Thursday, December 28, 2006
While I feel unbelievably lucky to have living family members, as well as various roofs over my head and doubly thankful to have not suffered a death in the family in 2006, there's no getting around it - the end of the year can be a difficult time. So make it a double, triple (mixed drink or Belgian strong ale) or, if you must, a Shirley Temple (or the Shirley Temple with a few slugs of Johnnie Walker's Black Label, a.k.a. Shirley Temple Black), toast the fact that you're still livin' and say Happy New Year! Go get, in the immortal words of Louis Jordan, "obnosticated" - and, please, designate a driver.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Think of any popular music from the last 50 years, any genre: James Brown, bandleader, singer, arranger, visionary, show-stopping performer, got there first. His career was so long, beginning back in the heydey of such classic gospel-based 50's rhythm and blues artists as Jackie Wilson, The Five Royales and Sam Cooke, and extending into the 21st century, that it comes as a surprise that he was only 73 years old at the time of his passing at 1:45 a.m. on December 25.
Monday, December 25, 2006
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Ever-bawdy lounge singer-comedienne Dusty Towne (Catherine O'Hara) hosts her Sexy Holiday Special, featuring guest star Divine (John Candy) on SCTV. Originally broadcast December 1981.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Amid Amidi has contributed an excellent post - with links aplenty - on Mr. Barbera at Cartoon Brew.
This ties in to my recent postings in one respect. . . the young Joe Barbera was at one point a gagman for. . . the Van Beuren studio, producers of Piano Tooners and other wacky early 30's gems.
I will reflect further on Joe Barbera's contributions to animation in a later post. And check your local public library for his book My Life In Toons, or order it (think you can still procure a copy online) if you have the requisite do-re-me. . . before, like all film history books, it becomes impossible to find.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Piano Tooners is a classic 1932 cartoon by the Van Beuren Studio, a ragtag group of ex-Paul Terry-toon staffers located just across the street and down from the Fleischer Studio. While they never quite hit the gloriously surreal heights of Fleischer (it's OK - practically nobody else did, either), Van Beuren cartoons - blending primitive animation, sick humor and elements of the bizarre - remain quite funny. My take is that the Van Beuren staff took full advantage of getting out from under Terry's influence and had the collective thought "Hey, Terry's not here to say no - we can do crazy #!&$^* now! Yippee!"
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Until then, my next show, in February '07, will combine 90+ year old silent movies with live music and sound effects by two master musicians who know how to have a good time. Stay tooned. . . and be seeing you.
Friday, December 15, 2006
The beautiful Queen Of Trash, horror
host Mr. Lobo, KFJC Psychotronix
Film Festival co-founder Robert Emmett,
unsuspecting audience members and
a green mutant lead the multitudes in
the Cinema Insomnia oath.
The capacity crowd vacantly
recites the Cinema Insomnia oath.
More audience members, brains
utterly reduced to mush by the first
half of our show, join Mr. Lobo in
the Cinema Insomnia oath.
Right with 'em - and attempting very
unsuccessfully to hide out in the back
right corner: festival co-producers
Scott Moon and (in red shirt and
black hat) yours truly.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Here's the late great Peter Boyle, as the top-hatted song-and-dance-man version of "the hideous monster" in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, performing "Puttin' On The Ritz" with Gene Wilder. Too bad Boris Karloff didn't live to see it - he would have howled!
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Although the cartoons got tamer and less risque as the 1930's progressed and the Production Code took effect in July 1934, the Fleischer Studio still periodically came up with wondrous, wildly imaginative and brilliant stuff, such as this tremendous futuristic cartoon about the 1939 New York World's Fair. The bit with the robot dance partners is one for the books.
Monday, December 11, 2006
We slip a fair number of classic (and not-so-classic) cartoons into the KFJC Psychotronix Film Festivals. The early 30's work of New York's Fleischer Studio - surreal, macabre, bizarre and loaded with unabashed risqué humor, pre-Code style - remains the epitome of the "psychotronic" cartoon. Here's a good one: Silly Scandals (1931), uploaded by voiceman91.
This Fleischer classic could have been included among the Truly Obscure Animated Cartoons I have been posting, except for the appearance of Betty Boop, resplendent in her early 1930-1931 "dog ears" incarnation. Betty sings "You're Driving Me Crazy", a classic standard recorded in 1930 by the incredible Louis Armstrong and in the 40's by Peggy Lee. The song is also the cornerstone of a wonderful 1931 Screen Song cartoon. Clearly, somebody at Fleischer's was musically hip.
