Sunday, June 20, 2021

Cool Events Next Weekend: Psychotronix Film Festival, Cartoon Carnival and Charlie Chaplin Days

We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog are happy to hear that the Psychotronix Film Festival shall return this Saturday evening to the Orinda Theatre.

Happy to see my old friends and collaborators emerging from this extended coronavirus and lockdown-related hiatus to carry on their excellent work providing great entertainment, but NOT happy that I will not be there in person.

Feels like I have not been involved in a Psychotronix Film Festival for a decade, although I never miss hearing Psychotronix co-founder Robert Emmett work his movie and TV soundtrack mojo every Saturday morning on KFJC.

There will be a selection of hand-picked psychotronic goodness, on glorious 16mm film, from the Sci Fi Bob and Scott Moon/Cinema Insomnia Archives!

Yes, straight from Derek Zemrak's retro movie mecca in Orinda, California, there will be trailers from Z movies (starring non-union actors in cheap robot, gorilla and "thunder lizard" suits), theatre snack bar ads, weird cartoons, well-meaning but inept 1950's educational films, Soundies, Scopitones and more. . .

Love seeing how audiences respond to such vintage TV ads as the following. . .

Bums me out that I won't be in Orinda to bring vintage 1950's car commercials to the show! Surely, somebody out there finds TV commercials for the Rambler, Hudson Hornet and Mercury Comet as entertaining as I do.

Psychotronix Film Festival
Saturday June 26, 2021 at 7:00 p.m. PST
Orinda Theatre
2 Orinda Theatre Square
Orinda, CA 94563
Movieline: (925) 254-9060

As one of the trifecta of founders of the festival (along with Sci Fi Bob Ekman and Robert Emmett), I hope this show is a big hit with an SRO crowd - like so many of those Foothill College extravaganzas.

In Brooklyn, across the country from my Psychotronix Film Festival friends but also presenting classic movies in glorious 16mm film for an audience will be our friends at the Tommy Stathes Cartoon Carnival.

Here, Tommy elaborates on his love of animation.

On Sunday, June 27th, 2021, the 95th installment of the animation extravaganza, presented and curated by Cartoons On Film, returns to the City Reliquary on 370 Metropolitan Avenue.

This will be the Tommy Stathes Cartoon Carnival's first non-online screening since February 2020.

Showtime is 8:00 p.m. EST. Show tix are $15 and are can be purchased in advance here.

Cartoon Carnival #95: Come On Out!
Quoting the press release for Cartoon Carnival #95:

It's the moment we've all been waiting over a year for: the big return of 16mm (no digital!) animated cartoons from the 1920s to the 1940s, straight from the Stathes Archives—screened *in person* at a beloved venue—The City Reliquary's lovely backyard, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn!

For program #95, our nearly two hours of animated fun shine the spotlight on that which many of us have sorely missed over the past year: going places, and being out on the town with friends and crowds.

The selection of shorts features a wide array of Cartoon Carnival favorites... from silent era superstars Bobby Bumps, Farmer Alfalfa, Koko the Clown, and Felix; to the Van Beuren Studios' Tom & Jerry (not the cat and mouse!) and Molly Moo Cow; then onward with Krazy Kat, Buddy, Egghead, and even Gumby—plus a few other oddities and surprises mixed in, as always.

In acknowledgement of Pride Month, we're also selecting a couple of 1930s shorts with brief cameos from queer-coded characters, whom we lovingly reclaim as part of our LGBTQIA+ inclusive Cartoon Carnival family.

Be sure to bring all your family and friends out for this much-anticipated opportunity to see these classic and now-rare cartoons the way they were meant to be seen—projected on 'reel' film, and enjoyed with a physical audience!

There is a GoFundMe campaign to relaunch both the online version of the Cartoon Carnival, and a series of animation screenings, in the near future. Stay t00ned! For more info, see and Cartoons On Film.

Happening on Friday through Sunday (June 25-27): the 2021 edition of Charlie Chaplin Days presented by the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

This year's event, an online version of the annual weekend of presentations on the iconic comedian's life and career, corresponds with the 100th anniversary of the Chaplin classic, The Kid.

Charlie Chaplin Days spotlights all five films that Charlie made for the Essanay Studio in Niles in 1915 (A Night Out, The Champion, In The Park, A Jitney Elopement and The Tramp, in which he firmly established his "little tramp" character), as well as Charlie's First National Studio films Sunnyside, A Day's Pleasure and The Idle Class.

