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Davis Conversations with…Derrick Bang

derrick - profile pic

(photo credit: Bill Buchanan)

Davis Conversations is a feature series at Davis Life Magazine presenting profiles of local folks who impact our community. Today, we meet Derrick Bang. Derrick has long been the preeminent film critic and Peanuts authority in the area. Despite his loaded schedule writing movie reviews for The Davis Enterprise, creating marketing materials for UCD’s Engineering Department, helping customers at Newsbeat, and maintaining two popular blogs – Derrick Bang on Film and Derrick Bang’s Guide to Peanuts – he generously took time to sit down for an interview. Over hot cocoa (him) and tea (me), we discussed film, Peanuts, and life in Davis.

A nascent love for cinema starts with Monstro, a decapitation, and Bond –

Davis Life Magazine:  Do you remember the first movie you saw? Or the first one that made an impact on you?

Derrick Bang:  Oh wow, I can give you some early ones but I’m not sure which would’ve come first. The first time I saw Pinocchio I bawled my eyes out when he got swallowed by the whale because it was just one thing too many. And I remember that moment. Obviously this would’ve been a re-release, but I’m guessing I would’ve been around four or five or six. That’s probably the earliest one I can think of. I’ll tell you a funny story that was fairly early on for me. It was 1964. My father got me hooked on James Bond movies pretty quickly.

DLM:  Same in our house.

DB:  Goldfinger came out in ‘64 and it was co-billed with – of all things – Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte, which played first. I would’ve been nine. And I got about ten minutes into that film, right to the point where Bruce Dern’s hand gets chopped off. And I got up, and I left. This was back in the day when movie theatres had lobbies and I never traveled anywhere without a deck of cards. So I just sat in the lobby playing solitaire. My father stayed in the theatre – this was a  different era. About 45 minutes later, he came out to get me and said “I think it’s okay now.” Now this I remember vividly: we walk back into the theatre, down the aisle to the seats, just as on the screen somebody’s head comes bouncing down the central staircase. I never even made it to the chair. I just turned right around and went right back to the lobby and didn’t come back till my father came to get me. Then we watched Goldfinger, and that was fine.

DLM:  Were movies always a passion growing up?

DB:  Oh yeah, both of my parents went to the movies a lot when they were dating, and once I was old enough to join them we’d go to movies fairly often, maybe once every two weeks, which was a lot for back then.

DLM:  Sometimes generations will be quick to say “They don’t make them like used to”…do you think there is some real decline in overall movie quality since some distant golden age, or is it more driven by sense of nostalgia and sample size effect?

DB:  That’s exactly right. Back in the ’40s and ’50s – the heyday of Hollywood cinema – movies would change at your local downtown theatre three times a week. Every week. Now think about the product that was being pumped out to fill that kind of schedule. You know there was a lot of crap. Had to be. So every time my father lays that line on me – which he does – I sit down and compile a list of great films that have come out in the last few years and say look for these.

DLM:  It reminds me of the central theme of the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris:  every era is nostalgic for a previous era, but those in that previous era glamorized the era even before that.

DB:  I think it’s fueled by context. And I’ve read science to this effect…songs impact us the most between the ages of 13 – 21, and nothing we hear from that point forward ever resonates with the intensity that it does at that age. The reaction it evokes. So if that’s true of music, I suspect the same thing is true of what we see – movies, tv shows. So rightly or wrongly I think we have this strawberry lens view that enhances what we see at that point in our lives.

DLM:  You mention that age range (13-21), and that’s when puberty has kicked in, hormones are changing, there may be a first date, first kiss, first break-up…there is so much significant new life experience. I think the music you’re listening to at that point – or the movie you’re watching – becomes the soundtrack of your life, and that’s why it sticks.

DB:  That’s very true. And then once you become an adult, you don’t have as much time. You’re distracted by having to work, feed a family, whatever. But from growing up, I can remember some movies I saw at that age because of who I was with.

