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Monthly Archives: December 2008

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Pee Wee Snowball

There are Christmas specials, and then there’s Pee Wee Herman’s 1988 Christmas Special. Here’s the intro to that star-studded opus, along with a very special performance of “The Little Drummer Boy” performed by Grace Jones in a form-fitting plastic bustier. Love those dancing Marines!

Discover a Lovelier You

Here’s another swellorama thrift store find to share on flickr. The Nancy Taylor Course was a 1960 four volume self help manual on how to be a fashion model, or at least look like one. Each volume is printed on pale pink paper for maximum femininity, packed with advice on how to attain perfect posture (balance a book on your head!), social etiquette, hair and makeup, diet, even what kind of dainty toiletries to pack in one’s handbag. You know, in case you have one of those “not so fresh” days.

What really grabbed me about these are the illustrations, image after image of Barbie-esque ladies looking all elegant and chi-chi — and there’s a lot of them. The drawings appear to be by several artists, and they’re all so good that I’ve scanned several and placed them in their own flickr set. It contains 50 photos as of now, and that’s only covering the first volume. Some highlights below. Note the carefully positioned feet on the first woman:

Nancy Taylor - 1
Nancy Taylor - 2
Nancy Taylor - 3
Nancy Taylor - 4

Weekly Mishmash: December 7-13

The Black Cauldron (1985). This Disney animated effort has a small cult of fans, although after watching it I don’t really know why. The characters and story are unmemorable, and the animation lacks the usual Disney polish (apparently this was the first film after Disney’s old guard was let go and they needed to train new animators). Although I never saw it in theaters, I do remember Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert’s review in which they go on about the fortune telling pig character. Maybe those fans were impressionable kids when they first viewed this, but overall the movie was just kinda “blah” to me. Which is definitely not what Disney animation ought to do.
Man on Wire (2008). Solidly enthralling documentary about Philippe Petit, who made headlines in 1974 by orchestrating a covert wire walk across the two World Trade Center towers. Given the rapturous critical reception this film has gotten, it never really bowled me over. It’s certainly a fascinating story, and the 60ish Petit has a puckish energy lacking in men even half his age. The film, however, doesn’t gather steam until Petit gets to the wirewalking itself — well into the proceedings. One thing that works in the filmmaker’s favor is the fact that Petit and his cronies shot a lot of home movie footage of themselves, which is skillfully integrated into new interviews with the participants (see also The Devil and Daniel Johnston from last week).
Old YellerOld Yeller (1957). I expected corniness aplenty with this Disney feature, but the film resonates a lot more than I ever expected. Despite poor Yeller’s ultimate fate, this is well-crafted and non-sentimental entertainment with an uplifting message — one that gives the phrase “family film” a good meaning for once. I loved the warm performances by Tommy Kirk and Dorothy McGuire, which somewhat makes up for that shrill little hellion Kevin Corchoran (why was that kid in so many Disney flicks, anyhow?). By the way, surely I cannot be the only person on earth who is excited about Turner Classic Movies’ month-long live action Disney film fest, right? Well?
Princess Raccoon (2005). Put this on my Netflix queue because I’ve enjoyed the wacky ’60s films of Japanese director Seijun Suzuki and was curious about what the guy was capable of in his ’80s. Well, this is one bizarre movie — and not in a good way, either. An indecipherable tale of a prince and princess from warring families finding love, interspersed with incongruous musical sequences (characters even rap at one point). Ziyi Zhang is a complete waste in the title role. Although we normally love weird Asian movies, we couldn’t make it through the whole thing this time. Sorry, Seijun.
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974). I never even heard of this movie until recently, but now I believe it’s one of the best thrillers of its time. A serious Walter Matthau is excellent as a New York City port authority supervisor trying to stop a hijacked subway car. This one really gives a good sense of gritty NYC in the ’70s, the acting is uniformly good, and the plot has an irresistible momentum. I could definitely imagine audiences watching this in ’74 and being utterly swept away by the action. My only complaint lies with the weak ending, but overall this was an unexpectedly fantastic film.
Treasure Island (1950). Walt Disney’s first all live action film is so quaintly British that it actually plays more like an airy Technicolor Powell and Pressburger bauble than anything else. Chipmunk-cheeked Bobby Driscoll is the only indication of Disneyness on display here. Though I was somewhat disappointed in the poky pacing — truly, this movie does have a lot of dull, talky stretches — this would be a fun way to kill an afternoon, I imagine. Robert Newton as Long John Silver has that quintessential “arr matey” pirate voice down pat.

Magnificent Marble Machine Mania

Time for our weekly video clip. If the thought of Florence Henderson and Roddy MacDowall playing on a game show with a super cool-looking but ultimately disappointing gigantic pinball machine floats yer boat — have I got a clip for you! Hosted by Art James, The Magnificent Marble Machine ran for a single season on NBC in 1975-76. It’s an engaging show, very of its time with the requisite shag carpeting, lovely parting gifts and bloopy sound effects. According to The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows, the centerpiece pinball field contained 250 pounds of nails, four miles of wiring, 38 gallons of glue, 23 coiled springs, and 25 two-pound balls slathered with 14 gallons of gold paint. A clumsy behemoth for sure — and the show’s use of a static overhead camera during pinball play doesn’t help matters much, either.

A game show lovin’ fool has uploaded the entirety of this particular episode. To get the full effect, watch parts one, two, three, four and five in order (in a cosmic coincidence, the blog Classic Television Showbiz posted these clips yesterday). The ’70s pinball action gets hot in parts three and four.

Books, Wished After and Not

Right now I’m going through the yearly conundrum of what to put on our holiday cards. This piece on the favorite book covers of 2008 is good for some visual inspiration. So is a complete set of scans from the 1980 Sears Christmas catalog, albeit in a completely different way. Looky here:

Sears Jammies

David Klein’s Amazing Animals

A couple of weeks back, I blogged about vintage illustrator David Klein. An auction was recently held in New York City of artwork from Klein’s estate. Christopher bid on a few items, winning a charming set of pencil drawings and cut acetate studies that Klein did for a 1969 bank campaign. On his website, he’s set up a nifty little page illustrating one Klein artwork from sketch to study to final piece. Very interesting look at Klein’s working method.

Seeing this man’s work in person is a real treat. The über ’60s snail below is another good example from the bank campaign:

David Klein Snail Sketch