Sunday, April 30, 2006

"Little Archie On Mars"

Having done way too many posts about the greatness of cartoonist-writer Bob Bolling and his "Little Archie" comics, I thought I'd actually scan and post one of his stories so Bolling newcomers could get an idea of what makes his work so special.

This is "Little Archie on Mars," a 1961 story; it's included as the first story in the Little Archie Collection, which I highly recommend you get. This is Bolling in his high-adventure mode, a pure and perfect expression of a kid's wildest fantasies: everything in the story seems exactly the way a kid would imagine it. It's not a stuffy grown-up science-fiction story, it's a story for the imaginative child in all of us. Even the dialogue sounds like it comes from a child's vocabulary, without ever feeling in the least dumbed-down. And Bolling's artwork was always wonderful at finding the right angle or pose to suggest an important action. Check out the effect in the very last panel, with Little Archie bathed in the light of the TV that, as he says, has been watching him.

It's a 14 page story -- unlike the "regular" Archie artists, who tended to be limited to five or six pages for most stories, Bolling got a lot more leeway to make a story as long or short as he needed, and also unlike the other artists, he got to sign his name. Indeed, Bolling seems to have had a lot more freedom in terms of variety of subject matter, character development, and so on than many a "grown-up" comic book artist. And his work is still some of the best ever done for comic books, of the grown-up or kiddie type.

Lyrics By John LaTouche

Some more lyrics from that most fascinating of all flop musicals The Golden Apple, by the great John LaTouche. How many musical-theatre lyricists could write both "Windflowers," a ballad that's sort of half torch song and half poetry, and "Goona-Goona," an utterly ridiculous, goofy song for a Hawaiian-themed brothel? (This being an updated version of "The Odyssey," the sarong-clad hookers are supposed to stand in for the sirens, while "Windflowers" is given to Penelope, lamenting the passage of time since the departure of Ulysses.)


He brought me windflowers that grow among the rocks
And picked me wild berries bitter to the tongue.
He taught me to tell time by the dandelion clocks
When we were young,
When we were young.
He caught me a mockingbird and wove a willow cage,
A cage from the willow where we kissed and clung,
He fought me fierce dragons, we were princess and the page
When we were young,
When we were young.
Then we stood up in chuch and we whispered vows
And he took me to a mountain peak and built me a house.
The berries and the flowers and the dandelions fade,
The songbird is silent, shivering in the cold.
The dragons come creeping, and they tell me I'm afraid
That I'll grow old,
That I'll grow old.
And I lie in the house as the stars grow dim,
And I think of how his body was so warm and slim,
And I know there ain't no growing old for me and for him,
No, never, never, not for me and him.


By a goona, goona-goona,
By a goona, goona-goona lagoon,
We will croon a, croon a, croon a,
We will croon a, croon a real jungle tune.
Upon that golden shore, kids,
We'll lie on bedds of orchids,
And then later, by the crater
Of an old volcano,
We can promise we won't say "No
A-no-a," let's-a go-a,
Let's-a go-a, go-a go-away soon,
Where breezes blow-a, blow-a, blow-a,
Breezes blow-a like a big, big bassoon.
Snug as two baboons in a bamboo tree,
I'll bamboozle you and you'll bamboozle me,
By a goona, goona-goona,
By a goona, goona-goona lagoon.

By a goona, goona-goona,
By a goona, goona-goona lagoon,
We will swoon-a, swoon-a, swoon-a,
We will swoon-a, swoon-a beneath the moon.
Those hula-dancin' mamas
Are really yama-yamas,
They can shake and they can shimmy
Till they charm wild cobras,
Also, fellas, they wear no bras.
Aloha, lo-a, lo-a,
Let's-a go-a, go-a go-away soon,
We will throw a, throw a, throw a,
We will throw a, throw a big, big harpoon.
We'll hunt and fish-a the whole day long,
Whatever you wish-a, just sound the gong
By a goona, goona-goona,
By a goona, goona-goona lagoon.

Arise, Earl of Cloves!

Thad has an animation analysis of the Chuck Jones classic "Rabbit Hood."

It's based on another one of Greg Duffell's great animation analysis posts, which can be found here.

Also at Thad's site is your chance to see the 1941 Columbia cartoon "The Fox and the Grapes." Featuring WB animation talent -- director Frank Tashlin and voice artist Mel Blanc -- the cartoon's use of blackout gags (with the fox trying one unsuccessful gambit after another to get those grapes) heavily influenced all the try/fail blackout-gag cartoons that would pour out of other studios in subsequent years, especially Chuck Jones's Road Runner series.

Opera Recordings That Almost Never Were

I just placed an order at Amazon for a recording of Wagner's "Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg", conducted by Rafael Kubelik, which is probably the all-time best studio recording of Wagner's only comic opera (Wagner being Wagner, it's a four-and-a-half hour comic opera with German nationalist overtones). What I find interesting about the recording, mostly because I'm the only one who cares about wheeling and dealing in the classical recording business, is that this recording -- an expensive studio production -- was financed by a major record company and then never released. It was recorded in 1967 and never got a commercial release until the '90s; the version at Amazon, from the original master tapes, came out in 2003.

What happened was that Deutsche Grammophon (Germany's biggest classical recording company) put up the money for Kubelik to record Meistersinger. But once the recording was completed and edited, the company then decided not to release it. There were two stories at the time as to why it wasn't released:

1. The most powerful musician recording for Deutsche Grammophon was the conductor Herbert Von Karajan, who at that time was recording Wagner's "Ring" for the company. There was a rumour at the time that Karajan was upset that the "Meistersinger" recording had been given to Kubelik -- who had sort of B-level status in terms of fame and status (though probably Karajan's superior as a conductor). There was speculation that the DG executives, wanting to keep Karajan happy, suppressed Kubelik's recording in case Karajan might want to record "Meistersinger" for them (he eventually recorded it for another company).

2. The golden boy at the classical recording companies at this time was the lieder singer Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. He was everywhere in the '60s, recording hundreds of songs (one critic wrote "This record by Mr. Fischer-Dieskau is not among his hundred best") and branching out into opera, recording many roles he rarely if ever sang on stage. From the vantage point of today, it's hard to figure out exactly why the recording companies were so determined to cast him in Verdi and Puccini and Wagner and other composers that weren't really right for his lightish baritone voice (to be fair, his recording of Verdi's "Rigoletto" is actually quite terrific), but there we are; and the leading record producers felt that in order to record "Meistersinger," they would need to have Fischer-Dieskau in the lead role, Hans Sachs. Problem: Fischer-Dieskau had never sung the part and wasn't even interested in learning it, claiming that it was wrong for his voice. John Culshaw of Decca offered him a recording of "Meistersinger" and he said no; other producers offered him the same, and he still said no. But by the late '60s there was some talk that Fischer-Dieskau might give in and record the part of Sachs, and the rumour was that Deutsche Grammophon deep-sixed the Kubelik recording of "Meistersinger" so that they could record a Fischer-Dieskau version and cash in on what they apparently thought to be the baritone's superstar status. They did, in fact, finally record a "Meistersinger" with Fischer-Dieskau -- ten years later. As Sachs, he's quite a bit inferior to the baritone who takes the part for Kubelik, Thomas Stewart.

So that's that. Again, these kind of inside-baseball classical-music recording anecdotes aren't of much interest, I realize, but I still like digging them up, if only as a reminder that classical music used to be a bustling, profitable part of the recording industry -- with all the things that come with a bustling, profitable recording business, like behind-the-scenes machinations, bizarre decisions to suppress recordings, and kowtowing to powerful superstars.

The New Archie Bunker?

One thing that used to strike me about modern TV is that it hadn't really produced an Archie Bunker figure -- a TV character who was both a flawed-but-sympathetic character and a symbol of broader cultural conflicts. Archie was like that, and so in a different way was Alex Keaton on "Family Ties": they were a symbol of cultural trends that their creators didn't like, but at the same time they were three-dimensional characters, and basically sympathetic people. There aren't a lot of characters like that today; if a creator wants to use a character to make a statement about trends he doesn't like, he'll usually pick a villain or at least an antagonist -- he won't put that character front-and-center and he certainly won't confuse the issue by showing that that character is basically a good person underneath.

You could sort of make an argument that Stephen Colbert is the closest thing we have now to a successor to those characters. The character Colbert plays on his show -- the blowhard, self-absorbed talk-show host who believes in "truthiness" and is suspicious of actual facts -- is obviously a satire (though, as with Archie and Alex, there's a sort of sub-trend of viewers who don't get that the character is supposed to be a satire). But if you watch enough episodes, the Colbert character starts to become oddly sympathetic: he's a guy trying to seem like he knows everything when he knows nothing, and the strain of trying to look infallible seems to be wearing him down. As with Archie Bunker, he's really not a bad person, just a guy who doesn't really understand the changes in the world, and deliberately closes his mind to anything that might make him nervous.