– Hollywood, for better or worse –

DLM:  Here we sit in early February, and the perception is that January and February is a toxic dumping ground for awful film releases.

DB:  It’s not a perception, it’s true. It’s absolutely true. It hasn’t always been that way, and it would be great to go back and figure out when that started. There are actually two dumping grounds: the first one tends to be mid-January to mid-March actually, not quite January – February, because for the first couple weeks (of the new year) you’re still catching up with the wide releases of the big Oscar-bait.

DLM:  The ones that opened in only New York and Los Angeles in December to qualify for awards season, and now they’re coming to the rest of us?

DB:  Right, so there are some good films coming out early in the month (January), but beyond those, if you’re talking about ones actually dated in the new year, nobody wants to touch it in terms of mainstream releases, and it’s just junk. And the other one (dumping ground) is September to October.

DLM:  Are those ones that didn’t make the cut for summer and also not ready (in terms of quality) for the awards push later in the year?

DB:  Well, we’re not in the holiday season yet, so same thing. September and October tends not to be as bad (as mid-January to mid-March) because people seem willing to go to movies in September and October.

DLM:  For attendance in those toxic months then it seems like a chicken or the egg thing…

DB:  Well, that’s the eternal chicken or the egg. Every time Hollywood complains when it has an off year and they look for all kinds of other reasons, inevitably there are letters to the editor saying “Hey, make better movies and we’ll go see them.” And I think there’s a great deal of truth to that. 2014 was not a terrific year for great films.

DLM:  So as a critic, do you dread these times of the year?

DB:  Oh yes.

DLM:  I read an interesting article recently about the creative dearth in the movie industry, and it includes a graphic showing that over the next five years, there will be 34 superhero movies. And to take it a step further, not even counting those 34,  there’s another 70 movies total that are sequels or remakes of some sort. Is it just perception, or do you think there is more of that than there used to be? It feels lazy.

DB:  Well, there are a lot of things pushing that. As recently as the ’70s, there were still movie studios that were movie studios and hadn’t yet been purchased by conglomerates. There were still moguls who were movie people. The moment all film studios got absorbed into giant corporations, they (movies) started getting treated the way network news gets treated on television. It was no longer good enough to have this entity that might not be making money but gives you prestige. Now they don’t give a rat’s ass about prestige; they’re beancounters and just want the bottom line. So you’ve got that fueling it. The other major part is the rapidly expanding international market, notably China. Superhero movies play phenomenally well in China, Japan, and SE Asia. And even in Europe. The dialogue is never terribly difficult so it dubs easily, and when your creative base is being driven by that consideration, I’m afraid quality never even comes into the picture. Now having said that, there are obviously people who can work within those constraints and still make wildly entertaining movies. There’s no shortage of good stuff out there, it’s just gotten harder to see at your local multiplex. I worry about the continued existence of the downtown movie theatre; I’m not sure that business model’s going to survive.

DLM:  Especially as the cost of seeing movies at home comes down, the screens at home get bigger, and the timing from cinematic release date to home availability shrinks. I’ve even noticed recent promos at the theatres now specifically focused on why you should want to see a movie in the theatre instead of at home, so clearly they’re sensitive to it.

DB:  I agree. I think under ideal conditions – and I hasten to add that – nothing beats seeing a good film with a full and engaged theatre audience. But that caveat is under ideal conditions…audiences have gotten ruder, with cell phone technology not having helped at all in that respect. People in general seem to be very narcissistic these days and loathe to turn off their devices. That’s one of the very nice things about the way my wife and I see movies because more often than not we see advance screenings and cell phones are banned. Period.

DLM:  Another way the cinemas have really tried to push the value of the theatre experience in the last 10 years has been 3D.