There will be a Zoom discussion of the 1914 Mack Sennett feature Tillie's Punctured Romance (co-starring Charlie with Marie Dressler, Mabel Normand and the Keystone stock company) and presentations by actor and Chaplin doppelganger Jason Allin, movie locations expert John Bengtson, Sarah Biegelsen, Nigel Dreiner, Dan Kamin (author of The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin: Artistry in Motion), Hooman Mehran and Lisa Stein Haven, as well as a Whiz Bang Talent Show, Trivia Quiz, Lookalike Contest and Goodtime Hour.

Links to the films and presentations for Charlie Chaplin Days 2021 will become active at 12:01am on each day of the weekend.

Friday, June 11, 2021

And This Blog Loves Gene Wilder, Born on This Day

While there are lots and lots of 20th century luminaries born on June 11 - jazz great Shelly Manne comes to mind - can't think of any we love more than the superb actor-writer-director Gene Wilder.

First became aware of Gene by seeing Mel Brooks' The Producers on TV - and via the following scene in particular.

And his role as The Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles.

He shined in and co-wrote Mel's subsequent film, Young Frankenstein. Along with Blazing Saddles and Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Young Frankenstein represented the new frontier in silver screen comedy.

Of the films written and directed by Gene Wilder, The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother, featuring fellow co-stars from Mel Brooks movies Marty Feldman and the brilliant musical comedienne Madeline Kahn, remains a standout. Wilder's films have a whimsical flavor different from the Brooks movies.

Gene's 1977 film The World's Greatest Lover features another outstanding comedienne, Carol Kane.

The scariest thing about Haunted Honeymoon, Wilder's 1986 spoof of The Old Dark House and the many variants on the haunted house genre, is Dom DeLuise in drag, but at least the outstanding comedienne Gene married, Gilda Radner from Second City Toronto and Saturday Night Live, also appears in this goofy Gothic piece.

Sadly, Gilda was stricken by cancer, so she and Gene did not get to do a series of movies exploring different genres together.

Gene and Richard Pryor co-starred in a series of movies, all quite funny. Silver Streak and Stir Crazy are comedy gold.

Here, Gene recalls Richard's talent for improv and acting skill drove their work together.

Looking back, wonder how much better the Pryor-Wilder starring vehicles would have been had Gene and Richard also collaborated, not just on improvising dialogue, but on writing the screenplays.

Gene granted several interviews in his later years.

At Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we could not agree more strongly with Gene's frequent collaborator Mel Brooks. . . WE MISS GENE! And Gilda. . . and Madeline. . . and Richard. . . and Marty. . . and Dom.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Niles Fundraising Social on Sunday

Blogging, A.K.A. partying like it’s 1999 means plugging upcoming events and, lo and behold, the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum a.k.a. NESFM has an excellent one scheduled tomorrow at noon PST, 3:00 p.m. EST.

Direct from the parking lot of the NESFM, there will be an event highlighting the ongoing renovations to the museum and Edison Theater and the unveiling of an architectural model of the building as it will look when the current work is finished. All online donations made between now and June 6 will go to the building renovation fund.

As museum members, the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog are happy as could be to chip in to the fundraiser - although it's a bummer we can't be there physically and then grab a sandwich at Broncho Billy's Pizza later.

NESFM's David Kiehn, historian, author of Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company and prime mover behind the museum's activities and programs, has been directly involved in amazing discoveries. Here, David elaborates on his detective work which located historic 1906 pre and post San Francisco earthquake footage shot by pioneering filmmakers the Miles brothers.

The museum's Zack Sutherland has produced the following promotional video for tomorrow's fundraiser.

Quoting the official press release:
For the first time in well over a year we're hosting a live...yes, live social distanced fundraising social for our museum in the parking lot.

  For those of you who don't know yet, our landlord, Victoria (Vicky) Lopez passed away in late 2019. She lived a good long life and was kind enough to donate the property to our non-profit organization for which we will be eternally grateful.

  With ownership also comes the responsibility for maintaining a 108 year-old building and the need to do major upgrades to the foundation, plumbing, electrical, and other tasks. We are also refurbishing the auditorium and bringing it back to its authentic heyday when it was a silent film theater from 1913 to 1923.  

Your generosity will surely make our museum one of the crown jewels of the Bay Area.

NESFM's Saturday show host and newseditor Michael Bonham presents the vintage pre-1910 movie cameras on the premises with the author of Aviators In Early Hollywood, Shawna Kelly.

