Friday, December 21, 2007

Snow White Attacks!

Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was released 70 years ago today.

Although some film critics like to hint that Walt Disney took too much credit for the animations that came out of his studio, this promotional short seems to make an honest effort to show that many people did the work.

But what I like most about this piece is the way the off-camera narrator barks out every line as if the Empire of Japan had just bombed Pearl Harbor. I guess that was "gravitas" for the 1930's. When the Empire of Japan finally did attack, this guy was ready.

Monday, December 17, 2007

They'd sound better but...

Per the 1930 Census, Walt Disney's partner/accountant/brother Roy's occupation was... "Sound Recorder"

(click to enlarge)

found on gruntzooki's flicker page

Also interesting: both Walt and Roy married older women. Judging from their neighbors' occupations listed here, the Disneys were living in a fairly middle-class neighborhood.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

An Edsel for the 21st Century

I'm sure car enthusiasts wondered what would happen when Ford bought Jaguar some years ago. Not to worry...

Ladies and Gentlemen, for the first time ever, the unreliable engineering of a Jaguar has been combined with the unattractiveness of a station wagon!

Ford brought a distinguished history of automotive marketing disaster to Jaguar that it could never have acquired on its own:

The Edsel Show starring Bing Crosby

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Five funny things about The Jazz Singer

1. The Jazz Singer is mostly a conventional silent film with about a half dozen short song sequences mixed in. When the first one comes up, the film historian on the DVD commentary track notes that "this is the one that people remember, this is the one that ended silents!"

Then he says that again when the next one comes up.

And again for the next one.

And again. And again...

2. The Princess Leia spiral-do on Eugenie Besserer, who plays Jolson's jewish mother.

3. I just can't resist singing this song around the house now. Especially when descending staircases. I'd walk a million miles for one of your smiles...

Fun Fact: "My Mammy" was introduced in 1918 in vaudeville by William Frawley. Yes, that William Frawley, neighbor "Fred Mertz" from I Love Lucy.

4. One of the extras on the DVD is I Love to Singa with "Owl Jolson. The DVD looks WAY better than this Youtube clip.

5. Al Jolson actually looks better in blackface than not.

Friday, November 16, 2007

why democracy doesn't work in some places

I was listening to a reporters' roundtable discussion on NPR this morning. They were talking about Pakistan and appropriately enough they included a reporter from an English-language Pakistani newspaper. At one point an American reporter explains why the Bush Administration has been backing General Musharraf: because they imagine him to be stable and they're worried what will happen to the Pakistani nukes otherwise.

But the Pakistani reporter is outraged. He's not just mad at the Bush administration policy, he's mad at the American reporter for merely saying what the Bush policy is. He seriously believes that if the reporter states the Bush policy the reporter was supporting the Bush policy.

Later, the moderator asks the Pakistani reporter if Benazir Bhutto might be a plausible successor to Gen. Musharraf. More outrage! That's for the Pakistani people to decide, not Americans!

So if that's how the educated elite in Pakistan tolerate political discussion, imagine what it's like in the streets.

It reminds me of an ex-brother-in-law of mine. He was from Lebanon. He appeared outwardly western but he did not fare well here. One day he and my brother and I were sitting watching an old Godzilla movie. He got very agitated by it.

"Those Japanese are liars! There is no animal like that!"

My brother explains to him that, of course, it's just a silly movie, no one is claiming it's real. The monster is really a symbol for other things the japanese are thinking about. But it was hopeless.

"They are LIARS! That's all those Japanese do! THEY ARE LIARS!"

We had to turn the set off. And still he kept going on about how the Japanese were all liars.

When you wonder why there is unrest in some parts of the world, know that many of these people live on very short fuses. And what is the hope for peace in societies where things we take as basic like irony, metaphor, and casual disagreement are off the table because someone will take them seriously and panic over it? America may well be the cause of all their problems, but if it wasn't us they'd find something else to riot about. A loss at cricket perhaps.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hu's on first

There's an Abbott and Costello routine here somewhere...

