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The Quick 10: 10 Facts About the Concorde

Wikipedia says March 27, 1970, was first-ever flight of the Concorde. Not the program on HBO, I mean, but the actual jet. I think Wikipedia is wrong (I know, I know, who would have thought?!) "“ British Airways says the first flight occurred on March 2, 1969. Either way, we're in the anniversary month of the first flight, so I thought it would be a good topic for a Q10 (don't worry"¦ the superfluous body parts sequel is still coming).

red arrows1. That little "e" on "Concorde" was a pretty big deal at one point in time. "Concorde" is the French spelling, but U.K. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan got in an argument with Charles de Gaulle and officially had the "e" yanked to spite him. In 1967, Tony Benn, the British Minister for Technology, had it changed back to the original spelling. He said the superfluous letter stood for "Excellence, England, Europe and Entente Cordiale, a 1904 series of agreements between England and France. However, the "E stands for England" theory further ruffled some feathers, because Scotland soon pointed out that Concorde's nose cone was made in Scotland. Benn replied, "It was also "˜E' for Ecosse (French for "Scotland") "“ and I might have added "˜e' for extravagance and "˜e' for escalation as well!"

2. The record time for Paris-to-NY was (and still is) two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds. On average, the Concorde traveled one mile every two and three quarter seconds. It was so fast that on westbound flights, it was possible to arrive at a local time that was earlier than when you left your original destination. And of course Concorde's publicists didn't miss that opportunity: British Airways used the slogan "Arrive before you leave."

3. At low speeds, it was highly inefficient. It could burn two tons of fuel just taxiing to the runway. However, it was designed to be operated at Mach 2 "“ and when it was, it was the most fuel-efficient jet engine ever built.

4. Concorde could stretch anywhere from 6-10 inches during flight because the heating of the airframe was so intense.

5. You know where you are based on what it's called. OK, you probably know where you are anyway, but go with me here. In the U.S., it's the Concorde. In the U.K., it's simply Concorde. And in France, it's le Concorde (go figure).

6. It was quite noticeable when the Concorde passed through the sound barrier: first of all, the pilot would announce it. But also, there was a surge in acceleration and the air compression was such that the windows would actually get warm to the touch.

accident7. The Concorde had just one major crash, but it was the beginning of the downfall for the supersonic jet. Air France Flight 4590 was headed from Charles de Gaulle in Paris to JFK in New York on July 25, 2000, when a piece of debris on the runway punctured a tire. The tire burst, and a big chunk of it flew up and hit a wing, which ruptured the fuel tank under the landing gear. This led to a fire, which ultimately ended up in the pilots losing control of the plane and crashing into a nearby hotel. There were no survivors, and four people on the ground died as well. Even though this was Concorde's only disaster, it led to flights being grounded for a while so improvements to safety could be made "“ including tires that wouldn't burst and Kevlar-lined fuel tanks. The improvements were tested and the first post-crash passenger flight was made on September 11, 2001. Yep. Obviously, after that, the airline industry suffered. Between that and the public's uncertainty after the 2000 Concorde crash, the customer base was no longer there. Air France and British Airways both announced on April 10, 2003, that they would be ending all Concorde flights and retiring the planes.

8. The last flight from New York to Heathrow in London, was basically an exclusive party. Attendees included Joan Collins, Models Jodie Kidd and Christie Brinkley, British Airways chairman Lord Marshall, the aforementioned Tony Benn, broadcaster Sir David Frost and stock exchange chairman Chris Gibson-Smith. When it left JFK, it flew through water cannons spraying jets of red, white and blue water. When it arrived at Heathrow, it was greeted by 1,000 spectators seated in a grandstand built just for the occasion. The Queen even consented to have Windsor Castle lit up when the last flight flew over it "“ usually, Windsor Castle is only illuminated for visiting dignitaries and heads of state.

9. Pieces and parts of the Concorde have been auctioned off in both France and England "“ everything from the Machmeter to salt and pepper shakers and blankets with the Concorde logo.

conchords10. The band Flight of the Conchords really does take their name from the Concorde. Bret McKenzie has said that he had a dream about flying guitars that looked kind of like Concordes and when he talked to bandmate Jemaine Clement about it, the name "Flight of the Conchords" just happened. Of course, he could be kidding"¦ it sounds suspiciously like Paul McCartney's flaming pie dream that named the Beatles, and they've got the same spelling pun in their name, so"¦

Did any of you ever fly on a Concorde before they were retired? We'd love to hear about it in the comments! And if not (I suspect that's the category most of us fall in), how about this: if you could fly anywhere in three hours, where would you go? Think of the possibilities"¦

Have a good Q10 suggestion for me? Send me a Tweet!

