Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year 2017 From Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog



Happy New Year (and Sappy New Year) to all from George & Gracie and the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog! After all, it's already 2017 in some parts of the world!

Happy New Year Cartoon Text w/Confetti Flyer Design

We join Last Week Tonight's Jon Oliver and many more around the world in sending wretched 2016 away with a well-earned and much deserved middle finger, between several rousing rounds of f-bombs.



Of course, we must ring out the old year with some laughs. Here are two of this blogmeister's favorite standup comedy clips. Take it, Mitch Hedberg and Louis CK!





Then let's follow that with a few rounds of Auld Langsyne, performed by guitar virtuosos Tommy Emmanuel and Duck Baker.



While bidding this rotten year "good riddance", don't forget, once one has quaffed a few belts - or many - there is no such thing as an expensive cab ride.



Since it's darn cold here in upstate New York, Madame Blogmeister and I plan to stay home, stay warm and ring in the New Year with some cool Myrna Loy flicks!









To all of you, Cheers and Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016 From Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog



Here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we are tickled to have made it through another year. Feel very lucky in many ways, even if we did not receive one of those exclusive invites to time travel over to Harold Lloyd and Mildred Davis Lloyd's house for a festive Christmas party.



Or find that Clara Bow in a Santa outfit is soon to arrive bringing plenty of good cheer - which we can always use - from the next world.



Prompted by a thoughtful Christmas season post he read on social media, Your Correspondent notes a few important things as the holidays commence and traipse, sometimes stumbling, towards New Year's Day. To paraphrase said post:



It is important to remember that not everyone is looking forward to Christmas. Not everyone is lucky enough to be surrounded by wonderful families and friends.



Many have no one to spend these times with and are besieged by loneliness. Others face the holidays out of work, stone broke, wondering how they will make ends meet in the new year and worried about the future.



In all families, there are times of feeling overcome with great sadness when remembering loved ones who are not with us.



This can be particularly difficult when the first Christmas without a particular loved one takes place and especially for those who lost family members and friends at Christmas time.



We all need caring, loving thoughts right now.



If possible, give a moment of support to anyone struggling with family/relationship problems, health struggles, job issues, financial woes, chronic physical pain and worries of any kind. Let 'em know that someone cares.



Extend a kind word or gesture.



Remember those in need and do what you can.



A shared laugh is good, too.



And with that, Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog wishes all a Merry Christmas and completes this post with a few apropo and inevitable Yuletide film clips.
















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Saturday, December 17, 2016

And This Blog, For Inexplicable Reasons, Loves The Charles Mintz/Screen Gems Studio: Part 3



Today's topic will be, explored in no discernible order, what happened with the Charles Mintz/Screen Gems/Columbia Pictures cartoons in the latter 1930's. First and foremost, just a few days ago, on December 15, animation historian, writer and educator Steve Stanchfield posted an article - complete with some very cool model sheets - on Jerry Beck's Cartoon Research website about the Charles Mintz Studio's most well-known cartoon, its adaptation of the tragic Hans Christian Anderson story Little Match Girl. Previously adapted in 1928 by Jean Renoir, the heart-rending tale of an abandoned child selling matches in sub-freezing temperatures on city streets - Paris in Renoir's version, NYC in the Columbia Color Rhapsodies rendition - makes for a highly dramatic, skillfully handled and in some respects shocking animated film. It was nominated for an Academy Award and lost to Disney's epic The Old Mill.



Part Disney Cute in a pure fantasy realm, part stark and brutal Depression era melodrama, Little Match Girl delivers the story with great effectiveness. It isn't 100% successful - the protagonist's delirious dream sequence suffers from a preponderance of the same apple-y cheeked cutesy character designs that marred previous Columbia Color Rhapsody cartoons (A Boy & His Dog, Air Hostess) - "cherub overload" - but the denouement packs quite a dramatic punch. As Little Match Girl may be the single saddest cartoon ever made, one would hope for 1937 movie audiences that this was co-billed with one of Columbia's lighthearted screwball comedies, such as The Awful Truth.

The Krazy Kat and Scrappy series lurched along, albeit less felicitously as they did in pre-Code 1930-1933.



