Friday, June 17, 2016

Summer Means. . . KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival At Foothill College on June 25!

Where does one turn, at this point between ennui and activity that always marks the period between Spring's end and the Fourth Of July? Why, the awaited return of the indescribably delicious and good for you KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival at Foothill College, silly!

Yes, that means yet another hallucinatory excursion through the irritated bowels of 20th century popular culture!

16mm films, the vinyl of visuals, formerly unwanted and unloved, now presented for your entertainment! Robert Emmett, host of "The Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack Show" on KFJC, hosts the festivities with rapier-like wit and cheesy door prizes.

Our overstocked archive is bursting at the seams with new material that demands another show, to show-off some of the coolest odd-ball films you are likely to see.

Curators Sci Fi Bob Ekman, Paul F. Etcheverry and Scott Moon of Planet X Magazine present a delirious deluge drawn from Our Celluloid Past and shall plug the all-16mm celluloid extravaganza on the evening of June 20, from 6:00 - 7:00 p.m. PST with host Robert Emmett on the KFJC 89.7 FM Thoughtline show.

That means the usual suspects, starting with ancient commercials!

And the inevitable forgotten cartoons.

Cheesy Scopitones, of course, will be on hand.

As will uber-campy Soundies and Snader Telescriptions.

We'll also have serials (featuring psycho-robots and the hardest working guy in 1940's showbiz, Guy In A Gorilla Suit) trailers from schlocky B-films. . . no, make that Z-films.

Other KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival perennials include well-meaning but now ridiculous 1950's educational films.

Plus vintage movie theatre "snack bar" ads and kidvid gone wrong, terribly wrong.

Let's celebrate the Summer of 2016 the right way - Psychotronically! Bring your friends and have a blast!

The KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival
When: Saturday, June 25, 2016: 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 oblong!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sunday Monkeyshines a.k.a. That Darn Chuck Darwin Was Right!

Totally stuck for a topic today, we'll go with monkeys (and Monkees) in the movies.

First and probably not foremost, there were the Snooky The Humanzee chimp comedies, noted in Steve Massa's Lame Brains And Lunatics: The Good, The Bad And The Forgotten Of Silent Comedy and a Trav S.D. post on Travalanche. Snooky wasn't the first ape headliner in movies - among many, there were Napoleon & Sally and Mr. & Mrs. Martin - but he was a hit. Chimp comedies were so big with moviegoers that there actually was a feature film titled Darwin Was Right, starring a simian trio.

The king of these monkeyshines was C.G. Chester's wildly popular Snooky The Humanzee series, which would be in demand through the 1920's, get reissued with music tracks well into the sound era, then sold to the home movie market via Castle Films and other 16mm purveyors.

To this we attribute the fact that, while Laurel & Hardy in Hats Off, horror guru Todd Browning's London After Midnight and F.W. Murnau's 4 Devils are still missing, lots of Snooky The Humanzee extravaganzas survive. As fate would have it, Huntley Film Archives has posted a slew of the chimp's adventures on YouTube.

Admittedly, Snooky's not exactly Chaplin or Keaton - or even Al Joy - in the comedy talent department, but there is something rather perversely funny about the simian's anti-social antics. The humor derives from the fact that Snooky is a bastard. No doubt the director of The Night Of The Bloody Apes grew up on this series.

In animation, of course, Walt Disney Productions, always on the cutting edge, preceded stop-motion genius Willis O'Brien's King Kong in riding the monkey bandwagon with this Silly Symphony.

Terrytoons in New Rochelle simply had to counter with a simian-filled epic, which looks pretty much indistinguishable from a 1927 Farmer Al Falfa cartoon, sans 15,000 Mickey Rats.

Then there's the Les Elton cartoon Monkey Doodle, starring Simon The Monk. Whatever Elton's independently produced cartoons lack in virtuoso drawing technique, they more than compensate for with imagination and originality. The animation of the dog in this cartoon reflects a certain oddball genius.

Also responsible for series starring monkeys: Paul Fennell's Cartoon Films Ltd., the modest but prolific Walter Lantz studio and the budget-busting former Disney animators Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising, the 1920's Disney cohorts turned independent producers (for Warner Brothers, then MGM).

While the monkey stars of the Gran' Pop series by Cartoon Films Ltd. and Walter Lantz' Meany, Miny and Moe have the collective personality of a bologna sandwich, their cartoons are pleasantly enjoyable, if no great shakes (of a monkey's tail).