Condoleeza: These foreign leaders have some strange names. For example, Hu is the president of China.

George: Who is?

Condoleeza: That's right!

Ok, this guy is 64 years old and doesn't have a gray hair on his head? None of those communist party guys seem to ever go gray.

I wonder, do they all dye their hair secretly and and deny it to each other or is it some sort of despot bonding activity?

"Hey, Zhang, I'd love to talk some more about oppressing Tibet but I need to go touch up my roots, wanna come with?"

I've dyed my hair black before, it is not a simple procedure. Next time you see one of these Chinese leaders, consider that they're spending at least an hour in the bathroom each week with a plastic cap on their head and black goo dribbling down their ears.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Harrison Ford v1.0

Imagine my surprise on seeing this credit in the Lon Chaney movie "Shadows" (1922).

It seems Harrison Ford was a successful leading man, appearing in 80+ films through the silent era.

He's not bad. He has a star on Hollywood Boulevard that is probably often mistaken for the star of the replicant Harrison Ford.

Here's Lon Chaney in the same movie playing "Yen Sin", a Chinese laundryman.

There had been several notoriously negative portrayals of chinese immigrants in movies at that time. "Shadows" may have been an attempt to counter the stereotypes, but I suspect it was concocted just as much to see how far out Chaney could go in his appearance.

It's only somewhat more convincing a transformation than, say, blackface on Al Jolson, but Chaney creates a great character none-the-less and "Shadows" turns out to be a pretty good film.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Making it with Music

It isn't easy selling classical music. It's not unheard-of for sales of a CD by a major orchestra to only get to the double digits. So when I see this... only surprise is that it wasn't "shagging".

It seems RCA has also released "Bedroom Bliss with Beethoven" and "Making Out to Mozart" CDs.

(Cover art apparently drawn by someone who has no has no first-hand knowledge of the human spine)

"Handel for Handjobs" and "Porking to Paganini" can't be far off.

But what ever will they do with Fauré?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Land of Opportunity

Proof, once again, that in America any boy or girl, no matter what his or her background, can one day grow up to dress like a used car salesman.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Wiring, schmiring...

It turns out the Kuwaiti company building the US embassy in Iraq has been doing shoddy, overpriced work and possibly using forced labor to do it.

Even sprinkler systems fail at U.S. embassy in Baghdad

...The previously undisclosed problem in the $592 million project was discovered several weeks ago when the fire-safety systems were tested and pipe joints burst...

...In May, when kitchen facilities at a guard camp that is part of the embassy complex were tested, the electrical system malfunctioned and wires melted. A subsequent inquiry showed that First Kuwaiti had used counterfeit electrical wiring that did not meet specifications...

...allegations that First Kuwaiti abused foreign workers and illegally brought some workers to Iraq against their will

I thought that's what we were paying Halliburton for!

Although $592 million for an embassy sounds like a lot, that's a bargain compared to $500 million for the W monument to be built here in Dallas. But maybe the George Bush Library needs blast-proof walls too.

Our embassy better have a helicopter pad on the roof. It's going to come to that...

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Making the Band

From the "well, duh!" desk in the newsroom of Vanity Fair magazine comes this report that Lou Pearlman, producer of most of the big boy bands of the 90's may have had his hand on more than just the audio mixing board in the control room.

I'm sure Michael Jackson is slapping his forehead now saying, "Boy bands! Why didn't I think of that?!?"

Something that has not been properly studied in either of these situations is... WHAT were the parents thinking when they delivered their sons to spend the weekend at these gentlemen's homes?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Get this man some oxygen!

This is what a prominent Republican looks like when he has to explain how he's come to take a political position that is to the left of, say, Hillary Clinton.