Incidentally, here's what Colbert (sort of in-character) told a clearly hostile Washington Press Corps last night, a reminder that the primary satirical target of shows like "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" is not politicians, but the media:

Over the last five years you people were so good. Over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times... as far as we knew.

But listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: The President makes the decisions - he's the decider. The Press Secretary announces those decisions, and you people, the press, type those decisions down. Make, announce, check. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you've got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

A Lost Starlet at 65

Bill Crider reminds me that yesterday was the 65th birthday of Ann-Margret. (She shares a birthday with Saddam Hussein and Jay Leno.) A-M made my list of "Lost Starlets of the '60s," actresses who should have been superstars but had the misfortune to come along in the '60s, a time when American movies had basically run out of good parts for women. (To some extent they've never fully recovered, but the '60s hit a particularly bad patch in this respect.) In A-M's case, she had everything it took to be a big star in movie musicals, except that the movie musical was pretty much dead by the time she hit the screen.

The closest thing she ever had to a true star vehicle was 1966's The Swinger, a genuinely insane movie -- it has what is basically the plot of a pornographic film (A-M sets out to prove to Tony Franciosa that she can be a sexy swinger and spends most of the movie stripping and gyrating in front of him) except it's told in a family-friendly way; the key scene has A-M rolling around in paint, yet the scene is presented with a strange kind of innocence, and A-M plays it as though she's still in Pocketful of Miracles. It's the apotheosis of the '60s habit of presenting semi-obscene material as though it's sweet and wholesome.

The director of The Swinger was the crazy, semi-brilliant George Sidney, who had brought A-M to prominence in Bye Bye Birdie and Viva Las Vegas; he summed up her appeal by saying something like: "You don't know whether to offer her a lollipop or a diamond bracelet."

Thanks For Losing Your Mind

It's Always Fair Weather makes for a good DVD, with a good transfer and a making-of featurette that is more honest than these things usually are. The assembled talking heads actually talk about the problems with the production -- especially the friction between co-directors Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, who ended their professional relationship after this film. (Kelly's career probably suffered more from the breakup; Donen did some great work on his own -- Charade, Two For the Road -- but Kelly never starred in or directed another first-rate movie again.) They also talk about the mistakes that keep the film from being one of the all-time great musicals, especially Kelly's bizarre decision to cut the only number where he and Cyd Charisse danced together, as well as the only solo number for the great Michael Kidd. (Both these cut numbers are included as outtakes on the DVD; their soundtracks aren't complete so they can't be re-integrated into the film.) The mistake they don't mention was the decision to let André Previn write the music. Previn is a wonderful musician, but as a melodist, he is a total dud; the big love song, "I Like Myself," is a poor man's version of Bernstein's "Lucky to Be Me" from the stage version of On the Town, and all the other songs basically sound like good ideas for tunes, as opposed to actual good tunes.

But still, overall It's Always Fair Weather is one of the better Arthur Freed musicals (certainly better than the movie it's following up, On the Town, which is also hobbled by weak songs by an MGM contract musician). The dark, mature tone of the movie, the suggestion that the carefree world of the traditional movie musical has been swallowed up by the anxieties and pressures of '50s life, is certainly memorable and unique. Donen and Kelly were also unmatched when it came to filming a musical number; other directors, like Vincente Minnelli, had trouble figuring out how to stage musical numbers for the wide CinemaScope screen, but Donen came up with all kinds of ways to make CinemaScope work for, not against, a musical number (dividing the screen into three; blacking out parts of the screen and zooming in on a face), and the fluid camerawork, with the camera practically flying down a studio backlot street, is beautiful to behold.

The best numbers are fairly well-known: the trash-can dance for Kelly, Kidd and Dan Dailey; Charisse's "Baby, You Knock Me Out," and Kelly's roller-skating routine to "I Like Myself," which, while not a great song, may be even better than "Singin' in the Rain" as a piece of dancing and camerawork. And, finally, there's Dolores Gray's "Thanks A Lot But No Thanks," the campiest number in the history of the Freed Unit. Wom! Wam! has screencaps of the number as well as an analysis: "The '50s offers quite a few song & dance numbers dramatizing the sexual dynamic between men & Women with outrageously built Glamazons packed into outlandish costumes..."

Friday, April 28, 2006

In Defence of the World "Sucks"

Lee Siegel's "Culture" blog at The New Republic is kind of a train wreck. (That publication's pop-culture coverage has sunk a long way since the days of Manny Farber.) It seems like Siegel mostly spends his time writing incomprehensible rants about how terrible pop culture is these days and how nobody is producing the kind of challenging, wonderful culture he wants and how the only person who really knows how bad things are is Lee Siegel. I picture him as a guy who keeps a gun by his bed in case the marauding hordes arrive to steal his Dwight MacDonald books.

However, his new post, "Against 'Sucks,'" reaches a new height of unintentional hilarity; it's a jeremiad against those vulgar, vulgar Internet people that may even be dumber than that Wall Street Journal one I linked to the other day. (And when you're dumber than the Wall Street Journal editorial page, that's really saying something.) Siegel is angry, really really angry, that every time he reads a big bad blog he encounters some punk kid using the word "sucks." Now, who invented that word? Could it be... Satan?

I see it used in online magazines with rising frequency. It's all over the Internet. It's the pejorative verb of the age. Let's be blunt about the word's origins: It's short for "sucks cock." (Forgive me. The situation requires it, and the context allows it.) So when some case of stunted development writes in to his favorite blog in order to register a thoughtful dissent from another visitor--e.g. "Thucydides862 sucks!"--what he's really saying is that Thucydides862 "sucks cock." Considering how many times "sucks" is used in print, in conversation, and online now, the entire country is evoking the act of fellatio on a continuous basis.

And he wants you to know that the use of the word "sucks" is a deep manifestation of contempt for that person, because, when it comes to oral sex, the suck-er is (so Siegel seems to have heard) distinctly inferior to the suck-ee. Few have summed up the oral sex caste system as well as our Lee, and he will tell us What It All Means:

So saying someone or something "sucks" is not just an expression of contempt. It's a verdict on that person or thing as being, literally, beneath contempt. It's a wish not so much to rise above others as to subordinate them, an angry anti-democratic retort to the nettleseome tides of democratization. After all, when someone "sucks," they can't talk back. Isn't that the bully's and the tyrant's timeless dream, to move among people who can't talk back? It's certainly the dream of a child's fragile ego. It could be that we are surrounded by adults who have the fragile egos of children. And I know exactly what those unwitting people would say about that situation.

It takes a special talent to find a threat to democracy in the fact that my generation grew up watching too much "Beavis and Butt-head."

I think a post like that speaks to a failure to understand how the widespread use of a term can develop it beyond its original meaning. Yes, "sucks" means what Siegel says it means. But it's taken on a whole host of other connotations, to the point that when you say something "sucks," it means something different from just saying it's "bad." The advantage of "sucks" is precisely that it seems to have a slightly obscene edge to it -- so that when you apply the term to a work of popular culture, you're not merely criticizing it but insulting it and dismissing it as a waste of your time. "Boy, that movie was really bad!" is a critical judgement; "Boy, that movie sucked!" is a statement that it wasn't even worth the effort of finding specific terms to criticize it with. And of course, there's just the sonic quality of it; the "k" sound is just funny, as any comedian will tell you. Plus you can play around with the way you use the term; somebody -- I think it was Joe Queenan -- came up with the noun "suckitude" to describe the degree to which something does or does not suck.

I'll leave the final word to Louann Van Houten from "The Simpsons":

"Well, Marge, the other day Milhouse told me my Meatloaf 'sucks!' He must have gotten that from your little boy, because they certainly don't say that on TV."

Et Tu, Harley?

"The Batman," aka "The Show That Is Not 'Batman the Animated Series,'" aka "Batmanime," will be adding Harley Quinn to its roster of re-designed villains. The good news is that the episode is written by Harley's co-creator, Paul Dini; the bad news is that he doesn't know if Arleen Sorkin will be doing her voice.

The thing about "The Batman" or, really, any animated Batman show is that because the '90s series was so good, and because it became so much a part of the way my generation thought about Batman, it's almost made the character less adaptable for television. There was no problem doing a Batman series with a different style and approach than the old Filmation version, but after "Batman: the Animated Series" it just seems like Kevin Conroy is the voice of Batman/Bruce Wayne as much as Daws Butler is the voice of Huckleberry Hound. It's not surprising that Warner Brothers would want to make a new Batman series in the style that kids expect now (fake anime; lots of jumping and kicking); but it somehow seems almost sacrilegious. Some comic-book characters can be adapted and re-adapted for television every so often; Batman may be a prisoner of WB's mid-'90s success.