DB:  Well done 3D can be amazing. James Cameron did a phenomenal job with Avatar. Just amazing. The first How to Train Your Dragon – great 3D. 90% of the rest of 3D movies don’t necessarily benefit, clearly weren’t designed with it mind…and not a storyline that lends itself to it, so it’s superfluous. And then the other problem is that if it’s not filmed in 3D but it’s added after the fact, it ruins the movie because it darkens it. The recent Clash of the Titans (where 3D was added post-production) was so dark…the sequence where he (Perseus) goes after Medusa underground…you couldn’t see what the hell was going on. Though as I said in my review, in a way that was a benefit because it was such a bad film; that was a section we didn’t have to worry about watching.

DLM:  And yet they made a sequel.

DB:  (Audibly sighs) That’s because it did well overseas.

DLM:  After the success of Avatar, James Cameron opined that 3D isn’t just for a certain genre of movies but really any movie – even a drama – could benefit from 3D because it gives you a more realistic, natural experience.

DB:  Sure, and I believe that. But it has to be done well. Hitchcock was pretty clever with Dial M for Murder. He did a very good job with it (3D). The most iconic moment is when Grace Kelly is being strangled and almost killed, and she’s reaching back, which is when she eventually grabs the scissors and her hand is coming right out at you. It’s very effective.

DLM:  So you like Dial M for Murder, but I noticed North by Northwest on your favorites list on your blog profile. Is that your favorite Hitchcock then?

DB:  Yeah. I’m a Hitchcock nut. I have more books about Hitchcock than Hitchcock made movies. And he made 50-something movies.

DLM:  My favorite of his has always been Strangers on a Train. And because I just read that it’s going to be remade shortly, I’m curious about your opinion in general on remakes. I have a gut aversion to remakes, but should I be more open-minded? Is there value in reinterpreting it through new eyes?

DB:  I firmly believe there are some properties that should never be remade. And everybody’s entries on that list are going to be different. I can point to things like Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, and The Godfather. They are just perfect the way they are…such an ideal marriage between director and scripter and cast. And when they were made, which is important. Now that group aside, whatever is in that bucket, everything else is up for grabs if – and this is the important part – you’re not going to at least equal or improve upon the original, then you’re wasting your time. And my objection is that for one reason or another, most remakes are inferior to the original. And I don’t understand that because I don’t think it needs to be that way.

DLM:  The timing aspect is interesting too because I can see the justification where if there is a great movie from 50 years ago that’s lost on a younger generation today, it’s a way to introduce them to it since they won’t likely ever go back to the original.

DB:  Sure, and you can also make the argument that it’s reasonable to entice modern viewers with modern players. They want to see their actors in a movie. And maybe that explains why some of the most successful properties that have gone through remakes are stories that aren’t contemporary. I’m thinking of The Three Musketeers; it seems that every generation has its version of that story, going back to the ’30s.

DLM:  My pet peeve with remakes is when a very good foreign movie, especially a recent one, is remade by Hollywood. It seems pointless, especially now that global movies are so easily available.

DB:  That infuriates me.

DLM:  Like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, where the Swedish version was gripping and well cast.

DB:  Yes! I’m glad you said that. I mean it’s not that I think David Fincher made a bad movie.

DLM:  Right, but it was unnecessary.

DB:  Totally unnecessary. And he screwed with the dynamic between the two primary characters. As far as I’m concerned, he ruined it. One of my soapbox complaints on that score is the insistence of American studios to remake French sex comedies. They do it constantly, and I have yet to find one worth a damn. They (the French) consider sex to be fun and frothy and erotic, and we consider it to be vulgar. And there’s a basic problem there.

DLM:  That leads me to the ratings system. My understanding is that in the U.S. you’re more likely to get a harsher rating for sex rather than violence, whereas in Europe or Asia it’s the reverse. It’s telling in terms of what we celebrate and tolerate.

DB:  Yes, and it’s also arbitrary over here. Infuriatingly arbitrary.

DLM:  Did you watch the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated?

DB:  Yes.

DLM:  I found it fascinating, not in a good way, for all the obfuscation of the process and the inconsistencies.

