Large Association of Movie Blogs
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Next Weekend: San Francisco Bay Area Events & Film Festivals

A host of cool events, including the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, shall hit the San Francisco Bay Area in the month of June, some just a few days from now.

This Friday, Jeff Sanford’s Cartoon Jazz Orchestra will perform two memorable sets of "tunes from the toons" at Angelica’s in Redwood City.

The performance will include the quirky, idiosyncratic and highly entertaining compositions of Raymond Scott, including "Powerhouse." Scott's musical handiwork is instantly recognizable as the soundtrack music to Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies.

For more info, see:
Angelica's website
Cartoon Jazz Orchestra official website
Cartoon Jazz Orchestra Facebook page

The always epic San Francisco Silent Film Festival returns to the Castro Theatre for its 22nd year.

The festival begins on June 1 with Harold Lloyd in The Freshman. Such iconic stars as Douglas Fairbanks, the aforementioned Harold Lloyd, Paul Robeson, Clara Bow, Lon Chaney Sr. and ballet legend Anna Pavlova will bring their incandescent presence to the silver screen once again.<

There shall also be big screen thrills courtesy of rampaging dinosaurs (animated by stop-motion genius Willis O'Brien) in The Lost World, which inspired artists from Ray Harryhausen to Bob Clampett to become animators.

The 2017 festival includes A Tribute To David Shepard, the dean of film preservation who passed earlier this year and was personally responsible for numerous restorations that played at the festival. In addition, the 2017 San Francisco Silent Film Festival Award will be presented to the EYE Filmmuseum for its commitment to the preservation and presentation of silent cinema.

New restorations commissioned by SFSFF for this year's program include Silence (Cinémathèque Française), The Three Musketeers (MoMA), and a fragment of the lost Wallace Beery- Louise Brooks film Now We’re in the Air (Czech National Archive).

It's worth getting up early to attend the free Amazing Tales Of The Archives programs, which are indeed nothing short of amazing for those fascinated by history, how silent film technology developed and where archivists around the world are making discoveries.

To shamelessly quote the official San Francisco Silent Film Festival press release:

Sharing their amazing preservation tales are Library of Congress’s George Willeman, who has managed to sync cylinders from Edison National Historical Park with eight films from LOC’s collection for his presentation on Edison Kinetophones from 1912–13; Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi from EYE Filmmuseum, whose presentation will reveal the wonders of EYE’s UNESCO-inscribed Jean Desmet collection; and Heather Linville from the Academy Film Archive, sharing rarely seen footage of globetrotting filmmaker adventuress Aloha Wanderwell..

As movie and TV soundtrack expert Robert Emmett of KFJC's Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack Show has pointed out, "silent films are never silent", so the festival is also tantamount to a 4-day concert. Live accompaniment will be courtesy of a range of solo pianists and groups: Alloy Orchestra, Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, Frank Bockius, Guenter Buchwald, Stephen Horne, Sascha Jacobsen, Matti Bye Ensemble, Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, Donald Sosin and, making his San Francisco Silent Film Festival debut with a new score for Body & Soul, the Oscar Micheaux program, "one man, one turntable, much history, many genres of music" DJ Spooky.

Besides the Micheaux feature starring Paul Robeson, making his screen debut in a dual role, arguably the most intriguing film in the festival's lineup is Filibus, a futuristic 1915 opus, directed by Marco Roncoroni, revolving around the glamorous zeppelin-flying daredevil Baroness de Troixmonde.

Again quoting the SFSFF press release: the "masked sky-pirate flies around in her technologically advanced zeppelin—manned by black-suited, masked, obedient male acolytes—committing crimes and toying with the police. When a reward is offered for information leading to the capture of the notorious criminal, the Baroness visits the police station to declare her intention to prove that Filibus is no other than the detective assigned to the case!"

Check out the festival schedule and enjoy the big screen fun. Movies were meant to be seen with an audience in an actual theatre - not on some crappy smart phone all by yourself!

Three weeks later, on June 23-25, the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum will present the 20th Annual Broncho Billy Film Festival, which shall pay tribute to David Shepard, director Frank Borzage, movies shot in 1917 and northern California filmmaking.

We strongly encourage our readers to support these excellent organizations - time, job (or jobs), family situation and pocketbook willing.

This blogmeister will write further about this festival later in June; until then, will be involved in two family events which are seven days, two coasts and 3300 miles apart - and happening soon. It is highly unlikely there will be any time to write new posts (or even recycle very old ones) for Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog between now and June 15.

Fully expect to bear a strong resemblance to the exhausted scribe pictured above!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Serenade To A Duck

Having been propelled (with supercharged turbo jets) by ridiculous current events to the more benign ridiculousness of ducks, vaudeville, cartoons, 1930's movies and radio, we kick off today's post with Gus Visser and his singing duck.

Comedian Buddy Hackett had a few choice works about ducks with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Yes, he kept his act clean in this instance, as difficult as that could be for a legendary "dirty comic" such as Buddy.