On the other hand, "The Batman" seems to be a relatively successful series, and it won an Emmy, so what do I know?

Thursday, April 27, 2006


Here are some rare Tex Avery MGM cartoons that are currently YouTubeified:

Avery's first cartoon at MGM, "Blitz Wolf" (1942) re-tells the story of the Three Little Pigs with the wolf as Hitler. (The wolf, by the way, is voiced by the great Bill Thompson -- voice of Droopy, Wallace Wimple on "Fibber McGee and Molly" and Jock in Lady and the Tramp.) No one had ever done a mainstream theatrical cartoon this grown-up before, not even Avery; it combines Disney-bashing (always a favourite Avery theme) with current events, fourth-wall breaking, a relentless pace and even an eerie anticipation of the events of three years later (a scene shows Japan being literally blown up). My favourite gag is the one where Avery freeze-frames over what would otherwise be a naughty line in the song "You're in the army now," but the bit that got the biggest laugh when I screened it for a an audience was the gag where a drooping gun is revived with a bunch of pills -- sort of a Viagra gag before there was Viagra.

"Uncle Tom's Cabana" (1947) is a cartoon you won't be seeing on television any time soon, though the racial stereotyping isn't on a "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs" level. Contains the funniest erection joke in cartoon history (involving the villain, Simon Legree, and a cash register).

And, finally, no controversy involved, that all-time Avery favourite "Bad Luck Blackie":

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


By the way, in doing research for all those posts on "Bewitched" (and possibly a sample chapter for a book on '60s sitcoms, if I can ever get up the necessary nerve to write such a thing), I came across a 1965 article that contains one of the spookiest, unintentionally prescient quotes ever:

(Various participants in the show are being interviewed about why Dick York wasn't getting any credit for the show's success.)

Then [York] sighs. "Maybe it's me. I don't think so, but the only way to tell if it's me or not is to kill me off in one show, give the witch another husband and see if I'm missed."


Still No DVD In Sight For WKRP

TV Guide talks to Loni Anderson and finds that "WKRP In Cincinnati" still has no DVD coming. She also has some other things to say about the show, mostly who's still in touch with whom: Is WKRP not on DVD yet because of music-rights issues?
Anderson: Exactly. Even in the reruns, they had to change the music, and it takes away from the show to just have canned, nondescript music when it was about a radio station with Top 40 hits and rock and roll. I think that has been the big stumbling block. Has there been any talk of a reunion?
Anderson: That would be wonderful, and I think it all is up to [creator] Hugh [Wilson]. He was our creative genius, so he really is the leader. And, of course, now we've lost Gordon Jump. Gosh, it's been two years now. You know, he has one of my favorite lines in the entire series. I'm sure you know what one that is....
Anderson: "As god is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly." [A classic WKRP episode featured a Thanksgiving publicity stunt in which the station dropped live turkeys from a helicopter.] Exactly!
Anderson: He was magnificent, wasn't he? Just magnificent. Who are you most in touch with from the WKRP cast?
Anderson: I'm probably most in touch with Howard [Hesseman] and Gary [Sandy], and was in touch with Gordon, too, when he was living. Tim [Reid] lives on the East Coast and Richard Sanders lives in the Northwest, so it's hard for everybody to get together. I talk to Jan [Smithers] on the phone all the time. We also get together with our directors and a lot of the crew. It was a really buddy-buddy show. None of us were well known before it, so it's kids who came up together. If the DVD were to finally get released, would you want to take part in the extras, like DVD commentary?
Anderson: Oh, absolutely. I know a lot of people try to get away from what they were identified with, [but] I love it. I would be there in an instant. As a matter of fact, I just did [a pilot] for TV Land called Back to the Grind, and it's taking people from their old series and making them do their real job. So I worked at a radio station for a day, and it was so much fun. What were some of the highlights of that day?
Anderson: Well, I started out as the receptionist, and manning the phones was the hardest thing I did all day.

Loni Anderson became such a pop-culture punchline -- for that brief shining moment when she filled the role of "designated blonde sexpot who dominates the tabloid coverage until you're sick of it all" -- that people forget how funny she was on "WKRP." She had terrific comedy timing, not only when it came to line delivery, but perfectly-timed gestures. There's a scene in an episode from the first season where she's sitting at a table with Herb (Frank Bonner) and his wife Lucille (Edie McClurg), and the dialogue goes:

LUCILLE: Herb, I think there's something you should know.
HERB: What?
LUCILLE: I've been unfaithful to you.

What makes that bit the funniest moment in the episode is not only the fact that Anderson times the line just right, but the way she instantly comes out of a sort of crouch and sticks her arm up in the air, calling for the check. The gesture is funny and the way she changes posture in a split second is also funny. Too bad her post-WKRP career didn't give her many opportunities to use her comedy skills.

Great Lyrics: "Thinking" By Stephen Sondheim

One of my oddball favourite musical-theatre songs is "Thinking" from that oddball favourite of musical-theatre buffs, Do I Hear a Waltz? -- music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

The song is sort of a takeoff on "Twin Soliloquies" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, except instead of soliloquizing, the two leads actually sing their thoughts directly to each other -- uneasily trying to find some common ground between their different worldviews: she's a fake-cynical American who's afraid to give an inch emotionally; he's a Latin Lover who wants her to kick back and have fun with him. The lyrics are a beautiful distillation of character, with the differences between the characters perfectly summed up while also hinting that they're drawing closer together. (One device used to hint at this involves having them sing the same lines, but in a different order: "I am thinking, this is very awkward"; "This is very awkward, I am thinking.") And like many good musical theatre songs, it's not static: the characters are in a different situation when the song ends than they were when it began.

The music uses an interesting device, which obviously I can't really reproduce here, of inserting long pauses between various sections: every time Leona responds to something Di Rossi says, or vice versa, there's a long, awkward pause before someone tries to start up the conversation again.

Refrain 1

I was thinking,
All of that Puccini
Going to waste.

I was thinking,
Coffee and Puccini
Isn't my taste.

I keep thinking,
Such a fine beginning,
Such a lovely evening we could spend.

Such a fine beginning,
I keep thinking
More about the end.

I was thinking,
Wonder what he's thinking?
Not what he should.

I was thinking,
All this heavy thinking,
This is not good.

But think of coffee cups clinking
To a duet,
We could sit drinking,
See the sun set.
What are you thinking?

I was just thinking,
What you are thinking, forget!

Refrain 2

I was thinking,
Tête-à-têtes for two
So often fall flat.

I was thinking,
Tête-à-têtes for one
Are flatter than that.

I am thinking,
This is very awkward,
Frankly, you prefer that I should go?

This is very awkward,
I am thinking,
Very frankly, no!

I was thinking,
Why is it I I get
So easily hurt?

I was thinking,
Has she noticed yet
The spot on my shirt?

But think of two of us linking
Arms in the square,
Sit as stars, winking,
Fill the night air.
What are you thinking?

I was just thinking,
What am I going to wear?


And as the sun begins sinking,
Night starts to fall.

Stars appear blinking,
Gondoliers call.

What am I thinking?
I should be thinking
Not what I'm thinking at all!

"Cigarette?" "Yes, it is."

Davis DVD reports that the series "Police Squad!" is finally being prepared for DVD release. David Zucker says he (and presumably Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams) will be recording audio commentary.

While "Police Squad!" only lasted six episodes, I think you could make a case that it should have had an even shorter run than that. The pilot, written and directed by Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker, did a great job of demolishing every '60s and '70s cop-show cliché, helped by Leslie Nielsen's most awesomely deadpan performance ever. (Unlike in the Naked Gun movies, the TV version of Frank Drebin never actually did anything remotely funny; he was, as far as he and everyone else was concerned, a serious, solemn, super-competent cop -- and that's what made it funny: Frank had no clue that he wasn't on a serious cop show.) But the following five episodes were all basically remakes of the pilot, following the same formula, with many of the same jokes repeated (like the Johnny the shoeshine boy routine). That's the problem with doing a continuing series where actual character development, or any real interest in the story, is not possible; unlike Maxwell Smart and 99, you couldn't actually care what happened to Frank Drebin. But it's worth getting for the pilot and some of the better-known jokes from the subsequent episodes, several of which were repeated in The Naked Gun. (Stripper: "Is this some kind of bust?" Drebin: "Yes, it's very impressive, but we need to ask you some questions.")

Tex Arcana?

A comment from Jerry Beck at the Golden Age Cartoons Forums:

At this time, there are no plans to release any MGM cartoons as collections on DVD - except for the TEX AVERY cartoons, which will hopefully be restored in time for release NEXT year (no promises however)...

