Friday, August 31, 2007

More From the '70s

I've mentioned earlier that by the '70s, the Broadway musical was basically a director's medium: from that point on, musicals would be largely about the way they were staged and the conceptual gimmicks that the director came up with. Another part of this was that songs were increasingly written around the staging, whereas in the past, the director would build the staging around the song that was written for a particular spot.

So in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, R&H (the producers as well as the writers) would come up with a song, and leave it to the director to figure out how to execute it. Joshua Logan, the director and co-writer of South Pacific, had to come up with physical gimmicks to maintain interest during a song -- like having Liat act out the lyrics of "Happy Talk" while her mother sings the song -- but what he didn't do was come up with a stage picture and ask the songwriters for something to fill it.

By the late '60s and '70s, you have more and more songs whose music and lyrics are shaped by the staging, rather than vice-versa. A lot of the songs in Bob Fosse musicals are like that, with the melody shaped to fit the typical Fosse moves instead of Fosse coming up with dance moves based on the music. And Stephen Sondheim became Hal Prince's favorite songwriter, in part, because he was willing to write long numbers around Prince's stage pictures. (It's said that Sondheim didn't come up with the Act 1 finale of A Little Night Music, "A Weekend In the Country," until Prince had already blocked the whole scene.)

Here's a good example of what I mean, Sondheim's personal favorite of his songs, "Someone In a Tree" from Pacific Overtures. This is a song entirely based on a stage picture: instead of seeing the signing of the treaty of Kanagawa, we get it from the perspective of onlookers: someone who saw the whole thing from a distance when he was a ten year-old boy (but couldn't hear what they were saying), and a samurai hiding below the treaty house (who is listening in case he's summoned for backup, but can't see what's going on). We have the narrator (Mako) and the old man in the present, and the young boy and the samurai in the past, and the lighting picks out little fragments instead of showing a big scenic picture all at once. That's all built into the song, and so although the song does work on a recording, it really isn't designed to work separately from the staging. And instead of the director coming up with stage business to sell the song, the song incorporates stage business that is necessary for the scene, like the tree climbing. It is, in part, a song that expresses the director's vision.

Here's the original Broadway cast:

Speaking of Pacific Overtures, the same uploader also has the original cast doing the first number from the second act, "Please Hello" (where various Western countries come in and force Japan to trade with them). It's one of the weaker numbers because the music consists of lame parodies of Sousa, Gilbert and Sullivan, etc., but the lyrics may be the most intricately-rhymed of all time.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Little Octagon

Brian Hughes at "Again With Comics" has posted "Playful Obsession," Dan Clowes' vicious parody of Harvey Comics. (this link comes via a comment by Anthony Strand.)

It's all there, with the characters changed enough so he doesn't get sued. The main target, of course, is the way all the Harvey Comics kids have unhealthy obsessions, and the way these comics portrayed money-fixation, dot-mania and compulsive overeating as positive things. (If you read "Little Lotta" you'd swear that overeating gives you superhuman strength.)

And I particularly appreciate the fact that Clowes makes a reference the way Richie flaunted his wealth in front of his pauper friends Freckles and Peewee, and did nothing to help them out of their crippling poverty.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What the '70s Called a Hit Musical

I noticed that someone has uploaded excerpts from the biggest hit musical of 1970, Applause, a musical version of All About Eve starring Lauren Bacall. This is probably my least favorite hit musical, certainly my least favorite from before the '80s. (And even Cats doesn't annoy me as much.) The Broadway musical was on life support by 1970, with the collapse of Broadway-style music in the pop market -- which meant that most musicals, even successful ones, didn't have hit songs to help market them. And so a lot of shows were increasingly coming to rely on production gimmicks. Some directors, like Hal Prince, went for big conceptual ideas, and others, like Applause director-choreographer Ron Field, just tried to throw everything at the audience to keep them entertained.

When this worked, it worked fine; it had worked in Cabaret -- a Prince production that Field had choreographed -- where Field's imaginative, movement-filled musical numbers were a highlight. (Everyone who saw the original version of Cabaret -- which is, by the way, far superior to the movie or any of the revised versions -- recalls that Field's "The Telephone Number" was the hit of the whole show.) But it was an approach that could make a show more about the staging than about the songs or performances. And what bugs me about Applause is that Field seems to have so busy coming up with gimmicks that he let the show fall apart creatively.

The talent was there: Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (Bye Bye Birdie) wrote the songs, and Betty Comden and Adolph Green were brought in to write the book (after an earlier script was thrown out). But Comden and Green's book doesn't have a funny line in it. (They were not able to use the All About Eve lines, because they didn't initially have the rights to the movie script, but their dialogue is shockingly witless for the people who wrote Singin' in the Rain.) And many of Strouse and Adams' songs are mediocre -- like a really stupid song called "Fasten Your Seat Belts" -- and the ones that are good are wrecked by the bad pseudo-hip orchestrations of the veteran Philip J. Lang.

So it was a good idea for a musical that was turned into a really poorly written musical, and nobody seemed to care because of a) Lauren Bacall, who overplayed entertainingly, and b) Field's relentless staging, which sort of beat the audience into submission. But the performances were basically terrible; everybody was encouraged to overact and oversell every single line or bit of business. It's the kind of loud, annoying, cartoonish faux-entertainment that gives Broadway musicals a bad name.

Here's an example of how Applause wrecked what is actually a pretty good song -- the title song, which could have been a rather sweet tribute to the joy of performing and instead becomes a monstrous thing led by a vocally-overstretched Bonnie Franklin (One Day at a Time).

Making a slightly better case for the show, from a TV version (there never was a movie), is Bacall's number "But Alive." The staging is kind of wearying too, and the arrangement is early-'70s crass, but at least it's entertaining. Bacall didn't have much of a voice, but she did know how to make the most of a number.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Haw, Haw! Or, Things That Suck: Jackie Jokers

I already touched on this a bit in my anti-Richie Rich screed, but Mister Kitty's "Stupid Comics" has has a great overview of Richie Rich's most annoying friend, Jackie Jokers.

Actually, he started out with his own comic, something I wasn't aware of as a kid (because I encountered him in the Richie Rich digests); his solo title failed, so it became "Richie Rich and Jackie Jokers." I agree with everyone that there's something deeply weird about a little kid working as a Borscht Belt comedian, especially when his look-alike father seems to have pushed him into it -- don't they have child labor laws?