There would be such occasional flashes of inspiration and wild imagination as The Merry Cafe, The Auto Clinic (Krazy's shop is staffed by robots) and Krazy's Race Of Time, a spoof of The March Of Time newsreels set in a utopian future. Some of this cartoon would get spun off into one of the best of the Mintz Studio's late 1930's B&W efforts, Scrappy's Trip To Mars.



The Ben Harrison & Manny Gould crew's musical take on the otherworldly comic strip universe of George Herriman's Krazy Kat, Lil Anjil remains a very admirable effort.



In 1936, an additional producer to Mintz/Screen Gems, the Santa Monica studio led by the guy who darn near animated the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, Plane Crazy, singlehandedly, Ub Iwerks, began producing Color Rhapsody cartoons for Columbia release at his Santa Monica studio.

While the Ub Iwerks studio's Columbias are a mixed bag and can be rather repetitive, the one of every three cartoons that demonstrate inspiration invariably prove memorable and striking.

Some, particularly the art deco spin on Astaire & Rogers and the frequent Columbia Color Rhapsodies "let's have a parade" genre, complete with singing mannequin heads Merry Mannequins and the psychedelic Horse On The Merry-Go-Round rank among the most imaginative of all the Color Rhapsodies cartoons.





Eight decades later, there are still some animation history related mysteries regarding who specifically made these cartoons. Key Iwerks studio animators Berny Wolf, Shamus Culhane, Al Eugster and Grim Natwick had already, like Dick Huemer, left to work for Disney - and especially who designed the stunning layouts and background art. Historian and animator Mark Kausler identified the remarkable dancin' gangster frog sequence in the highly entertaining Iwerks studio Color Rhapsody The Frog Pond to this blogmeister as animated by the great Irv Spence, later known for his fine work on Hanna & Barbera's Tom and Jerry cartoons.



After making Columbia Color Rhapsodies for three years, Ub Iwerks, very likely more interested in developing new inventions than in producing or directing cartoons, closed his studio and returned to Disney. As he pioneered personality animation and motion design brilliantly in 1927-1929, Ub would spend the new three decades developing the next generation of special effects, matte processes and optical printing. Again, the Disney Studio would benefit tremendously from the innovations of Iwerks, who would be joined in the special effects department in 1947 by the formidable Peter Ellenshaw. For more about Disney's special effects department, read what Walt Disney Studios historian Jim Korkis' article, The Ub Iwerks Story, Part 2.

Charles Mintz died in 1939 and George Winkler stayed on for the Screen Gems Studio as de facto producer, and, while it was still the Ben Harrison and Manny Gould unit producing many of the B&W cartoons, the quality, for some reason, start plummeting dramatically in the 1938-1939 season. The B&W cartoons - Scrappy and Krazy Kat, plus the Columbia Fables and Columbia Phantasies series (added in 1939-1940), with a few exceptions, hit rock bottom. At least a few cartoons from this series, such as Farmer Tom Thumb, released in 1940, are pleasant.



The 1940-1941 season of Screen Gems cartoons runs the gamut from such masterpieces as The Mad Hatter and Red Riding Hood Rides Again to the not scintillating last gasps of Krazy Kat and Scrappy in the Columbia Fables and Phantasies series.

Those B&W Columbias with the screen credits "Story: Allen Rose, Animation: Harry Love & Louie Lilly", such as Dumb Like A Fox and It Happened To Caruso, are not the worst in the checkered history of Columbia Pictures Cartoons - those directed by Alec Geiss a couple of years later (Nursery Crimes, Duty & The Beast, Tangled Travels) would represent the nadir and earn that booby prize - but quite a few are only made watchable by the voice work of Mel Blanc, at that time working for all the animation studios as well as radio.

In a few B&W Columbia cartoons from the early 1940's, Sid Marcus' idiosyncratic gag mind, topical WW2 jokes and the aforementioned Mel Blanc's voice work enliven the proceedings.




Generally, both the color and B&W cartoons from this era produced by Sid Marcus and Art Davis are a funnier and more lively group than those made by the other production units. The Greyhound & The Rabbit is jam-packed with patented Marcus sight gags (note: it would appear there are no existing Technicolor 35mm prints - well, none that anyone has found, yet - of this cartoon). This YouTube transfer is from one of the B&W television 16mm prints, very likely originally struck to run as filler on The Ruff & Ready Show.

