Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Alice Howell DVD Project

Happily, a Kickstarter has been launched to raise the dough-re-me for a DVD collection featuring the funniest gal in silent movies not named Mabel Normand: the one, the only, the wacky redhead 30 years before Lucille Ball - Alice Howell, star of her own series of slapstick 2-reelers for L-Ko, Century Comedies, Reelcraft and Universal.

Alice was hilarious and gifted at physical comedy. Stan Laurel considered her among the top ten comediennes in motion pictures during the rough-and-ready days of silents. A dozen of Alice's starring short subjects exist.

Slated to be on The Alice Howell Collection DVD: How Stars Are Made (1916), In Dutch (1918), A Convict's Happy Bride and His Wooden Leg-acy (both made in 1920, distributed by Reelcraft and discovered in the Artie Mogull film collection), Distilled Love (1920) and Under A Spell (1925)

The hope is that this Kickstarter will not just meet but surpass its goal and a subsequent commercial release of this collection of her classic comedies will bring much deserved and long overdue recognition to a great comedienne of the silent era.

The Kickstarter is on until Tuesday, May 8 at 11:59 PM EDT. For more info, read She Could Be Chaplin: The Comedic Brilliance Of Alice Howell by Anthony Slide and Slapstick Divas by Steve Massa.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Across The 20th Century Pop Culture Universe

Still happily reeling a week after a fun KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival, this writer's imagination is back traipsing across the universe. . . and that's as good an excuse as any for starting today's post with a certain great song by The Beatles by that title.

Whirling through the wonderment of the the 20th century pop culture vistas means traipsing lights fantastic across said universe for no reasons whatsoever. It also means that instead of going to the gym, watching that diet and excess avoirdupois, one watches Citizen Kane and The Last Of The Secret Agents back-to-back.

Today's question at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog would be . . . Did anyone, in front of or behind the camera, work in ALL the genres, live-action and animation?

Probably not, but some actors indeed worked in both multiple movie genres, plus animated cartoons, as well as serials. Let's start with Leonard Nimoy's appearances in the Republic serial Zombies Of The Stratosphere and boxing drama Kid Monk Baroni, both well known to Star Trek geeks.

Shatner, who starred in episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits prior to landing the role of Captain James T. Kirk also appeared in movies between Star Trek seasons. White Comanche (1968) is a guilty pleasure at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog.

Did William Shatner work in every conceivable type of movie and TV show? Yes, with the possible exception of kung fu movies (too bad, we'd like to see him Kung Fu Fighting). One would imagine, if there was a single performance among the dozens of credits on Mr. Shatner's resume he'd like us all to forget, it might be his role as the murderous psycho lounge lizard (polyester leisure suits and ultra-loud sports jackets included) in Impulse.

After William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy starred in the first Star Trek TV show - and 5 years after the end of its original run - Gene Roddenberry's space opera was adapted into an animated series. There was a point in the early 1970's when Filmation was bringing back the bare outlines of former hit 1960's TV shows in semi-animated form. Most, such as one inspired by My Favorite Martian, had absolutely nothing to do with the original program - did not even hire the actors who voiced the main characters in the original series (Bill Bixby and Ray Walston) and were mostly an excuse to re-use the same cycles previous done beyond death on The Archies.

The Filmation Star Trek series is something of a surprise. It's actually watchable.

Star Trek: The Animated Series, bucking the general dismal 1970's Filmation trend, turns out to not be Star Drek. It's not bad at all, TV-style limited animation notwithstanding, and hearing the voices of Shat, Nimoy and Deforest Kelley is a kick.

As far as actors who worked in both live-action and animation with great success go, one instantly thinks of George O'Hanlon.

We enthusiastically devoted a post to Mr. O'Hanlon, the rare actor to have starred in science fiction both in animation and live-action, back in February 2015. Of course, the massively entertaining 1957 sci-fi classic Kronos is one of our favorites here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog.

Stars and storyline and 50s sci-fi coolness aside, Kronos just wouldn't be half as good without George as the intrepid scientist.

Invariably, when watching Kronos, one of the first responses is "I've heard that voice somewhere!" Eventually, the realization kicks in. . . IT'S FREAKIN' GEORGE JETSON!!!

Always the trouper, O'Hanlon did two Jetsons series and the second one was his last work in a five decade showbiz career.

Before landing that wonderful and enduring gig, Mr. O'Hanlon starred in a slew of extremely funny 1-reelers for Warner Brothers as browbeaten everyman Joe McDoakes.

The Joe McDoakes comedies, initaied as a USC film school project by director/writer Richard L. Bare, ended up running for 14 years and 63 episodes.

