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488 Topics: American Musicals/Movies – The Producers; The Statue of Liberty; sponsored by versus powered by versus encouraged by; putting the crunch back; hoochie

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 488.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 488. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. Take a look at our ESL Podcast Store, which has some courses in Business and Daily English that you can download immediately. No need to wait for us to send you anything. We don’t send out our courses. Everything can be downloaded instantly from our website. Ain’t that great?

On this Café, we’re going to talk about a famous American movie and musical. It’s called The Producers. We’re also going to talk about one of the most famous symbols of the United States: the Statue of Liberty in New York City. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

The movie The Producers was first released in 1968. It was written and directed by a famous comedian and actor, a man by the name of Mel Brooks. The movie is a comedy with a very strange plot, a very strange story, but a funny one. It tells the story of a Broadway producer by the name of Max Bialystok. “Broadway” (Broadway) is a street in New York City where all of the biggest plays and musicals are typically performed.

A “producer” is someone who organizes and often provides the money for a play or a movie. Well, we have a Broadway producer in this movie by the name of Max. Now, Max has been producing Broadway plays – Broadway “shows,” we might call them – for a long time, but he’s not very successful in the movie. He doesn’t seem to be making a lot of money.

In fact, the very opening scene, the first thing you see in the movie, is Max on the first night of a flop called Funny Boy: A Musical Version of Hamlet. Hamlet, of course, is the famous play by Shakespeare which is a tragedy, a very sad story. Well, Max tries to make it a happy story, and not surprisingly, his play is a flop. A “flop” (flop) is a very unsuccessful show – an unsuccessful play or movie. Max’s musical – which is a play with music, basically – is a flop.

Because his shows are so unsuccessful, Max has a lot of trouble getting people to give him money so that he can produce new shows. In fact, the only way that he can get money is by seducing older women and getting them to give him money. “To seduce” (seduce) means to get someone to basically have a sexual relationship with you. In this case, Max is seducing these women not just for the sexual relationship, but to get money from them.

Max has a new accountant, a man by the name of Leo Bloom. An “accountant” is a person who takes care of the financial matters for a company. Well, Leo, the new accountant, looks and discovers that Max doesn’t have any money. He realizes in fact that the producer could make more money by trying to actually produce something that isn’t successful – by trying to produce a flop instead of a success. That sounds a little crazy, right?

Well, actually Leo’s plan makes sense. His plan is to go out and get a million dollars, a lot of money, from people who want to invest in the musical, in the show. However, they’re going to make the musical so bad that it will be canceled after the first night. Sometimes, if the show is really bad, if people really hate it, the show is canceled early.

So, if they get a lot of money from people, and then they cancel the show because it’s so bad after only one performance, they can keep all of this money – at least, that’s what Leo and Max think. Basically, this is what we would call a “scam.” A “scam” (scam) is a trick, something you do to steal someone’s money. You tell them that you need money for something, but you’re really going to use it for something else. That would be a scam.

Max and Leo’s plan is to get all of this money, produce a flop – a play that will have to be canceled almost immediately – and then take the money and go to Brazil, to Rio de Janeiro. So, the next thing that Max and Leo have to do is to find a play to produce – some play that is really bad, something that will almost certainly flop. They decide on a play called Springtime for Hitler. It’s a musical written by a man named Franz Liebkind about Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, his lover.

The man who wrote the play, however, is himself a Nazi – a believer in the ideas of Adolf Hitler. Nevertheless, they tell Liebkind that they love his script and that his musical will be a success. Of course, no one would want to go to see a play, a musical, about Hitler, so they believe that this play will almost certainly flop and their scam will be successful.

In addition to having what they think is a terrible musical, a terrible play, Max and Leo go out and find the worst director that they can find. A “director” is a person who basically controls the production of the play – the person who decides how the actors should act, who’s telling the actors how certain lines should be read, how they should move, and so forth.

Max and Leo want to find a terrible director, someone who’s going to do a really bad job, and they hire a man named Roger. Roger is known to be a bad director. He’s also a very flamboyant man. “Flamboyant” (flamboyant) means that he does things that are very lively, or “colorful” – things that make other people notice him. They tell this director, Roger, that he’s going to be very successful – that he’s going to win awards for this production.

Of course, Max and Leo don’t think that he’s going to win any awards. They want him precisely because he is such a bad director. Well, eventually the director finds actors and actresses to play the different parts in the musical. The director actually selects the man who wrote the play, Franz Liebkind, to play Hitler. Max then goes around to all of the old women that he knows and, of course, gets money from them for this production.