While it feels like we have not been to the museum for a decade, it turns out Madame Blogmeister and I last visited Niles on February 9, 2020. In the following 2018 YouTube video tour of the Historic Niles District, this blogger's much-missed now non-operational a.k.a. DEAD car can be seen parked in front of the museum (it's the silver sedan). Very much hope to return to enjoy a night (or two, or three) at the movies in the Edison Theater when it re-opens!

One can donate online by clicking here or go old school via snail mail and send a check to Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, 37417 Niles Boulevard, Fremont, CA 94536.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Celebrating Memorial Day Weekend 2021

While Memorial Day can be a somber occasion, paying tribute to those who lost their lives at the front, Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog shall go the non-somber route and spotlight vintage film humor with a Memorial Day theme.

We remember and honor those who, whether parachuting into the most remote terrain, working as military medics and EMTs in far-flung lands, hitting the beaches at Normandy or fighting for civil rights on Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge or in Neshoba County, Mississippi, gave their lives in the service of this country.

Beginning the selection of vintage film humor for Memorial Day Weekend will be World War II themed cartoons.

Many WW2 toons can be found on the Thunderbean More Cartoons For Victory DVD and Private Snafu Golden Classics Blu-ray.

Another slew of them are on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection volume 6 DVD set.

Terrytoons cranked out many "V For Victory" WW2 cartoons. One, part of a short-lived series starring Ernie Bushmiller's comic strip characters Nancy and Sluggo, zeroed in on fundraising for the USO.

There was also a series of WW2 cartoons featuring Terrytoons regulars Gandy Goose and Sourpuss, most notably Scrap For Victory, a scrap metal drive opus in which our heroes briefly appear towards the end.

Military-themed cartoons starring Gandy Goose and Sourpuss invariably include the line from Sourpuss, "what are you trying to do, kill me?" and Gandy's inevitable propensity for somnambulism and dreams.

Some Terrytoons begin with Gandy and Sourpuss in uniform, but abandon the gritty wartime reality to go off on tangents involving dreamscapes and dancing ghosts - and stay there.

The comedy team of Abbott & Costello cornered the market on military-themed comedies with Buck Privates, In The Navy, Keep 'Em Flying and Buck Privates Come Home, all of which made big buck$$$$$$$$ for Universal.

Our favorite of these is In The Navy, due to the presence of Shemp Howard, an ace comedy supporting player when not enduring frequent and enthusiastic eye pokes from his brother Moe in The Three Stooges.

As a response by 20th Century Fox to the runaway box-office success of Buck Privates, the Laurel and Hardy vehicle Great Guns, released theatrically on October 10, 1941, stars The Boys as the oldest guys ever to join the army. The team's 1940's films have their moments and by no means are bereft of laughs, but none number among their better starring vehicles.

Great Guns, which could be considered the runner-up to Jitterbugs as the funniest of the L&H Fox features, was directed by Monty Banks, former silent film comedy headliner. Perhaps Monty's A.D. should have handled direction and Banks joined the cast as an annoying pipsqueak foil to Laurel & Hardy.

One of the earliest Laurel & Hardy films, With Love And Hisses (1927), is a military comedy featuring Stan as dimwitted recruit Cuthbert Hope and Babe as his ever-exasperated sergeant. The duo had not established their characters and the relationship between them at this point in their career, so the goofball Laurel plays in With Love And Hisses is not Stanley from the Laurel & Hardy pictures but closer to the more aggressive, weird, wacky and unpredictable character seen in Stan's solo films.

And on the topic of movie comedy teams, Bert Wheeler & Robert Woolsey star in Half Shot At Sunrise (1930) as frequently AWOL World War I soldiers in Paris. Wheeler & Woolsey's prime directive is, you guessed it, chasing women! Dorothy Lee and Leni Stengel add much to the proceedings as the team's winsome and funny co-stars. In another example of his very good but lesser-known work behind the camera, Roscoe Arbuckle wrote gags and acted as an assistant director, much to the delight of Bert & Bob.

In Boobs In Arms (1940), The Three Stooges "soytenly" take the cake as . . . inept greeting card salesmen who become the worst soldiers ever.

A fitting question for Memorial Day is what's the greatest comedy film with the temerity to take on the abject horror that was World War I. Since the Century Comedy with the one, the only Alice Howell pursued by German spies for her sauerkraut recipe, The Cabbage Queen, remains a lost film, Charlie Chaplin's classic Shoulder Arms would be the choice.

Believe it or not, there were Looney Tunes cartoons set in World War I. Always liked this one, Boom Boom (1936), directed by Jack King and co-starring Beans, the character that succeeded Buddy as Looney Tunes' Mr. Excitement, with the early pre-Mel Blanc version of Porky Pig, voiced by Joe Daugherty (who stuttered in real life as well as reel life).