DB:  The only reason that system still exists – it’s so laughably arbitrary – is that nobody has figured out a better one yet, and everyone’s terrified of returning to the way things were in the ’60s when many states had their own rating systems, particularly the states in the Deep South which tend to be more conservative than the rest of the country. You could travel through the United States (in the ’60s) and see the same movie in 10 different theatres and see 10 different edits. And obviously that’s insane. So doing that (one system) seems to have mollified the states’ Attorneys General, but at the same time it’s such a joke. You must have seen some PG-13 that seem awfully hard and should be R.

DLM: The Dark Knight.

DB:  That’s an excellent example. Then on the flip side you’ll see an R – Billy Elliot comes to mind – which was R because of some language, and that’s crazy. My major objection to the ratings system in general is that by definition it means that every movie made in the U.S. is appropriate for children. Because R-rated films do not keep kids out. So think about that: no one is making entertainment specifically for adults. That’s crazy. People write books specifically for adults. There are levels of maturity for content that are not being addressed by the Hollywood studio system because they know they are going to be watched by seven year-olds. The couple of times they’ve tried for an adults-only rating, they’ve failed. Everyone forgets that before it got co-opted by the porn industry, there were wide release X-rated movies like Clockwork Orange and Midnight Cowboy, which won an Oscar for best picture. These days when it’s X, or now NC-17, the problem is that you can’t advertise them.

DLM:  And a lot of chains won’t show them.

DB:  Right, especially in the Deep South.

DLM:  A trend I’ve seen more in the last five years is the weekly box office scorecard. And these movies are immediately pegged as being successes or failures because of how much they made or lost against their budgets. Why should I care?

DB:  It makes perfect sense in Daily Variety or The Hollywood Reporter because these people care about the results, but why do we care? Obviously it’s because there is a perception that if American Sniper is the #1 movie of the week, it must be a good film.

DLM:  So they’re using it as marketing, but of course that’s a double-edged sword because if it tanks the first week, then that would discourage viewers from buying tickets.

DB:  Yeah, well, we live in different times. Again, I blame the corporate culture. The studio moguls back in the day were willing to let a movie find its audience, and you don’t see that happen much anymore. They are few and far between. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the last one I can think of, and it’s been a while now (2002). They left it in studios for two or three months which is what it took for it to finally hit.

DLM:  Can movies still catch you by surprise? It’s changed from growing up with such excitement about previews – now you can track progress of movie from casting through production and see the online trailers 6+ months in advance of release. I miss the surprise.

DB:  The last movie I remember seeing with a theatre full of people that caught everybody by surprise was The Truman Show. It was immediately obvious when the spotlight falls minutes into the movie and lands on the street in front of his feet. Absolutely nobody there had any idea what is was about. And everyone in the theatre was fascinated from the time the spotlight hit the street. It was that great audience experience we were talking about when nothing beats seeing a film in the theatre.

– Movies through the critical lens –

DLM:  How did you get started with criticism?

DB:  I started writing film reviews because I couldn’t find a critic who had my taste. There was a nagging sense of discontent that was percolating in the back of my mind. My friend started writing for The Aggie my sophomore year, and he encouraged me.

DLM:  Do you remember your first review?

DB:  My first review ran October 1974 in The Aggie, and it was a review of Night of the Living Dead, which was about to play on campus. I save everything.

DLM:  Ever go back and read some of those early reviews?

DB:  That review is positively, absolutely unreadable. It is horrible. Only because it’s so bombastically pretentious. I worked so hard trying to explain why this crappy little horror movie was such a good film that I was using all the wrong language to talk about it. So I think it took a while to catch my stride. And I never stopped. I was writing film reviews for The Aggie for a while after I graduated, then I got picked up by The Daily Democrat (Woodland). I was with them for a while until they were sold. My sense is I survived the sale but not the reorganization. And then I was so proud of myself – this is one of my personal movie moments – have you seen Kramer vs. Kramer?

