composer wanted me to know about it. I clicked on the "listen" button for a 30-second sample.

I heard a chorus of voices shouting my name over a combination of a polka and punk-rock beat. The words were a blur, but I made out "it's not an accident is he from south of border or from the Orient." And a robust shout of "Ben Fong-Torres is a helluva guy!"

So, despite the clumsy reference to "the Orient," it sounded like nothing to call my attorney, "Mad Dog," about.

I downloaded the song and then, why not, sprang for the physical CD as well. Hey, how often is something like this gonna happen? And then I tracked down the artist, going from Allmusic.com to myspace, where a discography listed three CDs, and where he posted a modest biography. I learned that a distant cousin of his invented the seven-string guitar in 1938, that he's been playing music, on and off, for about 20 years, and that in 2003, he and a buddy formed a band called Jack...

Pass the Catch-Up

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Friday, 26 October 2007

Fresh 'n' frazzled from a Rolling Stone reunion, and with a new radio show, Ben Fong-Torres comes out of hiding.

I have not been on vacation. Au con- traire .

Actually, for a few months there, I felt like I wasn't doing much of anything. But, then, those few months slid by, and I realized I hadnt written anything for Asian Connections sinceI dont even want to know.

What I do know is that, now that I've just agreed to do a couple of major projects, I'd better write before I have to hunker down to work on the new assignments.

They're nice gigs, actually. One is already underway. I'm doing a radio show on KFRC here in San Francisco (It's at 106.9 FM hereabouts; kfrc.com on your computer). It's a two-hour show on Sundays, airing from 7 to 9 a.m. (Pacific time) and repeating at 7 p.m. Its called "Backstage," and, essentially, I do whatever I want, in the disguise of a DJ show. KFRC, a legendary set of call letters in these parts, is a "classic hits" station, playing rock mostly from the '70s, but with some '60s and early 80s as well. In my second show, I played a baseball song from the '40s, and in an upcoming program, a guest, Judy Collins , names Sheryl Crow as a fave rave, so I'll spin a modern-day tune and pray that I'll keep my brand-new job. But I think I will. CBS Radio's put out a press release and everything.

The other thing is another book. I think its my seventh or eighth. I hadn't planned on tackling another long-term writing project, so soon after the two books that came out last year (Becoming Almost Famous and The Doors By the Doors ). But how do you say no to a book that centers on Quincy Jones ? (You youngsters can Google him; everybody else knows that he's the legendary music arranger, composer, orchestra leader, and producer of records ranging from be-bop to hip-hop.) I interviewed him on stage a half-dozen years ago, when he published his memoirs, and we got along PUR-ty good, as Larry David would say on...