And yet as a child, I kind of liked the Jackie Jokers stuff, even though I knew even then that the writing wasn't any good and that Jackie's jokes were terrible. (It really was an indication of how little respect Harvey Comics had for kids that they thought we'd believe Jackie was a great comedian, even though he never had a funny joke.) I probably liked them because they were the only stories in those digests that took the focus off a) Richie's disgusting wealth and b) Richie preventing desperate, hungry people from stealing anything from his vast wealth.

So in addition to the stories mentioned on that page, I remember Richie and Jackie writing a script for a sci-fi comedy (Reggie Van Dough tried to steal it, but they fixed him), which consisted entirely of bad puns:

FUTURE JACKIE: Can I borrow your spaceship, Richie? I want to be a star on some star!

FUTURE RICHIE: How star-tling!

Okay, that doesn't even rise to the level of a bad pun.

There was also this story that featured a second show-biz kid, "Kool Katz" the musician with an overbearing Jewish mother. In this story, Kool's "Mama" had written a play called "Boy in the Big House," which she thought was a drama but everyone mistook it for a comedy. Richie produced it on Broadway with Jackie as the star, and it became a huge hit as a comedy, and Mama accepted it when she realized it was a hit.

BOY IN THE BIG HOUSE: Oh, what a fate, to be the Boy in the Big House! If only I had listened to my Mama and worn a sweater on windy days, this wouldn't have happened to me!

At least the dialogue was better than in Richie and Jackie's frickin' script.

And yes, I remember those movie and TV parodies with Jackie. I remember "Carry" (Jackie is forced by everyone to "carry" their books, until he uses his telekinetic powers to get even). I remember "Shirley and Laverne," a parody of "Laverne and Shirley." (Worst title parody ever.) And I remember "Sez-a-Who Street," featuring the Comic Book Monster, who ended the story by eating the whole comic book.

Yes, I screwed up my childhood, and all because I had nothing better to read on bus rides and boring assemblies.

If you can stand more of this, Scott Shaw! reviews a Jackie Jokers issue where Jackie meets Nixon and Kissinger.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Obscure Musicals: The Grass Harp

One of those flop musicals that is sacred to hard-core Broadway fanatics is The Grass Harp. This is a 1971 musical based on the novel by Truman Capote, about a dotty spinster who runs away from her sister's house and goes to live in a treehouse rather than allow her sister to market her miracle dropsy cure. That's an over-simplified summary, of course, but it gives you an idea of what the story is like: a very delicate, whimsical fable about eccentric people. The musical adaptation, which ran only a week, was further proof that whimsy and delicacy rarely succeed on Broadway.

The book and lyrics were by playwright and poet Kenward Elmslie, who was the significant other of the late, great John LaTouche. His theatre work is similar to LaTouche's in that he tries to create a fusion of high and low -- to bring poetry and highbrow experimentation to Broadway while still keeping that Broadway pizazz. He's not nearly as good a lyricist as LaTouche was, though, and while some of the lyrics for Grass Harp are very beautiful, others are a little clumsy or drab. The music was by Claibe Richardson, who died in 2003.

This 2002 interview with Elmslie gives some background on The Grass Harp, as does this online chat from 2003. It was originally produced in Providence, Rhode Island, with a cast that included Barbara Baxley from She Loves Me and Elaine Stritch as the evangelist Baby Love. For the Broadway production, the show managed to pull together an even better cast including Barbara Cook, Max Showalter (the creepy father from the movie Lord Love a Duck), and the great contralto Carol Brice, who was equally comfortable on Broadway and in the opera house. Celeste Holm, who was originally supposed to play Cook's part, was then cast as Baby Love, but she quit the show out of town because her part was too small, and was replaced with Karen Morrow -- a good thing too, because while Holm was an excellent actress she didn't have enough of a voice for the very difficult music that had been written for the character (more on that later).

With the high-powered singing voices of Cook, Brice and Morrow in the production, it was decided to do the show without amplification; it was the last Broadway musical that didn't use microphones. (Not that everyone agreed with this. Capote's last word of advice to Elmslie after he looked at the show was "Mike it.") Several of the best numbers have the kind of sound you only hear in un-miked musicals: starting soft, building to a big vocal climax, orchestration deliberately thinned out during the vocal portions so the singer can always be heard. Even though some of the music has a contemporary sound -- some of the weaker songs are reminiscent of Burt Bacharach or the music for Company (a show from the previous year) -- much of it is in a very old-school style that feels like Rodgers and Hammerstein. Brice's first song, "If There's Love Enough," is a song of homespun wisdom that's sort of like a Capote-ized version of "Climb Every Mountain," and it's a great song. (Note: to include audio clips in this post I've uploaded the audio files to Daily Motion; click on the embedded video to hear the song, but there's no actual video except a caption identifying the song.)

There were many other superb songs in the piece, including almost all of Cook's numbers; there were also some pretty good comedy songs, like Brice's "Marry With Me (Love, Bill)." Although the show flopped, Elmslie and Richardson arranged with their mutual friend Ben Bagley to record it: to save money, orchestrator Jonathan Tunick went to Europe and recorded the orchestral tracks there (the union rates were lower) and the cast added their vocal tracks back in New York; Bagley released the album on his label Painted Smiles, and it became a cult classic. It was Cook's last Broadway musical; tired of appearing in one cult flop after another, she concentrated on concert performances after that.

Like all flop shows with great songs, the problems were blamed on the book. And it's hard to deny that the story is maybe just too whimsical to be a musical; several other Capote musicals have had the same trouble, finding themselves unable to work up the kind of raw energy that a story needs to sustain a bunch of musical numbers. (Capote's own House of Flowers was one of the great cult flops of the '50s, and a musical version of Breakfast At Tiffany's starring Mary Tyler Moore was such a disaster that it got rewritten by Edward Albee and then closed out of town.) But there was another problem apart from all the whimsy, which is that the audience didn't have a very clear rooting interest. The focus of the musical is on Dolly (Cook), a slightly nutty old maid; her behavior is supposed to be saintly, but it can come off as annoying. And so while "Chain of Love" -- whose opening lines are taken directly from Capote -- is a beautiful song, perfect for Cook's voice, it's one of the few moments in the score or the show that makes us feel any real emotional attachment to the character, and it comes too late in the first act to make us really care about her.

