Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Given the choice between posting about April Fool's Day, National Ferret Day (April 2) or the soon approaching first day of baseball season, we At Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog go with MLB opening day. So, to end March, the baseball fans at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog go hog wild with baseball cartoons!
In Buddy's Bearcats, the always scintillating "Mr. Excitement" and star of Looney Tunes from the early days of the Leon Schlesinger Studio, Buddy, is the hometown hero of his baseball team. While some of the gags are more than a tad grotesque, the snappy action combined with Norman Spencer's uncharacteristically jaunty musical score makes for an enjoyable cartoon.
As fate would have it, Major League Baseball on Thursday announced its master 2021 Major League regular season schedule, which will begin with all 30 Major League Clubs playing on (that's right) April 1 - April Fool's Day. Can this blogger wait? No!
This writer's first experience of baseball well preceded his first pilgrimage to windy and always "chill" Candlestick Park to see the San Francisco Giants (Mays! McCovey! Marichal! Perry!). It was reading the celebrated comic strip Peanuts, in which Charlie Brown's woeful team was considerably worse than the execrable 40-122 New York Mets of 1962. Eventually the softball saga from the daily comics found its way into paperback reissues and the second animated version of the gang. Still love the comics of Charles M. "Sparky" Schulz.
The Schulz comics certainly had a genuine cuteness factor, served with dry wit, and once in a blue moon (or three, or eight) a Warner Brothers cartoon strayed, unwittingly or reluctantly, into that "Disney cute" territory.
Usually an uncharacteristically cute Merrie Melodie cartoon would be directed by Chuck Jones, but in this case the director is the guy who arguably was the greatest animator ever to work at Warner Brothers Animation - Robert McKimson.
It is stretching it to call this a baseball cartoon, as Hobo Bobo's pachyderm protagonist yearns to play ball, but does not swing the bat and rival Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig during the 6:38 running time, but who cares - love that elephant!
We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog believe strongly that ultra-goofiness within a totally off-the-wall cartoon universe constitutes a vision as much as a high-falutin' French New Wave flick, so here's a cartoon by our friends at the Van Beuren studio.
No studio could combine primitive animation with delirious, off-the-grid wacko ideas quite like Van Beuren in the early 1930's. They stick with the off-the-wall program - perfection be damned!
There are good, bad and indifferent cartoons about baseball and the following, The Ball Game, a "bugs swinging bats" opus from the Aesop's Fables series, manages to be all three of those simultaneously . . . and also is quite funny. We note that one of the usual suspects from the studio's often hilarious Tom & Jerry series, animator, storyman and sometimes director George Rufle, is in the opening credits.
Speaking of Friz Freleng, the director of Baseball Bugs, arguably the greatest film about baseball ever made, he and his Merrie Melodies crew produced a terrific cartoon about the national pastime 10 years earlier.
That would be Boulevardier from the Bronx, based on the charming song and dance number performed by Jack Oakie and Joan Blondell in the Dick Powell - Ruby Keeler musical Colleen.
The baseball team's (literally) crowing star pitcher is cocky in more ways than one, and elements of this cartoon recall Disney's Silly Symphony Cock Of The Walk. While Friz Freleng's cartoons were in the process of moving away from the Silly Symphonies Lite seen in much of the industry, this would be an instance of his Merrie Melodies matching the Disney studio in their genre, on a fraction of the budget. Baseball fans will note the reference to pitcher Dizzy Dean.
This cartoon was so good that a bunch of the animation from Boulevardier from the Bronx got used again for Freleng's 1940 Looney Tune Porky's Baseball Broadcast.
Released theatrically on January 27, 1936 - eight months before Boulevardier from the Bronx - was the Walter Lantz studio's Oswald Rabbit cartoon Soft Ball Game. Expanding upon the concept of arachnid baseball seen in the Aesops Fable cartoon, not only rabbits and insects play ball but gorillas, porcupines, turtles and octopi. The ideas throughout are very clever. It's a standout among the later Ozzie The Lucky Rabbit cartoons.
This would not be the only Walter Lantz opus about baseball. The early and enjoyably grotesque "goony bird" design of Woody Woodpecker (before Shamus Culhane and Art Heineman came along to give the Woodster a makeover) inadvertently and impudently ends up on the diamond in The Screwball.
We close with an ingenious mashup of bits from two of this blogger's favorite animated cartoons about baseball. The following poster on DailyMotion combines HOW TO PLAY BASEBALL and BASEBALL BUGS, two masterpieces.
