Tuesday, December 29, 2009

one eye to the future

So you want to go to Mars?

I can save you $80 billion. Just go to Spain, where they shot the Michael Caine film "Play Dirty".

It looks just the same.

"Play Dirty" is one of the better of the fictional-but-set-in-the-world-of-WWII films that seemed to be rather common in the 1960's

Directed by André De Toth, the one-eyed director who kicked off the 3D boom of the 1950's with "House of Wax".

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

like a white thumb

Speaking of black Americans, I just watched "Stormy Weather", one of two all-black cast movies made by major studios in the 40's. The headlining stars are dancer Bill Robinson and singer Lena Horne...

... but the movie is devised to showcase many other entertainers like Cab Calloway and the biggest bow-tie in show business:

The Katherine Dunham dance troupe has an extended sequence. I don't recall Fred and Ginger ever pawing each other like this:

From this vantage point it's hard to know how much of the movie is stuff the studio thought had to be in a "colored" movie and how much is what the performers were doing in their acts all along. I'm guessing the black-face flowers was a studio idea.

Film ends with the completely amazing Nicholas Brothers.

I said this was an all-black movie. Almost. If you pause the DVD you can catch one white guy in the middle of Cab Calloway's Band.

The band sounds great, I'm sure he's doing his job, but he does stick out.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

the duke of dc

I just noticed the Washington D.C. quarter has Duke Ellington on it.

As far as I know this is the first working musician to be shown on a US coin, although some of the other state quarters have musical references.

I say "working" since Thomas Jefferson allegedly played the violin.

Not the first black American on a US coin however. A commemorative half dollar was struck in 1946 to honor Booker T. Washington.

But I've never found a Booker T. Washington half dollar in my pocket change.

"Booker" is an unusual name, obviously from an age before people were afraid their children would ever learn anything.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

a nose for the cinema

The guy with the poodle pelt on his head is Abraham Sofaer playing a judge in heaven in A Matter of Life and Death (1946). He's got the biggest nose I've ever seen in a movie not attached to an elephant or Jimmy Durante. I guess that was the film makers' way of saying God is Jewish.

If you have some red-blue glasses you can even see him in 3D in these views I reconstructed from frames off the DVD.

I don't know if this was intended as a wink at the whole nose thing, but in the very next shot this guy...

... just has to scratch his nose while the judge speaks.

A Matter of Life and Death is another movie cinematographed by Jack Cardiff, mentioned in my last post, and yet another movie that does not look like other movies of the time.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

over the edge

You just know this isn't going to end well as soon as you see it.

One of the Sisters of St. Faith is going to take a dive off that cliff, and it won't be the flying nun.

None-the-less, "Black Narcissus" is a beautiful movie.

A few posts ago I wrote about the film "Four Feathers" that looked not like other films of the time. "Black Narcissus" is famous for not looking like other movies of the time. It's a Technicolor© movie that does not try to contain a rainbow in every frame.

I've read that "3-strip" Technicolor© sometimes didn't get the color elements aligned properly. This is the first time I've actually seen the fringing on a DVD.

My big screen projection TV does that. I'm going to tell people it's really just the Technicolor© acting up.

"Black Narcissus" is also famous for its many matte and background paintings. Believe it or not, the guy who painted the matte shot at the top also did the painting in this shot for Méliès 45 years before.

I caught this movie because of comments about the cinematographer, Jack Cardiff, on animation artist Jenny Lerew's blog. Go there to read more.

Mind the cliff, though.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

obama's bad decisions

Whatever awful decisions President Obama makes during his term in office I at least have confidence that they aren't because he's trying to prove he's the...

roughest, toughest,

mesquite cuttin'est,

Major League Baseball team owningest (<2%),

imaginary WMD huntingest,

petty dictator (who just happens to have lots of oil) gittin'est,

had *no* idea his father's friend got him out of Vietnamiest,

can't explain why he didn't show up for Air Guard Training-est,

meanest, eat with the troops some army beans-est,

gonna show 'em I'm bigger than my daddy-est,

...manliest jumpsuit-wearer that ever claimed to be "a war President!"*

In other words, Obama's not operating on right-wing fantasies, focus-group tested for maximum trailer park appeal.

Being wiser than George W. Bush is setting the bar pretty low, but it's a much needed step in the right direction.

I'm glad Obama won and McCain didn't.

I'm glad Sarah Palin isn't attending Cabinet meetings today. I'm glad we have a President who's going to honor the agreement to get out of Iraq instead of dreaming up phony reasons to stay. I'm glad he wants to get out of Afghanistan in three years instead of ten. I hope he actually does.