And all this gasping and shaking is for one of those dumb activist resolutions city councils come up with that have nothing to do with governing their city. What would he do if a bill to require alternate-side-of-street parking came to his desk?

To be fair, he comes from an uptight age. An age in which people would watch a film like this and then describe it as a "historical epic".

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Woman of a thousand faces

All of them scowls.

I'd be cranky too if my day consisted of trying to explain away the worst foreign policy debacle since Napolean invaded Russia.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Rice vs. Cheney

I don't know who's winning that internal foreign policy struggle at the White House but Condi's credibility can't be helped every time she falls for one of those phony "track suit casual friday" e-mails Dick sends out.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Libraries Unspun

The Nixon Library announced it is revising its exhibits on Watergate:

YORBA LINDA, Calif. - For nearly 20 years, visitors to the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace were told the Watergate scandal was really a "coup" by Nixon's rivals and the investigative reporting team of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein offered bribes for their nation-shaking scoops.

Now, as the privately run library transitions to federal control, its new director is taking some of the whitewash off the scandal...

I want to see a day like that at the half-billion dollar W monument being built here in Dallas, with an animatronic John Hodgeman explaining it all for the scholars who will have flocked there:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

thatsa lotsa ribbons

I think he's earned just about every military decoration there is except the "combing your hair so it doesn't look like a wet toupeé" ribbon.

Maybe when they finally let gays in the military he can get someone assigned to him to fix that for him.

But that's great name for a general isn't it? Petraeus. That would look just right if this were the Roman Empire.

Fun fact: He's been active duty military since 1974 but the current Iraq conflict is his first genuine combat assignment. No Lebanon, no Grenada, no Panama, no first Gulf War, no Somalia, no Kosovo. Maybe that's why George W feels so comfortable with him.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Pavarotti Dorma*

Seventy is way past prime for an opera singer. I recall BBC Music magazine once running an article about Luciano Pavarotti, "Is the Party Over?", noting his professional and physical decline. And that was ten years ago. So it made people very happy that he pulled it all together one last time at the Winter Olympics in 2006.

And here he is 11 years earlier singing with... Meat Loaf.

*Yes, I know that's probably not conjugated right.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

the naked mouse

Ever wonder what famous actors look like naked? Well, just like many other Hollywood stars, Mickey Mouse once did a tastefully brief nude scene, never imagining that someday home video and the freeze-frame button would make it possible for rodent gawkers to fully examine him.

A scene from "Barnyard Battle" (1929):

Times they have changed. If they did a scene like that now, Mickey would have to have some drawn-on polkadot boxers underneath his drawn-on button-up pants.

But next time a former child star commits an embarassing wardrobe slip, they can just say it's a Disney tradition.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Blame it on the merengue...

He should have just said he was listening to Sergio Vargas mashups on his ipod and that's what all the toe-tapping was about.

Of course, his real shame is having voted for the Iraq war and ruining the lives of milions of people along the way, but I doubt that will register with anyone.

I am surprised you can get arrested for just toe-tapping and hand gestures. Call me old fashioned but that just doesn't sound like a complete sex experience. Can I ask the police to look into the airport security guys who always want to grope me?

What was the Idaho senator doing in Minneapolis anyway? A connecting flight maybe. In the mad rush to run him out of office, I was waiting for someone to blame him for the big Minnesota bridge collapse. But as we learned from 9/11, Republicans aren't good at connecting the dots.

Friday, August 24, 2007

the Decline (part II)

I wonder who the lucky KGB agent is that has to wax Vladimir Putin's chest before photo-ops?

I'm sure some cheery person will say "that's not bad for 53", which I will say is right up there with "you're really tall for a midget."

I hope this isn't the start of a trend among tyrants. We don't want to see Kim Jong-Il, the ayatollahs, or Hugo Chavez on vacation with their shirts off.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Comrades in Arms...

... and lips and tongues and throats and tonsils and...