Of course, Daffy Duck was duckier, especially in the following cartoons by animation directors Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Frank Tashlin, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng and Arthur Davis and their respective crews at Warner Brothers.

Duckiest of all, even more than the song I Think You're Ducky, was one of radio's biggest stars of the 1930's, comedian Joe Penner (1904-1941), noted by none other than Carl Reiner on an episode of Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast.

One may not know Penner's name, but certainly comedy and old time radio geeks are familiar with his distinctive voice and catchphrases: "Wanna buy a duck?", "Don't never doooooooo that" and "You naaaaaaasty man" in particular.

After appearing in vaudeville and a series of Vitaphone comedy shorts, Penner hit the big time with a guest appearance on Rudy Vallee's radio show on July 13, 1933. The comedian's catchphrases and duck were already cornerstones of his comedy. Three months later, Penner got his own show, the Baker's Broadcast, soon the biggest program on radio. He was, rather briefly, the most popular comic in showbiz. Joe and his duck sidekick soon received the ultimate tribute, sendups in animated cartoons!

At Warner Brothers, Tex Avery and his production crew created a character named Egghead who was entirely based on Joe Penner.

The rise to fame was so meteoric, Joe and duck sidekick Goo Goo soon inspired official toys.

Although Penner's subsequent radio programs did not duplicate the success of his Baker's Broadcast programs of 1933-1934, his popularity on radio got him signed to appear in movies produced by Paramount Pictures and RKO. Joe had starred in 2-reelers in 1930-1932, but these were actual feature films and not Poverty Row quickies.

This writer finds the following musical interlude from College Rhythm, in which Joe serenades Goo Goo, funny and oddly sweet at the same time; the character genuinely loves his feathered friend and that is what puts the scene over. That said, co-star Lyda Roberti is not exactly thrilled about getting thrown over for a duck!

In the latter 1930's, Joe went on to star in a series of enjoyable comedy programmers for RKO.

We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog find the lil' duck guy, if supported by a halfway decent script and solid supporting players, likable, funny and weirdly endearing, especially in The Day The Bookies Wept. It's a minority opinion, but we really like him and do not agree with the many who dismiss him as a no talent flash-in-the-pan. Would have liked to see Penner and Frank McHugh appear together in a Warner Bros. film and riff off each other, maybe with Allen Jenkins there as well to make it a trifecta.

Along with The Ritz Brothers and quite a few silent film comics, Joe Penner remains a bit of a Rorschach Test for comedy buffs.

As is the case with silent movie comedians Larry Semon and Harry Langdon (mostly due to their not-of-this-earth appearance), Penner often gets singled out even among comedy fans with such reactions as "he has never made me laugh" and "I don't find him funny at all".

Those who do like him (this writer included) and find Joe's work in radio and movies amusing are hard-pressed to explain just why Penner gets laughs, and for that matter what the heck was funny about another Rorschach Test comedian Penner influenced decades later, Paul Reubens a.k.a. Pee-Wee Herman. While Penner's approach to comedy is not easy to describe or categorize, the "wanna buy a duck" man, especially on the Baker's Broadcast series, based on his ultra-cartoony voice and the offbeat nuances and pauses in his comic timing, gets laughs with a musical sensibility.

As the Ritz Brothers get laughs, not with rapid-fire jokes and Groucho Marx style witty repartee, but with the way they dance and move, Penner's humor derived from his sound, dynamics and delivery. This was also also the case with such popular contemporaries on radio as Ed Wynn, Harry Einstein, a.k.a. Parkyakarkus and Jack "Baron Munchausen" Pearl.

It would not be long before humor on radio, stage, screen and nightclubs changed dramatically with the rise of Bob Hope, the beginnings of standup comedy, Jack Benny's character-based radio program (which had just started two years earlier) and the sophisticated and satiric Fred Allen. To some degree, this development left even talented and very funny comics who relied on catchphrases in the dust. Jack Benny and Burns & Allen also got the opportunity to further develop, refine, improve and polish their comedy programs and personas through lengthy runs of success on radio, then television.

It is just as well that Penner's wide-eyed duck lovin' innocent did NOT meet the anarchic and up-to-no-good duo of Bobby Clark & Paul McCullough during his stretch making movies for RKO, as demonstrated by this closing scene from Everything's Ducky (1934), which cements C&McC's rep as the darkest and disturbing of movie comedy teams in talkies, as Kalem's grotesque "Ham & Bud" easily take the "most despicable duo" crown in silents.

For a couple of years, Joe Penner, especially as the star of Baker's Broadcast, was a smash hit, cheering up radio audiences across the country during the darkest days of the Great Depression. For more info on Joe, check out The Joe Penner Project.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Much Ado About Cartoon Music

Still in the vise-like grip of Writer's Block and, like SCTV's Bob & Doug McKenzie on Canadian Corner/Great White North, stuck for a topic today, so - WHAMO - the toe-tapping tunes from the toons will be the subject for May 12 of misbegotten 2017!