More interesting are Hugh Harman's Gothic and weirdly imaginative mini-series featuring the callow, innocent and obnoxiously moralistic "See No Evil See No Evil See No Evil" monkeys, who also possess the collective personality and charm of a liverwurst sandwich on pumpernickel bread.

In their silver screen debut, the "goodie goodie monkeys", whose motto is "not a single wild oat will we sew," co-star with none other than Satan, hot off an appearance with Krazy Kat in The Hot-cha Melody.

Good Little Monkeys is actually pretty darn entertaining and harkens back to such freewheeling Harman and Ising WB cartoons as I Like Mountain Music and Three's A Crowd.

The 1938 "goodie goodie monkeys" opus Pipe Dreams definitely anticipates the hippie era by almost three decades, especially the scene with the simian trio taking hits off a pipe like Dennis Hopper thirty years later.

Any letters between MGM brass to Harman demanding an explanation for this cartoon must be hilarious - and we all know darn well that Harman ignored them!

After the quixotic adventures in Pipe Dreams, the "See No Evil See No Evil See No Evil" monkeys would return for the 1939 spectacular Art Gallery, then be retired ignominiously.

Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog loves Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe - only every movie they ever made. Except for Marilyn, they get totally upstaged by a chimp in Howard Hawks' zany 1952 film Monkey Business. No doubt during production Cary had more than a few witticisms he uttered to friends regarding playing second fiddle to an ape.

One of this pop culture vulture's all-time favorites on TV was Nat Hiken's hilarious You'll Never Get Rich show a.k.a. Sgt. Bilko. The smart money is that the chimp in the following clip took direction far better than Joe E. Ross and Maurice Gosfeld.

Not exactly anyone's all-time TV favorite - other than the actors, writers and production crew that worked on the series and got regular paychecks - The Hathaways, starring Jack Weston, Peggy Cass and a bunch of chimps.

And speaking of the hippie era again. . . well, straight from The Wide World Of WTF, here's a musical number from Lancelot Link Secret Chimp. The show is funny, although we suspect that creators Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng took the 5th Amendment when asked about it. Frankly, it troubles this amateur musician that the chimps play the electric guitar than he ever did!

Hanna-Barbera's Banana Splits were to the Lancelot Link psychedelic band what The Turtles were to Roky Erickson and The 13th Floor Elevators.

The extremely funny punk rock band The Dickies made a career of playing cartoon theme songs enthusiastically and very very fast.

1960's popsters The Monkees were inspired by both The Beatles and the Marx Brothers and their very enjoyable TV show still holds up quite well (surprise surprise surprise, the surviving Monkees still sing and play most adeptly in 2016 and have a new album out). Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog has a soft spot for their feature film Head, especially the scene in which the Prefab Four are dandruff in Victor Mature's scalp.

Here they are in January 1967, then in a 1969 TV special co-starring Brian Auger & The Trinity. The latter in particular is a fitting showcase for Messrs. Jones, Dolenz, Tork and Nesmith.

The Goose Gossage style closer today will be a "monkeys in space" sketch from The Ernie Kovacs Show. Would happily follow it up with a "Pigs In Space" segment from The Muppet Show but it doesn't quite fit today's theme.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Upcoming Big Screen Movie Fun In The San Francisco Bay Area

Hot on the high heels of yet another very cool San Francisco Silent Film Festival, more fun and entertaining classic movie events shall rock San Francisco Bay Area screens in the month of June.

First and foremost, the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum presents Charlie Chaplin Days on June 11-12.

As a prelude to the 19th Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival later this month, there will be great Chaplin programs at the museum, featuring Charlie's Essanay films, A Night Out (co-starring the hilarious Ben Turpin), The Champion, In The Park, A Jitney Elopement and The Tramp.

There will also be Little Tramp-related activities on picturesque Niles Boulevard all weekend. The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum has been doing terrific silent movie screenings and events for more than a decade and deserve your support! Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival is on June 24-26.

A week after Charlie Chaplin Days, on Saturday June 18, Bay Area Film Events will present the first of two Godzilla tribute programs - the second will be on July 30 - at The Historic Bal Theatre in San Leandro. We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog love thunder lizards, providing they are not stepping on us or our cheap, crummy used cars - not to mention torching the cities we reside in.

Yes, we admit it, we're suckers for drive-in movies starring rampaging irradiated dinosaurs - even the redundantly titled The Giant Behemoth.