We concur with the audience of Fleischer cartoon animals: WE WANT BETTY! WE WANT BETTY!
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
"Psychotronix" is a variation on Michael Weldon's "Psychotronic History Of Cinema", the encyclopedia of all varieties of under-the-radar B-films: monster movies, horror films, science fiction, cheap comedies, rock 'n' roll flicks, etc. The KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival presents a unique spin on this hallucinatory excursion through the irritated bowels of popular culture. The first half of the show focuses on short films: trailers from truly wretched movies, well-meaning 50's educational films, schlocky drive-in movies with guys in stupid-looking robot and gorilla suits, vintage TV commercials and theatre ads, cartoon rarities, Japanese monster epics, Scopitones, Soundies and other even more obscure musical shorts, silent film clips, kidvid, serial chapters, puppet animation, double-entendre packed pre-Code comedies and more. Our gala feature films are plump holiday turkeys that would invariably make the heart of the late Edward D. Wood Jr. go pitty-pat. . . We consider the evening a smashing success when the audience starts heckling the feature before the projection lamp goes on.
The festival is also something of a reaction against all standard rules of film programming. 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. If we can establish a subject link or a Monty Python-esque visual or verbal link between the 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. Some of our best shows are essentially improvised, with archivist-producers Bob Ekman, Scott Moon and myself creating the program on the fly, responding to audience reaction and choosing films accordingly.
The next KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival will occur on Saturday, December 9, from 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM, in room 5015 on the Foothill College campus in the lovely Los Altos Hills, not far from the dreaded Silicon Valley. There will be a $5 donation which benefits the innovative, refreshingly un-corporate and fearless KFJC 89.7. You'll also need $2 quarters for a parking permit.
Rob Emmett, host of "The Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack Show", presides over the festivities with panache, bon mots and a boatload of cheesy door prizes. Special guests will include the Mighty Megafant, the Queen Of Trash and the host of Cinema Insomnia, Mr. Lobo.
Friday, December 01, 2006
DISCLAIMER: From the view here, this cartoon looks terribly racially offensive; however, this shot only represents a few brief moments in the film. These character designs are demeaning. Unfortunately, I have yet to see a 1930's cartoon - including the ones made by animators who adored black artists - that does not portray African-Americans in this grotesque way. That was 1939. This (well, for 28 more days) is 2006.
Disclaimer said, this is a brilliant and hilarious cartoon. Jitterbug Follies, originally released on February 25, 1939, is among two "Count Screwloose and J.R. The Wonder Dog" cartoons made for MGM by legendary comic artist Milt Gross. Ace animators Bill Littlejohn, Ken Muse, Emery Hawkins, Irv Spence and others did a masterful job of transforming the energy, humor and spirit of Gross' drawings into expressive movement.
Jitterbug Follies was originally to be just one in a series of Milt Gross cartoons. Fred Quimby, the de facto executive producer, called the whole thing off after two films. The now infamous response, attributed to either the notoriously humorless Quimby or mega-mogul (with an iron fist) Louis B. Mayer, was that the Milt Gross cartoons were "beneath the dignity of MGM." Too bad - clearly, Milt would have given Bob Clampett, then the unchallenged master of black and white cartoons (Fleischer, the former champ, having abdicated by that time) a run for his money. Besides, Otto and Blotto, the penguin duo in Jitterbug Follies, richly deserved their own starring series.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Well, Betty Boop and Ethel Merman do not share any scenes here; that was simply not meant to be. But Ethel belts it out in the 1932 Fleischer Screen Song cartoon You Try Somebody Else (thank you, voiceman91). Typical of the series, it features historic footage of a legendary performer singing a not-too-memorable tune, framed by the wonderfully uninhibited, "anything can and does happen" animation of Fleischer. To use 1932 lingo, that final gag is a real corker.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
A splendid way to kick off the holiday weekend: Tex Avery's Thanksgiving MGM cartoon Jerky Turkey, complete with Jimmy Durante fowl and Bill Thompson (Droopy voice) pilgrim.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
For more, check out this Filmography from the New York Times.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Saturday, November 18, 2006
From the Walter Lantz Swing Symphonies series, Abou Ben Boogie is a rarely seen gem, largely due to its mixture of 1940's era stereotypes and overt sexuality. Thus, it needs the inevitable disclaimer, i.e. THIS FILM WAS MADE ONE FUCKING LONG TIME AGO!!! And indeed it was.