I'm glad he didn't just let the US auto industry collapse, even though some free-market pundits, who couldn't make a car if you gave them a Revell Model kit for it, wrote an op-ed that that would be a normal thing to do.

I'm not going to blame Obama for inaction caused by right-wing obstruction. I'm not going to hold him to campaign promises he never made (eliminating the National debt? In ten months? After George Bush spent 8 years doubling it?)

I will blame him for continuing affirmative action for rich bankers. Possibly it's true that it had to be done, but I don't like it.

It's a right-wing fantasy that Obama is now a disgrace or a failure. They hope and pray for it like they hoped and dreamed of WMDs in Iraq. Their chronic, colossal mistakenness about everything is impossible for them to swallow. Easier to keep living in fantasy.

Pretty much the same right-wing fantasies that have been misguiding and ruining this country for the last 30 years.

* Update: Commenter John offers bonus alternate ending below.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

economy tip for cat owners

After I gave my cat a bath he ran off and didn't come back for a week.

This could save on expensive kenneling fees when going away for vacation.

Monday, December 07, 2009

john stossel admits he will just make things up

John Stossel, the former ABC correspondent, talking about his new show at FOX Business Network in an interview on Daily Beast:

Stossel: ...50 years ago, Ayn Rand predicted today. It sort of sums up what I’m going to be reporting about.

Interviewer: Ayn Rand predicted what?

Stossel: Big government, nice-sounding legislation like “The Preservation of Livelihood Law,” which mandated that Hank Rearden’s production must not be bigger than any other steel mill, to make it a level playing field. It’s silly.

Interviewer: Is that a new law passed by this Congress?

Stossel: No, but it’s what Wesley Mouch, the evil bureaucrat in the book, passed. And what Tim Geithner and what Barney Frank might like to pass.

Frank or Geithner have never proposed such a thing nor suggested that they want to, but if some character in a novel or a comic book tried it, that's all the proof Stossel needs to say it might be true.

Hey did you know John Stossel might actually enjoy getting slapped around by pro wrestlers?:

Friday, December 04, 2009

aside from the way it looks

Does anything say "Age of Excess" better than a $12 protective case for a 20¢ banana?

Well, OK, there was that pointless trillion dollar war in Iraq.

But besides that?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

wannabe victim of the day

Woman is suing Post Office because her son in the army turns out to be not dead after all.

Hey lady, your son is *alive*.

That would be more than enough for all the parents whose sons are not. Even they don't get $50,000 when they hear their son is dead and it is actually true.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

thank you, unknown person!

Someone has kindly ordered me something from my Amazon wishlist, but it arrived in a plain shipping envelope with no invoice so I don't know who to thank.

Anyone want to fess up?

Update: Unknown person now known! see comments!

Friday, November 06, 2009

shake, rattle and squeeze

For all of you who have had that nagging question in your mind, "What does an accordian virtuoso sound like?"

Myron Florin, step aside...Ukraine's Aleksandr Hrustevich:

He has a Youtube channel with many entertaining performances.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

need a double wide?

That's all I need to know except why the phrase was "wife" and not "ex-wife".

Monday, October 26, 2009

building a better (das) boot

I didn't think the Germans were still building submarines, but here they are building a U-boat that runs on hydrogen powercells that is even quieter than our own nuclear submarines.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

unspoken faces

In silent movies you had to say it with your face, and these people had faces.

These are all from the 1920 D. W. Griffith melodrama "Way Down East".

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

getting yelled at by Walt Disney

Back around 1991 I answered an ad in the back of The Dallas Observer for "animators". A local comic book artist was wanting to start an animation studio and his ace-in-the-hole was an old-time, golden age studio animator named Bill "Tex" Henson who was going to train us all.

Tex is probably most remembered as a supervising animator (Tex said "THE supervising animator") in Mexico for "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show" and he had a long career that included many Casper cartoons at Paramount's "Famous Studios", many commercials and other work in TV thru the 80's.

However, he got his start just out of high school at Disney around 1943 where he was originally hired as a "story" artist.

But in 1991 we were sitting around our "studio" (Krash. Pow! it was called) practicing our inbetweens while Tex spun tales about the old days. Someone asked, "So what did you and Walt talk about when you were at Disney?"

Tex explained that he was very low in the organization and he did not have much occasion to "talk" with Walt Disney.

"... I DID get yelled at by him once," he added but then turned his attention back to whatever he was drawing on at the moment.

"Oh, come on, Tex," I said, "you GOTTA tell us about that one!"

So he told us how one day they were having a meeting where the story artists were pitching their storyboards to the directors. On this occasion Walt Disney was sitting in on the meeting although not saying much.

