Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas 2020 from Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog




In our last post of 2020, the most miserably misbegotten of years, the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog wishes a Merry Christmas to all. Batting leadoff: the great Chicago tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons. Sounds like Gene is teamed with frequent collaborator Dexter Gordon for double holiday cheer on this super swingin' rendition of "Jingle Bells."



Another great of 20th century pop culture, Christopher Lee, loved Christmas songs and heavy metal - and combined the genres quite well.



As my family traditions at this point have evolved into a hybrid Christmashanukkah, Chanukahchristmas, Christmaschanukah or Hannukahchristmas, the following two songs are most apropo. Always enjoy hearing them. Thanks, Tom! Thanks, Adam!





When it comes to holiday traditions, polka rockstars Yosh & Stan Schmenge of The Happy Wanderers show us how to do Christmas right.



The following Capitol Records compilation of great songs for the holidays will always be a personal favorite, even given that nowadays hearing this gets me a bit choked up, as I think of family members who are no longer with us. . . Boy, do I miss them!



As always, we're suckers for holiday-related cartoons here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog. Here's a terrific one from Great Britain's John Halas and Joy Batchelor studio.



Indeed, we love Christmas cartoons. The following 1933 Popeye the Sailor opus is about as Christmasy as getting hit hard with a shovel in the face from Bluto, but remains enjoyable just the same. It even includes Oliye Oyl stranded on the ice floes a la Lillian Gish in D.W. Griffith's epic Way Down East. The inimitable William "Red Pepper Sam" Costello version of Popeye saying "this is a day for peace on oyth" always cracks me up, every time.



At least Popeye in Seasin's Greetinks is a lot more Christmasy than the following Famous Studios opus starring Herman & Katnip, key predecessors of The Itchy & Scratchy Show, in which the unfortunate, unkempt, un-graceful and ungainly Katnip ends up strung up with lights like a Christmas tree and plugged into the wall socket while Herman's irritating mousey pals sing "Merry Christmas To You" irritatingly. One sincerely hopes Fred Rogers never saw this cartoon.



Thrilled to still be drawing breath almost a year into a raging global pandemic. Sincerely hope that there is an end in sight, commencing at the point when the grownups (we hope) officially take over from the toddlers next year.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Born on December 6. . .


It is the natal anniversary of many luminaries we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog love. First and foremost, celebrating his 65th today is one of this blogger's all-time favorite standup comedians, the great and original Stephen Wright.





As Stephen's standup comedy has, the films of Nick Park and Aardman Animations remain responsible for innumerable laughs over the past 30+ years.



First recall seeing an Aardman Animations film on the big screen in one of the late Prescott Wright's terrific International Tournee Of Animation programs (and shortly thereafter in a Spike & Mike's Festival Of Animation). That was Creature Comforts (1989) and it made quite the impression then. Still does!



The gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog could be considered Wallace and Gromit fanboys, but strictly on the proviso that we have some cracking good Wensleydale cheese to enjoy with our movies!



Arguably, our #1 choice of all the superb films by Nick and the gang at Aardman Animations would be Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers.



There are several greats from the world of music who have birthdays on December 6th. One would be ace lyricist from the Broadway stage and Hollywood movies Ira Gershwin, born on December 6, 1896 and responsible for countless standards as part of the best brother team short of the Coen brothers, the Heath brothers, The Brothers Johnson, Dizzy & Daffy Dean, Tommy & Dickie Smothers, The Brothers Karamazov and Tom & Dick Van Arsdale.



Ira Gershwin also contributed his signature witty, inventive and literate lyrics to superb songs by Harold Arlen, Kurt Weill, Harry Warren and Jerome Kern.



It is also the birthday of jazz and progressive rock bassist Miroslav Vitouš, noted as a member of the first version of Weather Report, a mighty multi-genre musical juggernaut.



Along with Stephen and Miroslav, Chris Stamey, intrepid rocker, Man Of A Thousand Tunes and frequent collaborator of Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog favorite Alex Chilton, celebrates a birthday today.



Of the many talented actors and comedians who sequed between sitcoms, radio, stage, recordings and cartoon voice work, it's tough to top Wally Cox, born on December 6, 1924.



Wally's yodeling on the following song is priceless.



We respectfully raise our eggnog glasses and toast all the December 6th birthdays!

Friday, November 27, 2020

Black Friday 2020


Our idea of Black Friday at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog is not to go out to department stores and hunt for bargains but to watch the Karloff & Lugosi classic Black Friday (1940) twice.



Universal Pictures horror stalwarts Boris and Bela are always just right for that pesky tryptophan hangover!