If King Kong Meets Godzilla has not been chosen for Tokyo's version of the National Film Registry for sheer entertainment value, it should be!

We're happy to see that special screenings of King Kong Meets Godzilla shall benefit Curtain Call Performing Arts.

Tough to pick among the many thunder lizard epics, which are all quite the radiation blast in big screen glory with an enthusiastic audience. This correspondent's nod - well, at least today - goes to the matinee and Creature Features favorites, Attack Of The Mushroom People and Destroy All Monsters. Big time ridiculousness! Big time movie entertainment! Big time giant malevolent irradiated creatures!

Closing this veritable June bounty of pop culture mayhem and generally questionable entertainment, last but not least, will be the next KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival on Saturday, June 25. New And Improved like 1950's era dishwashing detergents, the program will bring Robert Emmett of KFJC, curator/perpetrators Sci Fi Bob Ekman, Paul F. Etcheverry and Scott "Planet X" Moon - and an unsuspecting audience - back to room 5015 on the Foothill College campus in Los Altos Hills for another delirious all-16mm extravaganza.

All this talk of monster movies and the KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival brings to mind Joe Dante's Matinee and the trailer for the William Castle style drive-in epic within the film. It's a fitting signoff for today's post.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Starting Tonight: The 2016 San Francisco Silent Film Festival

Well, Memorial Day weekend has passed and that means not just the Sharks battling the Penguins for the Stanley Cup and the Warriors going mano-a-mano with the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, but classic movie events throughout the month of June. These include the 2016 San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Charlie Chaplin Days and Broncho Billy Film Festival at Niles, Bay Area Film Events' tribute to Godzilla at the Bal Theatre and the return of the KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival on June 25.

Unfortunately, we will not be attending nearly as many of the programs as in past years and shall leave the lengthy write-ups to the numerous classic movie bloggers active at present - all of whom compose lengthy essays in the time it takes this correspondent to make a cup of coffee and come up with a title.

We shall make as much of the big screen fun, featuring cool guest presenters, acclaimed historians and gifted accompanists, as possible. Looking forward to the morning Amazing Tales From The Archives program and of course, all of the films of Rene Clair, who just a few years later made some of this correspondent's favorite early talkies (Under The Roofs Of Paris).

Also on the bill will be a screening of Fritz Lang's Destiny and tribute to Lang's artistic collaborator and wife, scenarist Thea von Harbou, hosted by actress and author Illeana Douglas. All at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog enjoyed seeing Miss Douglas, film buff, historian and granddaughter of Melvin Douglas, talk classic movies on TCM, as well as on a recent episode of Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast.

Of course, we absolutely must get our laughs and they will be supplied in quantity - yet again - by our pals Laurel & Hardy and Buster Keaton.

Buster shares the bill with the last word in wanton pie-throwing, Laurel and Hardy in The Battle Of The Century. Piano accompaniment for the Saturday morning L&H and Keaton program shall be by Dr. Jon Mirsalis, the accompanist, Lon Chaney, Sr. expert and film collector who found the long lost reel of Stan & Babe's laugh riot in the collection of the late Gordon Berkow.

Between shows, there will be numerous wonderful books for sale, and it's as tempting for a diehard classic movie buff to drop a ton of money on them as is it is for a famished foodie to go stone broke at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers' Market or Bi-Rite. The following tome on movie comediennes won't be there (it's not out yet - will be in the fall) but numerous remarkable books covering far-flung corners of film history will be up there on the mezzanine for the buying!

We attend the 2016 festival noting the untimely passing of Cinecon organizer and incredibly knowledgeable silent film expert Bob Birchard at 66 a few days ago. Bob was a good friend and helpful colleague to many of the authors and presenters who will be at the Castro Theatre this weekend. Randomly pick just about any book about silent movies and the early history of cinema and there will very likely be a bunch of rare stills and lobby cards that came from the collection of Mr. Birchard. R.I.P.

Check out this year's lineup at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival website. Buy tickets here.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Ballad Of Pete The Pup

“To stay a whole weekend with Pete … was my idea of glory and paradise combined.” Jackie Cooper

“He was a gentle, playful and warm dog. He would sleep at the foot of my bed. He was just the regular family dog. I really miss him.” Harry Lucenay

“May his dog star never fade!” Roadside

Today's post is our contribution to the 2016 Animals In Film Blogathon, hosted by In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood. For the entire group of blogathon entries, click here.

