Monthly Archives: September 2008

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Grand Canyon Diorama

Just back from our long weekend to the “undisclosed location” — Grand Canyon. Although we’re both Arizona natives, it had been a while since we’ve visited our own landmark. My last visit was in 1995, and Christopher hadn’t been there since he was a child — so our trip was long overdue. This was my fourth time in the canyon, but I never get tired of it. The sheer size of the area never fails to catch me off guard. It’s breathtaking, and kind of scary (I could see where people could slip and fall off the edge).

For this particular trip, we entered the park via the Grand Canyon Village containing the historic El Tovar Lodge and Hopi House (designed by Mary Colter in 1905). These were both nifty, and luckily they haven’t been modernized much. Actually, the developed portion of the rim is blessedly free of distracting modern touches. We explored the visitors center and watched with a tour group as the sun set over the horizon. The air was a bit hazy from controlled burns on the afternoon we were there, but the canyon was still gorgeous. We booked a package with the Grand Canyon Railway, which allowed us to pig out on free buffet food and browse through a bunch of tacky souvenir shops in the town of Williams. I only bought one thing: a night light with a Native American-style image of a bear, for my parents. On the way back home, we detoured to a local attraction where one can feed a herd of deer (see the last pic with C. getting mobbed). The photos below are just a few highlights from the trip:

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Williams, Arizona

Williams, Arizona

Williams, Arizona

Williams, Arizona

Williams, Arizona

Friday Miscellany

Kind of a dull week, huh? I uploaded the Viewmaster pics and created a new Two Bunnies and a Duck solely for the one person who was looking forward to it. And designed lots of manga comics for Viz. That’s about it. We’re getting ready to go on a trip to an undisclosed locale this weekend. This meant boarding our cat Eero, who responds to unfamiliar situations by burrowing under towels and shirts in her pet taxi. She’s a feisty kitty, always nipping at us and running around the house excitedly — but on the other hand she’s also a skittish thing who jumps at the slightest noise. I hope she’s okay. (p.s. Weekly Mishmash might now show up ’til later.)

I just stumbled across Cranky Lesbian today and feel like I have a blogging kindred spirit. Apparently Ms. Cranky and myself have 22 books in common in our LibraryThing libraries, which is the third highest out of everybody on that site. Yeah, those 22 books are soooo gay …

What else … how about some more Motown funkiness with Martha Reeves and the Vandellas performing “Bless You” on Soul Train? The ebullient, Jackson 5-esque “Bless You” marks the trio’s final hit single before the ladies hung up their wigs up for good in 1972. I love the energy of the Vandellas (l-r: the gorgeous Sandra Tilley and Martha’s sister Lois), along with their stylin’ afros. But what was Martha thinking with that huge hair? Dig:

Neat Old View-Masters on Flickr

In the past few days, I’ve finally figured out how to photograph frames from old ViewMaster reels. Yay. A bunch of photos and scans from my own collection can now be seen in this flickr set. The best reels by far are the meticulously constructed 3D versions of cartoons, like the Winnie the Pooh scene below. Keep checking the set, since I’m far from done adding to it!

Winnie the Pooh Viewmaster Scene

Weekly Mishmash: September 14-20

The Forsyte Saga (2002). The result of finishing season one of The Wire and wanting something different — from drug dealers to repressed Victorian socialites. This was a well-mounted and adequately done miniseries, well-cast (I think the leading actress got the part solely due to her close resemblance to John Singer Sargent’s Madame X) and absorbing throughout. There were two small things that bothered me. One, the director seemed to enjoy using lots of unsettling extreme closeups on faces, a technique which didn’t fit with this material. Two, having the young architect (portrayed by Fantastic Four‘s Ioan Gruffudd) be visionary to an extraordinary degree was off-putting. To say the least. Although the scene takes place in the 1880s, Gruffudd builds a strikingly designed country house in the “Prairie” style — which was considered new and different 20-30 years later. It would be having a Depression-era film architect building Ranch houses. I think way too much about this stuff.
Fringe (Fox). Eh.
The Great Escape (1963). One of those classic films that I’d assumed I would get to eventually; this week was its time. Good film that really hums based on the letter-perfect cast and the script’s just-this-side of believable happenings. It certainly doesn’t feel like a three-hour movie, the ending was not as pat or happy as I feared, and Elmer Bernstein’s score was fantastic. Now I have to check out the way this film was parodied in the “Streetcar Named Marge” Simpsons episode again.
Passion Flower (1930) and Mary Stevens M.D. (1933). All told, will September 2008 be remembered for a cataclysmic stock market plunge or an escalating presidential campaign? No, not really — it will be marked for the time Turner Classic Movies finally recognized it has Kay Francis fans! I took the opportunity to TiVo a couple of the raven-haired one’s early soapers that I’d previously never seen. Passion Flower is a creaky early talkie that Francis made on loan out to MGM. Despite the predictable storyline, the film surprisingly held my interest. It’s not often that one sees earthy Charles Bickford in a leading man role, and the forgotten Kay Johnson is solid as the pure-hearted woman who loses her husband to conniving Kay. For support, Zasu Pitts (“Oh, dear”) is on hand doing an odd dramatic role. Mary Stevens M.D. treads the same waters, but it’s much better due to its zippy pacing, Warner Bros. pizazz, and pre-Code raciness. At this point, the formula is still fresh and Kay approaches this admittedly different role with gusto. This time, she plays a lady doctor who (among many other things) gets pregnant out of wedlock from the hunky and married Lyle Talbot. The film has a lot going on in only 72 minutes, but Lloyd Bacon directs it with breathtaking efficiency. That man really was an underrated powerhouse at Warners in the ’30s (I think I know who TCM needs to focus on next).
Toy Story 2 (1999). I remember being somewhat disappointed with this when it was originally released. Most people I knew at the time thought it improved on the original Toy Story, a reaction that made me want to find new friends. It just seemed faster and dumber, and with a lot less heart than the original. Luckily the film is much improved from my perspective now. The movie plays like a smarter precursor to the avalanche of snarky DreamWorks-style animated efforts that followed. In that light, this is a fun and engaging ride — not Toy Story quality, but good nonetheless.

Norman Whitfield’s Funky Business

With the passing of legendary Motown producer and songwriter Norman Whitfield at the age of 67, now is as good a time as any to celebrate his life and music. With what else? Crappy quality video clips! Going back to the beginning, even Whitfield’s earliest Motown productions stood out for having tighter instrumentation and danceability. His work on the Marvelettes’ 1964 hit “Too Many Fish In The Sea” was an especially hot example. Here are the ladies (L-R: Wanda Young, Katherine Anderson, Gladys Horton) lip-synching that tune on Teen Town:

Next we have the culmination of Whitfield’s celebrated union with The Temptations: 1972′s “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” This is where the funk went from psychedelic to epic, with all of the Tempts (even basso Melvin Franklin) trading bravura leads. To best appreciate Whitfield’s production, you really need to hear the original LP-length version on headphones. But I suppose this Soul Train performance, with some mesmerizing dancers in the audience, would be a good second choice:

R.I.P. Norman Whitfield.

Steve and Jayne and 8K of RAM

Andy Baio of Waxy.org shares a curio from the past — Computability, in which Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows explain the concept of home computing to the layman of 1984. I think I deserve some kind of award for listening to all 35:45 of Steve and Jayne bantering over modems and monitors. The accompanying hour-long video remains to be seen, however. Hmmm, wonder where I can view episodes of their old PBS show, the one where they played famous historical figures?