While the "dancing girl" scenes remain my favorite part of this cartoon, this is only one facet of the brilliant animation by Pat Matthews, Grim Natwick and Emery Hawkins, orchestrated by the directorial genius of Shamus Culhane. This group also produced the much better known Woody Woodpecker and Andy Panda cartoons, which also demonstrate emphatically that Culhane was leading quite the rock 'n' roll band at the Walter Lantz Studio in 1944.
Actually, Shamus, a most underrated animation director but also an accomplished violinist and knowledgeable classical music buff, would have not appreciated that analogy. Let's just say he led one helluva chamber music ensemble at Lantz in the mid-40's.
And thanks again, Thad K, for uploading this - and while you're at it, we'd love it if you could post The Greatest Man In Siam, yet another jumpin' Swing Symphony cartoon by Shamus Culhane and the fabulous ensemble of artists assembled at Lantz.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Thursday, November 16, 2006
The Cuckoo was produced by ex-Disney bigwig David Hand for J. Arthur Rank in England. While it starts innocently enough, with a touch of that nauseatingly cute Disney style, it delivers the goods as soon that "Mr. Sparrow dream sequence", accompanied by the wonderfully cartoony theme song, "a cuckoo ain't so cuckoo after all," gets going.
And again, a tip of the Hatlo hat to thadk for posting this.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Here's a classic cartoon you won't see on DVD, VHS, on the big screen or on cable TV (although you may find it on overseas television as part of the Totally Tooned In show, which has never aired in the United States).
Flora, a witty spoof of film noir, was produced in 1946 by the much maligned Screen Gems Studio - and released to movie theaters in 1948, some time after the outfit's utterly unlamented demise. Often more concerned with off-kilter story concepts and oddball ideas than sight gags or characters, Screen Gems or Columbia cartoons, even at their very best, are completely different from the films of Disney, Warner Brothers and MGM - and this, for many, takes a lot of getting used to.
While Columbia cartoons often experiment in a big way - and fail in a bigger way - as a lifelong comedy and animation buff, I love their cleverness and originality. For me, the films that don't cut the mustard are those that copy Disney (in the 1930's) or Warner Brothers (1940's), not the cartoons that try really crazy s#^&%$!*t, swing for the fences and strike out.
Alex Lovy, later known for his work on Walter Lantz' Woody Woodpecker and Chilly Willy cartoons, as well as Hanna-Barbera's The Flintstones and The Jetsons, directed this Color Rhapsody cartoon, one of the last in the series. It is one of the best films from his lengthy career.
Thanks a million, thadk, for making this one available.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Just finished an intense two weeks attending various San Francisco Jazz Festival performances. This was the best S.F. Jazz Fest yet and everyone involved deserves a lot of credit.
This afternoon's concert featured ever-creative trombonist Roswell Rudd and Badma Khanda's Mongolian Buryat Band. Their latest album is Blue Mongol.
The master musicians from Mongolia include: Badma Khanda (vocals), Battuvshin Baldantseren (flute, horse head bass), Javkhlan Erdenebal (throat singing and morin khur, a.k.a. horse head fiddle), Urantugs Jamiyan (yatag, a.k.a. zither) and Kermen Kalyaeva (dulcimer). The blend of their traditional instruments and Roswell's Kid Ory-Jack Teagarden style "tailgate trombone" proved surprisingly seamless. It all added up to an inspiring, pastoral and beautiful fusion of ancient Mongolian folk music and 20th century jazz.
One would think that trombone and throat singing might be an unlikely combination, but they are remarkably, at moments eerily, well-matched. To quote the producer of the band's recordings, Verna Gillis, "Both throat singing and trombone playing have a common source, deriving from the existence of a very strong, really low bass note called a fundamental. The trombonist and the throat singer share the task of resonating the very high overtones, resulting in a high-pitched, eerie melody—in fact, two sounds (overtones and fundamental) at the same time. The mid-ranged sounds are avoided in order to emphasize the extreme high and the extreme low. In throat singing, this gives off a very mysterious and disorienting effect, somewhat like a ventriloquist who can throw his voice so that the listener can’t believe that the sound is coming from one source. The trombone derives from the same acoustical principles: the total composition of its sound includes the extremely low and extremely high sounds. With the help of mutes and shaping the mouth cavity to emphasize the overtones, much in the same manner as a throat singer, the trombone also provides a mid range of pitches that contrast beautifully with the extremes of the throat singing. The process of musical fusion between Roswell, a legendary jazz improviser, and Badma Khanda’s folk ensemble sets up an alchemy into a new music that they have created."