On the first night that the musical is performed – what we would call “opening night” – Leo and Max try to do things that will bring bad luck to the performance. For example, Leo wishes all of the actors “good luck.” Now, apparently actors and actresses don’t like it when you say “good luck.” In fact, to say “good luck” is actually considered bad luck. It’s considered a bad thing to do.

Instead, in English we have an expression that we use when we are, in fact, wishing an actor or actress good luck at a performance. That expression is “break a leg.” Yes, that’s right. “Break a leg.” Of course, that would be a very bad thing to happen, but because there’s this strange superstition, this strange belief among actors and actresses that wishing someone good luck will actually bring bad luck, we have the expression “break a leg,” instead.

Max also does things to try to bring bad luck to this performance. He breaks a mirror, which is another thing, another superstition, that some Americans have, one that is associated also with bad luck. Just before the show begins, Liebkind – Franz Liebkind, who’s playing Hitler, remember – actually does break his leg. He is unable to perform. He’s unable to go out onto the stage and do the show. So, Roger has to go on and play the part of Hitler – the director, Roger.

Now, Roger, in addition to being a very bad director, is also a very bad actor, and he ends up making Hitler seem like a ridiculous character, a character that no one would take seriously. At first the audience hates this show, which is what you would expect, but once Roger comes on, they love it. They think the show is trying to make fun of Hitler, and they find it very funny. So, instead of becoming a flop, the show becomes hugely successful.

Now, Max and Leo aren’t sure what to do, because they wanted the show to be canceled after the first performance. The police find out that something strange is going on with this production, something we might describe as “fishy.” When something is “fishy” (fishy), it’s suspicious. It seems wrong. Well, I won’t tell you what happens at the end of the movie, but if you have a chance to see it, you’ll see that it is a very funny ending.

The movie The Producers was very successful when it was released in 1968. The lead actors were both praised for their performances, and one of them, Gene Wilder, was nominated for an Academy Award. The Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, are given for the best movies and other things that are related to the production of movies.

Mel Brooks, who wrote the movie, won an Oscar for his screenplay. A “screenplay” is basically the script of a movie. Many years later, in 2001, The Producers was made a broadway musical, which is somewhat ironic, somewhat odd, because the original movie was about a Broadway musical. Well, eventually the movie itself became a Broadway musical – or at least, the story of the movie became a Broadway musical.

The Broadway musical The Producers was also very successful – in fact, in some ways more successful than the original movie. The Broadway show won 12 Tony Awards that year. The Tony Awards are given to the best plays of the year. In fact, in 2005, the two people who starred in the Broadway version of The Producers made another movie called, of course, The Producers.

So now we have two movies called The Producers. The second movie was, however, not as successful as the Broadway play or the original movie from 1968. So, if you have a chance to see The Producers, you might find it funny. It’s certainly a movie that many Americans have seen, and if you live in New York City, you may have seen the play as well on Broadway.

Now let’s turn to what many people consider to be the most recognizable, the most famous, symbol of the United States: the Statue of Liberty. “Liberty” (liberty) is another word for freedom – the ability to be able to do what you want. A “statue” (statue) is a representation, usually of a human being, but sometimes of an animal or even a fictional character, a made-up character. That’s the case with the Statue of Liberty. It’s not of a real woman, but of an imaginary woman who represents the idea of liberty.

If you haven’t seen the Statue of Liberty, I’ll describe it for you briefly, though my guess is most of you have seen photographs of it. It’s of a of a woman who is standing up and holding something called a “torch” in one hand and a tablet in the other hand, or in the other arm. A “torch” (torch) is something that you carry in order to have light. In American English, we usually think of a torch as a stick that may have a fire at the end of it, and that fire is what is giving you the light.

In British English, the word “torch” actually is used to describe what in American English we call a “flashlight,” which is typically powered by batteries. But the Statue of Liberty is not holding a flashlight; she’s holding a torch. In the other arm, “Lady Liberty,” as we sometimes call her, is holding a tablet. A “tablet” (tablet) nowadays might refer to something like an iPad, but the original definition, or the definition that would apply here, is of a flat piece of stone that has something written on it.

The tablet on the Statue of Liberty has a date written on it: “July 4, 1776.” July 4, 1776, is, you may know, also called Independence Day in the United States. It’s the date on which the then-British colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. The Statue of Liberty has an interesting history. The idea of a Statue of Liberty was not one that an American thought of. Instead, it was the idea of a Frenchman, a man by the name of Bartholdi.

There’s some disagreement among historians about the exact origin of the idea, or why Bartholdi came up with this idea of a Statue of Liberty, but he decided in the 1870s to design a statue that would be a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States, a gift that would commemorate their friendship. “To commemorate” (commemorate) means to celebrate, to remember something – something good that has happened or something important that has happened in the past.