Saturday, March 20, 2021
Shifting the blog's focus from music to silent movies, we note this weekend's special presentations by the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. There will be a Circus History Live presentation on Sunday afternoon, featuring a recently restored 1902 film of a Ringling Brothers parade in Indianapolis. This weekend's Tribute To Al Christie is a retrospective covering the extremely prolific yet lesser known mogul/producer/director of silent era comedy.
This tribute presents 12 short films directed or produced by Christie.
Film historians, authors and silent comedy experts Sam Gill and Steve Massa, with film collector Michael Aus (who has provided cinematic rarities for the tribute), will tell us more about Christie Comedies, including a discussion on Zoom.
The American Cinematheque noted in the program notes for a 2013 retrospective of the Al Christie studio's films, "Christie's style was often risqué, sometimes bizarre and even borderline surreal, but always witty and hilarious."
The Saturday show of Christie films produced for Nestor in 1914-1915 features Eddie Lyons and Lee Moran, supported by actress, comedienne and frequent player in westerns Victoria Forde (soon to co-star with - and marry - cowboy star Tom Mix).
Sunday's program focuses on Christie Comedies from the 1920's and features most of the studio's flagship stars of the era: Dorothy Devore, Bobby Vernon, Neal Burns, Jimmie Adams, Walter Hiers and Jack Duffy.
Christie's studio aspired to a sophisticated alternative to knockabout comedy - more farcical and situational, less slapstick - during these times when the best known laugh factory was Mack Sennett's Keystone, and Hal Roach was just getting started with Rolin Films, featuring new star Harold Lloyd. The style of the Nestor and Christie Studio comedies of the teens was an ensemble approach, not dominated by any one player, and somewhere in between the situational humor exemplified by John Bunny and Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew and the more wacky approach of the first silver screen comedy star, Max Linder.
Headlining much of the Saturday program: Eddie Lyons and Lee Moran, who co-starred in farces with hints of slapstick and silliness - over 300 films - for Christie, beginning at Nestor comedies in 1914.
Eddie Lyons & Lee Moran would continue to be the exponents of the Christie Comedies house style to some degree even after they left to produce, write, direct and star in the Lyons-Moran Star Comedies series and feature films for Universal.
The Al Christie studio stuck to this approach, eschewing broad physical humor for the most part. Frequently, the films spotlighted comediennes and comic leading ladies such as Victoria Forde, Edith Roberts, Billie Rhodes, Betty Compson, Priscilla Dean, Ethel Lynn and Fay Tincher. In the 1920's, the studio produced feature films starring Christie Comedies stalwart Dorothy deVore (seen in Kidding Katie in Sunday's program).
During the heydey of Lyons & Moran at Christie, the silver screen comedy world, from Sennett and Arbuckle to former Sennett director Henry Lehrman to the "whirls" of circus clown Musty Suffer to Kalem's grotesque team of "Ham & Bud," to Vitagraph's cartoonist and magician turned-slapstickmeister Larry Semon, was headed in the opposite direction.
A decade after their WW1 era stars moved on, some (Betty Compson) to feature film stardom, Christie Comedies increasingly moved away from this style. As the 1920's progressed, Christie Comedies increasingly stressed chases and action. By the time Christie began releasing comedies through Paramount at the end of the silent era, the transition to a more knockabout-oriented Sennett inspired approach was complete.
The lineup of films for A Tribute To Al Christie is as follows:
Saturday March 20th:
Detective Dan Cupid (1914) Directed by Al Christie, starring Eddie Lyons, Lee Moran, Victoria Forde.
Behind The Screen (1915)
Lizzie's Dizzy Career (1915) Eddie Lyons, Lee Moran, Victoria Forde
Pruning the Movies (1915) Eddie Lyons, Lee Moran, Carmen de Phillipi
Mr. Fatima (1920) Eddie Barry, Earle Rodney, Helen Darling
Rocking The Boat (1921) Earle Rodney, Irene Dalton, Henry Murdock
Sunday March 21:
Kidding Katie (1923) Dorothy Devore, Babe London
A Perfect 36 (1923) Bobby Vernon, Teddy Sampson
Fool Proof (1924) Neal Burns, Rosa Gore
Grandpa's Girl (1924) Jack Duffy, Kathleen Clifford
A Rarin' Romeo (1925) Walter Hiers, Jack Duffy
Swiss Movements (1927) Jimmie Adams, Billy Engle, Doris Dawson
LIVE ZOOM - 5:00pm PT 8:00pm ET
Sam, Steve, and Michael will be live for a Zoom discussion of Al Christie's films and comedy.