We are very happy to participate and tip that battered cap - can't remember if it was worn by Mickey Rooney in National Velvet or Stablemates - to Crystal Kalyana Pacey, the Animals In Film blogathon host, journalist and prolific writer about all things classic movies.

Today's post profiles the Ian McKellen, the Patrick Stewart, the Larry Olivier, the John Barrymore of canine thespians - although (actually) that would be several dogs - screen immortal Pete The Pup of the Our Gang comedies a.k.a. The Little Rascals.

The Our Gang comedies, at least until producer Hal Roach sold the rights to "the big studio" A.K.A. behemoth monolith Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, bringing ruination, devastation and Janet Burston to the series, were more often than not 20 minute masterworks.

Since we penned a post for a previous blogathon about Gale Henry, who enjoyed a lengthy career as the trainer of top canine talent (including the beloved Asta) after appearing in 268 films as a comedienne and character actress, it seems fitting that the topic du jour for the Animals On Film Blogathon is these Top Dogs from Our Gang (a.k.a. The Little Rascals, Hal Roach's Rascals).

Pete was hardly the first "Dog Star". There were many predecessors, especially the masterful co-star of Chaplin's A Dog's Life and Keystone's canine action heroes Luke and Teddy.

In many respects, the prototype for what would later be seen with Pete in Our Gang was done with great success by Charlie Chaplin in his wonderful A Dog's Life, in which The Little Tramp scrounges for sustenance with the remarkable Scraps the dog. Almost 100 years later, there's not a dry eye in the house whenever it flickers across the big screen. That Charlie knew how to get a laugh and tug on the heartstrings!

Luke could be considered the canine Chaplin and "dog in demand" at Mack Sennett's Fun Factory, where he supported studio headliners Mabel Normand and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle with athleticism, boundless energy and great charm.

Arbuckle took such a liking to the amazing athletic canine that Luke was among the group from Keystone to also appear in his subsequent Comique series.

And then there was the gigantic Keystone Teddy, who very likely weighed more than most of the leading ladies and some of the leading men at Sennett.

It could be argued that the funniest dog ever was another Sennett star, Cameo - a comedienne and Miss Cameo to you. Here's Cameo, alongside the perpetually non-plussed Billy Bevan in a hilarious Mack Sennett comedy.

Before ending up as Our Gang's ever-intrepid mascot, Pal the Wonder Dog made quite a few appearances with the top comics of the silent screen. There's a memorable cameo in the Harold Lloyd gridiron epic The Freshman as well as the following turns in two films by a pre-L&H Stan Laurel.

More importantly, Pal then was the driving force of Dynamite Doggie, one of the quintessential classic comedy shorts of the silent era. The headliner? The prolific, rubber-legged and quadruple-jointed silent comedy perennial Al St. John. The director? No great surprise - Al's uncle and former co-star (from the Mack Sennett Studio and Comique Productions) Roscoe Arbuckle. Tough to say who is the more acrobatic of the two death-defying daredevils, Al or Pal.

By the time these 1925 films hit the movie palaces, Our Gang had already been an enormous hit with audiences for three years. The winning formula - a lovable band of plucky poor kids show up the stuck-up town snobs, bluenoses, Margaret Dumont-ish matrons and stuffed shirts just by being themselves - was there from the series' inception.

The first three Our Gang releases made their silver screen debuts across the United States in September - November 1922 and proved to be an enormous hit with movie audiences.

As inevitable as death and taxes, a gazillion kid comedies soon followed and Pal the wonder dog would be in the thick of things, starring as Tige in the Buster Brown comedies, produced by the Stern Brothers for Universal.

Imitation being the sincerest form of plagiarism, the Buster Brown series, based on Richard F. Outcault's comic strip character, is actually a shameless ripoff of Our Gang, right down to casting similar looking kids - one cast member is a dead-ringer for Our Gang mainstay Joe Cobb.

As fate would have it, Pal had a natural ring around his eye. A bit of dye and Max Factor assistance finished the job and transformed Pal into Pete The Pup. Rock-solid through both good and not-so-good periods in the series, Pete in some cases drive the storylines. Many of the silent Our Gang shorts, such as this one, Love My Dog, would be remade and improved upon in talkies.