And then there's the problem that often comes up in adaptations of novels: what to do with the narrator? The narrator, and sort of the main character, of The Grass Harp is Collin, the orphaned teenage boy who's been sent to live with the two sisters (the good Dolly and the greedy Verena). But take him out of the novel and he doesn't really do a whole lot. So Collin (Russ Thacker) is a weak presence in the musical and his songs are the worst in the whole show; his first number, "Floozies," is proof of why it's a bad idea to write a peurile number to reflect a character's peurile sentiments. And coming so early in the show -- it's the second number -- "Floozies" may have helped turn people off the whole evening:

Elmslie and Richardson worked on some other projects, including a musical about Lola Montez, but I don't think any of them got to Broadway. (Bagley recorded some songs from Lola on Painted Smiles, and released a few of them as bonus tracks on a CD of The Grass Harp.) Elmslie has concentrated mostly on his poetry, but to many people he'll always be best known for that handful of great songs from The Grass Harp, and for creating one of the last showcases for great old-school un-amplified Broadway singing. Including one of the longest "belt" numbers in musical theatre history, "Baby Love's Miracle Show" -- a number that lasts a full twelve minutes and where Karen Morrow hardly ever gets a break from singing. It's also, of course, a number in the great Broadway tradition of fake gospel numbers, starting with "Blow Gabriel Blow" and going through "The Lord Done Fixed Up My Soul" and "Brotherhood of Man" and many others.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

My Intercostal Clavicle

I'm sure a lot of you have already seen the panels from this famous 1951 Batman comic story (also reproduced at Superdickery and many other places). The thing I wonder after reading it, though, is whether Bill Finger could really have been using "boner" over and over again without any double meaning, even in 1951.

I think that when this story is discussed it's usually assumed that "boner" just means a particularly stupid mistake, and that nobody could have known what it would eventually mean. But the use of "boner" or "bone" as a double entendre wasn't exactly unheard of before that. Think of Bringing Up Baby a movie from 1938, that gets a huge amount of mileage from obviously very deliberate double entendres around the word "bone." (Cary Grant is first seen holding a dinosaur bone and saying "I think this must belong in the tail." That's not accidentally funny; that's deliberate.) So while I may be totally wrong on this, I don't think it's far-fetched to imagine that "boner" already had a sort of secret meaning by 1951, even if it wasn't generally known. It's sort of like -- and again, you can see this in Bringing Up Baby -- the way the secret meaning of "gay" was hinted at in song lyrics and movies for decades before it went into general public use.

Another one I've always wondered about is from Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial By Jury:

DEFENDANT: Is this the Court of the Exchequer?

CHORUS: It is!

DEFENDANT (aside): Be firm, be firm, my pecker.

This is a huge problem for anyone producing Trial By Jury now, but at the time it was a reference to the old saying "keep your pecker up," with "pecker" meaning "heart." On the other hand, this was W.S. Gilbert, a writer who once had a female character say (in the play Engaged) "what have I in common with tarts?" (She is referring, or thinks she's referring, to the pastries.) So I've never been quite convinced that there wasn't some kind of early, dirty meaning of "pecker" that he might have been aware of.

Alternate TV Universe: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Sort of like a "grudge match I'd like to see," except instead of imagining a fight, we ask what would happen if a TV show were done with a few minor tweaks:

Scenario: The show Buffy the Vampire Slayer has the same setup we're familiar with: an ordinary girl named Buffy discovers that she is the Chosen One with the power to fight vampires and other monsters. She protects the town from evil under the guidance of her British Watcher. The only difference is that Buffy is Buffy Patterson from Family Affair, and her Watcher is Mr. French, who was placed with Uncle Bill by the Watcher's Council for the express purpose of guiding Buffy to her destiny.

Can Buffy protect New York from vampires? How will Jody, Uncle Bill and Cissy deal with being the new Scooby Gang? Speculation welcome.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

First Looney Tunes Reference

Earlier I wrote that a scene from Kitten With a Whip (1964) was "one of the first references to Warner Brothers cartoons in a non-WB movie." I'd forgotten about the ending of the 1958 Paramount production The Geisha Boy:

Of course since Frank Tashlin wrote and directed this movie, you could argue that this is more of a Looney Tunes insider reference than anything else. But still, it might be the first time that Looney Tunes cartoons were referred to as a general cultural reference instead of Warner Brothers plugging itself (e.g. My Dream is Yours).

Jerry Lewis's delivery of the Porky Pig line isn't all that good, by the way. He doesn't seem to realize that he's not supposed to stutter on "folks."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Screw The Director's Vision

Finally I can embed a clip (poor quality, but at least it's there) of the original version of the opening shot of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil. The only version of Touch of Evil currently available on home video is the version that was created after the death of everyone who made the picture, to conform to the vision that Welles outlined in a memo to Universal. The most obvious change, besides the removal of scenes that weren't shot by Welles, is that the opening credits are removed from the famous opening tracking shot; Welles didn't want any credits over the shot, and he didn't want any music in the film other than "source" music (Henry Mancini's score is mostly heard from distant radios). The released version runs the credits over the shot, and has loud opening-credits type music. So it's not at all what Welles wanted.

The thing is, I can't bring myself to care that much what Welles wanted here. I find that the revised version, without the credits and the blaring theme music, is kind of dull. Yes, it's an amazing shot, but that doesn't justify holding on a shot of people walking down the street for such a long time, particularly when the audience hasn't been clued into what's going on. I know that the theory is that we're all supposed to be in suspense about when the bomb is going to go off, but I think that it's hard for the scene to build suspense when we have no reason to care if these people get blown up or not; the movie's only just started. So I think the studio had it right: the movie doesn't truly begin until the characters start talking and we get a sense of who they are, and that's indicated by putting the credits over the first part of the shot.

I also don't agree with the idea that Welles's intentions are the final word on a movie like Touch of Evil. Yes, Welles wrote, directed and starred in it, and it's unquestionably his movie. On the other hand he didn't produce it, and the producer, Albert Zugsmith, wasn't just there to raise the money; the project was his idea (he brought in Welles to rewrite and direct it, at Charlton Heston's suggestion), and he had his own style as a producer; Touch of Evil is very much a Zugsmith movie as well as a Welles movie, even if Zugsmith's career was less distinguished overall.

The credits sequence of Touch of Evil is similar to that of Zugsmith's production Written On the Wind, where we get the credits over an opening sequence where we're not completely sure what's going on (it's explained much later in the movie). Zugsmith did the same thing in Touch of Evil: run the credits over the first minute or two where the audience doesn't know what's going on, so they won't start scratching their heads in confusion; the "official" beginning of the movie comes when the credits end and we get into the part that's easier to follow. If this is the producer's movie as well as the director's -- and it is -- then I don't see why the producer's decisions are less legitimate. Particularly since Zugsmith was probably more in charge of the post-production than Welles was.