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The sheer weirdness, to go with the wackiness, of those very spotty spot gag cartoons produced by Sid Marcus and Art Davis can be a mitigating factor in some cases. Radio quiz show spoof The Cuckoo I.Q. is one of those fascinating train wrecks, aiming for an incredulous ??????? response.



In Tangled Television, there's a blend of Futurism (seen in such previous Mintz studio cartoons as The Great Experiment, Krazy's Race Of Time and Scrappy's Trip To Mars) and cheesy spot gags. It's in bad taste - no, make that VERY BAD TASTE - but also delivers periodic amazing moments - such as that abstract art animation inside the newfangled TV sets and trademark Sid Marcus weird jokes and character designs. In 1953, MGM cartoon director Tex Avery would go to town with a similar concept/storyline in his classic TV Of Tomorrow.



If any single cartoon is the summation of what the Charles Mintz/Screen Gems Studio is all about, it's The Mad Hatter (1940). The first half of The Mad Hatter presents a "day in the life of a working girl" documentary spoof, the second half a completely and gloriously unhinged narrative about a hat shop staffed by raving loons. The ending is one for the books. It could be considered gagman Sid Marcus' statement, even though he did write the storyboards for a gazillion cartoons over several decades, first in a return to Screen Gems in the mid-1940's, then on to WB, Walter Lantz, DePatie Freleng and more.



The Color Rhapsodies series very, very rarely found this weird original territory, midway between the Fleischer and late 1930's Warner Bros styles of animation; too frequently, the Columbia Color Rhapsodies try to emulate either WB or Disney and fail. That said, when the Art Davis and Sid Marcus crew succeeds, they create an original and exceptionally zany style.

There's more than a hint of what would transpire when Art Davis joined the Warner Brothers studio, where he would do stellar work as a head animator, as well as direct excellent Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies featuring the studio's flagship characters. While the following Columbia cartoon, Mr. Elephant Goes To Town, is by no means a gem, there is high level creativity and genius in Davis' animation throughout, as there would be frequently in his subsequent Warner Bros. cartoons, working with directors Frank Tashlin and Friz Freleng.



Soon the Charles Mintz Studio was no more and Davis, Marcus and for that matter everyone except new hire Frank Tashlin (a.k.a. Frank Tash, Tish Tash) were out the door. The next chapter in the studio's checkered history began when Tashlin subsequently hired his new production crew off the Disney Studio picket line, bringing John Hubley, Dave Hilberman, Zack Schwartz and others to the new Screen Gems studio.

Since there were no conventional "stars" in Mintz Studio cartoons, it is extremely unlikely that Scrappy, Krazy Kat and the subsequent Screen Gems cartoons will get an official Blu-ray or DVD release, as their successors produced for Columbia release by UPA (United Productions Of America) - which at least had Mr. Magoo, Gerald McBoing Boing and a bunch of Oscars and Oscar nominations to their credit - did a couple of years ago. Hopes that perhaps there could at least be a retrospective Blu-ray featuring a selection of Mintz, Screen Gems and UPA theatrical cartoons ranging from 1929 to 1956 are dim. The Charles Mintz Studio and Iwerks Color Rhapsody cartoons are also owned by Sony Pictures, which appears to not have any interest in doing Warner Archive style DVD releases with their cartoon catalog. Too bad, as there are treasures nestled deep within the backlog of Columbia Studios cartoons.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

And This Blog, For Inexplicable Reasons, Loves The Charles Mintz/Screen Gems Studio: Part 2

Note - And This Blog, For Inexplicable Reasons, Loves The Charles Mintz Studio: Part 1 posted awhile back, in September.



Continuing the tale of the misbegotten and much maligned Charles Mintz Studio, a.k.a. the Screen Gems cartoon studio, today's post commences with changes that shook the animation industry to its foundations in the mid-1930's.

For the first half of the decade, the Mintz studio had been producing wonderfully weird and oddly inventive cartoons, released in two series, Scrappy (created by Dick Huemer, Sid Marcus and Art Davis) and Krazy Kat (made by Ben Harrison and Manny Gould).





