Tuesday, October 16, 2018

This Saturday: Halloween Psychotronix Film Festival at Vallejo's Nightmare Island

On Saturday, October 20, my frequent and frequently inspired cohorts in classic film presentations, Sci Fi Bob Ekman and Scott Moon, will present a Halloween Psychotronix Film Festival.

The evening shall present a spooky selection of B-movie trailers, commercials, short subjects, film clips and cartoons.

And advertising films (Eldon and Ideal Toys), Castle Films monster movie excerpts, Ted Cassidy doing the 1965 dance craze "The Lurch" and more.

There will also be plenty of Halloween-themed commercials from the 1950's and 1960's, as well as Scopitones and Soundies.

Looks like a fabulous show will be forthcoming and a blast will be had by all who attend. Big screen fun shall ensue at Nightmare Island in Vallejo's Mare Island.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

They Really Got Me: Movies That Made An Impact

Today's topic is not The Kinks' You Really Got Me but - as this blogger watches The Damned Don't Cry on TCM'S Noir Alley - movies that, via incendiary brilliance or indelible imagery, left a powerful impact on the individual and collective psyche. Most were genuinely good films, others influential strictly as a result of having been run over and over and over on television in early childhood days, the late 1950's and early 1960's.

A few movies and/or cartoons turned out to be both frequently shown and fantastic. First and foremost, there would be Buster Keaton, getting chased by what appeared to be the entire L.A.P.D. in Cops, the movie that made this correspondent a classic film buff for life.

This tour-de-force for Keaton (as director, actor and death-defying acrobat) propelled this correspondent on his merry way to the universes of silent films and film collecting.

Another silent film that really got me - and got me laughing - was the Charley Chase comedy Limousine Love, first brought to my attention in one of the Robert Youngson silent comedy compilation features.

In this 1928 classic, which has been reviewed on the Magnolia's Musings website, Charley ends up unknowingly driving to his wedding with a nude woman in the back of his car.

Charley's car is out of gas, and while he walks to and from the gas station, the nubile Mrs. Glanders, having fallen in a massive mud puddle, ducks in his car to change clothes. While Mrs. Glanders' clothes - all of them - are outside the car, Charley jumps in and drives off, totally unaware she's in the back seat.

How the storyline resolves this very tricky situation adds up to ingenious comedy. Co-starring Hal Roach Studio stalwarts Edgar Kennedy, Edna Marion and Viola Richard, this is brilliant, sophisticated, funny and a harbinger of the pre-code era that was just a couple of years down the road.

Charley would continue to make great comedy short subjects, frequently teamed with comedienne Thelma Todd, well into the talkies, but Limousine Love would never be topped.

Stop-motion animation invariably packs quite the emotional wallop and is imbued with an emotional immediacy rarely found in 21st century CGI. This may be due to the uncanny ability of such innovative animators as Willis O'Brien to breathe life into their creations.

As far as visual and emotional wallop goes, the entomologist turned filmmaker Ladislas Starevitch (Wadislaw Starewicz) had multiple haymakers. Noting O'Brien's blazing genius in King Kong, the hydra and the indefatigable "swordfightin' skeletons" produced by his protégé, Ray Harryhausen (by far the most celebrated of stop-motion marvels) and the way-out whimsy of Charley Bowers, it's Wadislaw Starewicz that repeatedly gets this animation fan in a most profound way.

THE MASCOT may be the most wonderfully harrowing of the dreamlands from Starewicz' five decades in filmmaking - and a vividly surrealistic piece that invariably gets audiences riveted to the screen. The Starewicz adventures, in silents and talkies, are the stuff fever dreams are made of.

Way back when stop-motion animation (and animation in general) was still considered the kiddie department and looked down upon, saw one of Preston Sturges' Paramount features, Sullivan's Travels, in a college film history course. Found it devastatingly great.

While there are numerous clever lines, including many regarding "Ants In Your Pants Of 1939," throughout Sullivans Travels, the sudden shifts from comedy to road picture to stark drama absolutely floored this film buff - and led to a mission to see every film Preston Sturges ever was involved in. Was not disappointed!

We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog still love Citizen Kane, as fashionable as it is nowadays to not profess love for Orson Welles' 1941 "let's show 'em how to make movies" opus, but found his 1965 film Chimes At Midnight a stunner. This dyed-in-the-wool moviegoer was blown away and sitting silently in the theatre seat 15 minutes after the lights went on.

Orson inhabits the character of Falstaff and demonstrates astonishing filmmaking creativity from start-to-finish.

While Chimes At Midnight is available on Blu-ray in a beautiful transfer - if you must watch it at home, get the most massive and sharp big screen TV possible - this expansive and ambitious epic is best seen in a movie theatre, on the big screen with an audience.