I am still collecting my thoughts after attending the following wonderful festival events: a double bill of Nels Cline (the great guitarist from Wilco) and jazz giant Andrew Hill; innovative composer/pianist Myra Melford; the incomparable Alice Coltrane; and a program co-billing three jazzy Fleischer Studio cartoon classics (Betty Boop in Minnie The Moocher, Snow White and I'll Be Glad When You're Dead You Rascal You) with swingin' sounds by that most bluesy of "little big bands", Lavay Smith And Her Red-Hot Skillet Lickers.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
While The Daily Show has already - with the animated "Midterm Elections" sketch - a wonderfully sick spoof of "America Rock" - created the last word on today's elections, I am still compelled to spout off.
I have made three conclusions after the pre-election frenzy, not only from the past few weeks but over the past decade.
- Political ads must be abolished, now. All the manipulative and falsehood-filled TV and radio ads need to go the way of the old Marlboro cigarette commercials. . . which at least offered the saving grace of Joan Collins doing phallic maneuvers with a filter king. Along with certain cable news networks and ranting political talk show hosts, sleazy and boneheaded hit ads have made the political process a joke.
- It costs so much f#%*&^n' $$$$$$$$$ to run for office, the two parties are totally compromised from the git-go. This must change.
- Need proof that nobody in either party has the guts to make the kind of drastic lobbying and campaign reform that is needed to restore a democracy in real trouble? The GOP, predictably, ran from the Jack Abramoff/K-Street scandal like scared rabbits while the Demos' wussy non-response spoke volumes.
After today's pointless diatribe, I promise to get back to writing about the stuff I love, movies, music, animation and comedy. . . although I am very happy that Rick Santorum lost in Pennsylvania. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Here, Pastor Ted Haggard squares off with Richard Dawkins on the topic of evolution. Yes, the discussion gets a tad heated.
There is something downright heartwarming about seeing such an unabashed gay basher - and active participant in our post-2000 national nightmare - as Pastor Ted get his, ahem, (pardon the play on words) comeuppance.
I recently said that events have put satirists out of business, but Trey Stone and Matt Parker of South Park gleefully continue the art, thankfully leaving no point of view unscathed or unoffended. Although the show recently tackled the topic of teaching evolution in public schools (while directing the searing light of satire on fundamentalists and atheists alike) in a hilarious episode, here's hoping a new episode satirizing the now defrocked Pastor Ted and his rabidly partisan ilk will be out by the end of the week. . . It probably will be.
Friday, November 03, 2006
This week's "scandal du jour" involves one Ted Haggard, founder of the 14,000-member New Life Church, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and hardcore "righty" - and allegations of a three-year gay relationship by a male prostitute (no, not "Fred Garvin, Male Prostitute"). The allegations could be totally false and the story may be nothing, just more utterly meaningless grist for the hungry media mill. However, even a hint that one of the national leaders in a certain noxious blend of fundamentalist religion and viciously partisan politics in this compromised democracy is even mentioned in conjunction with call boys and recreational drugs creates. . . well, I apologize, but a certain glee. Not to mention such really-not-nice thoughts as "couldn't happen to a nicer guy."
This latest story, on the heels of the Mark "boy do I love instant messaging" Foley scandal, does not quite satisfy me, however: I so wanted to see this happen to none other than "teflon spin doctor" Karl Rove, exposed in full George Michael fashion, preferably with video to back it up.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Monday, October 30, 2006
No doubt this 1952 Jack Broder Productions epic, Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla, was featured on Count Floyd's Monster Chiller Horror Theatre - the week before "Dr. Tongue's 3-D House Of Pancakes". . . or perhaps two weeks before "Dr. Tongue's 3-D House Of Stewardesses". Oooooooh, it's scarrrrr-yyyy, all right, particular those shameless Martin & Lewis imitators.
You gotta love schlockmeister producer Jack Broder, several steps down from such talented low-budget filmmakers as Roger Corman and Russ Meyer, but several steps up from Jerry Warren, Doris Fish and the immortal Edward D. Wood Jr. Broder also featured the ever-hard-working "guy in a gorilla suit" prominently in his 1951 opus Bride Of The Gorilla.
Can't watch this trailer without thinking of my favorite line from a movie made in the past 20 years, the moment when, in Tim Burton's inspired 1994 biopic Ed Wood, Martin Landau, as a down on his luck and strung-out Lugosi) laments "No one gives two f^*&!%^ks for Bela."