To some degree that would all change. Must begin with the events that led up to what would happen not just at the Mintz Studio, but throughout the business.



This started in 1932, when the Walt Disney Studio, celebrated for Mickey Mouse cartoons, began producing Silly Symphony cartoons in glorious 3-strip Technicolor. The Silly Symphonies had taken the moviegoing public by storm as the country was getting hammered by the ultimate storm - the Great Depression.

The Silly Symphonies are lively, action-packed, musical, dramatic and exceptionally beautiful in Technicolor.



The following short clip from the second color Silly Symphony, Babes In the Woods, indicates how advanced the animation, design and overall concept was. At this early stage, there's still a touch of that foreboding Grimm's Fairy Tales quality. A few years later, with more musicality and Chaplin-esque humor based in nuanced personality animation, this would be a cornerstone of the studio's epic Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs as well.



With the release of Flowers & Trees in 1932, the series was something of a sensation.



How successful were Disney's Silly Symphonies and the specific cartoon The Three Little Pigs in cheering up a Great Depression-devastated country?



Comic Leon Errol's drunken philandering skirt-chaser character (seen here with future co-star Lupe Velez) starred in a Paramount short subject titled Three Little Swigs!




What these Disney box-office successes meant to the rest of the cartoon biz was straightforward: emulate these runaway hits as much as possible.



Soon, EVERYBODY was making them - especially after Disney's hit version of The Tortoise & The Hare - and attempting to succeed within the Silly Symphony formula. So when the entire animation biz transitioned to making color cartoons to compete with Disney's Silly Symphonies, it was not a positive development in general for Cartoonland. This was fantastic for the Disney studio, at that point well on the fast track leading to the production of Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs, and eventually to produce the epic Silly Symphony cartoon The Old Mill - but not so great for the competition. Disney could pull it off; the competition could only play catch up. Look no further than writer Devon Baxter's detailed breakdown of the 1935 Silly Symphony Music Land as an illustration of why, no matter how hard everyone else in the cartoon business tried, the Disney studio remained several steps ahead of them.

While there's the occasional entry from MGM's "Happy Harmonies" (specifically, those starring Hugh Harman's frog sendups of African-American entertainers) and the = Fleischer Studio's "Color Classics" series which hold on to what was original and wonderful about these studios' cartoons, but it tended to mean surrender for everyone and a plethora of low-rent (or in the case of Harman-Ising high-rent) Disney knockoffs - as many genuinely talented artists as these studios employed.

The Van Beuren cartoon studio, New York based producers of the low-budget but funny and saucy Aesop's Fables, Tom & Jerry, Little King and Cubby Bear series, went as far as to hire the guy who directed Three Little Pigs, Burt Gillett, away from Disney to little avail - after all, Burt didn't bring directors Wilfred Jackson and David Hand, plus All-Star animators Fred Moore, Norm Ferguson, Bill Tytla, Ham Luske, and most of all, the always driven Walt, along with him.



The Fleischer Studio produced Color Classics.



The Walter Lantz studio started making Cartune Classics.



There were the often lavish, budget-busting Happy Harmonies cartoons by former Disney cohorts turned independent producers (first for Warner Brothers, then for MGM) Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising. While New Rochelle's Terrytoons studio opted not to transition to color until later in the decade, the Charles Mintz/Screen Gems began making color cartoons in 1934; its contribution to the faux-Silly Symphony genre was the Color Rhapsodies.


The Columbia Color Rhapsodies series debuted with a toned-down and boyish version of the usually misanthropic Scrappy in Holiday Land.



The animation and background art in Holiday Land and other 1934-1935 Columbia Color Rhapsodies are often quite good, even if one wishes - as is also the case, to a lesser extent, with the Max Fleischer Color Classics - that just a touch of the Mintz studio's trademark weirdness would show up and enliven the proceedings.





In the "let's ape Disney" sweepstakes, the Color Rhapsodies continue through the 1930's with a slew of cartoons starring little boy characters - alas, not Scrappy or his sassy little brother Oopy, A.K.A. Vontzy.