The notion of writing a piece about "This Blog Loves The Hammond B-3" for an upcoming jazz-related post immediately tripped certain memories, but we're not talking Joey DeFrancesco, Milt Buckner, Jimmy Smith, Larry Young, Shirley Scott or Booker T. Jones here. We're talking made-for-TV cartoons featuring very odd organ music soundtracks. One this blogger always liked was Q.T. Hush.

We will go from the ridiculous to the sublime (although nothing involving the 1990's rock band Sublime) and nothing says sublime quite like the made-for-TV cartoons of Sam Singer Productions. Singer has been termed the Ed Wood of cartoons, but that may be giving him a tad too much credit. His studio's series included Pow Wow The Indian Boy, Courageous Cat, Sinbad, Jr. and the bad-beyond-belief Bucky & Pepito. . . all of which make Magilla Gorilla look like Fantasia.

The cheapest of these bottom-of-the barrel series - well, the cheapest that we know of - would be The Adventures of Paddy The Pelican.

At the same time when the likes of David Raksin, Gail Kubik, Boris Kremenliev and Phil Moore were composing and conducting ambitious original soundtracks for the artsy yet highly entertaining animation by United Productions of America (UPA), these Paddy the Pelican adventures redefine what cheap means: one poor bastard playing an organ in the background.

One case of a television cartoon in which an ultra-minimalistic music track works beautifully is Gene Deitch's Tom Terrific, originally a feature of CBS-TV's popular Captain Kangaroo show.

Less minimalist but extremely gratifying soundtrack music in TV-toons can be found, not surprisingly, in the blazing work of Jay Ward Productions. LOVE that original Rocky & His Friends theme by Dennis Farnon.

We especially have a soft spot for Stan Worth's opening theme from the Super Chicken cartoons.

The theatrical cartoons of the 1940's not made by Disney, Warner Brothers and MGM feature some very odd soundtracks. One of the oddest is in one of the oddest of all cartoons from the oddest of all cartoon studios, Screen Gems, the creepy Halloween opus The Fly In The Ointment, featuring a Leo Gorcey fly and a John Barrymore spider. The latter, voiced by John McLeish, stentorian narrator of Goofy "How-To" cartoons, plays a theater organ with none of The Phantom Of The Opera's formidable ability to terrify.

If asked to name a Screen Gems cartoon that is not so far off-the-rails as to not be entertaining, this blogger might choose the weirdly inspired Sherlock Holmes spoof, The Case Of The Screaming Bishop. While aware the "best bones of all go to Symphony Hall" running gag is a reference to a popular ad campaign of 1944 and makes no sense today, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog DON'T CARE. This Holmes & Watson sendup could only be better if there was a live-action cameo at the end by Louis Armstrong, "the best bones of all see Satchmo at Symphony Hall."

Even better than the wonderfully strange Case Of The Screaming Bishop was the 1942 MGM masterpiece by comic genius Tex Avery, Who Killed Who? Love that cheesy organ track, killer surprise ending and a main character patterned on ubiquitous character actor Fred Kelsey.

On the complete other side of this discussion, Scott Bradley leads the fantastic MGM orchestra in the stirring musical sounds for Bill Hanna & Joe Barbera's Tom & Jerry cartoons of the 1940's and 1950's.

Although this writer's favorite Bradley cartoon backing is for various mindbogglingly brilliant Tex Avery MGM cartoons (Red Hot Riding Hood, Swing Shift Cinderella, The Kingsize Canary), the Tom & Jerry cartoons feature wonderful soundtracks.

Do we love the soundtracks of Carl W. Stalling and the Warner Brothers orchestra? Yes, this blogger admits it - he could be in a 12-step group for "Men Who Love Carl W. Stalling Music From Warner Brothers Cartoons Too Much.

Few could "swing the classics" quite like the Warner Bros. orchestra, conducted by Carl W Stalling and Milt Franklyn.

Warner Brothers bought the music of Raymond Scott, which can be heard in the fabulous compilation recording The Music Of Raymond Scott - Restless Nights & Turkish Twilights.

While Mr. Scott wrote these songs for his "Quintette" and never intended them to be cartoon soundtracks, these unique and original compositions are undeniably and inextricably intertwined with Warner Bros. cartoons.

Now THAT great tune was arguably best showcased in the Bugs Bunny cartoon Gorilla My Dreams, directed by Robert McKimson.

The fella who writes Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, event programmer, scribe and film historian Paul F. Etcheverry, co-founder of the KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival, has been happy to collaborate on several occasions with Jeff Sanford's Cartoon Jazz Orchestra.

Finishing this post: this blogger's absolute favorite jazzy cartoon soundtrack, in which the innovative Don Redman Orchestra swings like mad. The creative "rubber-hose" style animation is by the Fleischer Studio, then, in 1933, at the peak of their creative powers.