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Because, as far as I'm concerned, pulchritude beats standard-issue gore, thrills and chills every time, here's another Hammer Films trailer, this one for Countess Dracula, starring the drop-dead (hey, it is a horror flick) gorgeous Ingrid Pitt.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
While I look forward to tonight's "Midnight Movie Massacre", hosted by Mr. Lobo of Cinema Insomnia, as part of the Shock It To Me Fest at San Francisco's Castro Theatre, here, to keep us going until then, is the trailer to Hammer Films' Curse of Frankenstein.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
For your viewing pleasure, here's just one bouyant panel from Milt Gross' Cartoon Tour Of New York, courtesy of the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive, which is already a veritable Dead Sea Scrolls of comic art. Steven Worth and the crew there are doing exciting things and have already digitized thousands of classic animated films, comics, illustrations and historic memorabilia.
To see the rest of this jewel from Milt's mighty pen:
Milt Gross' Cartoon Tour Of New York, Part 1
The mention of this mega-talented artist dovetails nicely into my last (October 22) posting. After creating two brilliant (not to mention iconoclastic, irreverent and aggressively "non p.c.") MGM cartoons, Jitterbug Follies and Wanted: No Master, both starring his "Count Screwloose & J.R. The Wonder Dog" characters, Gross was unceremoniously fired by Fred Quimby, the Metro sales executive inexplicably installed as head of their new animation studio. Thus ended what would have undoubtedly been a historic contribution to U.S. animation; Gross would have clearly given Bob Clampett some spirited competition for "king of the black and white cartoon" in the late 30's.
I don't know if Quimby quite gets the Eddie Selzer "what does all this laughter have to do with the making of animated cartoons?" booby prize, but he's certainly close. He fired Milt Gross and didn't think Tex Avery cartoons were funny.
Milt and Tex got the last laugh. Even now, when it comes to comics, Milt remains the gold standard.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Years ago, I had a good friend, artist-photographer-computer graphics developer-music-history-politics-film-animation-fine arts aficionado and expert on many more topics named Chuck Walker; unfortunately, he passed away at 38 in 1994. Chuck was one of my favorites, always a witty, entertaining fellow with an well-informed and original view of the world. He was also brilliant, unrelentingly creative, scary-smart and among those on the advance guard of the cutting edge in the 1980's graphics technology revolution; among other places, he worked with Marc Canter at (then) MacroMind, now Macromedia. Chuck had much of interest to say about the power shift in technology from creatives to executives in the late 80's and early 90's. I loved the sneer that appeared on Chuck's face and the undisguised contempt that dripped from his voice when he uttered the phrase, "the suits are taking over."
Now, don't get me wrong - I love. . . or at least like. . . "the suits". You need 'em - and there are times when bean-counters prove absolutely necessary; for example, Walt Disney and Roy Disney, no doubt, to some degree offered useful checks on each other. However, the suits should never, ever, have the absolute final say on artistic endeavors, period.
Well, those suits (and expensive ones) are really really in total control of animation, film and music backing and distribution. Nothing new about that - the silent cinema transitioned from artist-moguls like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Harold Lloyd to the all-powerful studio system. It happens. It's the way of the world.
There is no doubt in my mind that in our current climate, a great artist - a Duke Ellington, a Charlie Parker, a Bob Clampett, an Ernie Kovacs - would have absolutely no chance. Unless what they did made semitruck fleets full of money for someone, of course (come to think of it, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and Chappelle's Show must be incredibly lucrative cash cows - otherwise they'd be banished from the airwaves, pronto).
Right now, there's stimulating discussion around the blogosphere about the relationship between development executives and the artists who actually make animated TV shows. For a bit of background, to paraphrase John Kricfalusi. . . "here's the most offensive article ever written about animation", Development Executives And How They Got There
And check out what John K has to say about Why Rock Stars Should Become Animation Executives
Then follow it up with an excellent Cartoon Brew post by Amid Amidi, author of Cartoon Modern, about the barrel o' laughs that is "pitching" TV series concepts - and explore all the links in the article, To Pitch Or Not To Pitch
Friday, October 20, 2006
I declare the 20th of every month Burt Bacharach day. Why? Because I can - it's my f#$%^&*n' blog.
Every month we'll feature a different piece of music written by Burt. I will choose clips that are, at the very least, a tad unorthodox - with all due respect to the fabulous Dionne Warwick - whenever possible. This one is a real corker, among the best: a typically incendiary performance by The White Stripes, complete with "happy" audience members singing along. Real rock 'n' roll, baby!