Unlike both Scrappy and Oopy (star of the hilarious 1932 "spiked lemonade" cartoon FARE PLAY), the cherubic headliners of Columbia Color Rhapsody cartoons make the Leon Schlesinger studio's less-than-scintillating Looney Tunes star Buddy look like Mr. Excitement.

The series continues through the 1930's and, while quite hit-or-miss overall, the artwork and layout/color design are often quite pleasing. While there is no virtuoso personality animation a la Disney, the Color Rhapsodies can feature creative shot-to-shot transitions, framing and some nifty Z-axis movement.



The Color Rhapsodies tended to do three things: parades and remakes of both Disney's Silly Symphony The Cookie Carnival and the Rudy Ising Merrie Melodie The Shanty Where Santa Claus Lives. In such cartoons as The Bon Bon Parade and Gifts From The Air they would combine both, and throw in some Hollywood caricatures for good measure.



The Harrison & Gould crew did contribute one of the very best Columbia Color Rhapsodies, Let's Go, to that 1930's sub-genre of "let's beat that Great Depression, gosh darn it, with sheer American can-do spirit" . . . which leads, you guessed it, to a parade. Effective in delivering its message, it's right there with the Walter Lantz Studio's Confidence, in which Oswald The Lucky Rabbit defeats the Depression and Harman-Ising's MGM Happy Harmonies cartoon, Hey Hey Fever, in which Bosko solves poverty, destitution, hunger and misery in Mother Goose Land with happy, peppy and bursting with love music and golly gosh gee whiz spunk. These cartoons offer endearing and upbeat entertainment with the power to cheer flagging spirits even today, all these decades later, provided one can let go of just a little of that snarky post-modernist 21st century wise-ass cynicism.



Now how did the attempted Disney-ization of the Columbia Color Rhapsodies affect The Mintz Studio and its flagship black & white series?



Well, for at least a little while, not terribly, In the mid-1930's, there were still some pretty remarkable cartoons emerging from both the Marcus & Davis and Harrison & Gould production crews.

This futuristic 1934 Scrappy cartoon, The Great Experiment, takes place in 1990, starting at 3:25.



The Krazy Kat series, no stranger to social commentary in such cartoons as Lambs Will Gambol, Disarmament Conference and Prosperity Blues, came up with another classic with The Peace Conference (1935).



The Hot-cha Melody, in which Krazy Kat, a Tin Pan Alley songwriter seduced by Beelzebub himself into plagiarism, ends up haunted by the ghost of Robert Schumann, is another winner.



It would appear that Sid Marcus and Art Davis, supported by a talented staff that at one point included the brilliant animator Emery Hawkins, clearly wanted desperately to hold onto at least some of the trademark bizarreness surrounding Scrappy as the 1930's progressed.



Key to the difficulty in doing this was the departure of director-head animator Dick Huemer from the Scrappy crew to Disney, where he would immediately contribute rather amazing animation to such 1933-1934 cartoons as Lullaby Land.

The following year, Huemer would animate most of the equally amazing scenes of Donald Duck in The Band Concert.



Huemer (seated on the right) subsequently teamed up with Joe Grant to become a key story contributor at Disney's for decades.





Dick Huemer would join his friend and former colleague from Fleischer Studios, Ted Sears, as a creative force in Walt's story department.

Meanwhile, going on without Huemer, the Sid Marcus and Art Davis production crew tried their best to keep that otherworldly quality and unfettered imagination in the Scrappy series, thanks in no small part to the mindbogglingly creative animation and framing of action by Davis. Some Scrappy cartoons, such as the second half of Let's Ring Doorbells and all of The Puppet Murder Case (1935), are every bit as sick-sick-sick as such first season episodes such as The Dog Snatcher and The Chinatown Mystery.



Like such brawling Fleischer Popeyes as Can You Take It, these hallucinogenic Scrappy adventures can even be a bit startling to audiences today expecting harmless cartoon fun. One would think the twisted tone of Scrappy cartoons must have been a shock to the children in movie audiences of the 1930's, but what the heck - who knows?





In Scrappy's Color Rhapsodies series, he is toned down into a nice little boy as opposed to the a-hole we see in many of the early episodes and The Puppet Murder Case. It's tough to endorse this change!