In this writer's opinion, even Welles' lesser efforts demonstrate incredible imagination, originality and ingenuity. Like Ernie Kovacs, Mr. Welles was always 15 years ahead of everyone else.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

The Wonder Of 1950's Technology: Philco's Port-O-Sound Cart and Predicta TV

Since we like our music here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, the above ad for Philco's Port-O-Sound Cart (turntable + tube amp + two-way speaker on cart = COOL) definitely struck a Bb13 #9 chord and confirmed that Mrs. John Q. Public in the suburbs was listening to those classic Charlie Parker Dial records while cooking the roast. In 1948 and 2018, music just makes dinner taste better.

Selling state-of-the-art audio technology to the home market was nothing new in the 1950's. Two decades earlier, the stop-motion animation geniuses of the George Pal Studio were selling Philips radios - the last word in 1930's audio - with elaborate, imaginative and painstakingly produced animated films. This one illustrates how Philips radios bring music and entertainment from all around the world to one's living room.

Yes, the Dutch loved American jazz and, in the latter portion of the following George Pal Puppet-toon, as was frequently the case in movies made before World War II, paid homage via 1920's vaudeville/minstrel show stereotypes . . . all part of a boiling cinematic bouillabaisse featuring incredible stop-motion animation, expert use of color, deft matching of sound to image and the ever-buoyant dance music by Bert Ambrose & His Orchestra. The music has got me ready to buy a top-of-the-line Philips radio right now!

Philco's Port-O-Sound Cart would not be its only high tech in the home product. The futuristic and state-of-the-art swivel screen Predicta TV, origially designed for the Holiday Inn hotel chain, was, like the Edsel, expected to take the world by storm. It didn't. The commercials were very cool, nonetheless.

At one point in the 1960's the stereo reel-to-reel tape deck was the height of audio coolness.

The ultimate version of the Port-O-Sound Cart would arrive decades later, at the end of the 1970's, as the Sony Walkman, The writer of this blog very sincerely hopes he didn't look as ridiculous as the actors in this 1980 TV ad for Sony Walkman did when he took his frequent constitutionals, every step tuned into Charlie Parker recordings, dubbed from vinyl and CDS to that wonder of technology, the cassette tape.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Gilda, The Boys and The Kopykats

Thankfully, during lousy 21st century times, 20th century comedy heroes are, at long last, getting some love in several recently released (or soon to be released) movies. The Great Buster: A Celebration, on the festival circuit now, was covered in last weekend's post.

A movie about Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy's 1940's touring years will be out in January. Love, Gilda, remembering the most endearing of comediennes, Gilda Radner, was released last weekend.

© Magnolia Pictures 2018

Love, Gilda profiles the life and times of the actress-comedienne-singer and stalwart activist on behalf of those suffering with cancer. For more about Love, Gilda, listen to Alan Zweibel, her friend and frequent writing partner on Saturday Night Live, discussing the film on a memorable and highly recommended episode of Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast.

It is unfortunate that Gilda's husband Gene Wilder, who passed in 2016, did not live to see this film.

Tough to pick a single favorite Gilda sketch (for this writer, that would be The Judy Miller Show). There are lots of very funny sketches both from her five SNL seasons and in the Gilda Live show from 1980.

Another memorable appearance was one of her last, on Late Night With David Letterman in 1986. Gilda's megawatt personality and impromptu musical comedy mojo light up the proceedings - and she brings her neighbors from Connecticut there to Studio 8H to share in the fun.

To be shown at the British Film Institute in October and to be released by Entertainment One UK across the pond in January, Stan & Ollie, about the post-moviemaking touring days of Laurel & Hardy. Film historian Trav S.D. has penned a post about the film, The Buzz on Stan & Ollie.

John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan star as the comedy team of comedy teams. Here's the trailer.

While Laurel & Hardy fans and dyed-in-the-wool classic comedy buffs are not thrilled with the bit in the trailer regarding Zenobia, which is totally inaccurate, the scuttlebutt from those who have seen Stan & Ollie remains that, for the most part, the film is historically on point. L&H and Hal Roach Studio experts Richard L. Bann and Randy Skredtvedt were consulted in the making of the film. We'll see Stan & Ollie, hopefully on the big screen, when it gets an official theatrical release in the states.

In Stan & Ollie, the leads clearly do their best to get beyond impersonation and into the hearts, minds and souls of two iconic actors of a previous generation. This, and the recent passing of comedian-actor Will Jordan, got the pop culture vultures at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog thinking about professional mimics and impressionists, many of whom were hilarious.

Those who are soon approaching retirement age in 2018 will remember seeing impressionists and stand up comics regularly on such programs as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Hollywood Palace and The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. Impressionists were all over TV in the halcyon 20th century days of olde, as were WB cartoons featuring Hollywood caricatures!