Thankfully, Black Friday is on the "Boris n' Bela" Blu-ray.



While we love the contribution of Donavan's Brain screenwriter Curt Siodmak to the excellent Black Friday, alas, there just isn't enough Bela Lugosi in this intriguing blend of horror movie and gangster flick for our taste. As Joe Dante notes in his review in Trailers From Hell, Boris is the star of this picture and Bela a supporting player.



Still not quite sure what the lyrics to Black Friday by Steely Dan mean - it can't be about the 1929 stock market crash, as the penultimate days were Black Monday and Black Tuesday - but find the song's goofy narrative interesting.





As much as the albums by Steely Dan, the group most adept at blending pop songcraft with sophisticated arrangements drawing upon elements of rock, electric blues and big band jazz, sold in the 1970's and early 1980's, in this music fan's opinion the best thing they ever did was their appearance with the late, great Marian McPartland on Piano Jazz. Can music reach across the generations and genres? Yes!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

This Thursday: Happy Zoom Thanksgiving 2020!


Monsieur and Madame Blogmeister wish all readers, wherever they are, a Happy Thanksgiving, whether you smoke Old Golds, Lucky Strikes or Bob Marley's favorite brand!



Alas, will not be seeing the family and friends who live across this coronavirus-riddled country in person. Won't be wearing cheesy pilgrim outfits or brandishing muskets.



Also won't just say to heck with it and go to Canada for the Thanksgiving weekend, especially as Canadians would prefer we sub-literate dimwit Americans, busy spreading COVID-19, stay here.



Won't see any ventriloquists or dummies on Thanksgiving, unfortunately.



It will be a Zoom Thanksgiving for many of us in 2020.


So, before hanging out with family members via Zoom, we will observe the Thanksgiving tradition of watching that Tex Avery MGM cartoon starring the Jimmy Durante turkey and the Bill Thompson pilgrim yet again.



And, as the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog does every year, will watch the following video starring an ornery, persistent and obstinate gobbler who frightens the easily scared individual handling the camera.



So what the hey. . . let's adapt and raise a toast - white bread, Dave's 21 seed whole wheat or the first holiday quaff (Anchor Brewing's festive Christmas Ale? Dan Akyroyd's Crystal Head Vodka? Kick-Ass Bourbons? Aaas Jule Ol?) - to our loved ones, before watching The Courtship Of Miles Sandwich, a Hal Roach Studios 1923 Thanksgiving comedy starring Snub Pollard and Dinah Shore's 1957 Thanksgiving show.





Inevitably as death and taxes, The DInah Shore Show is followed by a 1938 Merrie Melodie cartoon starring "Egghead," in which Tex Avery happily skewers American history and mythology, complete with jokes about "scalpers" selling Rose Bowl tickets on the 50-yard line!



Take-out Thanksgiving dinner? Go with the flow! After all, options are limited!


This Blogmeister personally wants a Tex Avery "Masks Of Tomorrow" setup. Push a button and a mechanical hand (A.K.A. the Mechanical Arm Of Tomorrow) promptly stuffs hot turkey, "smashed" potatoes and generous servings of stuffing and cranberry relish in your kisser, then promptly slaps a genuine N95 mask featuring Bugs Bunny on your fat face!



Now it's time for some Thanksgiving-themed Three Stooges, directed by Jack "Preston Black" White (seen in this photo with unlikely pilgrim and excellent movie comedian Lloyd "Ham" Hamilton).



To make the holiday just right, here are some clips from The Three Stooges in Back To The Woods!




Friday, November 13, 2020

Friday The 13th



Behold, one of the all-time favorite songs of this blog, after Raymond Scott - Powerhouse: Friday The 13th by Thelonious Monk. It's second only to Sphere's masterpiece Skippy in our hearts.







Sunday, November 08, 2020

Born on November 9: Three Movie Greats - Marie Dressler, Edna May Oliver and Hedy Lamarr


Elated to have survived the last two weeks (and year), this blogger realizes that three of the most memorable and talented women to ever work in movies - Marie Dressler, Edna May Oliver and Hedy Lamarr - share November 9 birthdays.



The "password" for Marie remains her part in MGM's 1933 black comedy Dinner At Eight, directed by George Cukor.



Here, Marie delivers the greatest "take" in the history of motion pictures. No doubt Oliver Hardy and Charley Chase watched this moment of sheer comic genius in admiration.



Marie Dressler had an illustrious career that began back in the 1890's.



Matthew Kennedy's Marie Dressler biography elaborates further on her long career, which began in the 1890's.