I love Burt Bacharach. I love the White Stripes. And while you're at it, say a rosary for the late great Dusty Springfield.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Don't believe it? Want proof? Holy s#$%&t, I'm on myspace and so are a lot of my friends and contemporaries. The young, hip and trendy among us, without a doubt, abandoned myspace as oh-so-very-passé before George W. Bush (a.k.a. "The Decider") accused John Kerry of being a "flip-flopper."
The most hilarious thing about joining myspace is some of the people who immediately show up in the inbox as your "friends". A typical one: "I'm (fill in a twenty-something age), looking to meet guys and fool around. Here's a link to my NUDE PICTURES."
At this moment, heterosexual males of all nations, races, creeds and intelligence quotients can be seen transforming into Cro-Magnon level slobbering "Tex Avery wolves" at their monitors and mindlessly following that link. . . which will inevitably lead to a porn or adult dating site that will invariably ask for info like home and cell phone numbers, address, SSN, credit card #s, etc. Sly Stone made a great album titled There's A Riot Goin' On - I believe "There's A Scam Goin' On" here.
Of course, it works - every time. To quote Blue Collar Comedy tour standup maestro Jeff Foxworthy's take on what guys actually think, "Ah wanna beer and ah wanna see somethin' nekkid."
Monday, October 16, 2006
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Well, not literally born yesterday in 2006, but definitely on October 10 (reputedly 1917), was the great Thelonious Monk. While Monk's original compositions represented bold, brilliant new ideas, his sound had deep roots in jazz tradition (small wonder, one of his mentors was the innovative Harlem pianist/composer James P. Johnson). His rhythms can be jagged and broken - and swing hard all the while. Monk also wrote lovely ballads and often found expressive power in standard tunes. . . beauty in the most arcane of moldy chestnuts. Here's an example of Monk doing just that, performing "Don't Blame Me" in a 1967 concert. Enjoy.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
While a tad late with this post, as a baseball fan, I'm compelled to put my two cents in. Buck O 'Neil, player, manager, super-scout, Kansas City legend, baseball historian, the first African-American coach in the big leagues and the last man standing from the Negro Leagues - as well as a guy who did more after the age of 80 than a lot of us accomplish in a lifetime - passed away last Friday, October 6, at the age of 94. For more info, check out this piece from the Kansas City Star.
To paraphrase the superb Black Baseball webpage:
"John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil, also called The Skipper, was not only a talented ball player but also an intelligent and cunning manager. Buck started his career briefly with the Memphis Red Sox and the remainder of his playing years were spent with the Kansas City Monarchs. In 1942 Buck lead his team against the Homestead Grays hitting .353. In the 1946 title game against the Newark Eagles, he hit .333, which included two home runs, one of them being a grand slam (The Negro Leagues Professional Baseball, 1998). In 1946 he also led the Negro National Leagues with a batting average of .353 for the season (Mills, 1996). The Monarchs lost in seven games despite his efforts. One outfielder, Jimmie Crutchfield, was quoted saying, "I respected Buck in the clutch. He was that type of hitter. A smart, highly intelligent ball player. Also a good manager and I admired him for that. A hustling ball player" (The Negro Leagues Professional Baseball, 1998).
In 1947, he became manager of the Kansas City Monarchs until 1955 (Margolies, 1992). He coached them to four titles in 1948, 1950, 1951 and 1953. As manager of the Monarchs, Buck sent the most Negro League players on to the white Majors than anyone in baseball history. Some players include Ernie Banks, George Altman, Gene Baker, Sweet Lou Johnson, Satchel Paige, and Bob Thurman. In 1956, the Chicago Cubs hired O'Neil as a scout where he discovered great talents like Lou Brock and Joe Carter. Later he became the first African-American coach in the Major Leagues with the Cubs in 1962. 1998 was Bucks return home, when he got a job as scout for the Kansas City Royals (The Negro Leagues Professional Baseball, 1998)."
Buck's enthusiasm, good humor, amazing memory and considerable skills as a narrator created some of the best moments in the Ken Burns Baseball documentary. Haven't seen the reflections of Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays and Lou Brock on Buck O' Neil, but I'm sure they had plenty to say.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Bleary-eyed but recovered enough from yet another late-night movie extravaganza, I tip my hat to Mr. Lobo, Bob Wilkins (for encouraging Mr. Lobo to do a TV show), the Queen Of Trash, Eric "Man Of Many Monster Disguises" Yee, Ken Patterson of KTEH, the Silicon Convention sound techs - and the Convention for having us. Will post photos shortly.