Mimicry is rapidly becoming a lost art, due to such 21st century realities as a conspicuous lack of larger-than-life movie stars - Humphrey Bogart, Mae West, W.C. Fields, Jack Benny, Greta Garbo, Edward G. Robinson, Peter Lorre, Jimmy Cagney, Groucho Marx, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Robert Mitchum - as were found from the 1930's into the 1960's. Now those who remember these 20th century entertainment icons are dwindling in numbers - unless they watch Turner Classic Movies and/or have a strong interest in movies, music and books created before their birth.

One of the best mimics, Will Jordan, known for, among dozens of impressions, his very funny take on the not larger-than-life Ed Sullivan. Alas, his routines were so good that other comedians were known to "borrow" material from Will, as noted in Kliph Nesteroff's book The Comedians. As much of Jordan's living was made performing his act for sales meetings and corporate events, there's not that much footage of his impressions, other than Ed Sullivan.

Another one of the greatest of impressionists - when he wasn't singing, dancing, acting, playing the piano, drums and vibes - was entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr.

Also in the old school showbiz universe, Bobby Darin, who used the Sinatra concert staple One For My Baby and One For The Road as a framework for his movie star impressions. His Clark Gable is tops, even better than George Clooney's Gable-inspired performance in Brother Where Art Thou.

At one point, those who did dead-on impersonations got their own TV show, The Kopykats. Beginning as an offshoot of Kraft Music Hall, the impressionist-packed variety program ran from 1970 through 1972 and featured a rotating cast of extremely talented mimics.

Among the last impressionists standing would be John Byner and (Jay Ward Productions historian) Keith Scott, who keep coming up with new celebs and politicians to impersonate, and are as funny as ever.

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Great Buster: New Documentary on Keaton

As many of us need laughs big time, it's fabulous that loving tributes to 20th century comedy heroes (Love, Gilda and Stan & Ollie among them) have been produced and are now opening in festivals and movie theaters. Doubly pleased to hear that Peter Bogdanovich, one of our favorite film historian authors and movie directors, has made a documentary, The Great Buster: A Celebration, about the one, the only Buster Keaton.

Does this pique the interest of those at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog (even if we're not quite as deadpan as Buster)?

YES! Seeing Buster's 1922 film Cops on television's "Silents Please" was the experience that instantaneously made this writer an avid film buff and a Buster Keaton fan for life. The official press release elaborates:

The Great Buster celebrates the life and career of one of America’s most influential and celebrated filmmakers and comedians, Buster Keaton, whose singular style and fertile output during the silent era created his legacy as a true cinematic visionary.

Filled with stunningly restored archival Keaton films from the Cohen Film Classics library, The Great Buster is directed by Peter Bogdanovich, a filmmaker and cinema historian whose landmark writings and films on such renowned directors as John Ford and Orson Welles have become the standard by which all other studies are measured.

Keaton’s beginnings on the vaudeville circuit are chronicled in The Great Buster, as is the development of his trademark physical comedy and deadpan expression that earned him the lifelong moniker of “The Great Stone Face”, all of which led to his career-high years as the director, writer, producer and star of his own short films and features.

Interspersed throughout are interviews with nearly two-dozen collaborators, filmmakers, performers and friends, including Mel Brooks, Quentin Tarantino, Werner Herzog, Dick van Dyke and Johnny Knoxville, who discuss Keaton’s influence on modern comedy and, indeed, cinema itself.

The loss of artistic independence and career decline that marked his later years are also covered by Bogdanovich, before he casts a close eye on Keaton’s extraordinary output from 1923 to 1929, which yielded 10 remarkable feature films (including 1926’s The General and 1928’s Steamboat Bill, Jr.) that immortalized him as one of the greatest actor-filmmakers in the history of cinema.

The Great Buster: A Celebration was an Official Selection for the 2018 Venice, Telluride, Mill Valley and L.A. Film Festivals.

This is not the first comprehensive documentary about the legendary and innovative movie career of The Great Stone Face. Atop the list of documentaries we'd love to see on DVD or Blu-ray would be the sensational Buster Keaton: A Hard Act To Follow, created by Kevin Brownlow and the late David Gill for Photoplay Productions.

Buster Keaton: A Hard Act To Follow is one of the great documentaries about movies. Was floored upon first viewing it on PBS on its original airing, and hope that other Brownlow & Gill films (Hollywood, Unknown Chaplin, Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius and Cinema Europe) will eventually see a DVD or Blu-ray release. It's too bad Mr. Brownlow, an expert among experts in the field, is not among those involved in the new documentary. Have watched all the Brownlow and Gill documentaries. This one on Buster is one of those documentaries that demands repeated viewings.