For awhile, the Ben Harrison and Manny Gould Krazy Kat crew took over the Scrappy series while Marcus and Davis were making Barney Google cartoons in 1935-1936 - in some cases with very good results.



There were also not-so-good results, such as the sugary sweet, downright treacly Dr. Bluebird, reflective of the unbearably cutesy stuff that would emerge from the Color Rhapsodies series in the last half of the 1930's.



Then again, a few Color Rhapsody cartoons starring the kinder, gentler version of Scrappy, such as this one made by Marcus & Davis, In My Gondola (1936), manage to come up with a Columbia style oddball spin on "Disney cute" and actually succeed in a very entertaining way.



Generally, the Mintz wheelhouse tended to be cartoons featuring Hollywood star and radio star caricatures. This dated back to a great number of movie star spoof cartoons from earlier in the decade. Such caricature cartoons were nothing new to the animators at Mintz. Movie star caricatures had been a staple of both the Krazy Kat and Scrappy series (the aforementioned SEEING STARS and THE WORLD'S AFFAIR, SCRAPPY'S PARTY, MOVIE STRUCK, etc.). They became a sub-genre of the Columbia Rhapsodies and were among the funniest films in the 10 year run. The caricatures also turn up frequently out of nowhere when the storylines hit a lull. The movie and radio star impersonations were not always stellar, since the in-demand caricaturist T. Hee appeared to be on a shuttle bus between Warner Brothers and Disney, making tremendous cartoons - The Coo-coonut Grove and Mother Goose Goes Hollywood would be two - at both studios, but there is a certain spirit and likability to these Columbia cartoons as well.









There was one exception to Cartoondom's "let's be Disney Lite" trend, a little island within one puryevor of cartoon fun, actually physically separate from the rest of the studio, that outpost in the Schlesinger-Warner Bros. studio led by Tex Avery and known as Termite Terrace. While the B&W Looney Tunes directed by Bob Clampett in the late 1930's would not be equalled, let alone surpassed, by the Columbia Color Rhapsodies, WB cartoons did give Sid Marcus and Art Davis to go-ahead to be. . . well, a little wackier and more true to themselves. More on that in Part 3. . .

Sunday, December 04, 2016

The Wonder Of 1950's Technology #129: Motels





Presenting a KFJC Psychotronix Film Fest is tons of fun, but also tons of effort. That means fatigue and a bit of sleep deprivation the next day, so Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog's post for this weekend, December 2-4, 2016 is mostly a desperate attempt to figure out what the heck to write about today.



Like it or not, may end up traveling in 2016-2017, possibly even taking a road trip. Yes, we'll be on the road, not quite with the savoir faire of Willie Nelson and more like Jack E. Leonard than Jack Kerouac.



Looks like it will be time to "get your kicks on Route 66."



And with the full understanding that such an expedition would be six decades after the fact!




As far as roadside motels go, here's one that looks promising!



I like this motel because it has air conditioning! Such a deal!



Now if your name happens to be Janet Leigh, for cryin' out loud, don't let your cheapskate narc husband sell you on that all-expenses-paid Honeymoon In Mexico.



Make no mistake about it, those accommodations can leave something to be desired!



Also, while engaged in business travel, think twice about pulling off the road here, even if it is a genuine motel.



Far less dilapidated and more interesting: the Peter Pan Motor Lodge in Anaheim, CA. This blogger, always interested in vintage signage, remains a sucker for cartoon characters used to sell products entirely and laughably unrelated to their adventures onscreen. I hope the lodge didn't hire an out-of-work actor to wear a Peter Pan getup while taking reservations.



There actually has been a website on the San Jose State University faculty page, penned by Andrew and Jenny Wood, not All About Eve but all about lodgings. It's called Motel Americana and was established in 1995. After finding out if the motels mentioned actually still exist - Best Western or Worst Western - one might plan a potential road trip, the ol' jalopy and not that robust physical constitution willing.



Should, once profoundly gripped by wanderlust, this weary traveler somehow find himself in beautiful Fairbanks, Alaska - by golly, there's always Skinny Dick's Half Way Inn. . .



One will find some very cool stuff about Roadside America throughout the Motel Americana website, but, alas, not any of Frank Zappa's 200 Motels.