But most of all, I want to thank the spirits of Bela Lugosi, Bob Clampett, Jayne Mansfield, Jack Webb, Joi Lansing, Tex Avery, Raymond Burr, Dave Fleischer, Ed Benedict, Sonny Tufts, Willard Bowsky, Barbara Payton, Jack Broder, the ubiquitous "Guy In A Gorilla Suit" - not to mention the producers of 1955 Coca-Cola commercials, the Sapporo Beer-powered Toho Studio designers who created that bejeweled armadillo-rhino monster and the deservedly anonymous producer of "Sadie The Sunbather" - for making it possible for bemused 21st century citizens to play in this pop culture sandbox.
I fully intend to keep on playing in that sandbox, like
Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks did when they wrote "Smile".
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Here's at least one obvious reason to forego such mundane activities as sleep and attend our late-night Lobo-tronic Film Festival: the fabulous Queen Of Trash.
Now it appears we're doin' the midnight movies thang. . . but show up at 11pm, anyway, at least to find out what cool costumes convention-goers will wear to the masquerade.
The Silicon programming page says - and I quote: "Presentation - The Lobotronic Film Festival, 12:00 am - 1:30 am in Donnor Pass Ballroom".
Be there or be oblong.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
I will periodically spotlight favorite films that are too obscure for DVD. . . or, come to think of it, mankind.
This classic cartoon is from my all-time favorite era of movies, the early 30's, the pre-Code epoch when Barbara Stanwyck "hos" straight up the corporate ladder - sneering more contemptuously than Lou Reed every step the way - in Baby Face (1933) and silent screen icon Billy Haines, in Way Out West (1930), looks straight in the camera, with a smurk, and quips "I'm the wildest pansy you ever picked". And before overtly sexual humor, most notable in the incredible surreal films of the Max Fleischer Studio, was sanitized out of cartoons (at least until Tex Avery, Bob Clampett and Frank Tashlin took on the censors - who were not swift enough to catch their subversive antics - in the 40's).
The Hash Shop is just one of many wildly, insanely imaginative cartoons that Walter Lantz (yes, the kindly host of The Woody Woodpecker Show, if you are an over-the-hill "boomer" and remember such things) produced in 1930. They are distinguished by the remarkable - rubbery, expansive, creative, way-out - draftsmanship of Bill Nolan, who was doing "acid trip animation" decades before Vince Collins, Paul Driessen and Sally Cruikshank.
The m.o. of the best pre-Code cartoons, especially those by Fleischer, is "anything can happen - and there doesn't have to be a reason." Besides Fleischer, who truly produced films for the ages, Walter Lantz, Van Beuren and the transplanted New Yorkers at the Charles Mintz studio number among the most egregious exponents of this cartoonmaking philosophy.
When Disney became supreme, draftsmanship and continuity in animation improved dramatically, but the phenomenon of "anything, I mean, anything, for a laugh - and besides, this is a freakin' cartoon", unfortunately, fell by the wayside. Again, it took Tex Avery and Frank Tashlin becoming Looney Tunes directors, soon followed by Bob Clampett, to challenge the gospel according to Disney. But, save a brief mid-1940's blast by the aforementioned directors, we would not see anything quite as uninhibited as early 1930's animation until the heydey of Ernie Kovacs and Monty Python decades later.
My favorite moment in The Hash Shop:
Oswald is a waiter in a restuarant. A loud customer asks "HOW'S YOUR LIVER?" Oswald nonchalantly pulls up his skin to reveal a little organ flopping around, pauses, and then answers "OK" in 1930 de rigueur cartoon character falsetto.
Saturday Night Live, MAD TV - eat your hearts out!
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Considering that my last post was on the topic of "voting for your creep" (something we'll be doing soon enough), this campaign mailer featuring Horror Host Mr. Lobo - our master of ceremonies for Saturday night's Lobotronic Film Festival - is certainly apropo. At this point, I would take the Monster Party, the Halloween Party, or for that matter The Silly Party over the GOP or Demos in a heartbeat.
Mr. Lobo, "your horror host" of the syndicated program Cinema Insomnia will bring his unrelenting panache, and presumably a necktie once worn by the great "Creature Features" host Bob Wilkins. And I will be crushed if the supporting cast does not include the lovely Queen Of Trash.