I feel the same way about the additional non-Welles scenes, some of which I think are effective and useful. This isn't something like The Magnificent Ambersons, where Welles was the producer as well and the decision to re-cut was entirely made by people who had no creative involvement with the film. This was a movie with a strong director and a strong producer, and where the producer won out, I think his decisions are worthy of respect.

In fairness to the people who put together this version, I don't think they intended it to replace the other versions of the film (the original 96-minute cut and the 108-minute reissue, both of which contain scenes that Welles didn't direct). It's not their fault that Universal hasn't bothered to release a DVD of the other versions.

Anyway, here's the version currently available:

And here's the version that was actually released, with the opening credits running over the shot:

Update: It occurs to me that I'm assuming, in this post, that most of the changes/reshoots were the idea of the producer. It's possible, of course, that some of them were suggested by the studio. But it's hard to say because the things I've read about Touch of Evil don't seem to make any distinction between "the producer" and "the studio."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

More Depressing TV Intros

- How could I forget about the intro for the Coy and Vance episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard? Apparently the producers thought that if they showed both new guys with their shirts off, we'd hate them less. We didn't.

- Another milestone in TV opening sequences that are really anguished cries for help: "Golden Palace."

- Season 8 of "Diff'rent Strokes" reminds us that when shows have suffered major cast departures and are completely exhausted, they will a) Re-record the theme song in a "hipper" arrangement and b) Create a new title sequence where we see how much the characters have grown up. (They think that by showing old clips of Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges, we'll feel a sense of how far we've come with these characters. They don't realize that all we're thinking is "these guys are too old for this schtick.")

- "The New WKRP in Cincinnati," a direct-to-syndication mediocrity. Hard to say which is more gloom-inducing: the shots of the three original cast members, or the shots of the five new cast members that nobody liked.

The Magic Man

Of all the dozens of different versions (with different lyrics) of the Marineland commercial, this mid-'90s one may be my favorite, because of the shot of the Marineland mascot, King Waldorf. Also known as "the guy in the giant walrus costume," and referred to in the lyrics as a "magic man." As a YouTube commentator asks: "Is he the king of Canada?"

Saturday, August 18, 2007

You Put Your Down Down And Thrust Your Pelvis!

Over at t'other blog I have a post about Duckman, one of those '90s shows that inspired a considerable cult following on the internet but seems to be pretty much forgotten today. (And there's no sign of a DVD release.) It's too bad, because while this show was not the best-looking prime-time cartoon, it was often very funny, and its combination of animated sitcom and pitch-dark bad-taste satire was more successful than later shows that tried to do the same thing.

I actually think the best episodes of the run came from the last couple of seasons, where the show lightened up a little at the behest of the network -- in the final season they even added a "nice" character, Bernice's long-lost sister Beverly, to make the family more palatable -- and it was more relaxed and funny. But there were a lot of very good episodes in its 70-episode run.

While there's no DVD, DailyMotion has a bunch of full episodes, and YouTube has some more. Unfortunately they don't seem to have my favorite, "Crime, Punishment, War, Peace, and the Idiot," a parody of Russian epic literature (where the flatulent, comatose Grandma-ma recalls her marriage to the Duckman-like cad Trigorin).

By the way, one of the most prolific writers for the show, Michael Markowitz (he wrote, among many other episodes, the series finale which deliberately ended on a cliffhanger that was never resolved or explained), has his own blog, "Should Have Asked Me."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Depressing TV Intros

Not only can TV title sequences get you in the mood for a show, they can also be unbelievably depressing when they accompany a show that has Jumped the Shark™. Has there ever been a title sequence more soul-crushing to watch than the final season of Laverne and Shirley, when Shirley was gone, Lenny had abandoned Squiggy (to make This is Spinal Tap) and they had to bring in a bunch of kids just to do the "Schlemiel, Schlemazl" bit? Particularly sad is the shot that accompanies the now-inaccurate title -- Laverne dancing with two versions of herself, just to make it look like the show is still about more than one person.

Or how about the last seson of The A-Team? The new arrangement of the theme song -- which sounds like a very early version of a custom cell phone ring -- practically screams "we've been re-tooled in a desperate attempt to revive a show that should have been canceled two years ago."

And once the opening voice-over of Charlie's Angels contained the line "Two of them graduated from the police academy, the other graduated from a top school for models," you knew it was over, even if Aaron Spelling didn't.

John From...

With the cancellation of John From Cincinnati, someone came up with the inevitable "John From WKRP in Cincinnati" mashup, but it doesn't do much more than combine clips from the two shows. I decided, for the heck of it, to try and come up with something that actually makes it look like Dr. Johnny Fever was the star of a David Milch production:


While the cartoons on the "Woody Woodpecker" DVD set are uneven (I think the Lantz studio's best work may have been outside their most famous series), they have a lot to offer up until the third disc, when, all of a sudden, Woody turns into a silent character. Starting with "Puny Express" and continuing through the rest of the early '50s Woody cartoons on the set, Woody never says anything, and neither does anybody else; the only "dialogue" is Woody's famous laugh.

This GAC Forums thread explains why. Lantz discovered that his cartoons weren't being shown overseas because it was too expensive to dub them into foreign languages, so for several years he made cartoons without dialogue, which could then be shown in any foreign markets. He abandoned this eventually, but it really is jarring to see a familiar character suddenly lose his voice, and I wonder what English-speaking audience thought of it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Other Walt

Looking at Thad's animator breakdown of the Lantz cartoon "Abou Ben Boogie" (directed by Shamus Culhane), I was interested to note that when Art Davis became a director at Warner Brothers, his staff had a number of Lantz people on it, including three who worked on this cartoon: background man Phil De Guard, and animators Don Williams and Emery Hawkins. And Williams and Hawkins had both animated for Disney before going to Lantz, which meant that Davis was working with three ex-Disney animators in his unit: Williams, Hawkins and Bill Melendez.

That may explain why the animation in Davis's cartoons has a slightly different feel from the animation in the other units -- a bit less "solid," less based on precise movements and more on animating the entire body. A cartoon like "What Makes Daffy Duck" sometimes feels like a WB-ized version of the style of Disney or Lantz (whose studio tried to do Disney-style animation on a lower budget).

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Surprisingly Good Series Finales

The CTS channel (sort of a local cross between Christian broadcasting and an old sitcom rerun channel) ran the series finale of "Happy Days" recently. One thing that always surprised me about that finale is that it was actually pretty good. There was really no reason why a show that more or less sold its soul back in 1976 should have gone out with a good episode, but having Fonzie adopt a son and Joanie marry Charles in Charge was a decent way to end the series.