Unlike the Tom & Jerry sets, George Feltenstein is personally overseeing this one.

Let's hope this happens; a complete Tex Avery box set is one of the ten most glaring omissions in the DVD catalogue.

Shorter Daniel Henninger: Why the fuck are these fucking bloggers always saying "fuck" and shit like that? Do you fucking hear me saying fuck all the time? Fuck that shit.

Seriously: can anyone explain to me the obsession some writers have with the use of four-letter words on blogs? Every newspaper and magazine article discussing the so-called blogosphere seems to point to "profanity" as a clear and important reason why some bloggers shouldn't be taken seriously. (Many of them, like Henninger, even search through the reader comments sections -- which the blogger has little or no control over, beyond removing genuinely offensive comments -- to find some of that sweet, sweet profanity.) I don't swear much myself, it not being very appropriate for what I write about -- after all, much of the time I'm dealing with entertainments that wouldn't even have been allowed to use such words -- but I fully appreciate that sometimes a four-letter word is the right word, particularly when the blogger is going for comic effect. If print journalists faint at the mere use of the word "fuck," please don't take them to see Goodfellas and cancel their HBO subscription right now.

See also "The Emperor's New Clothes and the Fucking Blogger."

Underrated Archie, Take 3

When it comes to underrated "Archie" Comics artists, I've already said my say about Bob Bolling and, so some extent, Samm Schwartz; now I've found a good example of the work of the third really first-rate Archie artist, Harry Lucey.

This story, "Actions Speak Louder Than Words" -- to go to the next page, click on the current one -- is done entirely without dialogue, and allows Lucey to show off his skill at creating good, expressive poses that are true to the character and the situation. Oh, and Archie winds up dating Reggie in this one. Freaky.

Steven Wintle has a bit more on Lucey.

Maybe Blog Triumphalism Is Justified

I've never been impressed by claims about the power of blogs or the "new media" or whatever you want to call it, but this story is pretty impressive: Glenn Greenwald is a lawyer who started his blog late last year. Within weeks, his blog had become one of the most-read on the net; one of his posts was quoted in newspaper articles, and another of his posts was quoted on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Then he was tapped by a small publisher to write a book based on his arguments, "How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok." The book, which comes out in May, was ranked # 50,000 on Amazon yesterday morning. Then several leading blogs plugged the book -- and within 24 hours, the book's Amazon ranking had shot from #50,000 to #1.

I still have my doubts about how much power the blogosphere possesses, but that story is a pretty impressive display of the power it does possess -- and in a good cause, because Greenwald is an excellent writer who deserves the exposure that blogging has brought him.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Happy Not Beethoven's Birthday

If you're interested in getting some classical music on DVD, I can confidently recommend this cycle of the complete symphonies of Beethoven, with the SWR Baden-Baden Symphony conducted by Michael Gielen.

I've written before about Gielen, who is one of the best living conductors and who has quietly made a huge number of recordings with this fine German orchestra. (Most of his audio recordings are available on CD on Haenssler classics, and include the best modern cycle of Mahler symphonies.) He brings a modernist sensibility to everything he conducts; he doesn't like sentimentality -- even his conducting gestures are restrained and matter-of-fact -- but that doesn't mean he shies away from letting the orchestra make exciting noises; he just tries to bring out the "advanced," forward-looking qualities of any music he handles. With Beethoven, he tends to follow the composer's metronome markings, though he's not rigid about it the way a lot of conductors are, and he always makes his tempi work: the first movement of the Pastoral Symphony is about as fast as I've ever heard it, but what it does is to take a movement that sometimes sounds trivial and cozy and make it sound downright exciting.

Gielen uses divided violins, a plus in this music; the sound is pretty good, though not as good as some of his studio CD recordings with the same orchestra; the visuals are pretty basic -- a lot of cutting from section to section -- but at least they don't distract from the music. At the lowish price, a good investment both as an audio-visual Beethoven cycle and an introduction to a superb conductor.

The '80s Will Come Back If I Have To Drag Them Back

We have the cover art and press release for "The Best of She-Ra: Princess of Power." The box art tells us that it "Includes the Feature Film, The Secret of the Sword." Because, I mean, how could it not?

And this sampler set, with such classic episodes as "The Stone In the Sword" and "Horde Prime Takes a Holiday," is just a prelude to a release of all 90+ episodes of the complete series. So fear not, fans of "The Laughing Dragon" and "Loo-Kee Lends a Hand": your turn will come.

Monday, April 24, 2006

It's Muller Time

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review has a good article on author Eddie Muller and his prolific work as an audio commentator for film noir DVD releases. (On the recent Fox release of Fallen Angel, for example, he does a commentary with Dana Andrews' daughter.) The sidebar mentions some upcoming releases for which he's recorded commentary, including Nicholas Ray's They Live By Night, which will be part of WB's Film Noir Set vol. 4 next year. Muller's website is here.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

I'm the Vip Girl.

I've said in earlier posts that Lover Come Back is a movie that reads better than it plays. The movie itself is a typical Universal production from the early '60s: drab sets, hideous hats, terrible back-projection and over-broad acting -- a slightly more expensive version of a TV sitcom, but not a particularly good TV sitcom. However, the script is one of the funniest comedy scripts of the era. It was the first movie script written by radio and TV veteran Paul Henning -- sharing credit with Stanley Shapiro -- and in many ways Lover Come Back is like a feature-length version of Henning's "The Bob Cummings Show." While of course there's no actual sex, most of the jokes are built around sex and suggestiveness. (Typical joke: Day and Hudson are competing to see who can sell a potential client, played by Jack Oakie, on a design for a can of wax. Day says that the winner will be "the one who shows [Oakie] the most attractive can," followed by a smash cut to Oakie, treated to a night on the town by Hudson, ogling the rear ends of various showgirls. In case you didn't get it, Oakie's first line in the scene is "Most attractive!") There are many jokes about scantily-clad, voluptuous babes, particularly Edie Adams as a dimbulb Southern belle. And the movie even has a role for "Bob Cummings Show" mainstay Ann B. Davis.

Though it's basically a follow-up to the first Rock Hudson and Doris Day movie, Pillow Talk (which Shapiro had co-written), Lover Come Back soft-pedals the professional-virgin jokes and emphasizes Henning's obsessions: the brash, sex-obsessed, consumerist urban culture of the '50s and '60s. Advertising is the main target here. Hudson plays an advertising man who uses sex to sell everything; he gets clients to sign up with him by treating them to parties with lots of sexy women, and he creates commericals revolving entirely around the lure of sex ("Give me a stacked dame in a bathing suit and I can sell anything"). To prevent Rebel (Edie Adams) from blabbing to the advertising ethics watchdog about some of his tactics, he puts her in commercials for a product that doesn't actually exist and is never actually defined in the commercials. Unfortunately, ethical rival Carol Templeton (Doris Day) hears about this campaign, and even more unfortunately, the head of the company, hapless rich scion Pete (Tony Randall) releases the commercials to the public. The advertising campaign creates huge buzz, and Hudson has to come up with a product to go with the successful commercials.

The second half of the script isn't as effective as the first -- it's heavier on Pillow Talk-y mistaken identity complications -- but the first half of the script, and some parts of the second, are pure Henning and pure fun. Here are some of the better quotes:

J. PAXTON MILLER (hung over): I'm flyin' back to Richmond.
CAROL: When?
J. PAXTON MILLER: Now, honey, now! We just passin' over Pittsburgh!

BRACKETT (Howard St. John): We've learned to live with Jerry Webster. He's like the common cold: You know you'll get it once or twice a year. There are two ways to handle a cold: You can fight it, or give in and go to bed with it.

CAROL: Let me put it this way, I don't use sex to land an account.
JERRY: When do you use it?

REBEL: Do you think they'll like me on TV?
JERRY: Honey, single-handed, you may bring in the forty-inch screen.

CAROL Jerry Webster's trying to land this account, but we're gonna beat him to it.
MILLIE (Ann B. Davis): Are you sure? He fights rough.
CAROL Then we'll fight rough! This is war, Millie!
MILLIE: That means liquor, wild parties and girls, right?
CAROL: Right.
MILLIE: I'd like to volunteer for frontline duty.

JERRY: What is that?
PETE: The mating call of the moose. This call is absolutely irresistible. Your bull moose will run miles to get to the source of this call.
JERRY: And then what happens?
PETE: I take his picture.
JERRY: Pete, he's not running miles to get photographed.

CAROL: You kissed me and I was thrilled.
JERRY: A kiss. What does that prove? If you can light a stove, it still doesn't make you a cook.

JERRY: Plenty of girls would like to be Mrs. Jerry Webster.
CAROL: I'm sure they have a right.
JERRY: Okay, so I've sown a few wild oats.
CAROL: A few? You could qualify for a farm loan!

