The opposite of common sense

Documentary: Filmmaker David Hess thought he'd found a living cartoon in Art Arfons, but the reality was much more interesting.

June 30, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

David Hess originally had a live-action Roadrunner film in mind. Thankfully, he ended-up instead with a wryly insightful documentary into what makes a man do what common sense tells him not to.

"The Green Monster," airing at 10 p.m. tomorrow on MPT, Channels 22 and 67, as part of PBS's "P.O.V." documentary series, relates the tale of Art Arfons, a 74-year-old Midwesterner who's spent his adult life setting land-speed records in cars he designed and built himself. The film uses as its centerpiece Arfons' 1991 attempt to once again become the fastest man on wheels.

"I think of it as a film about old age, about getting old and still pursuing your passion," says Hess, 34, a Baltimore-based sculptor and furniture-maker who served as the film's co-producer and conducted many of the interviews contained in it.

Hess, whose family is the Hess of Hess shoes fame, says he was working on the Roadrunner film script with David Finn (who would end-up directing "The Green Monster") when he heard an interview with Arfons on National Public Radio.

"From that interview, it really occurred to me that he was Wile E. Coyote incarnate," Hess says from his north Baltimore County home. "The story we were working on was a fictional account, but his story was so much more interesting." So Hess visited Arfons in Akron, Ohio, where the speedster was living with his wife, June. What he found was an unassuming, not very articulate man who had a fire within him that could not be quenched, not by advancing years, not by a wife who wishes he'd stay home, not by a horrible 1971 crash that left three people dead. Hess also discovered that Arfons was getting ready to attempt one more speed record -- his first since the crash.

"He's extremely self-confident, but at the same time he comes off as sort of modest, sort of average as a person," Hess says.

The film, which takes its title from the name Arfons uses for all his personally designed and built cars, has been finished for about a year and a half, Hess says. The original 90-minute version (30 minutes longer than what you'll see on PBS tomorrow) has been shown publicly only once, at a film market in New York City. "The Green Monster" has, however, already impressed its most important audience.

"Art liked it," Hess says.

Not enough commercials

As TV Land's "The Greatest Commercials of All Time" demonstrates, some of television's finest moments have come in 30-second and one-minute snippets.

Remember Clara Peller and her "Where's the Beef?" commercials for Wendy's? Those clever Volkswagen ads of the '60s, that actually helped Americans fall in love with a car that looked like a Japanese Beetle? An American Indian (the late Iron Eyes Cody) shedding a single tear over how pollution was despoiling our country? Michael Jordan and Larry Bird shooting it out for a McDonald's Big Mac?

Those are just some of the ads featured on tonight's half-hour special, a joint effort between TV Land and TV Guide, which is devoting this week's issue to what its experts have decided are the 50 greatest commercials of all time.

Unfortunately, the show, which airs at 8 p.m., is not content with just showing commercials. Instead, ad writers and the folks from TV Guide offer insights into what makes a commercial great. A little of that would be fine, but about one-third of the show's half-hour is devoted to talking heads. And fewer than a dozen commercials are shown in their entirety.

It's a delight seeing them again . Too bad "The Greatest Commercials of All Time" couldn't have been at least 30 minutes longer -- and been content to let the commercials do the talking.

Descendants meet on radio

Robert E. Lee and George Gordon Meade will be meeting on the battlefields of Gettysburg again. This time it's Robert E. Lee V and George G. Meade IV, who will be part of a radio broadcast this weekend from the front porch of Gettysburg's historic Farnsworth House. "Leaders at Gettysburg" can be be heard Friday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on WCBM-AM (680).

TV's top shows

Here are last week's top TV shows, according to A. C. Nielsen Co. figures:

....................................................Rating

1 NBA Finals, Game 3:

San Antonio at New York

NBC ....12.1

2 NBA Finals, Game 4:

San Antonio at New York

NBC ............................................12.0

3 NBA Finals, Game 5:

San Antonio at New York

NBC ............................................11.0

4 Dateline, Tuesday NBC .............9.5

5 60 Minutes CBS ........................9.2

6 Frasier NBC ..............................9.0

7 Everybody Loves Raymond

CBS .............................................8.9

8 Friends NBC .............................8.9

9 Wednesday Movie:

Now and Then CBS ......................8.8

10 20/20-Sunday ABC .................8.5

The rating is the percentage of homes equipped with a TV in use.

Pub Date: 6/30/99

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