The aforementioned Circus Historical Society screening, Circus, Part IV - Wagon By Wagon, shall be at 4:00pm PT, 6:00pm CT, 7:00pm ET on Sunday.
Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum curator, film programmer, historian and author David Kiehn, joined by historian Fred Dahlinger and host Chris Berry, will present the 1902 film of a Ringling Brothers Circus parade in Indianapolis, Indiana. CLICK HERE to register for this event.
We yet again extend a respectful tip of the Max Linder top hat to the museum for doing this monthly series of most welcome online events through this last year+ of pandemic lockdown. Looking forward to next month's program on the history of April 18, 1906 - San Francisco Earthquake. For more, check out the museum's YouTube channel.
Saturday, March 13, 2021
Noting a certain pesky robot on our kitchen table that repeatedly mentions the Birthday Roundup, reminding the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog that, hoo-boy, there are some doozies among the natal anniversaries on March 14.
First and foremost, there's Albert Einstein (yes, THAT Einstein, as opposed to Harry "Parkyakarkus" Einstein and Bob "Super Dave Osborne" Einstein), the Nobel Prize-winning physicist and visionary, was born on March 14, 1879. Here he is, the genius, thinker, innovator and movie buff, with Charlie Chaplin in 1931.
Along with his meeting with Charlie Chaplin, a favorite Albert Einstein story involves him interrupting a conference by announcing, "you will have to excuse me, gentlemen. It's Time for Beany." That was Albert's favorite TV show and we surmise he was a big fan of Stan Freberg and Daws Butler, the brilliant voice artists who doubled as puppeteers and gag writers!
Chaplin and Time For Beany were not the only links between the founder of modern physics and quantum mechanics and the worlds of animation and filmmaking. Animation producer Max Fleischer, always fascinated by the sciences, made a documentary film about Einstein's Theory Of Relativity in 1923. A piece which explains the sciences to the layman very well, it makes me love Uncle Max even more than I already do!
It's difficult to think of any individual in the music field who has excelled in more genres, worn more hats successfully and tried out more new ideas in more varied settings than producer-arranger-bandleader-composer-brassman Quincy Jones.
Since MJ's "King of Pop" records are Quincy's best known work as an producer-arranger, this post will concentrate on Mr. Jones' outstanding work in jazz and r&b.
It's tough to know just where to begin or end with Mr. Jones, responsible for so much stellar music. We'll start with a couple of tracks from Genius + Soul = Jazz by Ray Charles. It's a masterpiece and features incredible arrangements by Quincy.
No doubt Sinatra heard this album and took notes! The stellar Quincy Jones arrangements enable Ray to blend the sounds of soul, r&b and jazz beautifully, as Capitol Records Frank (with Quincy, Billy May, Nelson Riddle and Gordon Jenkins arrangements) transported the crooner persona that began with Bing Crosby into a jazzier place, updating and expanding the 1930's swing era sound.
Here, Ray Charles pays tribute to Quincy Jones. They did incredible work together!
Quincy Jones played on one of my favorite records, Clifford Brown In Paris. Featuring Clifford, Art Farmer, Quincy and outstanding arrangements, this album's alternate title could be KICK ASS BRASS.
Without a doubt, the brilliance of this group inspired the arrangements and sound of Quincy's epic 1950's - 1960's big band, seen here rocking the house in Paris.
These look forward to Quincy's charts for the Count Basie juggernaut on The Chairman Of The Board's classics It Might As Well Be Swing and Sinatra At The Sands
There's a Netflix documentary about the life and times of Quincy Jones - and it looks fantastic.
Should one asked this film buff if there's any actor who never played 007 but would have at the very least made an interesting, offbeat James Bond, different from all the others, it would be this insanely prolific movie and TV star, born on the same day as Quincy Jones, March 14, 1933: Michael Caine.
Among his numerous credits, Caine starred in the greatest of heist caper movies, The Italian Job (1969).
Among a gazillion movies and TV shows spanning every imaginable genre in a six-decade acting career, arguably my all-time favorite film of Michael Caine's would be the 1972 classic Sleuth, co-starring none other than Sir Larry Olivier. No spoilers allowed here - just see it!