And, of course, probably the most-quoted line in the movie and the essence of all that is Tony Randall:

PETE: I'm king of the elevator!

"Ice Cold Katie"

I said I was looking for an audio file of "Ice Cold Katie" from Thank Your Lucky Stars, and Ivan at "Thrilling Days of Yesteryear" has very kindly posted it here.

You will hum this tune.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

More Crowtherisms

I wrote before that New York Times movie critic Bosley Crowther was "the epitome of the critic who had no idea what was going on in American movie-making at any point in time," especially when it came to the film noir cycle, which he just couldn't wrap his mind around. I already quoted from his review of Double Indemnity, but here are some quotes from some other Crowther reviews of movies that are now considered seminal:

Crowther on Out of the Past:

But after this private detective has re-encountered an old girl friend (who originally double-crossed him after luring him to double-cross his boss, whom she had shot) and the two get elaborately criss-crossed in a plot to triple-cross our boy again, the involutions of the story become much too complex for us. The style is still sharp and realistic, the dialogue still crackles with verbal sparks and the action is still crisp and muscular, not to mention slightly wanton in spots. But the pattern and purpose of it is beyond our pedestrian ken. People get killed, the tough guys browbeat, the hero hurries—but we can't tell you why.

Crowther on The Asphalt Jungle:

One finds it hard to tag the item of repulsive exhibition in itself. Yet that is our inevitable judgment of this film, now on the Capitol's screen.

For the plain truth is that this picture—sobering though it may be in its ultimate demonstration that a life of crime does not pay—enjoins the hypnotized audience to hobnob with a bunch of crooks, participate with them in their plunderings and actually sympathize with their personal griefs. The vilest creature in the picture, indeed, is a double-crossing cop. And the rest of the police, while decent, are definitely antagonists.

Crowther on Breathless:

This should be enough, right now, to warn you that this is not a movie for the kids or for that easily shockable individual who used to be known as the old lady from Dubuque. It is emphatically, unrestrainedly vicious, completely devoid of moral tone, concerned mainly with eroticism and the restless drives of a cruel young punk to get along. Although it does not appear intended deliberately to shock, the very vigor of its reportorial candor compels that it must do so.

Crowther on The Searchers, apparently under the impression that Ethan Edwards is a really cool role model for us all:

The Searchers, for all the suspicions aroused by excessive language in its ads, is really a ripsnorting Western, as brashly entertaining as they come... John Wayne is uncommonly commanding as the Texan whose passion for revenge is magnificently uncontaminated by caution or sentiment.

Crowther on To Be Or Not To Be:

Too bad a little more taste and a little more unity of mood were not put in this film. As it is, one has the strange feeling that Mr. Lubitsch is a Nero, fiddling while Rome burns.

Crowther on Bonnie and Clyde:

It is a cheap piece of bald-faced slapstick comedy that treats the hideous depredations of that sleazy, moronic pair as though they were as full of fun and frolic as the jazz-age cutups in Thoroughly Modern Millie. And it puts forth Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in the leading roles, and Michael J. Pollard as their sidekick, a simpering, nose-picking rube, as though they were striving mightily to be the Beverly Hillbillies of next year.

More Lyrics From "Thank Your Lucky Stars"

One of the reasons Thank Your Lucky Stars works better than most of the WWII all-star musicals is that Arthur Schwartz (music) and Frank Loesser (lyrics) specifically tied many of their songs to the details of life on the homefront during wartime. So instead of just a collection of random songs, there's actually sort of an underlying theme to a lot of the score: we can have fun and make music even in unpleasant times. Here are three examples of how Loesser handles this.

First, the specialty song for Eddie Cantor, "We're Staying Home Tonight," is a deliberate pastiche of the songs Cantor sang in his '20s and '30s prime: a bouncy song about all the happy fun two people can have together. But the lyrics (which, like some of the other songs in the movie, have some unusually suggestive lines for a Production Code-era movie) are outfitted with a public-service message: avoid "nonessential spending" and stay home instead.

"We're Staying Home Tonight"


Thank you for your cordial invitation, Mrs. Jones,
But with nightclub life we're through.
Non-essential spending brings inflation, Mrs. Jones,
So here's what we're planning to do:

Refrain 1

We're staying home tonight,
My baby and me,
Doing the patriotic thing.
I've got my income-tax returns to hurdle,
And she'll be saving mileage on her girdle.
Don't want to roam tonight,
We're snug as can be,
Hoping the phone will never ring.
The landlord never told us, when we moved in this flat,
That you can use the fireside for more than a chat.
We're staying home tonight,
My baby and me,
Doing the patriotic thing.

Refrain 2

We're staying home tonight,
My baby and me,
Having a patriotic time.
It's not that Mommy doesn't trust her Poppy,
It's just that we don't trust our old jalopy.
Don't want to roam tonight,
We're snug as can be,
Being alone is so sublime.
While I sit in my slippers, and munch a piece of fruit,
She'll iron out the wrinkles in my victory suit.
We're staying home tonight,
My baby and me,
Having a patriotic time.

We'll play a game of rummy, it's cheaper than the Ritz,
The winner gets a kiss, and just in case of a Blitz,
We're staying home tonight,
My baby and me,
Having a patriotic time.

Her coffee could be sweeter, but I'm not in the dumps,
'Cause ev'ry time she hugs me, it's like two extra lumps.
We're staying home tonight,
My baby and me,
Having a patriotic time.

The song for Errol Flynn, "That's What You Jolly Well Get," parodies (as I said before) Flynn's own non-service by casting him as a braggart who tells tall tales of battles he never actually served in. But it's also, again, an updated version of an old-fashioned type of song, an Edwardian-era song with WWII references:

"That's What You Jolly Well Get"

I can see the questions in your eyes.
I can see the twitchin' of your ears.
Now, it's not to be repeated,
But, gentlemen, be seated,
And I'll tell you where I've been for all these years.

If he's very nicely treated,
And we keep his toddy heated,
He'll tell us where he's been for all these years.

I was out on the blue Pacific with a Cruiser of the Fleet,
Hoppin' over the side for me Saturday dip.
When I noticed a Jap torpedo whizzin' by beneath my feet,
Comin' lickety-split and headed for our ship.
So I stopped 'er with me left, and I turned 'er with me right,
And I aimed 'er very careful and I shoved with all me might.
And I sank the sub what sent 'er, and I roared with righteous wrath:
"That's what you jolly well get,
That's what you jolly well get,
Disturbin' me Saturday evening bath."

He's won the war!
He's won the war!

But I'm modest to the core.

He's won the war!
And though he's rather shy,
He's terribly, terribly shy,
He will admit he's won the war.

I was captured around Bengazi by a Nazi regiment
After polishin' off 'alf a thousand or more.
And it took 'em two pairs of tanks to drag me into the General's tent,
Where they started to search the uniform I wore.
When they took away my gun, I was pleasant as could be,
But then they took a letter what my sweetheart wrote to me.
So I bashed their bloomin' brains in and I l lived to tell the tale.
That's what they jolly well get,
That's what they jolly well get
For readin' a gentleman's private mail.

He's won the war!
He's won the war!

And I won the one before.

He's won the war!
He hates to tell the tale,
But give him a barrel of ale,
And he'll admit he's won the war.

I was 'avin' me leave in London back in nineteen-forty-one,
'Avin' breakfast in bed at a fancy address.
When a Jerry come by and drop a bomb that must've weighed a ton
It was difficult to collect myself, I guess.
So to Croydon Field I ran, and I hopped a plane from there.
Now, I couldn't tell who done it -- there was thousands in the air.
So I shot down all the blighters and I told 'em all: "You see?
That's what you jolly well get,
That's what you jolly well get,
For splashin' a gentleman's cup of tea."

He's saved the day!
He's saved the day!

In my own quiet way.

He's saved the day!
He always zips his lips,
But treat him with fish and chips,
And he'll admit he's saved the day.

He's won the war!
He's won the war!
This mighty conqueror!
He's won the war!
So to this most heroic gent
We ought to erect a monument
And put it in Trafalgar Square
Where he can enjoy the open air!

(They throw Errol out the window.)


Finally, "Ice Cold Katie," a number for Hattie McDaniel and an all-black cast, is about hasty marriages by people heading off to war (which Preston Sturges would make the subject of The Miracle of Morgan's Creek around the same time). As in many of these movies, the black performers are reserved for one number only, so that they could be cut by Southern theatres; but Warner Brothers, here and in "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs," was one of the few studios to acknowledge the contribution of black troops in the war. Schwartz's tune, which Carl Stalling sometimes used in WB cartoon scores, is one of the catchiest tunes ever; I wish I could find it and post it, but the lyric will have to do.