Tex had just finished presenting his ideas and one of the directors said "Gee, Tex, that's funny stuff... but it's really more like what they do over at Schlesinger's."

(Leon Schlesinger was the original owner of the cartoon studio that we now think of as "Warner Brothers")

To which Tex replied, "Well, it wouldn't hurt us to be more like Schlesinger's!"

"GOD DAMMIT!" Walt stands up and shouts, "They can make their cartoons THEIR WAY... and WE... will make OUR CARTOONS... OUR WAY!" And then he stormed out of the room.

No one got fired over this. Apparently screaming Walt was not common but not unknown either. Tex continued at Disney for several more years (he was the one who came up with the names "Chip and Dale" for the chipmunk duo) until he was hired away by Famous Studios.

That's the way Tex told us the story and that's the way I remember it... so it must be true.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

still cranking 'em out

Recent art news headline:

Art experts find possible new da Vinci

How "new" can it really be?

Well, Mr. Art Buyer, I've got a NEW 1978 Gremlin in my driveway I think you should snap up. Tests will confirm it's authentic. Original tires and oil, too.

I'll even include the blocks it's currently displayed on for free.

Friday, October 09, 2009

it's epic

One of my old employers, the Canadian telecom "giant" Nortel declared bankruptcy last January. The collapse took 10 years, but through diligent dumbness and fraudulent accounting they got the job done.

The company I now deal with to try to extract my pension dollars is called "Epiq Bankruptcy Solutions, LLC". I wouldn't think there's money in handling bankrupt companies but there must be.

I can imagine their slogan: "If your failure is epic, please consider Epiq."

Nortel was the site of my most memorable on-the-job kerfuffle ever. After I created an animation to be printed on the edge of a catalog as a flip-book, a manager said it was "sexually offensive" because it was obviously a depiction of the male member. She didn't say "male member", she used the medical term, but if you use that word too many times in your blog you get flagged as "adults only".

Shield thine eyes, here it is, member and all:

I wrote about this at greater length in one of my "Greatest Hits" you can find a link to over on the right.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

at least they weren't whirling

You know it's an exceedingly British movie when even the written out English doesn't make sense:

That's from "Four Feathers", an Alexander Korda epic of 1939.

It turns out the "Dervishes" are an Arab faction the British are fighting:

and the "Fuzzy-Wuzzies"?... they had big hair before big hair was cool:

If you wonder why old movies look the way they do, a lot of it is the lighting.

After the very expensive on-location debacle that was the 1925 version of "Ben Hur", studios tended to confine shooting to indoor sets whenever possible.

"Four Feathers" doesn't look like a lot of old movies because instead of trying to light indoor sets to pass for outdoors they actually went outdoors to shoot outdoor scenes.

These daylight shots look quite modern to my eye.

But when they get inside it's golden age studio look again.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

saws all

"Britain's Got Talent" non-winner Austin Blackburn performs grand opera on the musical saw. Infinitely better than the un-musical saw version.

His "Ave Maria" isn't bad either:

His only partially well-received BGT audition:

The musical saw is not a new instrument, its heyday was probably in the vaudeville era. Marlene Dietrich entertained troops during WWII with her saw performances. I'm sure the jokes probably wrote themselves on that occasion.

to the situation room!

I can see President Obama picking up that ringing phone at 3AM... some new international crisis must be brewing.

Has Russia invaded Georgia again? No.

Has Israel bombed Iran? No.

Roman Polanski has been arrested in Switzerland!

It would have been simpler for everyone if he had stayed out of reach. Not necessarily just, but simpler.

The Swiss must be trying to create awkward circumstances for Obama after the US made them give up some of their secret bank account customers. This can't be the first time in 30 years that Polanski has been thru Switzerland, but they decide to nab him now?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

for me, it was "sky and telescope" magazine

A Republican Senate staffer tells Values Voters that straight porn will make you gay.

“And if you tell an 11-year-old boy about that, do you think he’s going to want to get a copy of Playboy? I’m pretty sure he’ll lose interest."

Monday, September 21, 2009

except that we were in minnesota

This guy used to be Secretary of Education under Reagan and it fit. He looks like every overstuffed, red-faced principal I had in elementary school.

For the first few grades I was confused. Why is the same overstuffed, red-faced man appearing as principal at these different schools but under different names? It was a very specific look, very similar to the stereotype of the rural southern sheriff.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

and next year we're not going to tahiti*

Russia has canceled plans to put missiles they couldn't afford next to Poland after the U.S. canceled plans to put missiles we couldn't afford next to Russia.