And Tom Bosley's speech at the very end, despite the treacly music, is kind of sweet and simple; it's about the characters but it's also about the pleasure we get from following the lives of TV characters -- something that becomes explicit when he breaks the fourth wall and thanks us for "being part of our family." It's almost enough to make you forgive them for Pinky Tuscadero, Ted McGinley, Crystal Bernard, Mork, the shark jump and various incarnations of Linda Purl. Not quite enough, but almost.

Also, it's only after watching this scene for a second time that you start to ask an important question about the speech: "Two children?" "Both of our children?" What happened to Chuck? Well, Tom Bosley asked the same question in a famous outtake from this scene, where he says "Chuck? Where's Chuck?"

Any other shows you can think of that had better series finales than you might have expected?

Let's Kick This Hick Town Into High!

Revisiting musical films by George Sidney has given me a new appreciation for a film I didn't use to like much, Bye Bye Birdie.

The reason I didn't like it is simple: I love the stage musical, and as an adaptation of the stage show, the film is a travesty. The story was rewritten from a gentle satire to a bizarre cartoon (complete with wacky cartoony climax); some of the best songs were dropped or rewritten; Janet Leigh was both miscast and wasted; Ann-Margret was playing herself instead of the character and Sidney unbalanced the whole production by giving her extra material (including a title song that wasn't in the play). Also, Johnny Green's orchestrations -- brash, vulgar and loud -- are jarring to those of us who think Robert Ginzler's flute-heavy Broadway arrangements are among the greatest in Broadway history.

All of that is still true, but when I return to the film version and evaluate it on its own terms, I think it has to rank as one of the better movie musicals of the '60s. Everything about it is garish and vulgar, but that's what makes it a George Sidney film; he was one of the least tasteful of musical directors, a guy who would overload his films with loud color patterns and lighting. It's a good-natured, larger-than-life piece of escapism, whereas the original musical was actually kind of observational and even subtle. Sidney had achieved some of his biggest hits by ignoring the spirit of the source material and coming up with something completely different; Scaramouche has very little to do with the Sabatini novel, and his version of Show Boat (another movie I like a lot more than I used to) is almost unrecognizable compared to the stage play.

The odd thing about Birdie is that by the time it was made, most Broadway adaptations didn't work this way any more: now the fashion was to stick closely to the Broadway show and come up with a long musical that approximated the experience of going to a Broadway play. (West Side Story, My Fair Lady, The Music Man were examples of this.) What Sidney did to Birdie would have been pretty common back when he was under contract to M-G-M; he wrecked the source material a lot less than, say, the makers of On the Town did (now there's a movie I still haven't come around on). But in 1963, such a heavy rewrite of the source material was frowned upon, and so, like Sidney's Viva Las Vegas, the film feels like a throwback to the M-G-M golden age, in both its good and bad points.

The good points include the simple point that Birdie has a vitality and unpretentiousness that most of the big, bloated movie musicals of the '60s simply didn't have. It's not a big musical, not an event; it's just fun, a showcase for the director, the choreographer, and the performers. What keeps it from being a really great movie musical is that some of the performers are wasted (Dick Van Dyke doesn't get enough to do, and was apparently unhappy at the downgrading of the part he'd played on Broadway). But when it's good, it blows you away with its inventiveness and energy the way a good movie musical should, and the way most '60s musicals didn't.

Also, you can't really blame Sidney for wanting to give Ann-Margret more to do in the picture. People often explain this decision by saying that had a crush on her, which may be true but isn't very specific; everybody had a crush on Ann-Margret at that time. There were two perfectly good reasons for throwing more of the movie to her. One is that she was really good, and deserved more opportunities to do her own thing rather than stay within the limitations of the part as written (which was intended for a very different kind of performer). And the other thing is that the original Birdie play was very much aimed at adults; the grown-ups were the focus of the story and got most of the numbers, and the kids were very much secondary. The makers of the film clearly wanted it to skew younger, and that meant giving more time to the young characters. It worked, too.

The "A Lot of Livin' To Do" number, with Onna White's choreography (she came up with that crazy arms-out, head-tilting move that runs through the whole thing) is an extravaganza of creative lighting, color, dance and music that is probably -- just as a stand-alone number -- superior to any individual number in Gower Champion's Broadway staging. Even back when I didn't like the movie, I liked this number.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

First Movie With Licensed Recordings?

Oh, just one more thing (™ Columbo) about music licensing: what was the first movie that paid to use real recordings of popular music?

For many years, licensed recordings were almost never used in film (or television for that matter). If characters turned on the radio or played a record, it would usually be music that was directly written for the film by the composer. For example, Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window uses only "source music" from radios, phonographs and pianos -- but nearly all of it was composed by Franz Waxman; you don't hear anyone putting on a record that actually existed. In Out of the Past, when Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer put on a record, it's a recording of the movie's main title theme by Roy Webb, which has also been played by a jazz band in another scene.

By the early '70s, with American Graffiti and other films, movies and television had changed their tune (bad pun intended); now if a record was playing in a scene, it would be a real record. In The Long Goodbye, Robert Altman and John Williams even parodied the old practice by having Williams' title song reappear as every single piece of source music in the film (including two radios playing different "recordings" of the same song); that's how out of date that practice had become.

While I'm not fond of the way pop recordings are often used in place of real soundtrack music, I think it is much, much better (though more expensive) to have real recordings whenever source music is called for. If someone is playing a record, it should be a real recording, not only for realism but because the character's choice of music tells you something about that character. But when did it become all right for studios to pay to use recordings that they didn't own?

The first movie I'm aware of that uses a clearly-identifiable popular recording (that wasn't created directly for the film) is Henry King's masterpiece Margie (1946). This movie is framed as a flashback to the '20s, and transitions from the present to the past by having Margie (Jeanne Crain) and her daughter put on "My Time Is Your Time" by Rudy Vallee. Most of the other '20s songs are performed by people in the film, but the use of "My Time Is Your Time" is more akin to what we'd expect today: a real period recording that the filmmakers paid to use.

But that's 1946, and there must be others before that. Are there? (I'm not talking about having people in the movie play or sing popular songs, like the bar pianist playing Rodgers and Hart's "The Blue Room" in The Big Sleep. I'm talking about actual recordings that had been made and released separately from the movie.)