"Ice Cold Katie"


Private Jones is campin' on the doorstep of Miss Katie Brown.
She must be the very, very coldest creature in this town.
He's been there for seven days and nights, and now he's leavin' too,
And still she won't, still she won't, still she won't say "I do."


Ice Cold Katie, won't you marry the soldier?
Ice Cold Katie, won't you do it today?
Ice Cold Katie, whyn't you marry that soldier?
Soon he'll march away.
Ice Cold Katie, he's just dyin' to hold yer,
Keep that date he went a-hirin' for.
Ice Cold Katie, won't you marry the soldier?
Soon he's off to war.
Here he is outside, ringin', ringin' ringin' on your bell,
Ringin' so long, he's gonna be A-W-O-L.
Ice Cold Katie, won't you do what I told yer?
Ice Cold Katie, you's the talk of the town.
Ice Cold Katie, won't you marry the soldier?
Melt, melt, melt on down,
Ice Cold Katie Brown.


I was here at seven,
I was here at ten,
I was here at eleven,
And I positively won't be back again.
Is the ring all ready?
Did the bride get sense?
Is the groom feelin' steady
After all the matrimonial suspense?
Is the cake just dandy?
Is the choir in tune?
Is the beer handy?
The private might be leavin' pretty soon.

Kate, Kate, Kate, Kate, Katie,
Won't you step outside?
Ev'rything is ready but the bride!


Ice Cold Katie, won't you marry the soldier?
Ice Cold Katie, won't you do it today?
Ice Cold Katie, whyn't you marry that soldier?
Soon he'll march away.
Ice Cold Katie, he's just dyin' to hold yer,
Ice Cold Katie, how he grumbles and groans!
Ice Cold Katie, won't you marry the soldier?

Hey, hey, Private Jones!
Don't you know we ain't got no, got no, got no time to spare?
Don't you know we're all sailin', sailin', sailin' over there?

Ice Cold Katie, won't you do what I told yer?
Ice Cold Katie, ain't got nothin' to lose!
Ice Cold Katie, won't you marry the soldier?
Looks like rice and shoes!
Spread, spread, spread the news!


Do you take this woman?
Do you take this man?
Well, young man and young woman,
Better get a little lovin' while you can.
I now pronounce you
Man and wife.
I never had such trouble in my life!


Don't you know they ain't got no, got no, got no time to spare?
Don't you know they are sailin', sailin', sailin' over there?
Ice Cold Katie went and married the soldier,
Ice Cold Katie with the shivery frown.
Ice Cold Katie went and married the soldier,
Ice Cold Katie Brown!

Is Gurinder Chadha More Evil Than Nora Ephron?

Gurinder Chadha, the director who taunted us all with Bride and Prejudice, has ramped up the evil a notch by announcing that she's doing not one, but two movies based on Larry Hagman TV shows:

British director Gurinder Chadha announced Friday that she would direct John Travolta and Jennifer Lopez in a big-screen version of 80s TV show "Dallas." The "Bend it Like Beckham" director said she had signed a deal with 20th Century Fox to direct the film, which will star Travolta as villainous oil magnate J.R. Ewing and Lopez as his wife Sue Ellen...

Chadha, who gave Jane Austen a Bollywood twist in last year's "Bride and Prejudice," is also involved with adapting another TV hit, 60s sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie." She said that film "is still in the pipeline, but there is still some way to go on the script."

Larry, please, intervene and save your legacy. And maybe Linda Gray should lodge a formal anti-J-Lo protest while we're at it.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Tiny Trek Adventures?

I'm sure you've heard some inkling of the news that J.J. Abrams will be making a Star Trek movie. In the most blatant borrowing yet from the whole "Batman Begins" concept, Paramount is trying to revive the life-supported Trek franchise by making a movie about the young Kirk and Spock. As the article describes it:

Project... will center on the early days of seminal "Trek" characters James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock, including their first meeting at Starfleet Academy and first outer space mission.

I don't want to be a downer here, but seeing Kirk before he became the Captain of the Enterprise doesn't have that much appeal to me, at least instinctively. It's not like Bruce Wayne, who has all kinds of familiar comic-book mythology associated with his youth, and who becomes Batman as soon as he puts on the costume. "Captain of the Enterprise" is Kirk's identity every bit as much as "Batman" is Bruce Wayne's identity; if he doesn't take on that identity in the movie, what's the point of saying it's Kirk?

Oh, well; it could still be good, I suppose, though I pity the poor guys who have to pretend to be Kirk and Spock when all of us will know they're not. What I'd really like to see, actually, is a revival of the original Trek with new actors in the original roles, but taking advantage of the modern TV series' ability to do real character growth and development. The original series, being done like an anthology show with continuing characters -- the default format for a drama series at the time -- could never really develop the characters; anything Kirk and Spock learned about each other in one episode could never be carried over to the next episode, because every hour was completely self-contained. Trying to really flesh out these characters, even with different actors, might be more worthwhile than trying to do Kirk and Spock: Their Early Days.

Insert "Where There's a Will" Joke

Fox is going to release "The Will Rogers Collection." A bit puzzlingly, this collects together Rogers' last four movies; unless they're planning on a volume 2, I would have thought they'd want to pick his very best or best-known movies, and a collection that leaves out Judge Priest or State Fair doesn't really qualify. But it does include one of Rogers' films with John Ford, Steamboat 'Round the Bend -- a 1935 film that, as Andrew Sarris pointed out, probably holds up better than Ford's Oscar winner of that same year, The Informer.

Another '60s-Com

Sitcoms Online has a review of the first season of "That Girl." Looks like a good package, what with Marlo Thomas and co-creator Bill Persky (formerly head writer for "The Dick Van Dyke Show") participating in the extras. I haven't seen the first season in a while, but I don't recall it being the best of the run; like I said earlier, "That Girl" improved mid-run when it brought in some new writers and producers -- including that '60s and '70s mainstay, Danny Arnold, who had this to say about working with Thomas:

I like Marlo. Her biggest problem is that she's much brighter than most of the people she has to work with.... And I'd have to say she's not at all difficult to work with... unless she has no respect for you.

Persky has also participated in the DVD extras for another show he created, "Kate and Allie." Still, I think most people will always remember him and his writing partner Sam Denoff for writing the "Dick Van Dyke Show" episode "Coast to Coast Big Mouth."

OT: Why The Media Isn't Liberal, Exhibit B

Digby's Hullabaloo has these excerpts of a particularly hackish conservative Republican interviewing Joe Klein, who is considered Time Magazine's only left-of-centre columnist. (More analysis here.)

The interview is utterly fascinating. The host says all sorts of things about liberals and Democrats that are either untrue or slanderous or both -- and Klein agrees with every one of them. He adds some calumnies of his own, directed at what is supposed to be his own side; proudly talks of being nicknamed "Mr. Faith Based" by the President; boasts of his friendship with a man who advocates throwing reporters in prison. And this guy, remember, is the most liberal columnist at one of the most widely-read magazines.

I'm sure Klein thinks of himself as a liberal. But, like many nominally liberal journalists, he doesn't want to seem "partisan," and therefore goes out of his way to agree with the other side on almost everything while constantly bashing what is supposed to be his own side. And that's why the media isn't liberal -- because it's divided into openly partisan conservatives, and liberals trying to act more conservative for "balance."

Addendum: I should note that there's nothing wrong with being a partisan conservative. That's just the point: in journalism, for some reason, conservatives are comfortable being conservatives, while liberals seem somehow abashed and feel a need to pummel their own side constantly. As Ezra Klein points out, "you never see Charles Krauthammer on the Rhandi Rhodes show prostrating himself for her approval and slamming his party."

Happiness is a Warm Uzi

More YouTubian goodness: "Bring Me the Head of Charlie Brown," the CalArts student film of Jim Reardon (later to become a top director of "The Simpsons," whose Itchy and Scratchy cartoons seem quite mild by comparison):

And while we're on the subject of semi-legendary CalArts student films, here's Wes Archer's "Jac Mac and Rad Boy Go!," which was a major influence on "Beavis and Butt-Head" and many other projects:

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Steven Springblush?

In honour of the previously-hyped-on-this-blog, upcoming Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain DVDs, some more Youtube'd clips:

One of the most popular Animaniacs "filler" segments, "Good Idea/Bad Idea," narrated by Tom Bodett and starring a character who originated on "Tiny Toons," Mr. Skullhead:

This one won't turn up on DVD until Animaniacs vol. 3, but it's something of a minor classic: the Pinky and the Brain cartoon "Yes, Always," where Brain acts out the infamous Orson Welles outtake tape that voice actor Maurice LaMarche loved to quote from. It may be the most obscure, elaborate in-joke cartoon ever to turn up on "kids" TV.