Neither admits it's about the money, of course.

This is a novel new approach to international affairs... calling off the war ten years before you stomp into it. How will we ever get a good war off the ground with planning like that?

*punchline from an old joke where a down-on-her-luck socialite has explained that she didn't go on an expensive vacation to Cannes because it was just "too boring" there.

Friday, September 18, 2009

guns don't kill people...

... crazy people with guns, who want an easy way to kill someone as they drive by, kill people.

Too big to fit on a bumper sticker, I'm afraid.

The gun lobby promotes gun possession as a defense of liberty. But I can't think of any case in American history where an oppressive government policy has been rolled back because ordinary citizens took up guns against it.

The Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790's did not succeed in getting the whiskey tax repealed. It got repealed some ten years later when the people elected new representatives in Congress who voted to repeal it.

Certainly the South's rebellion in the Civil War was the biggest example of taking up arms against Federal policy, but I recall that rather backfired for them.

Some might say the American Revolution was an example of people taking up arms, but that citizen effort floundered until it was organized into a real army under Washington and even then it required the intervention of the French to tip the balance.

(Washington and French General LaFayette)

The only examples I can think where people achieved an objective by taking up guns have been for totally nefarious purposes, such as the Klan suppressing the legal rights of minority citizens, or gangsters intimidating lawful authorities from curbing their illegal businesses.

People point to the Nazis' confiscation of private guns in Germany as proof of something or other but fail to note that the Nazis came to power while the guns were legal and consolidated their power while the guns were still legal and didn't get around to taking the guns until years later. The right to bear arms in Germany didn't do anything to stop tyranny.

Likewise, ordinary people could own guns in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. It's hard to detect that that improved their liberty situation.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

leavin on her jet plane

Peter, Paul and Mary are one THE memories I have of growing up in the 60's. When I was little we simply did not have rock music records in our house, but folk music was permitted and Peter, Paul and Mary got played quite a bit.

In retrospect, they were the one folk act that didn't seem to become a self-parody. And as a college friend of mine once noted, no one could swell like Peter, Paul and Mary. It seemed like ghosts singing. In a good way.

So I'm sad to hear that Mary Travers has died.

And Henry Gibson has died too. He was part of that signature TV show of the 60's, "Laugh-In". That was another big memory of the 60's. If you see clips today it seems insignificant, but every week something on that show would leave us gasping with laughter and asking "can you SAY that on television?"

And of course he was the Nazi in "The Blues Brothers".

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

watch your back, guys

Dick Cheney, toxic asset.

Although ex-vice-presidents do not usually get any Secret Service protection, President Obama has extended Dick Cheney's protection indefinitely.

Dick Cheney is probably the first time in the history of the Secret Service that they have to worry about the person they are protecting having a gun.

Friday, September 11, 2009

bob the seer

A college friend, Bob Como, correctly identified the origin of the problems we're having today.

Years ago, when we were sophomores at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, he said to me, "Robert, can you believe this school has a Young Republicans chapter?"

Trying to be fair and balanced I answered, "Well, isn't there a Young Democrats chapter here too?"

"Yes," Bob replied, "but the Young Republicans actually have meetings."


Monday, September 07, 2009

even safety isn't safe anymore

The AP reports that "nanny" software that you use to monitor your kids' online chats is also recording their comments and selling them to advertisers.

This is so the corporate powers that be can be ready for the moment when "tween" desire reaches critical mass for a product that somehow involves the mating of the Jonas Brothers with the Olsen Twins and to correctly identify which Jonas Brother should be the odd-man-out.

It's probably all buried in the EULA somewhere but I think most people stopped reading EULAs when they noticed most begin with something like "This software is not warranted to ever perform any useful function from the moment of purchase until the Sun runs out of fuel..."

Saturday, September 05, 2009

the smell of manliness

From the what-were-they-thinking division of Hollywood we get the Charlton Heston movie "The Far Horizons", an almost completely fictional account of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

In which you will see:

Fred MacMurray... in satin knickers... descending a staircase... after a felicitous discussion... in a private room... arm in arm... with "John Hancock":

Sacajawea, the Indian guide, portrayed by... Donna Reed:

Charlton Heston kisses her quite a bit in this movie and I would too seeing as she appears to have the entire contents of a box of Betty Crocker Brownie Mix smeared on her face.

But Charlton is the focus of this movie, and I know that because he goes through...

... about a third of the movie...

... with a skunk on his head:

Imagine if this film had been a hit instead of "Davy Crockett" a year later.

BTW, that's William Demarest on the left...

... who would later be "Uncle Charlie" to Fred MacMurray in "My Three Sons"