Marie would be the top character actress in motion pictures in the first 5 years of talkies, hold her own with none other than the legendary Garbo in Anna Christie, win the Best Actress Oscar for Min & Bill, and be nominated for Emma.



A key collaborator of Marie’s was ace screenwriter Frances Marion, who had the magic touch over a four decade career. Frances Marion’s screenplays did wonders for Mary Pickford and other stars of silent pictures.



Having begun her movie career in the feature length Sennett knockabout-fest Tillie's Punctured Romance, she proved she could successfully transition from dramatic roles to broad physical comedy. Here she is, tearing it up with the very funny comedienne and mimic Marion Davies in The Patsy.



Marie tackled slapstick with panache, often with the star of pratfall-packed Mack Sennett and Fox Sunshine Comedies Polly Moran.



We were glued to TCM a few years back, when Marie Dressler was the Star of the Month.







One of the most prolific character actresses of the 1930's was Edna May Oliver, who began her career onstage and would become most ubiquitous in 1930's movies.





Performing everything from Dickens to Kalmar & Ruby, often brilliantly, Edna brought spunk and good humor to her roles, and, as was the case with Marie Dressler, could absolutely ace both comedic and dramatic parts. Love her in the the Wheeler & Woolsey comedies Half Shot At Sunrise, Cracked Nuts and Hold 'Em Jail.



With Bert & Bob, Edna appears to have relished doing comedy.





Edna received the ultimate tribute, to be caricatured in classic cartoons. Mickey's Polo Team, The Coo-coo Nut Grove, Porky's Road Race, Mother Goose Goes Hollywood and The Hardship Of Miles Standish are standouts.

Here's one of the Hollywood caricature cartoons seen the least, from the B-studio of B-studios, Screen Gems. Edna May Oliver is Mother Goose and enters at 1:29. Spoofing actors and actresses who were not caricatured in any another cartoons, Mother Goose In Swingtime rivals the Disney opus Mickey's Gala Premier and Tex Avery's WB masterpiece Hollywood Steps Out for sheer quantity (if not quality) of movie star caricatures.


One imagines that the Charles Mintz/Screen Gems studio did NOT have the desire or requisite dough-re-me to hire caricaturist extraordinaire and future UPA director T. Hee, responsible for outstanding character design work at Disney and Warner Brothers in those aforementioned Hollywood star-filled cartoons, to work on Mother Goose In Swingtime. Nonetheless, it's a very entertaining cartoon and the only one that features a caricature of Kay Francis!



The great Hedy Lamarr, a.k.a. Heddy Lamarr, while largely known for her beauty and amazing silver screen presence, could be described as a scientist who did modeling and movie acting on the side.



Unfortunately, Ms. Lamarr did not receive her due an inventor and innovator during her lifetime - although that recognition has come since her passing in 2000.



Partly because Hedy was nothing less than stunningly, breathtakingly gorgeous, her screen acting, IMHO, could be a tad underrated. While, given, she does not approach the character acting and comedy genius demonstrated by Marie Dressler and Edna May Oliver, let alone the rarified air and gravitas of a Bette Davis, Ms. Lamarr pulls off the following scene and others throughout the Bob Hope vehicle My Favorite Spy admirably and adeptly.



Richard Rhodes has penned a book about the life and accomplishments of Hedy Lamarr. Looks interesting!



Although the front covers of this still stresses Hedy Lamarr, babe, first, then Hedy the scientist, this looks like a good read.



For more info on the one, the only Hedy Lamarr, check out Anna Diamond's November 2017 Smithsonian Magazine article, Why Hedy Lamarr Was Hollywood’s Secret Weapon, as well as a superb post Trav S.D. penned for his Travalanche blog, Heddy Lamarr: The Scientific Circe. There's also Alexandra Dean's documentary Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story.



We finish by noting that prolific silent film comedian and "king of the extras" in talkies Snub Pollard was also born on this day - and that tomorrow, November 10, is the birthday of Mabel Normand, the top comedienne in silent pictures.





Mabel, dubbed "the female Chaplin," worked in short subjects and features, and was a director of her own starring vehicles at Mack Sennett's Fun Factory.



The first headliner of Sennett's Keystone Comedies, along with Ford Sterling and Fred Mace, "Madcap Mabel" preceded Charlie Chaplin as a movie star and appeared in 220 films.




More on the movie careers of Marie and Mabel can be found in Steve Massa's comprehensive and superb book on the numerous women of silent film comedy, Slapstick Divas, which devotes chapters to both silver screen icons.




Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Election Day



The 2020 election demands a strong ale or two, followed by loud belly laughs courtesy of Moe, Larry and Shemp!