DLM:  Yes, but it’s been a while.

DB:  Dustin Hoffman has that crisis where he’s got to have a job – now – before a court date. He’s got 12 hours or something like that. My wife and I ran a business around the corner (The Game Preserve) from September 1978 through January 1997, so I would’ve been there at the time. And I was let go…by mail.

DLM:  By mail! Wow, was that more common at the time? Or was it obnoxious even then?

DB:  Even then it was totally obnoxious. Cowardly. Crappy. I was so furious, and it would’ve been sent to The Game Preserve since I got it there. So literally, I stewed over it for 30 minutes, put a Closed sign in the door, walked over to The Enterprise, and as luck would have it they were between film critics. I said “The Democrat just dumped me…I want to work for you.” And she said “Okay.” So I was able to go home and tell my wife, “I was fired by The Democrat today, but don’t worry because I was hired by The Enterprise.” I thought that was terrific. So it’s my Dustin Hoffman moment.

DLM:  So for a critic, how does the actual screening process work…do you go to a theatre typically, or do you receive DVD at home?

DB:  The latter (DVD), almost never. I’ll give you a perfect example. This Tuesday, I will be seeing Kingsman: The Secret Service, and on Wednesday, God me help me, I’ll be seeing Fifty Shades of Grey.

DLM:  Enjoy!

DB:  Well hey, I‘m a dedicated guy. I’m two-thirds of the way through the book. And it’s killing me! I have never read such crap in my life. Anyway, back to the original question, there are promotional screenings sponsored by local radio stations. And we critics get in as well. We don’t have to stand in line to pick up the passes; we just get notification online.

DLM:  So it’s not a screening specifically for critics per se. It’s a promotion that you can attend too.

DB:  Right. And that’s most often. Now some of the smaller films – indie films – will have critics-only screenings. They’ll do it during the day, and those are not open to the public. And then in terms of frequency, below that, are DVD screeners.

DLM:  What do you think of film review aggregator sites like Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic? Is this sort of democratization of criticism a good thing or does it lower the bar on quality expectation? Does it demean the value of a properly written long form review?

DB:  Yes, absolutely, but I can qualify that. It depends on who is being aggregated. Are they being drawn from real reviewers?

DLM:  I noticed your reviews are not counted in Rotten Tomatoes.

DM:  The Davis Enterprise site is not open to the outside world, and Rotten Tomatoes’ #1 baseline rule is that the review has to be available at the site where it is published. So they can’t use me. But I think newspapers should be smarter about not giving away things for free so I think it (The Enterprise) does have the right attitude. My objection is with Rotten Tomatoes. I don’t really have a problem with what it does; I like their mindset, their business model, how they put themselves together. What I object to are sites like IMDB where if you’re just looking at the number (overall rating), that’s just people. As you said a moment ago about why do I care about box office results, why do I care what the general public thinks of a movie? I want an informed opinion but you’d have to be blind not to notice that informed commentary is vanishing in this country. And I don’t just mean film criticism, I mean across the board.

DLM: Whether it’s Twitter or other media forms, everything is delivered in small sound bites. Everything has to be consumed more quickly.

DB:  Isn’t it ironic that we’ve made all this progress, and we’re back to sending telegrams. I would like to think people are going to get tired of uninformed commentary. One of my favorite authors is Harlan Ellison, and decades ago he said something which at the time sounded extremely arrogant and snotty and has taken this long to seem prescient. To paraphrase what he says: ‘Everyone is not entitled to their opinion. Everybody is only entitled to their informed opinion.”

DLM:  Along those lines of informed opinions, are there any film critics you read growing up – or read now – that you especially like and respect?

DB:  Kenneth Turan.

DLM:  From the LA Times?

DB:  Yes. A great writer for modern people. Going back to when I was a kid it was Charles Champlin of the LA Times. Oh, he was so good. The ones I like are the sharp writers. I loved Roger Ebert.