Last Great MGM Musical

Jeremy Richey at Moon in the Gutter has a nice tribute to Viva Las Vegas, which just came out in a new DVD (the special features aren't much, but at least the picture is remastered in 16:9 widescreen this time). I've always thought that VLV, and not Elvis Presley's more serious pictures, is the model for what his movies should have been like. The problem with the typical Elvis film isn't that it's too light and fluffy; movie musicals are supposed to be light and fluffy. The problem is that they're cheap, slapdash and nobody involved with the film is doing his or her best work.

That's why Viva Las Vegas is sort of the last of the great M-G-M musicals, because it's the last gasp of a particular type of musical: the short, unpretentious musical that succeeds because of high technical standards and an ability to take advantage of the stars' talents. The producer of Viva Las Vegas, Jack Cummings, was Louis B. Mayer's nephew and he had made a ton of musicals exactly like that: not prestige projects like Arthur Freed's, but films where he was given a star or two and did the best job he could of building an entertaining movie around them. He handled most of Red Skelton's movies at MGM, and then he was given Esther Williams (who was introduced in a movie with Skelton, Bathing Beauty), and had to figure out how to make a successful musical with a star whose main talent was swimming. He did it; he also figured out how to make a 3-D musical (Kiss Me Kate) and M-G-M's first good CinemaScope musical (Seven Brides For Seven Brothers).

The director, George Sidney, had worked with Cummings on Bathing Beauty, so it all came full circle: 20 years had passed, but these old M-G-M pros (and the writer, Sally Benson, who wrote the Meet Me in St. Louis stories) were still filming the same featherweight plots and succeeding because they know how to bring out the best in their stars. Unfortunately, by 1964 almost nobody was making this kind of mid-level musical. After VLV, almost every musical would be either a huge three-hour "A" production, or a cheaply-made quickie for drive-ins. The problem is that the musical, as a genre, couldn't be sustained that way. It needed the people who brought "A" production values to what could never be "A" projects.

Like many people, my favorite number in Viva Las Vegas is "My Rival" -- the song is a big nothing, but Sidney and Ann-Margret do the whole thing in one interrupted two-minute take, with all kinds of effects and stage business to make the number more complicated. It's in the great M-G-M musical tradition of doing numbers in as few takes as possible, with fluid camerawork and precise timing instead of cutting.


I didn't have much to say about the death of Ingmar Bergman, but I do want to note an interesting CD that was released a few years ago (and is technically out of print, but used copies are still available) of Erik Nordgren's musical scores for Bergman's early films. Nordgren scored almost all of Bergman's movies through the early '60s, until, as this website explains, Bergman decided he didn't want to commission new music for his movies any more. An un-charitable interpretation is that Bergman decided that no living composer was good enough for him; a more charitable interpretation is that he just felt uncomfortable with using music that wasn't a real work of art in itself -- and the whole point of movie music is that it isn't supposed to stand on its own, or if it does, it does so almost by accident. For the rest of his career, he either did scenes with no music at all or with pre-existing recordings of classical works like Bach's cello suites (in Through a Glass Darkly).

Given that most of my favorite Bergman movies are the earlier ones -- up to and including The Virgin Spring -- I'm not sure if the presence of real musical scores has something to do with that. I do think that maybe the musical scoring helped make his earlier movies a little more involving. Hearing a known piece of music -- whether it's classical music or (in today's movies) a pop song -- sort of takes you out of the movie by referring back to a separate work of art. A musical score created for the movie is fully a part of that movie, and doesn't distract you from getting lost in the story.

Eternal Question:

Is "What Makes the Red Man Red?" more or less likely to offend when dubbed into Polish?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Hansel? Hansel?

The complete list of cartoons for Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5 is up. The first disc is perhaps a bit heavy on cartoons that are merely OK rather than great -- which is inevitable after nearly 300 cartoons have already come out -- but it seems like a strong lineup overall in spite of the absence of "Coal Black" (and "Russian Rhapsody" for that matter). As for the extras, I would have liked to see some new names among the list of people doing commentators -- why hasn't Greg Duffell been brought in? -- but it's good that there are featurettes about McKimson and the other less-famous WB directors.

Disc 1 (Bugs & Daffy)

- 14 Carrot Rabbit (Friz Freleng, 1952): Standard Bugs vs. Yosemite Sam cartoon with a final gag that no longer makes sense (it's a variation on what was then a familiar old joke, about someone saying "I'm waiting for a streetcar").

- Ali Baba Bunny (Chuck Jones, 1957): you probably remember this one.

- Buccaneer Bunny (Freleng, 1948): the first time Sam was cast as something totally inappropriate, in this case a pirate (this was only the second Sam cartoon released, so this joke started really early)

- Bugs' Bonnets (Jones, 1956): Bugs and Elmer keep changing personalities every time they change hats. How many cartoons are there where Bugs marries Elmer? A lot, it seems.

- A Star is Bored (Freleng, 1956): Freleng's first Bugs vs. Daffy cartoon, where he turned Daffy into a complete asshole who not only wants to upstage Bugs but literally to kill him.

- A Pest in the House (Jones, 1947): Very funny Jones Daffy cartoon, one of many excellent Daffy cartoons he made before switching over to the angry-Daffy persona.

- Transylvania 6-500 (Jones, 1963): Bugs vs. the vampire Count Bloodcount. This one seems to be particularly popular with people who grew up watching Bugs on Saturday mornings; it's one of the ones people always seem to list as being among their favorites as kids.

- Oily Hare (Bob McKimson, 1952): Bugs vs. a Texas oilman who's basically McKimson's knockoff of Yosemite Sam.

- Stupor Duck (McKimson, 1956): writer Tedd Pierce repeats some of his Superman parody gags from "Super Rabbit," this time for Daffy and with the catalyst being the popular Superman TV series (most of Pierce's stories around this time were TV parodies)

- The Stupor Salesman (Art Davis, 1948): the best cartoon with "Stupor" in the title, as obnoxious salesman Daffy tries to sell stuff to a crook in his hideout.

- The Abominable Snow Rabbit (Jones, 1961): You remember this one too.

- The Super Snooper (McKimson, 1952): Daffy as detective Duck Drake in a parody of what we now call film noir.

- The Up-Standing Sitter (McKimson, 1948): Daffy, in his transitional phase between his crazy origins and his angry '50s period, becomes a babysitter.

- Hollywood Daffy (1946 -- Freleng's unit made it, but Freleng didn't like the story so it was left without a director credit and unofficially directed by his assistant, Hawley Pratt): Daffy is chased around a movie studio by a Keystone Kop.