The following 1931 cartoon produced by Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising as part of the Looney Tunes series does a surprisingly effective job conveying the gruesomeness, violence and chaos of the battlefield. This shouldn't be that much of a shock, as Harman, Ising and Friz Freleng, as animators for the Walt Disney Studio, worked a few years earlier, along with Ub Iwerks, on a memorable (albeit much less graphic and visceral) Oswald the Lucky Rabbit silent set in World War I, Great Guns (1927).

As far as how Memorial Day differs from Veterans' Day, here's how History Channel defines it; “Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Memorial Day 2021 will occur on Monday, May 31. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971."

Staying home for this holiday and watching old movies, as travel, since not everyone is vaccinated, remains a tad dicey.

It won't be this year, but we hope there will eventually be an opportunity to fire up the barbeque, drink Belgian ales and award-winning American microbrews and hang out with friends and family; it feels like 10 years since we last did this. We'll look forward to, knock on wood, having a Memorial Day gathering again in the not-too-distant future - and remember not just the many fallen heroes, but our friends and family members who served in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Friday, May 21, 2021

I Like These Guys!

Perusing YouTube yet again while listening to swingin' Stubby Kaye's take on Sinatra, this blogmeister discovered an excerpt from a talk show hosted by Orson Welles. Had read that this was an unsold pilot, but it appears there are several episodes of Orson's talk show on YouTube.

Among the guests with Orson on this episode of his talk show is Andy Kaufman, making this a meeting between one of Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog's all-time favorite movie directors and favorite comedians. Among many pleasant surprises here, the show reveals that Welles is a very good interviewer and manages to disarm Andy.

Welles, a magician and provocateur himself, understands and respects Kaufman's derring-do as an actor, comedian and performance artist, so this the only time this writer has ever seen a talk show which offers a glimpse of Andy the person as opposed to Andy the performer. Seeing this, I feel strongly that Carson Productions missed a good bet by not booking Orson to guest host The Tonight Show.

Would love to see the rest of this show, in which the third fellow on this stage, Ron Glass from the frequently hilarious Barney Miller TV show, is interviewed. No doubt Orson appreciated the cast of terrific comic actors on that show. The following clip is from an episode of Barney Miller which never fails to have me ROFL.

Speaking of interviews, here is an amazing bit of classic television from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson

While, unfortunately, Groucho had passed by the time Late Night With David Letterman began, the appearances of the uber-verbal Marx brother with Carson and Dick Cavett are the stuff of legend.

Don't know who snapped this wonderful photo back in the 1950's, but absolutely love how all of these outstanding comedians and kings of mid-20th century showbiz were actually assembled in one place. It's the next best thing to a live-action Hirschfeld cartoon.

Speaking of kings of mid-20th century showbiz, here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, it's always Time For Beany.

Seeing that photo gets me thinking of the incomparable Daws Butler's gazillion voices, Stan Freberg's 1957 radio show, and the very funny Beany & Cecil animated cartoons. Our favorite of that series, hands-down, is The Wildman Of Wildsville (1959), starring the one, the only Lord Buckley in the title role.

In closing, the ever-swingin' Stubby Kaye will take us out. We wish everyone a good weekend!

Monday, May 17, 2021

The Hot Club Of May 16, 2021 - Live from Amsterdam

Starting the week with string swing by Robin Nolan and Jimmy Rosenberg, who presented a concert on YouTube yesterday.

As key exponents of Django's music, Robin and Jimmy have played together for years.

It's always great to hear Jimmy play and to even better see his re-emergence, at the top of his game, after an absence from the scene.

Jimmy burst upon the music world in the 1980's as a guitar prodigy who impressively mastered the entire Reinhardt/Grappelli/Hot Club of France songbook at a tender age.

We're enthusiastic swing guitar fans, so the Monday listening cue at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog will be filled with the best of the best gypsy jazz ambassadors, while also highly recommending the music of Django's friend, contemporary and fellow guitarist, Argentinian entertainer Oscar Alemán.

This group of outstanding guitar-slingers is not limited to just Robin and Jimmy, but also includes former Stephane Grappelli Quartet guitarist Martin Taylor, Julian Lage, Biréli Lagrène, Tommy Emmanuel, Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo.

We also dearly love The Rosenberg Trio - lead guitarist Stochelo Rosenberg, rhythm guitarist Nous'che Rosenberg and bassist Nonnie Rosenberg - the cousins of Jimmy.

They are outstanding.