The "revised" opening title from the episode "Pinky and the Brain and Larry," an episode produced to mock the WB network's suggestion that a third character should be added to the show (the network eventually got the last laugh when they forced the addition of the "Tiny Toons" character Elmyra to the show):

And from a Spielberg/Warner cartoon that isn't scheduled for DVD yet, "Freakazoid!", a clip featuring characters from Freakazoid, Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain:

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"Amazing Stories" Episodes That Do Not Suck

With "Amazing Stories," the Complete First Season finally scheduled for release, you too can have the fun of trying to decide which are the good episodes and which ones stink.

Everyone agrees that this expensive anthology series -- created and produced by Steven Spielberg, who also came up with the stories for several episodes -- was uneven; you expect an anthology show to be somewhat uneven, but this show was not "Twilight Zone" uneven, where the bad episodes are at least bad in a familiar way; the bad episodes of "Amazing Stories" were so bad that you wondered who was in charge. And considering that producers Joshua Brand and John Falsey ("St. Elsewhere") quit the show after only a few episodes, it may well be that no one was in charge, except Spielberg, and anyone who's seen Hook or Always knows that his taste in scripts isn't always the best.

Anyway, from the first season, I can think of some episodes that most people agree upon as "good ones." There's "The Doll," a charming fantasy/love story written by Richard Matheson and starring John Lithgow in a performance that won him an Emmy; that's the definite highlight of the season. There's also the one-hour "The Mission," starring Kevin Costner and directed by Spielberg; "Secret Cinema," writer-director Paul Bartel's adaptation of a short film he'd done years earlier (and which was more or less plundered by the makers of The Truman Show); "Mirror Mirror," Martin Scorsese's horror story about an obnoxious Stephen King-ish writer (Sam Waterston) who keeps seeing his monstrous doppelganger in the mirror; and "The Main Attraction," a very silly but funny story about a jock who literally becomes magnetic after a meteor hits him -- co-written by Brad Bird, who also makes a cameo appearance as a scientist.

The bad episodes include "Remote Control Man," about a guy who gets a TV and -- get ready for this, you'll never guess what happens -- the people in the TV come to life; "Boo!" a surprisingly lackluster comedy ghost story from Joe Dante; and some weird allegorical thing with Dom DeLuise as "Guilt" and Loni Anderson as "Love" (directed by Burt Reynolds, for all you fans of his behind-the-camera efforts). I'm sure I'll be reminded of some of the other clunkers when the DVD comes out.

Most of the really terrible episodes are in the second season, but the second season also includes the most famous and memorable episode of the series, Brad Bird's animated "The Family Dog." So I'll have to get season 2 for that episode alone.

Lyrics: "Love Isn't Born, It's Made" by Frank Loesser

Thank Your Lucky Stars was the most entertaining of the all-star musical revues the movie studios turned out during WWII; Warner Brothers' decision to have its stars play against type -- Bette Davis trying to sing, Errol Flynn as a Cockney bragging about wars he never actually fought in (parodying the fact that Flynn made war movies but didn't go to war), Humphrey Bogart playing himself as a wimp and Eddie Cantor playing himself as a vain egomaniac -- makes for kind of a post-modern musical showcase. It also has some terrific songs by an unusual composer-lyricist team: composer Arthur Schwartz (best known for his songs with Howard Dietz, like "Dancing in the Dark" and "I Love Louisa") and lyricist Frank Loesser, who was just on the verge of making the switch to writing his own music.

As Loesser's career went on, his lyrics would get simpler and more pared-down, with relatively few rhymes and a lot of repetition. It may be heresy, but I think some of his later scores, like The Most Happy Fella and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, have lyrics that are rather dull: efficient, well-crafted, but not all that memorable. In the '40s, though, working as a lyricist only, his work had a lot of verve to it, colloquial and sophisticated at the same time. My favourite song from the score (apart from the big hit "They're Either Too Young Or Too Old," the definitive "homefront" song), is "Love Isn't Born, It's Made, sung by Ann Sheridan -- who had a good singing voice and should have gotten to do more musicals at Warners -- in what appears to be some kind of girls' dormitory setting.

"Love Isn't Born, It's Made"


Here is a book enormous
On how to conduct our lives.
Everything will come to one who waits.
But how long must a lady wait for dates?
Somebody please inform us
Exactly how love arrives?

You've got to join in the chase yourself.
Now, here's my story, so brace yourself:


Love isn't born
On a beautiful April morn,
Love isn't born,
It's made.
And that's why ev'ry window has a window-shade.
Love can't do much
For a couple who don't quite touch;
Love needs a chance
To advance.
And that's why folks who never care for dancing, dance.
So, my precious young dove,
If you're waiting for love,
Better make the most of your charms,
'Cause the feeling won't start
In the gentleman's heart
Till you're in the gentleman's arms.
Love isn't born,
That's a fable to treat with scorn,
Let's call a spade
A spade.
When he says, "Dear, come up and see my antique jade,"
Remember, love isn't born, it's made.


How true, how true, how very, very true,
It's all a game.
How wise, how wise, how very, very wise
To fan the flame.
That old "Prince Charming" story was a fake;
The Sleeping Beauty must have been awake.
You've got us all believing in you.
Continue, please, continue!

Refrain 2

Love has to climb,
It's can't suddenly ring that chime;
Time, sister, time
Is short.
You'll find there's no partition in a davenport.
Love doesn't act
Till the cards are extremely stacked;
Here is a fact
To face:
A man won't take a taxi just to get no place.
So, my precious young dove,
If you're dreaming of love,
Better lead him into the trap,
For you'll never remain
On the gentleman's brain
Till you're on the gentleman's lap.
Love won't exist
If you constantly slap that wrist;
Right off his list
You'll fade.
So don't go crying wolf at ev'ry gay young blade,
And when you walk alone and forlorn
And then you hear a Cadillac horn,
Remember, love isn't born,
It's made.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Eight Little Letters That Simply Mean "I Love You"

The DVD Savant has a nice review of Three Little Words,, one of the little overlooked gems among the MGM musicals, and one of the few musical bio-pics that actually works.

The film is a nice example of the special virtues of producer Jack Cummings, who didn't have the lavish budgets or the cachet of MGM's star producer, Arthur Freed. Cummings, best known as L.B. Mayer's nephew, didn't do the big Oscar-winning musicals; he produced modest-sized musicals for modestly-famous stars like Red Skelton and Eleanor Powell. But his musicals, from his first (Born to Dance), to his last (Viva Las Vegas) are always amusing and likable, and never pretensious the way Freed's could be; he created a framework that allowed performers to do what they did best, and provided opportunities for fun performers who Freed didn't tend to use, like Gloria DeHaven and Buddy Ebsen. Cummings also seemed to have better taste in original songs than Freed did; compare the great score Cummings commissioned for Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954) to the weak score Freed used in his big production of the following year, It's Always Fair Weather.

Three Little Words blows away all Freed's overstuffed, overblown attempts at biographies of songwriters, and this despite -- or perhaps because of -- the fact that it's about relatively obscure songwriters. Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, a team best known for their work for the Marx Brothers (they were, in Animal Crackers, Horse Feathers and Duck Soup, basically the only team that could write a good in-character song for Groucho; even Arlen and Harburg's "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" seems generic by comparison with their material), wrote rather simple, even simplistic songs, hardly the great catalogue that was available to Freed when he made his bio-pics of Kern or Rodgers and Hart. But Cummings, writer George Wells and director Richard Thorpe turn this to their advantage by making the musical numbers as light, simple and pleasant as the songs themselves; instead of huge sets and big gimmicks, it's just some great performers -- mostly Fred Astaire and Vera-Ellen -- doing their stuff on a stage. The script doesn't try to attach any huge significance to these people's lives and careers; it's just a series of funny scenes about how a songwriting team gets together, briefly breaks up, and then gets together again in the end. Add in a relatively restrained Red Skelton, the superhumanly beautiful Arlene Dahl, and reliable supporting performers like Keenan Wynn and the young Debbie Reynolds (dubbed by Helen Kane doing her "boop-boop-ee-doop" routine in "I Wanna Be Loved By You"), and you have one of the most entertaining "little" musicals ever made, one that Astaire reportedly preferred above many of his bigger-budgeted films.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

I Wanna Easter Egg, I Wanna Easter Egg!

The greatest holiday-themed cartoon ever is now available for online viewing: Bugs Bunny in "Easter Yeggs."

One of the early, great Robert McKimson Bugs Bunny cartoons, featuring some of the funniest moments in a Bugs cartoon:

- Bugs's angry reprise of "Here's the Easter Rabbit, Hurray"
- Elmer Fudd: "I can't miss with my Dick Twacy hat!"
- Bugs: "It's the suspense that gets me!