Still don't know what room I'm going to bring my ale-addled countenance, Nixon-era vintage 16mm projectors and 1930's-1950's film clips into on Saturday night at the DoubleTree Hotel. All I know is the show starts at 11:00 p.m. Stay tuned.
Monday, October 02, 2006
The Swift Boat Veterans For Truth added yet another hard-hitting attack ad to their election arsenal. The latest alleges that John Kerry was not only "unfit for command" and loathed by his comrades in war, but brazenly listened to provocative materials throughout his Vietnam service.
The ad presents grainy black and white photos of a battery-powered cassette player - a newfangled contraption in the late 1960's - accompanied by two cassettes, one labeled. "Now if you zoom in real close on the labeled cassette," Swift Boat spokesman Richard O'Neill Corsi Rove claims, "you'll see the ugly, disgusting truth, which is crystal clear."
"I Enjoy Being A Girl" by Eartha Kitt
"The proof is in the proverbial perverted pudding," Rove charges, "John Kerry was listening to ‘I Enjoy Being A Girl’ in the Mekong Delta! Only a subversive, a traitor would listen to Eartha Kitt while shirking his patriotic duty and merely being struck by shrapnel and rice fragments. Do you want such scandalous, un-American behavior from your Commander-In-Chief?"
Why was this never disclosed to the public? "As a matter of fact", Rove adds, "the F.B.I. knew all about this in 1969, but the liberal president, Richard M. Nixon, suppressed the information." Sources close to the F.B.I., however, insist that the order came from the agency director.
Hoover, it turns out, was quite the fan of "I Enjoy Being A Girl", even owned a pristine vinyl pressing of Nancy Kwan's rendition of the ditty from Flower Drum Song.
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Is there anything I'd love to show but can't locate a 16mm print of? (pregnant pause)
- Service With A Smile, the 1934 Vitaphone short with Leon Errol as the proud proprietor of a gas station staffed by showgirls.
- A Pair Of French Heels, a Paramount one-reeler which is the closest thing to - imagine this - "Mr. Mike" O'Donoghue and/or National Lampoon making a comedy short in 1931. In this lovefest, boxers-turned-comedians Mitchell & Durant make Shemp-era Three Stooges look like Noel Coward. . . The film's co-called "plot" stops arbitrarily so Mitchell & Durant can - for no apparent reason - pound the living daylights out of each other. And, Noel Coward fans take note, the "butt-kicking at the society party" bit is a. . . er. . . classic.
There will be descriptions of more gems we'd like to find from underneath the ragged fingernails of popular culture in future posts.
Friday, September 29, 2006
So WTF will I be talking about here in my impassioned yet infrequent posts? I am obsessed with comedy in all forms, what's funny, what isn't, why and what other folks have to say about it. I really believe that good animation executed with flair, standup comedy, sketch comedy and slapstick are indeed (shudder) art forms - yes, ART on the highest level. Don't believe it? Watch a 1920's Harold Lloyd flick and then sit through some groaning melodrama from the same period. Harold still KICKS ASS, while the melodrama remains pertinent as history, but too dated to retain its entertainment value.
I will periodically jabber on about music, just about all from the pre-MTV era, those halcyon days before marketing came first and music came second. All those with great enthusiasm for jazz - not that wussy easy listening or inoffensive "quiet storm" stuff, but good modernist blasts and the hard swinging sounds of guys like Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Charles Mingus and Art Blakey - will be most welcome here. I also love the obvious towering figures - Armstrong, Ellington, Parker, Monk, Coltrane - and enduringly classic swingin' singers like Sinatra (late 1950's and early Reprise period), Cole, Ella and Torme. Other kinds of music, whether lesser-known r&b and reggae/ska/dub artists, 1960's-1970's blues/rock guitar heroes and the pop songcraft of George Gershwin, Burt Bacharach, Brian Wilson and The Beatles, will make occasional appearances.
Another one of my obsessions is the movie musical, whether a Busby Berkeley surrealism-and-cheesecake fest, a big budget Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly extravaganza, a 1933 Vitaphone short starring inspired African-American entertainers (who, in these cases, often never appeared in a film before or since), Soundies from the 40's or mid-1960's Scopitones, crammed with bee-hived bikinied dancers, supporting the inimitable Debbie Reynolds as she belts out her Las Vegas floor show version of "If I Had A Hammer."
There will also be posts on the topic of "bad movies we love", those train wrecks we just can't avoid looking at. And bad but entertaining cartoons from long, long ago.