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13 Great Facts About Bad Lieutenant
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Bad Lieutenant can be accused of many things, but one charge you can't level against it is false advertising. Harvey Keitel's title character, whose name is never given, is indeed a bad, bad lieutenant: corrupt, sleazy, drug-addled, irresponsible, and lascivious, all while he's on the job. (Imagine what his weekends must be like!)

Abel Ferrara's nightmarish character study was controversial when it was released 25 years ago today, and rated NC-17 for its graphic nudity (including a famous glimpse at Lil’ Harvey), unsettling sexual violence, and frank depiction of drug use. The film packs a wallop, no doubt. Here's some behind-the-scenes info to help you cope with it.

1. THE PLACID WOMAN WHO HELPS THE LIEUTENANT FREEBASE HEROIN WROTE THE MOVIE.

That's Zoë Tamerlis Lund, who starred in Abel Ferrara's revenge-exploitation thriller Ms. 45 (1981) more than a decade earlier, when she was 17 years old. She and Ferrara are credited together for writing Bad Lieutenant, though she always insisted that wasn't the case. "I wrote this alone," she said. "Abel is a wonderful director, but he's not a screenwriter. She said elsewhere that she "wrote every word of that screenplay," though everyone agrees the finished movie included a lot of improvisation. Lund was a fascinating, tragic character herself—a musical prodigy who became an enthusiastic and unapologetic user of heroin before switching to cocaine in the mid-1990s. She died of heart failure in 1999 at age 37.

2. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN WAS SUPPOSED TO STAR IN IT.

Christopher Walken had starred in Ferrara's previous film, King of New York (1990), and was set to play the lead in Bad Lieutenant before pulling out at almost the last minute. Ferrara was shocked. "[Walken] says, 'You know, I don't think I'm right for it.' Which is, you know, a fine thing to say, unless it's three weeks from when you're supposed to start shooting," Ferrara said. "It definitely caught me by surprise. It put me in terminal shock, actually." Harvey Keitel replaced him (though not without difficulty; see below), and the film's editor, Anthony Redman, thought Keitel was a better choice anyway. "Chris is too elegant for the part," he said. "Harvey is not elegant." 

3. HARVEY KEITEL'S INITIAL REACTION TO THE SCRIPT WAS NOT PROMISING.

"When we gave [Keitel] the script the first time, he read about five pages and threw it in the garbage," Ferrara said. Keitel's recollection was a little more diplomatic. As he told Roger Ebert, "I read a certain amount of pages and I put it down. I said, 'There's no way I'm gonna make this movie.' And then I asked myself, 'How often am I a lead in a movie? Read it, maybe I can salvage something from it …' When I read the part about the nun, I understood why Abel wanted to make it."

4. IT WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY.


Lionsgate Home Entertainment

"It was always, in my mind, a comedy," Ferrara said. He cited the scene where the Lieutenant pulls the teenage girls over as a specific example of how Christopher Walken would have played it, and how Harvey Keitel changed it. "The lieutenant was going to end up dancing in the streets with the girls as the sun came up. They'd be wearing his gun belt and hat, and they'd have the radio on, you know what I mean? But oh my God, Harvey, he turned it into this whole other thing." Boy, did he. 

5. THAT SCENE WITH THE TEENAGE GIRLS HAD A REAL-LIFE ELEMENT THAT MADE IT EVEN CREEPIER.

One of the young women was Keitel's nanny. Ferrara: "I said, 'You sure you want to do this with your babysitter?' He says, 'Yeah, I want to try something.'"

6. MUCH OF IT WAS FILMED GUERRILLA-STYLE.

Like many indie-minded directors of low-budget films, Ferrara didn't bother with permits most of the time. "We weren't permitted on any of this stuff," editor Anthony Redman admitted. "We just walked on and started shooting." For the scene where a strung-out Lieutenant walks through a bumpin' nightclub, they sent Keitel through an actual, functioning club during peak operating hours.