- You Were Never Duckier (Jones, 1948): Daffy is mistaken for a chicken by Henery Hawk, in his last appearance outside of a Foghorn Leghorn cartoon.

Disc 2 (Fairy Tales)

- Bewitched Bunny (Jones, 1954): the first and best Witch Hazel cartoon, and one of my very favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons. Witch Hazel here is voiced by Bea Benaderet, not June Foray (who would take over this and Benaderet's other parts after the studio's mid-'50s hiatus)

- Paying the Piper (McKimson, 1948): Similar to Clampett's black and white "Pied Piper Porky" but weirder, as Porky goes up against a giant rat who's actually a cat in disguise.

- The Bear's Tale (Tex Avery, 1940): A Goldilocks and the Three Bears parody.

- Foney Fables (Freleng, 1942): A blackout-gag cartoon about fairy tales. (The "blackout gag" format was one that was used on and off for decades in the golden age of short cartoons; if the writer and director didn't have a story, they'd do a bunch of unrelated gags organized around a theme.)

- Goldimouse and the Three Cats (Freleng, 1960): The Goldilocks story with Sylvester and Sylvester Jr. replacing Papa and Baby Bear; the only time Freleng used McKimson's Sylvester Jr. character. Mike Maltese's story is also a bit reminiscent of his Three Bears stories for Chuck Jones (which he and Jones had to stop doing because, Jones claimed, they were bombing in theatres).

- Holiday For Shoestrings (Freleng, 1946): A Freleng classical-music cartoon based on the story of the shoemaker and the elves.

- Little Red Rodent Hood (Freleng, 1952): A Little Red Riding Hood story with a mouse and the big bad cat, Sylvester.

- Little Red Walking Hood (Avery, 1937): Another Little Red Riding Hood parody, with Egghead.

- Red Riding Hoodwinked (Freleng, 1956): Tweety and Sylvester in yet another Red Riding Hood story, with a really absent-minded wolf. You don't want to know how much I loved this cartoon as a kid; it was probably my favorite Tweety cartoon of any kind, mostly because of the wolf (who was re-used in "Hare-Less Wolf" a couple of years later). Also a reminder of how obsessed the WB writers were with Honeymooners references around this time.

- The Trial of Mr. Wolf (Freleng, 1941): I think Freleng did more Red Riding Hood parodies than anyone ever did or would want to.

- The Turn-Tale Wolf (McKimson, 1952): Very funny revisionist take on the Three Little Pigs, bringing back those evil pigs from "The Windblown Hare."

- Tom Thumb in Trouble (Jones, 1940): One of Jones's sweet early Disney-esque efforts.

- Tweety and the Beanstalk (Freleng, 1957): Oddly enough, I didn't like this one as a kid at all. Maybe the giant Tweety freaked me out.

- A Gander at Mother Goose (Avery, 1940): Blackout gags about nursery rhymes.

- Senorella and the Glass Huarache (Hawley Pratt, 1964): The last cartoon made by the original WB cartoon studio, a Mexican retelling of Cinderella.

Disc 3 (The Best [sic] of Bob Clampett)

- Bacall to Arms (1946): Clampett's last WB cartoon, where a wolf goes to see To Have and Have Not and goes nuts over the hotness of Lauren Bacall.

- Buckaroo Bugs (1944): A completely obnoxious Bugs Bunny battles his dumbest adversary ever, Red Hot Ryder.

- Crazy Cruise (1942): Blackout gags about exotic locations.

- Farm Frolics (1941): Blackout gags about farming.

- Hare Ribbin (1944): Bugs is hunted by a dog who sounds like the Mad Russian from Eddie Cantor's radio show, and proves that rabbits and dogs can breathe underwater. The disc features both endings of the film (the original version was changed because Bugs was too obnoxiously evil even by Clampett standards).

- Patient Porky (1940): as in "The Daffy Doc" (see below), Porky has bad luck in hospitals.

- Prehistoric Porky (1940): Porky, a caveman (cavepig?) is a page right out of history.

- The Bashful Buzzard (1945): First solo cartoon for Beaky Buzzard. Contains my all-time favorite joke about the dangers of infringing Disney copyrights.

- The Old Grey Hare (1944): Bugs and Elmer as babies and old codgers.

- The Wacky Wabbit (1942): Bugs heckles and taunts the fat version of Elmer Fudd. Mike Maltese claimed that lukewarm audience reaction to this short convinced him that audiences didn't want to see Bugs torment someone for no reason, and from that point on Clampett was the only director who used Bugs that way.

- The Wise Quacking Duck (1943): Daffy is pursued by a meek henpecked husband (based on Wallace Wimple from "Fibber McGee and Molly").

- Wagon Heels (1945): Porky leads a wagon train into hostile territory.

- The Daffy Doc (1938): Daffy is the world's most evil surgeon. Features the famous "iron lung" gag, and it may be the only cartoon where Mel Blanc post-synched the dialogue Popeye-style (Daffy's words almost never match his lip movements in this one).

- A Tale of Two Kitties (1942): First Tweety cartoon.

- Porky's Pooch (1941): Porky is pestered by an obnoxious dog looking for a master. The inspiration for Chuck Jones's Charlie Dog series (the first Charlie cartoon is a remake of this one).

Disc 4 (The Early Daze [Black and White cartoons])

- Alpine Antics (Jack King, 1936): Beans enters a skiing contest.

- Eatin' On The Cuff (Clampett, 1942): The story of a moth, about to be married to a bee, who is tempted by a sexy black widow spider.

- Milk and Money (Avery, 1936): the early Porky Pig becomes a milkman with one of those horse-drawn milk carts.

- I’ve Got To Sing A Torch Song (1933): Gags about radio.

- Porky At The Crocadero (Tashlin, 1938): Porky works at a nightclub and wants to be a jazz bandleader.

- Polar Pals (Clampett, 1939): Porky lives up North and meets an evil furrier who wants to kill his animal friends. Joins "Lumber Jerks" and "Wholly Smoke" (see below) among the WB cartoons with a pro-social message.

- Scrap Happy Daffy (Tashlin, 1943): Daffy collects scrap metal and thereby wins World War II.

- Porky’s Double Trouble (Tashlin, 1937): A criminal who looks like Porky tries to use Porky in his evil scheme.

- Gold Diggers Of ‘49 (Avery, 1936): Porky's first cartoon after his debut the previous year, though he's playing second fiddle to Beans in this gold mining story.

- Pilgrim Porky (Clampett, 1940): Porky on the Mayflower.