No matter how many times I see this 1952 Three Stooges opus in which our slap happy heroes unwittingly work for super-corrupt politicos, the result, invariably, is me ROFL.



And then we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog will require a bare minimum of (at least) 21.5 hours of sleep, followed by a screening of Moe, Larry and Shemp in Cuckoo on a Choo Choo.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Happy Halloween 2020 from Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog



Tomorrow is Halloween of what has been a horror show year - and a very tough time for all of us at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write To Blog, with the sudden loss of a beloved, esteemed and wonderful mascot to a blood clot earlier this week.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” — Anatole France





The best this blogger can do is confirm that he, unlike our lovable mascot, is not dead, here to write the Halloween 2020 blog post - and that he and Madame Blogmeister have long since mailed our ballots.



We will start Halloween as we do every year with a viewing of the Cartoon Roots series' Halloween Haunts, a ghost, goblin, ghoul and animation rarity-filled DVD/Blu-Ray set from Cartoons On Film which gets the official Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog Red Seal of approval.



The 15 film set is an exceptional compilation of spooky cartoons representing a slew of studios and animation techniques. Here are low-res examples of two gems from the Halloween Haunts set.





All the studios - from Lantz to Mintz to Iwerks - produced Halloween-themed cartoons, in response to the success of Disney's The Skeleton Dance.







The Fleischer studio made more Halloween-themed cartoons than anyone.





Wish there was a post on Vimeo, YouTube or DailyMotion of the complete version of Boo Boo Theme Song, an exceptionally creepy Halloween "Screen Song" cartoon from Fleischer Studios. Here's the one bit from this Screen Song which is up on YouTube: the Funnyboners singing Boo, Boo Theme Song - and spoofing Mr. Showbiz of 1933, Bing Crosby.



Oddly, the 16mm film prints of Fleischer Screen Songs cartoons struck for television distribution by UM&M/NTA often do not feature the live-action song sequences. Frequently, the song segments were cut from the 16mm negatives. One hopes 35mm materials on complete Fleischer Screen Songs are still intact and sitting in an archive (UCLA? LoC? Eastman House? Eye?) or a cold, dark cave somewhere.




We'll follow that up with, rather amazingly, a couple of Walt Disney cartoons. Yes, Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, believe it or not, has a couple of favorite Disney cartoons, after "Pink Elephants On Parade" and Goofy in "Hockey Homicide" (and, at #3, the attempted Diz-Dali collaboration, unfinished back in 1946 but completed in 2003).



A few Disney films are actually apropo for Halloween. The following classic, The Mad Doctor, is right up there with Mickey's Garden and Through The Mirror as one of the truly great cartoons from this series - and, for who knows what reason, passed into the public domain. Don't know why - there were many Copyright Catalog errors regarding Fleischer, Famous Studios and especially Van Beuren Studio titles going public domain, but very, very few mistakes involving Disney cartoons.



Another film we love is the Silly Symphony Egyptian Melodies.



Alas, Walt, no doubt planning the move to full-length animated features, put the kibbosh on the surreal and dark imagery seen in the first two seasons of Silly Symphonies. The Mad Doctor could be considered the last gasp of this at Disney, very odd moments involving ducks eating chicken in Donald Duck cartoons notwithstanding.



In Disney's extremely ambitious animated features, the memorable Night On Bald Mountain segment in Fantasia, may have, to some degree, been inspired by an incredible film made seven years earlier by pinscreen animators Alexandre Alexandrovitch Alexeieff and Claire Parker. Have not seen a quote from Walt Disney confirming that he was aware of this, but it would come as no great surprise that he did, and that it was one of the inspirations for Fantasia.



The Alexeieff and Parker films were created using a technique even more intensely painstaking and detail-oriented than the animation Disney made showcasing the multiplane camera: the pinscreen.





In closing, here's Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker's 1963 homage to that lighthearted partying guy and literary visionary, Nikolai Gogol, Le Nez. It's even better than Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart and will haunt your dreams.



Happy Halloween from Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, where Don & Waffles, Mutt & Jeff and Alexeieff and Parker all co-exist on the same psychic plane!


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Happy Natal Anniversary to the legendary Merian C. Cooper



Born on this day in 1893: a documentary filmmaking innovator, producer of King Kong and Son Of Kong and co-inventor of Cinerama, the extraordinary Merian C. Cooper.



While well aware that Cooper, with director Ernest B. Schoedsack and special effects genius Willis O'Brien created a sensation with King Kong in 1933, the more I delved into Cooper's astounding career as world traveller/adventurer, fighter pilot, aviator and producer, both in silents and talkies, of feature films and documentaries for David O. Selznick/RKO Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and John Ford's Argosy Productions, as well as his forming of Pioneer Pictures to develop and champion the use of three-strip Technicolor in live action movies (starting with the RKO musical short subject La Cucaracha), the more mightily impressed I was.