Bartholdi went to a couple of designers to make a steel frame, and on the steel frame he was going to put copper over the frame in order to form the shape of the statue. One of the designers of the steel frame was, interestingly enough, another Frenchman by the name of Eiffel. That name should be familiar to you because, of course, Eiffel also designed the most important symbol of Paris, the Eiffel Tower. So, he was quite a busy man.

The statue was completed in Paris and then brought over to the United States on ships. It was broken up into different parts and transported from France to the United States. Interestingly enough, the planners of this statue had difficulty finding money to get the statue constructed. One famous journalist, a man by the name of Joseph Pulitzer, actually went out and got money from people to get the statue built. Pulitzer would later go on to give his name to the most famous prize for journalism in the United States: the Pulitzer prize.

The statue arrived in New York and was assembled, or put together, in 1885. Normally, a statue was put on what’s called a “base” (base). It’s put on something that holds the statue. Another word for that is a “pedestal” (pedestal). The pedestal was designed not by a Frenchman, but by an American by the name of Richard Moore. The Statue of Liberty was placed on an island right near New York City. This island is now called Liberty Island. It’s right off the end of the part of New York City called Manhattan.

The statue looks out towards the Atlantic Ocean, so it’s “faced,” we would say, looking out towards Europe – towards the east. The statue itself stands about 300 feet high, or around 93 meters. The statue, as I said earlier, is made of steel and copper, more than 200,000 pounds of steel – that would be more than 90,000 kilos of steel – and 120,000 pounds of copper, or more than 58,000 kilos.

The Statue of Liberty can be visited. You can go and actually go inside the pedestal, the lower part of the Statue of Liberty. You can also go up to the very top of the head of the statue, near the statue’s crown. A “crown” is a round circular object that is put on top of, usually, kings and queens.

If you go up to the top of the Statue of Liberty, you have this amazing, what we would describe as “panoramic,” view of the area around New York City. “Panoramic” (panoramic) means having a very wide view. Sometimes it refers to a 360-degree view. You can see all around in a circle.

I’ve been to New York City several times, but I’ve actually never been to the Statue of Liberty. I’ve seen it, of course. It’s impossible not to see it if you are going across, for example, from Manhattan to another island, Staten Island, but I’ve never actually been on top of the statue. So, I’m hoping the next time I go to New York I have a chance to visit the Statue of Liberty. And of course, if you go to New York City, you should definitely visit it as well.

Now let’s answer some of the questions you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Amauris (Amauris) in Cuba. Amauris wants to know the difference between “sponsored by,” “powered by,” and “encouraged by.” Let’s start with the verb “to sponsor” (sponsor). “To sponsor” means to give money to someone or to some organization to have an event or to carry out some special project.

Companies, for example, will sometimes sponsor music events or other artistic performances – not just because they want to be nice, but because they also get advertisement for sponsoring the event. “To be sponsored by,” then, means that you have received money from a certain organization. So, if you say this is “sponsored by the Center for Educational Development,” that means that the Center for Educational Development paid for this project or this particular event.

“Powered by” is a little different. The verb “to power” (power) means to give energy to something, to give energy to a machine. So, you have a computer that is powered by electricity. The electricity is the power. It’s the energy that allows the computer to operate. In the old days, you had trains that were powered by coal. Coal was the energy. It was what we would also refer to as the “fuel” (fuel). Most cars, most automobiles, are powered by gasoline. Gasoline is the fuel. It’s what gives the motor the energy to do what it needs to do, or at least it allows the motor to do what it needs to do.

Finally, we have “encouraged by.” The verb “to encourage” (encourage) means to try to convince someone to do something, but it can also be used to mean to make someone feel more confident about something, more sure about something. We use this expression when we have information or evidence that gives us more confidence in a certain outcome or conclusion. It’s usually used when we don’t yet know what the final result, the final outcome, will be, but we have signs, evidence, that it’s going to be a good outcome – the result that we want.

So, your doctor for example may think that you have a certain disease or illness, and so you go and get some blood tests done. The doctor looks at the blood tests, the results of the blood tests, and says that he or she is encouraged by them. It doesn’t mean that the doctor knows exactly if you have a disease or not, but the evidence, the initial evidence that the doctor has is, we might also say, “encouraging.” We are “encouraged by” evidence or data – information, if you will – that makes us more confident or sure that we’re going to have a good result or good outcome.

Our next question comes from Meirlan (Meirlan) in Russia. The question has to do with a word which is not as common as it once was – an informal term, “hoochie” (hoochie). A “hoochie” – and I laugh a little bit saying it because it really isn’t used very much anymore – is a word that describes a woman who likes to dress in an obviously sexual way, or a way that would get the attention of men. A “hoochie” might also describe a woman who, how should we say it, has sexual relationships with many different men.