7. A GREAT DEAL OF THE DIALOGUE AND ACTION WERE MADE UP ON THE FLY.

The script was only about 65 pages at first, which would have made for about a 65-minute movie. "It left a lot of room for improvisation," producer Randy Sabusawa said, "but the ideas were pretty distilled. They were there."

Script supervisor Karen Kelsall said supervising the script was a challenge. "Abel didn't stick to a script," she said. "Abel used a script as a way to get the money to make a movie, and then the script was kind of—we called it the daily news. It changed every day. It changed in the middle of scenes." Ferrara was unapologetic about the script's brevity. "The idea of wanting 90 pages ... is ridiculous."

8. AND THERE WERE EVEN MORE IDEAS THAT THEY DIDN'T USE.

Ferrara said a scene that epitomized the movie for him—even though he never got around to filming it—was one where the Lieutenant robs an electronics store, leaves, then gets a call about a robbery at the electronics store. He responds in an official capacity (they don't recognize him), takes a statement, walks out, and throws the statement in the garbage. "And that to me is the Bad Lieutenant, you know?" Ferrara said. 

9. THE BASEBALL PLAYOFF SERIES IS FICTIONAL.

The Mets have battled the Dodgers for the National League championship once, in 1988. (The Dodgers beat 'em and went on to win the World Series.) For the narrative Ferrara wanted—the Mets coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win the pennant—he had to make it up. He used footage from real Mets-Dodgers games (including Darryl Strawberry's three-run homer from a game in July 1991) and added fictional play-by-play. But the statistics were accurate: no team had ever been down by three in a best-of-seven series and then come back to win. (It's happened once since then, when the 2004 Red Sox did it.)

10. THEY HAD HELP FROM THE COP WHO SOLVED A SIMILAR CASE.

The disgusting crime at the center of the film (we won't dwell on it) was inspired by a real-life incident from 1981, which mayor Ed Koch called "the most heinous crime in the history of New York City." The street cop who solved it, Bo Dietl, advised Ferrara on the film and had an on-screen role as one of the detectives in our Lieutenant's circle of friends.

11. THEY DESECRATED THE CHURCH AS RESPECTFULLY AS THEY COULD.

Production designer Charles Lagola had his team cover the church’s altar and other surfaces with plastic wrap, then painted the graffiti and other defacements on the plastic.

12. IT WAS RATED NC-17 IN THEATERS, WITH AN R-RATED VERSION FOR HOME VIDEO.

Blockbuster and some of the other retail chains wouldn't carry NC-17 or unrated films, so sometimes studios would produce edited versions. (See also: Requiem for a Dream.) The tamer version of Bad Lieutenant was five minutes and 19 seconds shorter, with parts of the rape scene, the drug-injecting scene, and much of the car interrogation scene excised.

13. THE "SEQUEL" HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT, NOR DID FERRARA APPROVE OF IT.


First Look International

Movie buffs were baffled in 2009, when Werner Herzog directed Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, starring Nicolas Cage. It sounds like a sequel (or a remake), but in fact had no connection at all to the earlier film except that both were produced by Edward R. Pressman. Herzog said he'd never seen Ferrara's movie and wanted to change the title (Pressman wouldn't let him); Ferrara, outspoken as always, initially wished fiery death on everyone involved. Ferrara and Herzog finally met at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where Herzog initiated a conversation about the whole affair and Ferrara expressed his frustration cordially. 

Additional sources:
DVD interviews with Abel Ferrara, Anthony Redman, Randy Sabusawa, and Karen Kelsall.

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Big Questions
How Are Balloons Chosen for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
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Getty Images

The balloons for this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade range from the classics like Charlie Brown to more modern characters who have debuted in the past few years, including The Elf On The Shelf. New to the parade this year are Olaf from Disney's Frozen and Chase from Paw Patrol. does the retail giant choose which characters will appear in the lineup?

Balloon characters are chosen in different ways. For example, in 2011, Macy’s requested B. Boy after parade organizers saw the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. (The company had been adding a series of art balloons to the parade lineup since 2005, which it called the Blue Sky Gallery.) When it comes to commercial balloons, though, it appears to be all about the Benjamins.

First-time balloons cost at least $190,000—this covers admission into the parade and the cost of balloon construction. After the initial year, companies can expect to pay Macy’s about $90,000 to get a character into the parade lineup. If you consider that the balloons are out for only an hour or so, that’s about $1500 a minute.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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