In this correspondent's opinion, the Our Gang comedies from the early 1930's, thanks to a stellar ensemble cast, LeRoy Shield's evocative background music and inspired direction and writing by Bob F. McGowan frequently rank among the series' all-time best.

There is a level of genuine heart which entirely eluded the other "famous kid comedies" and even Our Gang itself at the end of its 15 year Hal Roach run and throughout the dreadful last six seasons produced by MGM.

Said genuine heart, taking a few cues from Mr. Chaplin and getting the audience to care about the characters, would be central to the 1930-1933 Our Gangs. The hilarious and charming Pups Is Pups, released theatrically on August 30, 1930, was a defining moment for the series and also included the silver screen debut of a new Petey, quite literally a pup when this was produced.

Now the reason that Bobby "Wheezer" Hutchins' buddy in Pups Is Pups is not Petey, but by a slew of puppies, shockingly, is due to intrigue, chicanery and violence involving the series' canine hero. Earlier in 1930, the first Pete The Pup, Pal the wonder dog, was poisoned to death by an unknown assailant!

One of Pal's offspring, seen among Wheezer's ridiculously cute co-stars in Pups is Pups, would succeed him and eventually star in a string of pretty darn wonderful Our Gang comedies.

The new dog, bred by A. A. Keller, was named Lucenay's Peter and can be seen following his trainer's commands with utter perfection in a newsreel clip with Harry Lucenay.

Lucenay's Peter grew quickly and made his silver screen debut in School's Out, one of the last Our Gang vehicles for Jackie Cooper before his move to feature films.

Two Pete starring roles that exemplify everything film buffs and Hal Roach studio fans adore about the Our Gang series are Dogs Is Dogs and The Pooch.

The former, the ultimate Depression era melodrama, delivered with lots of laughs along the way, casts Wheezer and Dorothy "Echo" DeBorba in a downright Chaplinesque situation. The two Our Gang stalwarts play impoverished children in danger, mistreated in a truly horrific manner by an abusive stepmother and her hideously spoiled son. Saving the day for Dorothy and Wheezer: one of the funniest and most likable Our Gang cast members and most memorable child actors in movies, Matthew "Stymie" Beard. When the horrid stepmother and her obnoxious kid get their comeuppance at (and in) the end, it's one of the great payoffs in movies.

The Pooch is even more melodramatic. Pete needs a license, the gang can't afford it, and the local dog catcher is a rat who derives sick pleasure from euthanizing strays. In a series of very funny scenes involving Stymie and a 3-year-old Spanky McFarland, the Gang tries various means of scraping up the money for the license. The evil dog catcher is played with appropriate villainy by Billy Gilbert actually attempts to kill Pete in a gas chamber! It all ends well for Petey and the Gang but at one point the kids are crying because they think Petey's dead! Both kids and their parents watching this in 1932 must have been crying their eyes out - there had to be many bruised arms the next day!

After Hal Roach fired Lucenay in 1932, the trainer took the second Pete to Atlantic City, where the pooch both entertained children at the Steel Pier and made his silver screen swan song in Buzzin' Around, one of the Vitaphone Big V comedies produced the East Coast, starring Roscoe Arbuckle and Al St. John. The brilliant and memorable movie career of Lucenay's Peter ended and the talented canine lived until 1946.

After Lucenay's Peter, several different dogs would appear in Our Gang as Pete, starting with Hook & Ladder.

These were also amazing dogs, in general Pete was gradually getting phased out of the series in the mid-1930's. This signals a change in storylines and approach that would be apparent as the 1930's progressed. For Pete's Sake is a memorable example of the later series, directed by Gus Meins, who piloted Our Gang after Bob McGowan's retirement in 1933.

Pete The Pup is to some degree a non-factor after Our Gang transitioned from the 20 minute length to 10 minutes. These slicker and shorter 1-reelers, built around Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, Buckwheat and Porky, are the best known in the series. Directed by a young Gordon Douglas - later known for piloting a wide variety of feature films, including The Rat Pack in Robin & The 7 Hoods - they offer enthusiastic performances by the superb cast, plenty of laughs and a snappy pace, but lack the charm, depth, humanity, Depression-era flavor and LeRoy Shield music of the early 1930's Our Gangs.

We thank all the Petes for giving audiences much needed laughs during the Great Depression - and, on DVD, much needed laughs now.

In closing, we both thank and raise our chocolate milk-filled goblets to Crystal of In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood for hosting the Animals In Film Blogathon and inviting us to participate.