(Soviet postage stamp from the 60's)

Runner-up snarky comments:

-Cold War not all that cold.
-Ivan, is that a Kalishnikov under your trenchcoat or are you just happy about the new Five-Year Plan...?
-Summer of Love, Soviet Style
-You can't tell the comrades from the comradettes without a program.
-That stamp is just for a regular letter. Wait til you see the stamp for "Oversize Package"!
-Pioneering attempt at eastern european gay porn, marred by failure to remove clothes.
-Blame it on Tchaikovsky!
-Perfectly normal, just checking for secret documents.

And somehow this ad seems an appropriate complement:

Back in the day, I remember TV interviewer Charlie Rose playing that for a Soviet official who, unsurprisingly, was not amused.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Frankenstein Goes to College

When this title card came up I was sure this was just going to be a silly internet gag.

But no, this is the long-thought-lost 1910 Thomas Edison Studio production of "Frankenstein"!

Watch it on the internets: Thomas Edison's "Frankenstein"

I find most silent movies before about 1920 to be pretty hard to watch but once you get past the primitive nature of the film in general (no close-ups!), you'll see some very cool cinema happening. The scene where Frankenstein "cooks up" the monster is surprisingly creepy and the metaphor of the mirror shot at the end is quite clever.

Hmmm... do you suppose the actor playing the sinister inventor:

...took any inspiration from his boss?:

I'm sure that internet video has done nothing to improve the image quality but I bet that when originally projected in 35mm on a big screen this was a striking movie.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Let's see... Monte would have been 55 today. Here's pic from our trip to the Statue of Liberty in cross-your-eyes 3D.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Farm Report IV: Harvest time

In no particular order, a few of the the things that actually got to the edible stage...

ears of corn

served with peaches

el cantalope grande

I've made lots of tomato sauce with these

genuine blackberry jam

The watermelon and butternut squash on the side of the house were a failure. They appeared to grow alright but all got stolen before they were even ripe. Next year I'll try growing something there that no one will steal, like broccoli. Or beans.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

the decline of standards in male attractiveness

I've been hearing people refer to Presidential candidate Mitt Romney variously as "handsome" or "a pretty boy" depending on what side they are on.

Something must be wrong with my eyes.

But I think this venture is just waiting to be derailed by the discovery of several empty tins of black shoe polish in the Romney Campaign trash bin.

Friday, August 03, 2007

another bridge to nowhere

I notice that after every man-made disaster in this country there's a rush by officials to insist terrorism wasn't involved. They have no idea what caused the bridge to collapse, but they are already sure it wasn't terrorists.

Just brainstorming here... if a skilled engineer was willing to drive a car bomb into a Scottish airport, couldn't a skilled engineer figure out what few elements he would have to weaken to bring a bridge down? Unlikely, I know. I expect we'll find out it's our fault for not building the bridge decently in the first place.

Growing up in Minnesota, I'm sure I traveled over that bridge many times, but I can't place it specifically. There are lots of bridges between the Twin Cities.

"They" are estimating that bridge will cost $250 million to replace. About the cost of two days in Iraq.

So I guess that means the cost of the war is just about right since a tragedy like this is an every-other-day occurance in Iraq now, thanks to us and our President, who promised us it was necessary.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Valentino's Bad Side

If you want to understand why men of previous times may not have taken women very seriously, all you have to do is watch Rudolph Valentino in "The Sheik" with the knowledge that women were swooning over him because of it. It's just awful. He's basically a grinning idiot through the entire movie.

Almost any other Valentino movie is better. I just watched "Cobra" from 1925. He does quite well. From certain angles he resembles Ben Affleck:

Here's clever bit of screen magic. He says good-bye to the only woman he will ever love:

And as he turns away, the glint of a tear is revealed in his eye:

But there was no special magic that could hide this... Rudolph Valentino had a big butt:

Usually when you see a man with a butt that big he's got a giant red wig on and oversized red shoes and he's trying to sell you a Big Mac.