While King Kong was Cooper's most famous production, he also made history at RKO Radio Pictures by teaming Fred Astaire with Ginger Rogers on FLYING DOWN TO RIO, arranging Katharine Hepburn’s screen test and beginning his 20+ year association with John Ford. Cooper's keen interest in Technicolor would eventually lead to its showcasing in the feature films Becky Sharp and Gone With The Wind.

There is so much to Cooper's work across varied fields of endeavor, it is tough to determine just where to begin! A good place to start is the following outstanding Photoplay Pictures documentary, I'm King Kong! The Exploits Of Merian C. Cooper, produced by Patrick Stanbury and directed by Kevin Brownlow and Christopher Bird for Turner Classic Movies, which explores the breadth and brilliance of Cooper's transitions from aviator to documentarian to Hollywood movie producer and co-inventor of Cinerama.



Wikipedia elaborates:
Merian Caldwell Cooper (October 24, 1893 – April 21, 1973) was an American aviator, United States Air Force and Polish Air Force officer, adventurer, screenwriter, film director, and producer.

Cooper was the founder of the Kościuszko Squadron during the Polish–Soviet War and was a Soviet prisoner of war for a time. He was a notable movie producer, and got his start with film as part of the Explorers Club, traveling the world and documenting adventures.

He was a member of the board of directors of Pan American Airways, but his love of film always took priority.

Cooper was one of the first bomber pilots in World War I. After the war, he helped form the famous Kosciuszko Squadron in battle-torn Poland. He then turned his attention to producing documentary films that chronicled his hair-raising encounters with savage warriors, man-eating tigers, nomadic tribes, and elephant stampedes.

He returned to military service during World War II, serving with General Claire Chennault in China, flying missions into the heart of enemy territory and then changed the face of film forever with Cinerama, the original “virtual reality.” He is also credited as co-inventor of the Cinerama film projection process. Cooper's most famous film was the 1933 movie King Kong. He was awarded an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1952 and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.




The first "giant ape" movie, extending concepts animator Willis O'Brien showcased in the 1925 epic The Lost World, was unprecedented and a box-office sensation, very much influenced by Cooper's world travels and the two documentaries he produced with cinematographer Ernest B. Schoedsack. For more info, by all means read The Making of King Kong by George E. Turner and Dr. Orville Goldner).







The two King Kong films weren't just massive box office hits, they profoundly influenced one of Willis O' Brien's key successors as a master of stop-motion animation in the action/adventure/fantasy genre, Ray Harryhausen.







Mr. Harryhausen worked with Willis O'Brien on the stop-motion wizardry in Ernest B. Schoedsack's 1948 film Mighty Joe Young,




As a filmmaker, technology enthusiast and special effects designer, Cooper was on the advance guard and a key developer of the three-projector widescreen process, Cinerama. He directed the 1952 documentary This Is Cinerama.


New digital restorations of epic films produced using the process were presented at New York City MoMA in January 2018 as part of Cinerama Day. This included The Story of Cinerama: An Illustrated Lecture, presented by the Cinerama, Inc., digital restoration team of David Strohmaier and Randy Gitsch.



Mr. Strohmaier's 2002 documentary Cinerama Adventure accompanies the restored version of This Is Cinerama, completed by Cinerama, Inc. in 2017.






The Best Of Cinerama (1963), comprising segments from Cinerama movies shot in Rome, Paris, Vienna, Athens, Brazil, Japan, Africa, Israel and New Orleans. would be the last project Merian C. Cooper worked on. As David Strohmaier, Cinerama and 70mm champion, describes in the following piece, the restorations can be exceedingly painstaking albeit rewarding work, bringing modern digital technology together with the expertise of those who worked for Cinerama.



Cooper, the intrepid explorer-adventurerer-filmmaker-inventor-aviator-special effects designer has been celebrated by a terrific article, Distant, Difficult And Dangerous: The Life of Merian C. Cooper, penned by Mitch Hemann for the Norman Studios website, as well as an outstanding book by Mark Cotta Vaz, Living Dangerously: The Adventures Of Merian C. Cooper.

And, for more on Cinerama, there's the Cinerama movie theatre in the Belltown district of Seattle.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Toons Around The World: Halas & Batchelor

While still enjoying an extended British comedy binge, including usual suspects Monty Python, Beyond The Fringe, Goons, Alexei Sayle, Rowan Atkinson, Blackadder, Sir Alec Guinness, Ealing Studios, etc. (and also looking forward to Sunday's Silent Comedy Watch Party), the blog now pivots to the animated cartoons of Great Britain.

