Archive for July, 2007

Ethel Smith’s Busy Fingers

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Enjoy Ethel Smith performing her signature song “Tico Tico” in the Esther Williams musical Bathing Beauty (taken off an old VHS tape, apparently). I love Ethel Smith. There’s something about the combo of her hyperactive hands and the cheesy “roller rink” sounds emanating from her Hammond organ that is so weirdly compelling. I couldn’t locate any video of her doing “Blame It on the Samba” in the 1948 Disney film Melody Time, a proto-psychedelic whirl of live action and animation. Trust me, it’s wild. More on Ms. Smith, who died in 1996, can be found in this Cool & Strange Music Magazine profile.

Mickey Mouse Operation

Monday, July 30th, 2007
Your Trip To Disneyland detail

I’m digging on the latest Kiddie Records Weekly find, a vintage ’50s or so set of five flexible 78RPM discs called Your Trip to Disneyland. Granted, Mickey, Tinkerbelle, Donald and Goofy make for rather obnoxious tour guides — but it’s a priceless set and the artwork on the picture discs is gorgeous. With the kind permission of Ford at K.R.W., I’ve taken the artwork and uploaded it to my Classic Disneyland Souvenirs flickr group. Listen to the audio here.

Mostly I Want to Play ‘Baby Bash’

Sunday, July 29th, 2007
Simpsons Movie film still

As a special treat for Christopher’s birthday, the two of us caught an opening day screening of The Simpsons Movie. I was excited, and a bit leery. The Simpsons is a classic, one of the best shows on TV, but the creators have gone into autopilot over the last decade. I cherish the first 8 or so seasons, but the current episodes are only mildly amusing in a “better than Family Guy” sorta way. Could they possibly deliver the goods for their first motion picture?

Well, I’m happy to say the answer to that question is a resounding “yes” — for the movie’s first half, anyway. Honestly, I was surprised at how funny it was, but it also had a lot of the sort of heartfelt moments long missing from the Simpsons universe. It’s easily funnier than any TV episode from the past five seasons. My only quibbles would be that it’s a little long by about 15 minutes, and the storyline is so heavily centered around the Simpsons themselves that beloved side characters like Apu, Smithers, and (fill in the blank) get short shrifted. The expanded, subtly shaded look of the film also seemed odd to me in ways I couldn’t pinpoint. Maybe it’s because (as the San Francisco Chronicle review touched upon) the TV show depends on a simplified aesthetic to successfully pull off its style of humor. Comic Book Guy would certainly not approve, but the less discerning among you would find a grand time. Hopefully it won’t take another 18 years for the creators to scrounge up a sequel (The Great Simpsons Caper?).

On another note, we also caught a neat exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum. UnInked: Paintings, Sculpture, and Graphic Work by Five Cartoonists was guest curated by Chris Ware and features paintings, sketches and sculpture by a variety of current graphic artists. The biggest thrill, for me, was seeing a couple of wild color canvases by Gary Panter. I also loved the original pen and ink artwork from Kim Deitch’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Christopher thought the art didn’t do much for him, but I wholeheartedly enjoyed it. Also at the museum we saw a beautiful display of 1930s gowns inspired by streamlined automotive design. So overall it was an excellent weekend.

Book Review: Stacked Decks

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Stacked Decks - coverI’m ashamed to admit it, but reading Stacked Decks: The Art and History of Erotic Playing Cards is something akin to browsing through your dad’s secret stash of Playboys.

In this nicely appointed book, vintage erotica collector Mark Rotenberg guides us through his playing card collection — with examples ranging in date from the quaint, ample-thighed ladies pictured on 19th century tobacco cards to the hardcore 1970s. It’s no surprise that the coolest cards come from the ’50s and ’60s: apparently the Greatest Generation was also the horniest. The classic pin-up gal get a lot of exposure here, a playful and irresistible vision of female sexuality which continues in the hyper-saturated color photography from that same period. Those are the best, but there are also a lot more varied (and smuttier) cards on display — which are eye-opening, to say the least. If you thought amateur porn started in the Internet era, for example, you’re wrong, buddy.

Stacked Decks is available now from Quirk. Buy at Amazon here.

Stacked Decks - spread

Tuesday Bouillabaisse

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

A trio of things which had my gears spinning on a Tues.:

  • The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray ruminates on once-decent cable channels that went to pot in his Expatriated from TV Land weblog post. This is so, heartbreakingly true. If it wasn’t for my beloved TCM, I’d dump our entire DirecTV service. Read the post and all 172-odd comments, too.

  • For those who like DVD commentaries but don’t want to slog through an entire feature’s worth of yak track, check out Trailers From Hell, which has Joe Dante, John Landis and others commenting on cheezy old trailers from the ’50s and ’60s. On a side note, we’re listening to the commentary from the two lead actors in George Pal’s 1953 War of the Worlds. It’s oddly interesting, and at times boring, to listen to people reminiscing about something they did fifty-plus years earlier. Via Dave Kehr.
  • Dan Goodsell posted classic ’80s bubblegum wrappers on his weblog. I almost forgot about many of these. Remember Freshen Up? “Freshen your breath with Freshen Up/The gum that goes squirt”?

Cheap Thrill: The New England Cookbook (1956)

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

New England Cookbook - coverHere’s futher proof that the neatest visuals can pop up in the most unexpected places. Trawl through any flea market or antique store and you’ll find dozens of old paperback mini cookbooks published by the Culinary Arts Institute. Organized by food or region, these were cheaply sold in supermarkets to housewives who wanted to try a little adventure in their meal planning (“Darling, let’s try some Scandinavian tonight!”). Christopher recently won an eBay auction in which five of these C.A.I. booklets were included along with the one cookbook he wanted, a rarity published by the Melamine Council (yes, there really was something called the Melamine Council). Although the other cookbooks had rather unexceptional photography and illustrations, one of them was a real treat. You’d never know it from the cover, but The New England Cookbook brims with lots of whimsical, wonderful drawings by one Lou Peters. According to Ward (who oughta know), Peters did several volumes of these cookbooks in different styles, all excellent. I’d so love to see more.

I scanned most of the illustrations and posted them in this Flickr set. Check the excellent typography and spot color usage in the examples below. They’re so freakin’ adorable I could just spit.

New England Cookbook - contents

New England Cookbook - cakes

New England Cookbook - instructions

New England Cookbook - breads