And just the whole idea of portraying the Easter bunny as a lazy, whiny good-for-nothing is inherently amusing.

Thad fills us in on who animated what in some parts of this cartoon.

Still More Grudge Matches I'd Like To See

1. Susie Derkins vs. Lucy Van Pelt.
Scenario: Susie Derkins, Calvin's nemesis from Calvin and Hobbes, vs. Lucy Van Pelt, Charlie Brown's nemesis (and therapist) from Peanuts. Which tough comic-strip gal will win this fight? And can Lucy accomplish anything against an opponent who won't fall for the old football trick?

2. Hippies vs. Yuppies.
Scenario: An all-out war between Hippies, who represent everything that sucked about the '60s, and Yuppies, who represent all that was horrible about the '80s. The winning group gets to battle for dominance of our own dismal decade. Who wins, the army with the bongs or the battalion with the briefcases?

3. Dr. Bellows vs. Gladys Kravitz.
Scenario: In honour of the '60s sitcom: Two sets of people move into houses across the street from Hogwarts Academy. Dr. Bellows (Hayden Rorke) and the General from I Dream of Jeannie, and Gladys Kravitz (Alice Pearce) and Abner Kravitz (George Tobias) from Bewitched. Dr. Bellows must try to convince the General that there's something strange going on at Hogwarts, and Gladys must try to convince Abner of the same. Which constantly-befuddled person can finally prove there's something going on?

4. Encyclopedia Brown vs. Veronica Mars.
Scenario: Flash back to the first season of "Veronica Mars." In this revised scenario, Veronica has competition in trying to solve the big mystery of who killed her friend: Another great kid detective, Encyclopedia Brown. Who solves the mystery first? Does it turn out that Bugs Meany is involved somehow? And can we turn to the back of the book and find out everything?

5. The Force vs. Fonzie's Cool.
Scenario: Luke Skywalker (with The Force) vs. Fonzie (with his Cool). Which is the more powerful cosmic force, The Force or The Cool?

6. USA vs. Freedonia.
Scenario: The United States of America invades Freedonia to remove its dictator Rufus T. Firefly and disarm its WMDS (Weapons of Mass Duck Soup). Does the U.S. win, or do Firefly and co. once again triumph despite being badly outnumbered?

And Don't Forget Renegade

Cat Scratchings has a good play-by-play account of the Writers' Guild tribute to Stephen J. Cannell last month.

Classical Wackiness

Some classical recordings I've listened to recently that I can recommend:

- Mozart, "La Clemenza Di Tito", conducted by René Jacobs. Excellent as usual with Jacobs: energetic, dramatic conducting, fine cast, great playing by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, lively performances of the recitatives (presented complete and uncut). Jacobs and the Freiburg orchestra have two more Mozart recordings planned: a complete Don Giovanni and a recording of the 38th and 41st symphonies (which will be only Jacobs' second orchestral recording, after a great Haydn disc last year).

- Tchaikovsky, Suite # 3, Russian National Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski. Tchaikovsky's third suite is practically a symphony: a 40-minute work concluding with a gigantic theme-and-variations movement that's often performed as a separate piece. It's a great, tuneful and varied piece that is actually quite a bit more entertaining -- and certainly less pompous -- than some of Tchaikovsky's "real" symphonies. The performance here is very good, maybe a little slow for my tastes in the opening Elegy, but rousing in the big Polonaise that concludes the work. The fill-up is the suite from Stravinsky's ballet "The Fairy's Kiss," based on songs and piano pieces by Tchaikovsky.

- Bruckner, Symphony no. 4, conducted by Philippe Herreweghe. I've always found the symphonies of Anton Bruckner to be a bit monotonous and square -- with his thick scoring and lack of interest in varied rhythms, he sometimes sounds to me like, as I once put it, "Wagner in Church." So I liked the opportunity to hear a Bruckner symphony on period instruments, as the smaller, tougher-sounding (but very good) orchestra helps to make the music sound less soggy and gives it a bit more of an edge. Hearing this new recording, I was more entertained by Bruckner than I thought possible, though I don't know how the performance compares to the great Bruckner recordings of the past.

- Mahler, Symphony no. 10, conducted by Michael Gielen. This is the symphony Mahler was working on when he died; he'd completed all or most of the first movement (which is often performed as a separate concert piece) and the short third movement (in Mahler's trusty mock-rustic style), and sketched out the other three movements. In 1964, British musicologist Deryck Cooke created a performing version of the symphony, which is the version Gielen has recorded here. Cooke, by his own admission, stuck very closely to the sketches, even in spots where they are probably incomplete. As William Malloch explained in High Fidelity in reviewing the first recording of the symphony:

Cooke claims only to have prepared a "performing version of the sketch" and has done a minimum of note-adding, i.e. filling in a conjectural harmony or secondary voice here and there and painting all in Mahler-like colors... So, in a way, such a "realization" represents Mahler well, but, equally, as Cooke admits, it does not -- for with Mahler there is always something extra, something a bit different, each time a given musical idea passes by once again. The fantastic shell game Mahler plays with his ideas as they poke their noses out of the orchestra now here, now there, the delightful and terrible super-elaboration, is only minimally in evidence in this score.

But had Cooke been more daring... he surely would have been damned from many quarters for "composing" Mhaler's music for him, and would have been unable to demonstrate how much essential Mahler the sketch contains.

Gielen has chosen Cooke's version, instead of one of the later versions (by people who added more to the sketches), on that basis, that though Cooke's version is not what Mahler's final version would have been, it does retain the "essential" work that Mahler put into the symphony before he died. Gielen's Mahler cycle is about the best we've had in the last couple of decades, and this new recording is as good as the previous nine.

Semi-OT: Bias, Schmias

One of my favourite un-noticed phenomena of the last couple of years is the slow, very slow recognition of the fact that "media bias" complaints are coming more and more from the left, rather than the right. These complaints are starting to have an effect, to some extant. Example: the Washington Post recently hired a conservative blogger to "balance" their blogger Dan Froomkin, who had been accused of being liberal because his column is consistently critical of President Bush (though the column does not advocate policy and therefore can't really be considered ideologically liberal). After the conservative blogger turned out to be a plagiarist and was dropped, the Post announced plans to hire both a conservative blogger and a liberal blogger -- in effect admitting that it was not "balanced" to have a partisan conservative blogger but no partisan liberal blogger. It was the first sign I've seen of a "big media" outlet effectively admitting that it didn't have any actual liberals.

I thought I'd round up some of the more interesting introductions to the concept of conservative media bias, because it's a concept you're going to be hearing more and more about in the next couple of years as networks, newspapers et al start to realize that they can face pressure from the left as well.

- Peter Daou spends a lot of his time blogging about right-wing bias in the media. In his essay "The Triangle" and This Followup Essay, and the essay "A Challenge to Rightwing Bloggers Who Blame the Media for the Cheney Mess: Prove it", he sets out his idea that "storylines trump stories," and that the storylines favoured by the "mainstream media" tend to be conservative-friendly storylines, where conservative politicians "stand firm," where religious faith is portrayed as interchangeable with conservative politics, and where certain slogans take hold and are repeated over and over again without being fact-checked.

- "John Fund Again?" by Paul Waldman, based on a somewhat unscientific study of the political orientation of the guests on Sunday news talk shows. Whether you agree with the methodology or not, it is true that the guests on the talk shows tend to skew right, and that the debates tend to skew right (most famously in 2002 when the "debates" tended to be between a "conservative" who thought we should invade Iraq right now and a "liberal" who thought we should invade but wait till next week to do it). There's also the point the "liberal" guests are often people who aren't particularly liberal and show a disdain for their own side, like Joe Klein. The networks have shown an odd reluctance to draw guests from the relatively fertile pool of policy wonks and muckrakers in the liberal side of the blogosphere, or magazines like The American Prospect and The Nation, or or the moderate liberal side of the college professoriate (someone like Michael Berube would be an entertaining guest); they seem stuck in 1990 when compiling the guest lists.

- Digby's Hullabaloo does occasional posts on the media-bias issue. In this post he sets out a list of what he sees as the media's failures and its fealty fo "GOP operatives" in the last decade or so, and concludes that he decided that the only way to save the media was to push back from the left the way the right has been pushing for decades. In this more recent post he argues that the root of the problem is that the media still reports on politics as if it's business as usual, even though something has fundamentally changed.

I don't think everyone will agree with everything linked to above; I don't know that I agree with every point of it. But it is an introduction to the conservative-media-bias theme, which, as I said, is going to be a bigger theme as the years go on -- in part because it's closer to the truth than the more familiar "liberal bias" theme, and in part because the pushback from the left is getting stronger.