There was an older expression, “hoochie mama,” which referred to a woman who was not considered to have very high moral standards, especially when it came to sex. But the word is often used, when it is still used, to describe a woman who dresses in a certain sexually, we would use the term, “provocative” way. Something that is “provocative” (provocative) is something that makes us do something. So, if something is “sexually provocative,” it would encourage someone to think sexually about a certain person.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café was written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. Copyright 2015 by the Center for Educational Development.

producer – a person responsible for the financial and management parts of a production of a play, movie, or television show

* The new television show had the same producers as the hit show last year.

flop – a very unsuccessful show or performance; a major failure

* The opening night at the new restaurant was a complete flop: the service was terrible, the food tasted awful, and one of the diners got food poisoning.

to seduce – to get someone to do something they shouldn’t by appealing to a weakness and often using sexually

* Mei was seduced by the feeling of safety in the small town and began leaving her front door unlocked, even though she knew that burglars lived everywhere.

scam – a trick or a fraud that usually involves stealing money from people

* Etienne quickly realized that the email from a stranger asking for money was a scam.

flamboyant – to be especially noticeable because of being very energetic, lively, and/or colorful

* Carnival is a flamboyant celebration where people dress up in colorful and elaborate costumes and dance in the streets to loud music.

fishy – suspicious; calling attention to something because it seems wrong or out of place

* Masha thought something fishy going on because all the lights were off in her house even though she knew that her husband and children were home.

liberty – the state of being free from unfair treatment or another’s control and being able to be, do, and believe in whatever one chooses

* While sailing home from overseas, the sailors were given 24 hours of liberty in New York and were told to be responsible and not get into any trouble.

torch – a stick with material at the end that can be lit, held in one’s hand to provide light

* The villagers marched into the woods at night using the light from their torches to search for the missing child.

tablet – a flat piece of stone or clay that is written on, usually by using tools to carve the words into the stone or clay

* Many history museums have tablets from Ancient Greece and Rome in their exhibits to show what writing was like at that time.

to commemorate – to celebrate and remember a person or event

* The entire Morales family gathered together to take a photograph to commemorate their family reunion.

pedestal – a base or support that a statue is placed on

* After the earthquake, many of the statues in the art museum had fallen off their pedestals and were lying on the floor in pieces.

panoramic – a very wide view; a nearly 360-degree view

* “Now this is what I call paradise,” said Masoud looking at the panoramic view of ocean and palm trees, with not a single person in sight.

sponsored by – supported by someone who finances a project or an event carried out by another person or group, especially a company that pays for radio or television programming in return for advertising time

* Our program today is sponsored by McQ Corp.

powered by – able to function because of a supply of power, such as electricity or gas

* On this part of the island, our homes are powered by wind power.

encouraged by – having someone do or say things to help one become more determined, hopeful, or confident

* Encouraged by her teachers, Jennie applied for the prestigious scholarship.

crunch – the quality of a food that produces a loud sound when it is chewed

* What I love about this brand of potato chips is the crunch!

hoochie – a young woman who dresses or behaves in an obvious sexual way or who has many casual sexual partners

* Look at all of those hoochies over there trying to get the men’s attention.

What Insiders Know
Lesser-Known Members of a Film Crew

Many professionals work on a film between “conception” (having the idea) and “completion” (finishing). Most people know the “stars” (main actors) of a film and perhaps the “director” (person responsible for the planning and filming of a movie), but there are many members of the “crew” (workers who are part of a team or project) who are “lesser-known” (not as well-known; not famous).

A “gaffer,” for example, is responsible for the “lighting design” (the plan for how light is supplied for filming) of a production. It is the job of the gaffer to make sure that the production set is “well-lit” (has enough light) and appropriate for the “setting” (location and situation) of the scene.

A “grip” works with an “electrician” (profession who wires for electricity) to “set-up” (arrange) the equipment needed for a scene. They adjust major “set pieces” (furniture and other large objects needed for filming) and other items to make sure the camera is in the right position for filming. The person who “oversees” (is in charge of) these responsibilities is called the “key grip.”

To help the key grip is his or her “chief” (main) assistant called the “best boy.” The best boy is responsible for helping the key grip with anything required, including organizing the grip truck for the entire “shoot” (filming).

Finally, the “greensman” is responsible for designing sets that require “landscaping” (the design of trees, plants, flowers, and other similar elements). Together with the “art director” who is responsible for the overall appearance of the sets, the greensman makes sure that sets have “realistic” (real-looking; like real life) and appropriate “greenery” (plants, trees, flowers, and more).