Many of the Joe McDoakes 1-reelers are hilarious.

After Joe McDoakes, Richard L. Bare directed numerous television programs of all types, including almost all the episodes of Green Acres, easily the zaniest and funniest of all the Filmways Productions shows of the 1960's.

Now how the heck does one wrap up a post such as this? Well, the crossover from animation to live-action only goes so far. Hanna-Barbera's The New Scooby Doo Movies series featured stars from TV and, as was the custom in the 1970's, beat the concept like a dead horse.

Since such comics as Jerry Lewis and Martin Short already ARE cartoons, it seems anti-climactic to bring theor loose-limbed physical comedy into the animated format. While striking this writer as something tantamount to an Al St. John animated cartoon, this happened - Filmation produced Will The Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down? in 1970 and there was an Ed Grimley TV cartoon series.

We close with the intergalactic news that apparently an animated version of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor's TV series Red Dwarf is in the works, and will be galavanting across the cartoon universe. Now how one, even with world-class animators, actually improves on Danny John-Jules as The Cat, we'll never know.

Let's hope all the original Red Dwarf cast members bring their voices to the cartoon version and we see LOTS of way-out ideas, as well as metamorphosis a la 1920's Fleischer Studios cartoons.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival Returns This Saturday!

We're baaaaaaaaaaaack! Schlepping reels of 16mm film to Foothill College this Saturday to sully Room 5015's hallowed halls yet again. . .

With a brand spanking-new KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival, our first for 2018!

Saturday's program shall include the usual suspects, all on 16mm film, the vinyl of visuals.

That means trailers from schlocky drive-in movies (featuring guys in robot and gorilla suits, well-meaning but inept educational films and public service announcements, cheesy "snack bar" ads. . .

As well as Scopitones, Soundies, cartoon rarities, campy 1950's commercials. . .

And bizarro comedy shorts, kidvid and the inevitable "thunder lizards."

Also serial chapters, puppet animation, and whatever else on celluloid we can dredge up for the occasion.

Archivist-producers Bob Ekman, Scott Moon and this blogmeister create the program on the fly, responding to audience reaction and choosing films accordingly.

Host for the evening's celluloid festivities: expert on all things involving film and TV soundtrack music, Mr. Robert Emmett of KFJC-FM's "Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack Show."

The all-16mm celluloid extravaganza is a reaction against the standard rules of film programming, which didn't interest us. Instead of devoting a screening to one director, one genre or one series, our celluloid concoctions throw a wide variety of films from different places, genres, techniques or time periods together. As far as content goes, the more obscure, the lower the budget, the more under-the-radar, the better.

Sometimes this writer gets asked just what "Psychotronix" is or means. The word "Psychotronix" is a variation on Michael Weldon's The Psychotronic History Of Cinema and The Psychotronic Video Guide the book which remains the encyclopedia of all varieties of non-Gone With The Wind style extravaganzas and that means B, C, D, F and Z-films.

These would include monster movies, horror, science fiction, "guilty pleasure" comedies (Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla), rock 'n' roll flicks, any film featuring "Queen Of Scopitones" Joi Lansing, etc.

While both Psychotronix and Psychotronic present a unique and hallucinatory excursion through the irritated bowels of popular culture, the KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival programs tend to cast a wider net and extend much farther back into film history than the grindhouse and exploitation film (from Dwain Esper to Herschel Gordon Lewis to Doris Wishman) focus of The Psychotronic History Of Cinema and Psychotronic magazine.

While are "coming detractions" trailers from all sorts of low-budget movies - that's for sure - our m.o. is to take all the genres the 16mm guys love, throw 'em in a blender, push "frappe" and see what the heck comes out.

So what we do at the KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival encompasses psychotronic movies but also includes silent movies (especially early cartoons and oddball short subjects such as the Snub Pollard comedy with the "magnet car"), varied material from television, musical films and animated cartoons from all eras.

If the evening's celluloid cornucopia can establish a subject link or a Monty Python-esque visual or verbal link between the various short segments, great, but this is not absolutely necessary.

Or, to make a further Monty Python reference, this could be called the "And Now For Something Completely Different" approach to film programming - A.K.A. bring a bunch of reels of film, two projectors and yell "KAWABUNGA!"

The KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival
When: Saturday, March 31, 2018: 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM
Where: Room 5015, Foothill College campus
12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills (El Monte exit off 280)
Why: We like cheesy movies.
How Much? $5 Donation Benefits KFJC. Bring $3 for Parking!
Parking: Lot #5
Public Transit: Cal Train and VTA
Info: Foothill College Transportation & Parking.

Arrive early, as the shows often sell out. Doors open at 6:00 PM.