DLM:  I watched the Life Itself documentary on his life recently. Did you see that?

DB:  I recorded it but haven’t watched it yet. I really liked Roger because he was the best of both worlds. He’s a sharp writer, he’s an outstanding analyst, but he obviously also wants to have a good time.

DLM:  I think Ebert becoming the first film critic to win the Pulitzer must have elevated the visibility and maybe public perception of the role.

DB:  Yeah, and suddenly you started seeing film reviews on the wire which just wasn’t the case when I was growing up. I think the best critics are the ones who have enough of an identity that you can figure out their tastes. And I think its just as valuable to find one that you always disagree with as one you agree with because then I know if he hated it, it must be great.

DLM:  Are there any genres you especially love, or dread when you have screening?

DB:  I try to be equal opportunity, but I don’t always succeed. It might be easier to say what I don’t like. I don’t get opera. Never have. So I didn’t understand all the fuss everyone made about Amadeus. I don’t like gory movies, but I do like scary movies. I like to be scared; I don’t like to be disgusted. I love well made romantic comedies. I adore well made caper flicks. How to Steal a Million. The Thief Who Came to Dinner. Charade – now that is one of my top five movies.

DLM:  Are you always able to go into a movie with an open mind, or do you occasionally go in and feel like you have the review half written in your head because you know what you’re getting with certain actors or genres?

DB:  No, never. Yes, it’s true I don’t greet the arrival of a new Adam Sandler movie with enthusiasm because of his recent past. I loathe stars – a term I use to distinguish them from actors – who treat their fan base in my opinion with contempt. And I think Sandler, Eddie Murphy, and others take the money and run, and I have no respect for them. I have an open mind, but sure, I have stronger doubts when I walk into an Adam Sandler movie than a Meryl Streep movie.

– Artistry and insights through economical (not simple) lines –

DLM:  I read on your blog that you first connected with Peanuts while learning to read through the Fawcett Crest Peanuts reprint books. What about Peanuts spoke to you?

DB:  I couldn’t have told you this when I was a kid, but looking back as an adult there are three artists whom I admire and have admired for a very long time in my life who I can point to as having the same talent that has captivated me, operating in different mediums interestingly enough: Charles Schulz, Ray Bradbury, and Jean Shepherd…newspaper comic strip, prose, and radio. All three of them have the unique, uncanny ability to evoke in me and in a lot of other people a sense of nostalgia for an upbringing you never experienced personally. Why is Peanuts still popular 14 years after Schulz died? Because, as was the case with Bradbury and Shepherd, the stories they told are unencumbered by the politics of the moment. They didn’t really namecheck sports figures or movie stars. They’re timeless. Children are never as sagacious as they are in Peanuts, or as prone to hilarious incidents as they are in Shepherd’s stories, or as likely to stumble across the weird and fantastic as they are in Bradbury pieces. But at the same time, I just get a warm feeling. I felt that growing up with Peanuts…and I just never lost it.

DLM:  Did you always identify with a character in particular?

DB:  Oh Linus, absolutely. The philosopher. And Charlie Brown to a degree. I was not a popular kid growing up, and the thing I identified with is this: everyone always talks about him as being this lovable loser, but he is not a loser. A loser is someone who fails and doesn’t try again. Charlie Brown never stops trying. And that resonated with me as a kid growing up.

DLM:  He keeps going out to the pitcher’s mound.

DB:  He does. He keeps trying to kick the football. He keeps trying to get to know the little red-haired girl. He never quits. As a kid I don’t know that I would’ve been perceptive enough to have cited that, but from the vantage point of an adult looking back, I know it made an impact.

DLM:  Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) and Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine) have both spoken about how much they were influenced by Schulz. Do you see his legacy in other comics or media today?