The incomparable Django Reinhardt passed on May 16, 1953 - and would very likely be tickled by how, over 90 years after he began his musical career, the sound of The Hot Club Of France would be not just celebrated around the world, but more popular than ever.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Released Theatrically on This Day. . .

Today's post spotlights animated cartoons that were released theatrically on May 15. We'll start with just one of 26 Terrytoons cranked out by the New Rochelle studio in 1932. It's not the aforementioned 2000 B.C. (produced in 1931) but the Mickey Rat and gangster cat-packed Romance, directed by "the fastest pencil in the East," animator Frank Moser.

Paul Terry’s Aesop’s Fables cartoons were, we kid you not, inspirations to Walt Disney and other young animators in the early 1920’s. Especially in the Alice In Cartoonland series, the Disney studio's character designs emulated Terrytoons. Since Disney was driven to improve the quality of animation with each film, his studio, featuring such animators as Ub Iwerks, Hugh Harman, Rudy Ising and Friz Freleng, would ultimately leave the funny but crude Aesop's Fables in the dust with his 1927 Oswald The Lucky Rabbit series.

It was in conquering the challenges of synchronized sound and music and fitting soundtrack to image, as opposed to just slapping any old tune on a silent cartoon (as Paul Terry and Otto Messmer did), that Walt Disney Productions got the jump on everyone else in the industry in 1928 and soon became the studio to beat.

Here's the star of Steamboat Willie, Mickey Mouse, in The Cactus Kid, released on May 15, 1930.

Featuring ace voice artist Jack Mercer as a most diabolical spider, The Cobweb Hotel, directed by Dave Tendlar, is among the most memorable entries from the Max Fleischer Color Classics series.

The May 15 theatrical release of The Cobweb Hotel strikes this writer as ??????? since it is definitely more of a Halloween-themed cartoon and nothing along similarly macabre lines emerged from Fleischer's Popeye and Betty Boop series in the October releases of 1936. As a piece with a gruesome sensibility, it's right up there with the 1933 Max Fleischer Screen Song cartoon Boo, Boo Theme Song.

A more celebrated series from Fleischer than the Color Classics was the studio’s animated version of Superman. On May 15, 1942, the action-packed Man Of Steel opus Electrical Earthquake was released theatrically.

The plot features a Native American high-tech genius who wants Manhattan Island back for his people and plans to induce devastating natural disasters to get the job done. Can't imagine the reception this cartoon would get, then and now, from an Native American audience - handing cartons of eggs for the crowd to throw at the screen might be prudent - but at least the super-villain antagonist is a nattily dressed cutting edge scientist with an underwater lair, not a dummy, a doof or a dolt. Unfortunately, we don't hear the voice of Allen Jenkins as a Daily Planet reporter whose one line is "you sure you WANT Manhattan back?"

Less spectacular but enjoyable is the following Porky Pig cartoon, released on May 15, 1937. We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog have a soft spot for the cartoons produced by the Ub Iwerks Studio and this was one of four Looney Tunes, along with Porky's Super Service, Porky's Badtime Story and Get Rick Quick Porky, that Leon Schlesinger farmed out to Ub's studio. Since Porky Pig's co-star Gabby Goat is as irascible, grating and obnoxious as the Fleischer Studios' town crier character from Gulliver's Travels and a subsequent (rather un-memorable) short subject series, the star of Porky & Gabby is the peppy soundtrack music by Carl W. Stalling.

While Iwerks is credited as the director of Porky and Gabby, the Warner Brothers/Schlesinger animators Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones and Irv Spence were loaned out to the Iwerks studio to work on these cartoons. Clampett and Jones co-directed the last two.

Warner Brothers released two cartoons on May 15, 1943. One is Greetings Bait, a Friz Freleng opus starring a worm based on Jerry Collonna, the popular and wacky comedian from Bob Hope's radio show.

The second May 15, 1943 release is Tokio Jokio, a black & white Looney Tune which remains notorious as a particularly grotesque and excessive World War II propaganda cartoon. Frankly, it has lots of competition among WW2 cartoons, especially from Paramount Pictures (both Superman and Popeye the spinach-swilling sailor) and an equally notorious Bugs Bunny opus set in the Pacific.

This writer's opinion is that Mr. McCabe's directorial efforts have overall received a bit of a bad rap because of this one cartoon, so today's post will close with an episode of the excellent Anthony's Animation Talk YouTube series devoted to Norm's work as Looney Tunes director in the early 1940's.

For more info on Norm McCabe, who worked in animation for seven decades, check out Devon Baxter’s excellent profile, posted in May 2018 on Cartoon