Be there or be a trapezoid!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Celebrate Pi Day by attending World Premieres of Laurel & Hardy restorations on April Fool's weekend!

It's March 14 and that means happy 3.14159265359 day. At Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we consider Pi Day as good an excuse as any to watch movies in which pies are thrown.

As fate would have it, the film featuring the pie fight to end all pie fights shall be among new restorations of Laurel & Hardy comedies which shall premiere, rather appropriately on April Fool's weekend.

Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy will get their due on both coasts, with shows in Los Angeles (American Cinematheque) and New York City (Film Forum). Archivist and filmmaker Jeff Joseph will introduce the shows at Santa Monica's Aero Theatre and the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. It begins March 30 at the American Cinematheque, which presented the previous group of UCLA Film & Television Archive's restorations in May 2016. This is excellent and timely, as UCLA's Restore Laurel and Hardy! fundraiser is ongoing and extends to April 14th.

The Los Angeles screenings start at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 30th at the Aero Theatre on 1328 Montana Avenue in Santa Monica.

Kicking off the program will be the new UCLA/SabuCat restoration of the silent comedy cornerstone The Battle Of The Century.

The famed L&H pie-throwing epic, about half of which was in the "lost film" category until a complete print was found in the collection of the late archivist Gordon Berkow, will be accompanied by a new score by Donald Sosin.

The Battle Of The Century will be followed by the 1929 early talkie Berth Marks, now with the original Vitaphone soundtrack heard by moviegoers when it was originally released theatrically on June 1, 1929.

The feature for the Friday night Aero Theatre program will be Way Out West (1937), restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Film Foundation.

Laurel and Hardy co-star with perennial nemesis Jimmie Finlayson, Rosina Lawrence and, as the femme fatale, Sharon Lynne, known by movie musical fans for her spunky delivery of Turn On The Heat, the memorable production number from the 1929 Fox feature Sunnyside Up.

The Saturday night show at the Aero Theatre includes the two short subjects The Chimp and The Music Box and the 1939 feature The Flying Deuces, which was produced by Boris Morros for RKO with much of the Hal Roach Studios crew and stock company.

Regarding the new restorations, the American Cinematheque program notes elaborate:

“The Chimp” (1932, 25 min.) When the circus where they work goes out of business, Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy are left with a flea circus and a chimp named Ethel - which, as bad luck would have it, is also the name of their landlord’s wife.“

"The Music Box” (1932, 29 min. Dir. James Parrott) In this Best Comedy Short Oscar winner, the Laurel & Hardy Moving Co. struggle mightily to push a piano up a huge flight of stairs. Photochemically preserved and restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

The Flying Deuces (1939, 70 min, USA, Dir: A. Edward Sutherland). Following in the footsteps of their earlier short “Beau Hunks,” the boys get into another nice mess when Ollie’s heart is broken by a Paris innkeeper’s daughter. To forget her, he and Stan join the French Foreign Legion, where the two tackle a mountain of dirty laundry, soft-shoe through “Shine On, Harvest Moon” and commandeer an airplane. Among Laurel and Hardy’s most enjoyable features, and now fully restored from 35mm elements.

The 5:00 p.m. Sunday show at the Egyptian Theatre, on 6712 Hollywood Boulevard, shall present the 1933 L&H feature Sons Of The Desert, directed by the ubiquitous William A. Seiter and co-starring Charley Chase and Dorothy Christy.

Among the Laurel & Hardy feature films, Sons Of The Desert, featuring a hilarious turn by fellow Hal Roach Studios star Chase as an obnoxious practical joker conventioneer, is certainly up there (with Way Out West and Blockheads) in the top two or three.

Sons Of The Desert will be preceded by the World Premiere of brand new restorations of Brats and Hog Wild (both 1930), two of the funniest of the Laurel & Hardy short subjects.

Brats now includes its original Vitaphone soundtrack; the existing prints tend to have the soundtrack used for the 1938 reissue.

Hog Wild, one of this blogger's favorite Laurel & Hardy 2-reelers, has been restored to its original Vitaphone aspect ratio.

Last, but not least, the East Coast part of the L&H weekend will be an April Fool's Day program at New York City's Film Forum. The Laurel & Hardy matinee show starts at 11:00 a.m. and includes Brats
, Hog Wild, The Chimp
 and Berth Marks.

We extend kudos, bravos, huzzahs and respectful tips of the brown derbies to the UCLA Film & Television Archive, Jeff Joseph, American Cinematheque, Film Forum,The Film Foundation, Laurel & Hardy: The Official Website and, for many of the frame grabs seen in this post, Dave Lord Heath of the Another Nice Mess: The Films Of Laurel & Hardy website.