Finishing today's post, which has celebrated a multitude of mindblowingly amazing 20th century accomplishments, we jump a few decades forward into the 21st century and pay tribute to one of our current greats. This young man, knowing his dad's rep for making impossible long-range shots began shredding the hoops as an elementary schooler way back in the 20th century, has come to define the art of 21st century roundball over the past decade. That would be the one, the only Steph Curry.
Often found in unrelentingly brutal 2020 and the first few stressful weeks of 2021 that Steph's can-do spirit and eloquent expression of the joy of playing restored my flagging faith in humanity. Curry has brought joy to sports and life in a way few All-Stars on the court, diamond or gridiron have.
Happy Birthday, Steph and lots of love to you and yours from the aficionados of hoops, good will, best practices and a positive outlook around the world. Bravos, Cheers and Mazel Tov!
Saturday, March 06, 2021
Love many movie genres, from sci-fi to silents to musicals to psychotronica to animation here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, but none more than film noir. After reading a magnificent piece on classical music in animated cartoons (most frequently employed by one Carl W. Stalling) by Vincent Alexander, this blogger turns his attentions to the vivid and expressive music of film noir.
Odds Against Tomorrow, a real and reel masterpiece directed by the master of all genres, Robert Wise, and one of the last but very, very best examples of hard-hitting film noir, features a killer score by John Lewis of The Modern Jazz Quartet.
This is such an amazing and beautifully realized movie we wish that the ridiculously multi-talented Harry Belafonte, who stars as a young entertainer deeply in the throes of a gambling addiction, had continued further as an indie film producer (note: many years later, he produced The Angel Levine, Buck & The Preacher and Beat Street).
Louis Malle's film Elevator To The Gallows features an unbeatable combo: outstanding Miles Davis music, the brilliant acting of Jeanne Moreau and the director's original synthesis of film noir and French New Wave cinema stylings.
Among the hard-boiled American crime thrillers so beloved by the Malles, Chabrols, Truffauts and Jean-Pierre Melvilles of the world, the classic "find the bastard who murdered me" mystery D.O.A. remains a personal favorite.
The "Fisherman" nightclub in D.O.A. looks like the place to be for red hot jazz on a Saturday night. We sincerely hope the audience left generous tips.
As fate would have it, the writer of this blog shared big time enthusiasm for this excellent movie with an old and much-missed friend who passed in his sleep on Christmas 2020. . .So Mr. Blogmeister raises his goblet in a toast to my film buff compadre - and to the ace filmmaker who helmed D.O.A., producer, director and cinematographer Rudolf Maté, one of the all-time movie greats. Gotta love a guy who who worked making movies in the United States, Hungary, Austria, Germany, France and the United Kingdom!
As celebrated as Stanley Kubrick's spectacular 1960s and 1970s movies are, it's those early film noirs that may well be my personal favorites among the director's illustrious, provocative and flamboyant cinematic career. His second feature film, Killer's Kiss, shot in NYC, was an indie film made on a portion of a shoestring, but beautifully and strikingly shot and edited. Both the soundtracks and the cinematography in Killer's Kiss and The Killing are memorable.
The Killing = "all this noir - and Sterling Hayden, too."
We extend a respectful tip of the battered fedora to prolific poster Arthur Grant on Vimeo. Mr. Grant has done us the favor of singling out many film noir classics which feature incredible soundtracks. These include the delightfully corrosive Billy Wilder flick Ace in the Hole (sneering snark by Kirk Douglas, music by Hugo Friedhofer), The Big Combo (music by David Raksin, Mise-en-scène by Joseph H. "Gun Crazy" Lewis) and the unabashedly tacky and garish love triangle melodrama Desert Fury, featuring a terrific Miklos Rozsa soundtrack.
Frankly, the film the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog would choose, both for its soundtrack and truly cosmic understanding of the bottomless depths of an ever-spinning noir universe would be the delirious Mickey Spillane adaptation Kiss Me Deadly, directed with apropo fever dream delirium by Robert Aldrich. Aldrich subsequently directed Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, the more sedate of the two movies.
The composer who carried film noir music into the 1960's and extended it into the world of television was the great Henry Mancini. We love us some Mancini here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog!
Closing today's post is this blog's all-time favorite album of re-imagined, lovingly deconstructed and re-constructed movie music, Oranj Symphonette Plays Mancini.
Listening to this outstanding record reminds the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog how much we miss multi-instrumentalist, Oranj Mancinis leader, friend and avid classic movies/animation buff Ralph Carney (1956-2017). Also reminds us how much we loathe, detest and have difficulty accepting these losses. . .