Today's post pays tribute to the films of Halas and Batchelor, the prolific animation producers with studios in London and Cainscross (in the Stroud District of Gloucestershire).

First and foremost, we'll start with a respectful tip of a bowler hat worn by Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel to Vivien Halas, whose YouTube channel offers a treasure trove of Halas & Batchelor films and interviews.







Vivien Halas also co-wrote the splendid Halas & Batchelor Cartoons: An Animated History with Paul Wells, while contributing to the documentary The Animated World of Halas and Batchelor.



Halas & Batchelor, Great Britain's preeminent animation company from 1940 to 1995, are regarded as the United Kingdom's answer to Disney.



Formed in 1940 to produce animation for the World War II effort, the studio made everything from conventional animated cartoons to social commentary to films influenced by experimental cinema and modern art animators Len Lye and Oskar Fischinger.









The studio is best known for its 1954 feature film adaptation of George Orwell's Animal Farm.



Of the studio's features, we especially like the 1967 film Ruddigore.



The Halas & Batchelor studio has been lauded, celebrated and cited as inspirations by such luminaries as the founders of all-time Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog favorite Aardman Animations.



While the John Halas & Joy Batchelor studio's films are out on Blu-ray and DVD, one will need a region free player to watch them.



It's true - all of us who have presented the KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival and its various offshoots in various venues share a soft spot for the Halas & Batchelor studio's Dodo The Kid From Outer Space cartoons.



We're also big fans of the stop-motion Snip and Snap cartoons, the inventive paper cut-out animation films which remind this writer just a bit of Art Clokey's clay-mation.



The John Halas & Joy Batchelor studio produced 70 films for the WW2 effort. The British approach is much more "stiff upper lip" than Warner Brothers' Private Snafu cartoons, but effective nonetheless.





The studio also produced some very clever animated commercials.



Throughout its six decade run, the Halas & Batchelor studio were prolific producers of industrial and educational films.









Due to the participation of Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog favorite Peter Sellers and an emphasis on musicality, we especially like the Halas & Batchelor Tales From Hoffnung series, produced in 1965.









Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog has posted about animation of Great Britain before, with our favorite, by far, being a tribute to the great classic cartoons of Harringay's British Animated Productions, the creators of Bubble and Squeek, led by former Fleischer Studios and Walter Lantz Studios animator George Moreno, Jr.. These blend cartoony American humor and dry British wit.



Also penned an April 2013 post about the studio headed by former Walt Disney Studios producer, director and head animator David Hand that produced the Animaland and Musical Paintbox series.



In closing, we suggest checking out the following Halas and Batchelor animation playlist on YouTube. Many of the studio's films covering the history of Great Britain and more industrial/educational short subjects about life in post-World War II era England can be found there.



The British Film Institute, owners of a Halas & Batchelor collection donated by Vivien Halas, has posted the studio's educational and industrial films on their YouTube channel.



For more info, read the aforementioned Halas & Batchelor Cartoons: An Animated History. It's the last word on the studio and features a foreword by one of our favorites from Aardman Animations, the great Nick Park.


Saturday, October 10, 2020

This Weekend's Binge Watch: Sir Alec Guinness and Ealing Studios


Determined to avoid the news AND the plague, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog continue the Brit-com bent that started with The Goons, The Pythons, The Two Ronnies and Alexei Sayle and now begin an Ealing Studios and Alec Guinness binge. Batting leadoff, just one of many outstanding movies starring the one, the only Sir Alec Guinness - The Horse's Mouth.



There is Kind Hearts & Coronets, in which Guinness plays eight incredibly disagreeable and loathsome characters with perfection. For this writer, the Ealing Studios masterpiece ranks high on the list of greatest feature films - and most wicked comedies - ever made.



Very much enjoyed seeing one of this blogger's favorite standup comedians, authors, B-movie historians and cartoon voice artists, Patton Oswalt, introduce and discuss Kind Hearts & Coronets, the black comedy to end all black comedies, as a TCM guest programmer.





As is the case with the great comedies of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, there's no such thing as too many viewings of The Lavender Hill Mob.



The late, great Robert Osborne elaborates:



The Lavender Hill Mob is so cool, it even includes one of the earliest silver screen appearances of the iconic and always winsome Audrey Hepburn.



Another Alec Guinness vehicle we dearly love is The Man In The White Suit.





Next up: the brilliant black comedy The Ladykillers.