DB:  Oh yeah. Any strip with sagacious children owes something to Schulz. Any strip with economical line art owes its legacy to Schulz. Notice I did not say simple; there’s a vast difference between that and economical. He just didn’t waste any lines. Any strip that pays very close detail to character interaction owes a debt to Peanuts. And then on a subtler level, any strip that masters the art of the one-two punch owes a legacy to Peanuts because it was one of his greatest talents. During his four-panel years, you’d have your initial setup in the first panel, and then something that would refine it in the second. Then you’d get a mini-punchline in the third, and then the fourth panel would deliver a topper. That’s not easy, and he did it very well. And he did it frequently. You’re talking about translating the kind of sensibilities you get with a good stand-up comic into a comic strip. One of the hardest things – and this is something I try to do with my writing – is to get people to read something the way you want them to, at the pace you want them to. He clearly wanted people to time the reading of his strip the way he imagined it.

DLM:  It seems like the structure of panels in comics lends itself to that.

DB:  Right, but not everybody takes advantage of that successfully. Let’s face it: newspaper comic strips are also a dying breed. What can we point to after Zits and Baby Blues that is going to have that kind of impact. I really worry that they’re the last two really good ones that are going to have that kind of longevity.

DLM:  I believe your first Peanuts book – 50 Years of Happiness: A tribute to Charles M. Schulz – was published fairly close to the time of his death in 2000. Did you ever have the chance to meet him?

DB:  The Peanuts Collectors Club held conventions every year called Beaglefest (author’s note: Derrick proudly displays the logo for the 2010 edition on his jacket), and the first one we attended was in 1993. Charles and Jeannie Schulz came to the Saturday evening banquet for each one of these as long as he was alive. That year, he came and gave a talk, and I’ll never forget…there were 300 people in attendance. And at the end of his talk he positioned himself at the door and shook everybody’s hand on the way out. Stunning. By 1997, my wife and I had climbed the ladder of the club hierarchy, and we were seated at the table with Charles and Jeannie. I sat next to him, and we talked movies for 90 minutes. I sure as hell was not going to talk comic strips with him.

DLM:  It must have felt momentous after investing so much personally in Peanuts for so long.

DB:  Yeah, it was cool. Lovely, lovely man. And excellent taste in movies I might add. I finished it (the book) and shipped off the proof copies to Charles Schulz’s office in November of 1999. And God’s truth, I’m not making this up, he looked at it, he dictated a letter to the secretary giving us clearance to go ahead and publish it, and he was taken to the hospital that afternoon. And then of course the announcement was made that he was going to have to stop doing the strip. Well, that changed the last two pages of my book. I was able to acknowledge the fact that he had stopped. And then the books (a first run of 2000 total) were all delivered to me. There’s a wonderful photo that ran in The Enterprise I just love dearly that shows me sitting next to these piles and piles of books. So, here’s my definition of mixed blessing, or mixed emotions: the story in The Enterprise about my first book having arrived and being released ran on Sunday, February 13th, directly alongside his obituary.

DLM:  Quite a juxtaposition.

DB:  I knew the story was going to run on Sunday, and we woke up to that…that he had died. Which also was the day the final Peanuts strip ran. By design. It all converged on the one day.

– Life in Davis –

DLM:  What do you appreciate most about living here?

DB:  Davis is Shangri-La. It’s a beautiful town. We love the attention paid to greenbelts. It’s a nice place to walk around, and it’s safe. By and large the citizen base, with this being a university community, is on average probably a little better educated than other bases. So it’s very easy to encounter folks and have lively conversations. And the people are friendly. We’re still able to find a lot of the things we need here. The location is outstanding. Sacramento is not far. San Francisco isn’t far. Tahoe’s not far.

DLM:  If you’re mayor for the day, would you change anything?

DB:  I don’t think so because I don’t think I’d be presumptuous enough to try.

DLM:  What’s your ideal date night in Davis? Favorite restaurants or activities or other spots?

DB:  Dinner at Moshi Moshi and then a movie at The Varsity.


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