Positives? #1 - The Great Buster: A Celebration will not be strictly a straight-to-DVD proposition. It is now hitting the festival circuit and will open in select theatres. #2 - Any attention to the filmmaking genius of Buster Keaton, over 50 years after his death, is to be commended. Negatives? The emphasis on celebrities and big names over experts on silent movies and Buster Keaton's films, no doubt with high hopes to attract young viewers and inspire people who are not classic movie buffs to learn more: all understandable, albeit annoying to silent movie aficionados and film geeks such as this correspondent.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Fake Grotesque Print Ads

At Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we have found that many of the cheesiest of cheesy retro print ads are not actually real. The above ad for celery is a very clever fake from Jack Pollock's 1994 Devil Chef comic book. The following is an actual print ad, but one wonders. . . Cola for babies? Are you kidding?

There have been so many fabricated 1950's style print advertisements that Go Retro actually devoted a post to Vintage Ads: Real...Or a Really Good Fake? Here's a fake one that fooled us!

A surefire way to earn both emphatic and mortified thumbs-downs from many movie blog organizations is not just to veer off from the silver screen beat into music, comedy and other various n' sundry topics, but by forgetting all about movies and posting cheesy print ads instead.

The usual gang of idiots at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog thought those wildly inappropriate (even by 1950's standards) Griffin Microsheen print ads which promoted an unsexy product, shoe polish, via ample cleavage were fakes. They're not - these ads were real and very likely successfully sold gallons of the stuff to lecherous guys who inhabited The Heartbreak Hotel wearing shiny shoes.

An actor not exactly shy with starlets and fashion models who promoted Griffin Microsheen Shoe Polish and other products, Mickey Rooney tried all kinds of wacky business ideas, but actually did not own a chain of spud-laden "Potato Fantasy" restaurants. Don't know who created this fake ad, but it is not far afield from other businesses Mickey launched over the years.

While wondering what the heck besides spuds were ingredients in a "potato shake," we note that Mickey Rooney's Star-B-Q and Weenie World, indeed, were actual ventures.

And, speaking of potatoes, the following 1950 style ad was actually a very clever hoax, which we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog fell for! Don't know who did the clever Photoshop work to create this Potato Fudge ad, but, alas, there was no such product as Kraft's Potato Fudge - and it's just as well.

Thus far, Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog has not found any cheesy print ads for any of Mickey Rooney's various restaurants . . . well, not yet.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Psychotronic Paul Talks Baseball - And Baseball Movies - on Labor Day

This writer loves baseball as much or more than psychotronic movies, jazz music, classic rock n' roll and a strong hot cup of coffee. Reside in Ulster County, NY now but still follow the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics.

Love baseball and baseball movies as much as watching The Day The Earth Stood Still, watching Ernie Kovacs, Monty Python or SCTV, listening to Jaki Byard playing the piano or Mel Torme singing "Born To Be Blue".

The first baseball movie the blogmeister ever saw was the 1937 Fleischer Studio cartoon THE TWISKER PITCHER, which confirms that Popeye The Sailor had a devastating four pitch arsenal and would easily command a $150+ million contract as a free agent now.

Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog covered the MLB in films and cartoons topic in a post penned on this blogger's 60th birthday. Today, for the most part, we'll spotlight a few baseball movies we either didn't get to in the April 17, 2016 post - starting with the 1951 version of Angels In The Outfield (not the 1994 film) starring Paul Douglas.

While there was a terrific movie made of Bang The Drum Slowly in the 1970's, it was preceded, two decades earlier (during the heyday of live TV and anthology series) by a version co-starring Paul Newman and Albert Salmi.

At Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we are big fans of the films about two of the most incredibly talented and over-the-edge characters to play baseball, Jimmy Pearsall and Dock Ellis.

I don't know how Jimmy felt about seeing Anthony Perkins playing him and serial killer Norman Bates, but Fear Strikes Out is a terrific movie.

And then there was Dock Ellis, a brilliant pitcher and something of a rock and roll star among athletes.

Saw Dock face off against the Giants a few times in 1970's.

Even if Mr. Ellis, then with the Pittsburgh Pirates, was, as he described "higher than a Georgia pine" on the mound, he was a helluva talent and fun to watch. Not unlike another super-talented guy this writer saw in person, the great Robin Williams. . .

Have not seen it, but hear there's a documentary about former Red Sox and Expos pitcher Bill "The Spaceman" Lee, wackiest left-hander and best interview in MLB.

What's the greatest film about the national pastime ever made? No contest - Baseball Bugs, just one among several devastatingly funny cartoons Isadore "Friz" Freleng and his ace animators at Warner Brothers produced in 1946.

In 2018, the San Francisco Giants are a banged-up, bandaged-up M*A*S*H unit, while the Oakland A's, possessing blazing lightning bolts in a bottle this season, will be going to the playoffs. And we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog love baseball, win or lose, good season or bad!