Alexander Mackendrick, the director of Whisky Galore!, The Man In The White Suit and The Ladykillers, was a master of the witty Ealing Comedies style, but also helmed an all-time favorite American film of the classic movie fans at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, the warm and cozy Sweet Smell Of Success.





We're also quite fond of the ever-so-slightly less well known but very funny Passport To Pimlico.



We'd be remiss to not mention the classic 1949 Ealing Studios comedy that was the directorial debut of Alexander Mackendrick, Whisky Galore!





Before watching another 15 or 20 Ealing Studios Productions, followed by several episodes of Hancock's Half Hour, we shall finish off today's post with this look at the Ealing Studios from the British Film Institute.



Friday, October 02, 2020

And This Blog Loves Alexei Sayle


"If you travel to the States ... they have a lot of different words than what we use. For instance: they say 'elevator', we say 'lift'; they say 'drapes', we say 'curtains'; they say 'president', we say 'seriously deranged git!" Alexei Sayle.

Headlong into a Brit-com binge, Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog is revisiting the career of one of our favorite comedians who is still living and performing, Liverpool's Alexei Sayle.

A standup comic and actor, Alexei Sayle made his name along with Rik Mayall and Nigel Planer as one of the punk rock comedians who performed at Soho's The Comic Strip in the late 1970's and early 1980's.

First noticed the comedy of Mr. Sayle in The Secret Policeman's Other Ball, a favorite film, which also features John Cleese, Peter Cook and Rowan Atkinson.



For many, the first look at Alexei Sayle was as one of numerous over-the-top characters in The Young Ones.



In this clip from The Young Ones, Alexei Sayle does a sendup of Benito Mussolini, which now comes across as most apropo in fascism and authoritarianism-friendly 2020, the era of Vladimir Putin, Mohammed bin Salman, Kim Jong Un, Viktor Orban, Jair Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi, Rodrigo Duterte and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.



Very much Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we'll quite Wikipedia's entry on Alexei:


When the Comedy Store opened in London in 1979, Sayle responded to an advert in Private Eye for would-be comedians and became its first master of ceremonies. In 1980, comedy producer Martin Lewis saw Sayle perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and became his manager. Sayle became the leading performer at the Comic Strip. He appeared on The Comic Strip Album (1981) and recorded Cak! (1982). He also appeared in the stage show, film and comedy album of The Secret Policeman's Other Ball (1981–1982). Sayle's material covered a broad range of topics, but one of his favourite subjects remained politics. His angry persona, coupled with his vociferous delivery, gave immense bite to his material.


Our favorite of his TV series remains Alexei Sayle's Stuff.



This show carries on the anarchic tradition exemplified by Peter Cook & Dudley Moore's Not Only But Also, Spike Milligan's Q series and Monty Python's Flying Circus.


There were three Alexei Sayle's Stuff series, first broadcast in 1988-1991. All are hilarious.



Of the British comedy shows from the late 1980's and early 1990's, they are right up there with Red Dwarf and A Bit Of Fry & Laurie in the untethered inspiration department.



They would be followed later in the 1990's by The All New Alexei Sayle Show and Alexei Sayle's Merry-Go-Round.



Do we love the Bobby Chariot character in The All New Alexei Sayle Show? Yes, very much.



Bobby Chariot is as unrelentingly terrible a performer as Andy Kaufman's tres toxic lounge lizard Tony Clifton, not to mention SCTV's egocentric entertainer Bobby Bittmann (Eugene Levy) and even less talented brother Skip Bittmann (Rick Moranis), but weirdly endearing.


The last of the comedian's TV shows we can point to that is still within the 20th century pop culture focus of Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog is Alexei Sayle's Merry-Go-Round.





While we in the States have not seen Alexei Sayle on TV in too many moons, the actor-writer continues to tour, write new material and perform standup comedy. In the past decade, this has included extended engagements at London's Soho Theatre and at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. He also hosts and writes the BBC 4 radio series Alexei Sayle's Imaginary Sandwich Bar, a.k.a. stand-up, memoir and philosophy from behind the counter of his Imaginary Sandwich Bar

Friday, September 25, 2020

Happy Natal Anniversary, Ronnie Barker of The Two Ronnies!

Today, we pay tribute to the great comedian, character actor and writer of countless comedy sketches and teleplays (under the name Gerald Wiley) Ronnie Barker, born in Bedford, Bedfordshire on September 25, 1929.



We're enthusiastic fans of Mr. Barker and Mr. Corbett, together as The Two Ronnies, separately and in their movie appearances.