- Wise Quacks (Clampett, 1939): I think this is the first cartoon to have Daffy and Porky as friends rather than antagonists. Also the first to give Daffy a wife and family.

- Porky’s Preview (Avery, 1941): One of my favorite Avery cartoons, mostly an amateurishly-drawn cartoon by Porky that makes fun of all the things that are hard to animate (like the scene where Porky can't figure out how to make a character dance convincingly, and finally just throws his body around the screen)

- Porky's Poppa (Clampett, 1938): Porky's father, a farmer, automates the farm.

- Wholly Smoke (Tashlin, 1938): A cautionary cartoon about the dangerous freak-outs that ensue when you smoke. Sort of like Reefer Madness with tobacco. Ahead of its time.

- What Price Porky (Clampett, 1938): Porky accidentally starts a battle of ducks vs. chickens.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

There Is No Frigate Like a Book

I see that Up the Down Staircase will be coming to DVD on November 6. I recall being disappointed when I first saw this film for a very specific reason: it was not a comedy, and I had always thought of the book as basically a comedy. When I re-read it later I realized that it is basically a story about a young teacher trying to make a difference at a tough school where most of the other teachers have given up trying -- in other words, that the movie is faithful to the book.

But because the book is done in the form of letters (long letters by the heroine and short letters and notes written to her by her colleagues and students), a lot of it is comedy, with the students in particular doing schtick that would have fit in on Welcome Back Kotter. The makers of the movie were two of the most subdued, un-schticky filmmakers around, the team of Robert Mulligan (director) and Alan Pakula (producer) that had done To Kill a Mockingbird, so the tone is very muted and maybe not quite different enough from the average Blackboard Jungle type of movie.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Into the Blue Again

When I was doing all that research on WKRP in Cincinnati music changes a few months ago, one thing I noticed that I hadn't really noticed before was that the show had a pretty good track record of keeping up with changing musical trends. It was only on the air for five years, but you can actually hear how the music they're playing in 1982 is different from what they're playing in 1978, and this despite the fact that a lot of the songs are Golden Oldies. (As the series went on it became sort of a running theme that the disc jockeys didn't really care what the format was supposed to be, and would randomly pick any song in any style from any era.)

Sometimes the writers and the two actors playing the DJs (who picked much of their own music) would pick recent songs that weren't hits at the time, but would become hits later. In the second episode, the most prominently-featured song is -- or used to be -- "Old Time Rock N' Roll" by Bob Seger, a new song that was popular with real-life DJs at the time, but wouldn't really become a standard until Risky Business featured it five years later. And in the "Real Families" episode, which aired on November 15, 1980, you can hear a snippet of Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads, which came out only a month before, and again took a few years to really catch on:

By that point in the series some of the producers were underscoring entire scenes with rock songs, on the assumption that in a radio station the radio would actually be on in some of the rooms. So the most surreal episode, "Hotel Oceanview" (basically an expanded version of a Second City sketch by the same writer), had its final scene underscored with the then-current "soft rock" hit, Christopher Cross's "Sailing."

The sense of period is not one of the most important casualties of all music changes, but still, it's a shame to lose those subliminal indications of what was new in popular music at the time of a particular episode.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Everything's Archie

I just want to call attention to some Archie-comics related articles that I didn't mention when they first appeared:

- This long, sympathetic and entertaining article from Vanity Fair about 65 years of Archie and how it's managed to stay popular for so long.

- Scott Shaw! writes about the issue of "Archie's Mad House" where Sabrina, the Teenage Witch first appeared, and reproduces the first Sabrina story (written by George Gladir and drawn by Dan DeCarlo). You'll notice two things about it. First, that many of the details are lifted from the play and movie Bell, Book and Candle: the idea that witchse can't cry and that they lose their powers if they fall in love (this was abandoned when Sabrina became a regular series). Second, that the original conception of Sabrina was much more sophisticated than it originally became -- like Bell, Book and Candle and many similar witch comedies, it presented witches as a breed apart from ordinary humans, cooler and hipper.

- A blog post from last year about perhaps the best Archie artist, Harry Lucey -- his artwork and poses were much funnier than Dan DeCarlo, and while Samm Schwartz was the funniest of all, Lucey was more versatile.

While Archie comics are anachronistic (heck, they were already anachronistic when they started), there's been a lot of good work done in its pages over the year: Lucey, Bob Bolling, Frank Doyle and Samm Schwartz did consistently funny and entertaining stories, and I'm glad to see that the work they (and others) did is starting to get more attention.


Oh, good. Someone has uploaded the original ending of the Mary Tyler Moore finale. The episode ended with Moore bringing the cast on for a final bow, but this was not only cut in syndication, but on the otherwise uncut VHS tape that MTM distributed a few years ago. They replaced it with a set of "standard" closing credits which can be seen at the end of this upload.

These final episode lovefests can sometimes seem forced, but I think this one really works and feels genuine.

Classical Recordin's

I know Norman Lebrecht says that classical recording is dead but he apparently forgot to tell the producers of some new and upcoming recordings:

- René Jacobs has a new recording of Mozart's Don Giovanni coming out this fall. I will reserve judgment on it until I hear more than the brief excerpts on the website, but his recordings of other Mozart operas have been very good. His approach to Mozart is starting to remind me less and less of other period-instrument conductors and more of conductors like Furtwangler; he's not as slow, obviously, but the tempo shifts and playing with dynamics (jumping from very soft to very loud and back again) are basically "Romantic" conducting mannerisms. As is his willingness to add stuff that isn't in the score if he thinks it'll play better dramatically.

- I agree with Dave Hurwitz's very enthusiastic review of a new orchestral song-cycle CD by mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink and Montreal music director (albeit conducting in Berlin) Kent Nagano. Harmonia Mundi is an interesting record label because while it started as a small specialty label focusing on early music and local (French) artists, it's grown into the last label that operates the way the old "major" labels did: signing certain artists to exclusive contracts, giving them publicity pushes and recording them in a lot of major works. Fink is a good example of that: once a fine singer who made a lot of recordings without ever getting particularly famous, in recent years she's become Harmonia Mundi's star singer, releasing solo recital albums every year.

- Hurwitz also has an entertainingly nasty review of a not-very-good new Haydn recording by his bete noire, conductor Simon Rattle. For better Haydn symphony recordings, I picked up a good new SACD recording of symphonies # 88 & 101 by Adam Ficher; Fischer previously recorded all of Haydn's symphonies for the now-defunct Nimbus label, and now he's recording them again, but in better performances and sound.