Here are The Two Ronnies with fellow British comedy stalwart Stephen Fry, star of at least three all-time favorite TV shows of the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog.



Do all of us comedy-centric sorts at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog enjoy Barker's tongue-twisting wordplay immensely? Yes.





Mr. Barker began his career as a character part specialist in repertory theatre and soon branched out into radio and TV.



The Wiki on Ronnie Barker notes that he made his name on radio by playing a variety of characters demonstrating formidable skill with dialects on Alistair Scott Johnson's BBC radio sitcom The Navy Lark.







Ronnie Barker would be an ubiquitous presence on 1960's English TV and supporting parts on the hit series The Saint and The Avengers followed. The first appearance of The Two Ronnies would be in the satiric sketch comedy series The Frost Report. They co-starred with John Cleese and Marty Feldman was among the show's writers.



The Two Ronnies also did solo projects. Ronnie Barker starred in several series, among them Hark At Barker (which preceded The Two Ronnies and ran from 1969-1970), His Lordship Entertains, Porridge, Open All Hours, Going Straight and Clarence.










PBS remains responsible for giving this writer quite an education in British comedy, including The Two Ronnies, many moons ago.


San Francisco's PBS affiliate, KQED, found that British comedy shows were the most highly rated and anticipated programs in their evening lineups.


Monty Python marathons meant lots of new memberships and enthusiastic renewals for PBS, so the weekly Brit-com nights expanded to include a wide range of non-Python and non-Goon Show series. These included half-hour cutdowns of The Two Ronnies shows.




The British comedy lineups on KQED included everything from The Two Ronnies to Dave Allen At Large to Dad's Army to Frankie Howerd to Rising Damp to shows representing comedians who were then the new generation (Not The Nine O'Clock News). The Two Ronnies followed my favorite, Monty Python's Flying Circus.


A few years later, in the 1990's, the PBS affiliate in San Jose, KTEH, treated San Francisco Bay Area viewers to the next generation of British comedy: Blackadder, The Young Ones, Alexei Sayle's Stuff and Red Dwarf, but, alas, no more Barker and Corbett series.



Bear in mind, with the exception of Are You Being Served, the overwhelming majority of British comedy shows from the 1960's, 1970's and 1980's never aired on United States television. For an idea of how many series were in comedy-drenched British television, take a gander at these three videos (and enjoy the shredding electric guitarist on the soundtracks).







Never dawned on me that Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett were a different genre and generation of entertainment from the Pythons as it did emphatically when Frankie Howerd's Up Pompeii! series ran in the PBS Brit-com lineup, but The Two Ronnies often represented a blend of English music hall traditions with the anarchic sensibility of The Goon Show, Beyond The Fringe and the Pythons.



As Ronnie Barker's background was in repertory theatre, mastering character roles as a player stock company player and Ronnie Corbett's experience was as a variety/vaudeville performer, closer to the music hall sensibility of Eric Morecambe & Ernie Wise than the Pythons, the new school - old school synthesis worked like a charm. And, unquestionably, The Two Ronnies and the Pythons shared a love of extreme silliness delivered with British understatement.



Furthering that comedy yin-yang was the presence of various Pythons and Goons in the writing of the Two Ronnies shows. Some of the funniest Two Ronnies episodes I recall seeing way back when were written by two duos from Monty Python: Graham Chapman & John Cleese, as well as Terry Jones & Michael Palin. Eric Idle receives writing credits on season 1 episodes of The Two Ronnies, along with Jones and Palin. It is entirely possible that programmers at PBS pulled all the Two Ronnies shows that were written by Pythons and showcased them, given the considerable popularity of Monty Python's Flying Circus, Fawlty Towers and Ripping Yarns. Spike Milligan (The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town serial in season 6) and Tim Brooke-Taylor also were writers on the series.

These days, the BBC cable channels and streaming services demonstrate an aversion to non-current content and show no interest in "classic" shows whatsoever, but a poster on Daily Motion who's either a super fan of the Two Ronnies or a member of the Barker and Corbett families has posted a Two Ronnies playlist featuring 82 episodes of the series.



So it is possible to binge watch the series, even if you do not have a Region-free DVD player, at least at the moment, via this playlist.



There are clips from Two Ronnies shows, as well as slightly truncated 40 minute versions, sans openings and closings, on YouTube. Note: some YouTube posts, such as the following one, are out-of-sync.



Closing today's post with clips from the BAFTA tribute celebrating the six decade career of Ronnie Barker, hosted by Ronnie Corbett, with David Jason, Peter Kay, John Cleese, Gene Wilder and Rob Brydon.



Thanks a million to all of you stiff upper lip merrymakers!