A Short Guide to Looney Tunes
It hit me. After watching several hours' worth of Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes, one can divine how good the cartoon will be by whichever musical director is listed in the credits. To whit:
Bernard Brown, Frank Marsales, or Norman Spencer
(1930-36) Overflowing with cuteness; not terribly distinctive.
(1936-58) Bullseye. The Classic Era.
(1954-65) Mixed bag; more workmanlike than good.
(1963-69) Utter dreck.
The Day After The Day After Tomorrow
Saw The Day After Tomorrow
yesterday. Honestly, it wasn't as bad as we were expecting it to be. The movie presents an engaging (if implausible) story in the first half, then shifts to silly and stupid "father saves son" heroics in its second half. The main thing that I came away with is that wolves can survive both a giant tsunami and
subzero snow storms. Be afraid, be very afraid.
DVD File interviews Dave Bossert
, producer of the Walt Disney Treasures: On The Front Lines
set. We've been watching this lately. Plowing through the wartime entertainment shorts with Donald Duck and co. makes me appreciate the jazzy knowingness and frenetic pacing of the Warner Bros cartoons. Honestly, much of them just poke along aimlessly and the gags are more silly than funny - but at least they look
great. Indeed, it's stunning visuals alone that drive the rarely screened 1943 feature Victory Though Air Power
. The movie is very "of its time" and full of dry speechifying by a live-action narrator, but sumptuous animated graphics demonstrating abstract warfare tactics make it a must-see for designers and other artsy types. Disney's flair for memorable visuals is put to even better use in educational shorts like "The Grain that Built a Hemisphere" - a history of corn told with gorgeous streamline moderne imagery lifted straight off a WPA mural. Give me stuff like this and I'll put up with the modern-day Disney's tiresome PC pussyfooting any day.
Star No More
Bright Lights Film Journal gives us an entertaining, longish review
of the Julie Andrews' 1968 flop musical Star!
, newly released on DVD. The reviewer is very harsh on Julie Andrews and her limitations as an actress - I thought she was pretty good, at least in the scenes that I could stay awake for (basically the musical sequences) in what amounted to a dismal three hour gripefest. A Look magazine spread
showcased a few of Andrews' 125 costumes. Click here
if for some unfathomable reason you want to buy the DVD at Amazon.
Frank Rich's latest New York Times column
on Michael Moore's Farenheit 9-11
is very illuminating - since all I've heard about the film so far is its controversy and not exactly why
it's so controversial. At the Cannes closing awards ceremony
, Moore seemed genuinely humbled upon receiving the Palm d'Or. For us, the most pleasant surprise of the awards came with the fabulous Maggie Cheung
winning Best Actress. Go, Maggie, go!
The Bee's Knees
I found Cartoon Retro
while glancing through Cartoon Brew
's sidebar. It looks outstanding - lovingly devoted to unsung early 20th century cartoonists, animators, illustrators and commercial photographers. I say "looks" because the site is currently little more than a tour guide of what it promises to be, but oh what promises. Can't wait to see the real deal.
The Joyce Compton Shrine
The Joyce Compton Shrine
-- my salute to Hollywood's favorite "Dumb Blonde" at www.joycecompton.com -- is finally done! Miss Compton was one of the more memorable character actresses in classic films. A cute blonde with a Southern accent, she appeared in a ton of '30s and '40s movies as featherbrained working gals, chorines, or the perky girlfriend who pops in for a few minutes, says a few snappy lines, then is gone forever. My interest in her began with a trip to Hollywood in 1996, when I bought this lobby card
at the Larry Edmonds Bookstore. Then I found this photo
in the $10-or-less bin at an autograph store across the street. Since then, I have been researching her life and scouring eBay for photos. The results are all at the site, so please check it out!
Have you seen it? I just caught this MST3K classic for the first time last night. Oh boy, what cheeze. Somebody was inspired enough by this cinematic masterpiece to create an entire website
about it (check it out, unlike the movie it's very well done). Eegah! was directed by Arch Hall as a vehicle for his reptillian singing/acting son Arch Hall Jr.
, whom the MST3K guys correctly dub "the Cabbage Patch Elvis".
This flick has too many weird/awful scenes to mention them all. My own favorite is the one where Eegah the Caveman (Richard Kiel), in his mad pursuit of helmet-haired leading lady Roxy, crashes a swanky Palm Springs restaurant. He grabs a big hunk of meat and starts chewing on it. The chef's reaction is priceless enough to earn him a lifetime pass to every 'Inside the Actors Studio' taping. Then Eegah rumbles through the dining room, where the extras (who were probably paid a free meal for their "services") react with a combination of stiff gesticulations, laughter, and boredom. Uta Hagen it ain't.
New Directions in Snobbery
Tonight I read a couple of entries on the film blog Rashomon
which struck me as especially intelligent. The first one
challenges the definition of "film snobs" -- the real
film snobs are the kind of people who only stick to the latest Hollywood blockbusters and never venture beyond the local multiplex. The second one
offers suggestions for broadening your filmically ignorant friends' horizons. Apparently there's going to be a third part to the series; I'll be looking forward to it. Via Triplux
, which also is worth a look.
X-Entertainment recalls the rare Spirit of Obi Wan action figure
, which could be ordered off a bag of Lay's potato chips. Ahh, the '90s. Such a simple time of simple pleasures.
Leonard Maltin has a good little piece on his website
about what makes a successful DVD commentary. I agree with him that the best ones involve filmmakers reflecting long after the original films came out, where the talker has more hindsight and perspective (he cites Stanley Donen and Peter Stone's talk on the Criterion Charade
disc as a particularly great example - basically two old friends having a ball). Getting a good commentary must be a difficult game of hit and miss - try spending two hours talking about a single subject! The better ones I've heard tend to have two or more people riffing off each other for spontinaety and no boring dead spots. And, like I said, a relaxed hindsight. With more recent films, shameless self promotion and fake sincerity seems to be the biggest problem. You always get the feeling these people are being all nicey nicey to protect their reputations and not get blacklisted.
When it comes down to it, I'd rather listen to an enthusiastic fan's commentary than anything else. Historian Bruce Eder's lively, trivia-filled discource on Criterion's The Devil and Daniel Webster disc is an excellent one. OK movie, fantastic commentary. He also did a great job on Brief Encounter. Despite my Criterion love, however, I've heard just as many dry, academic commentaries on that company's discs.
A good commentary has the ability to surprise you in unexpected ways. I remember how the guy on Fox's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir DVD (forgot his name) opens by proclaiming this dodgy supernatural romance as his favorite film. Ninety minutes later, I was right there smiling and nodding with him as if sharing a phone call with a friend. Likewise, I didn't expect much from the producer and screenwriter from Kenneth Branagh's Dead Again - but they have an excellent comraderie and share a lot of fun anecdotes. One of my absolute favorites is the Safe commentary from Todd Haynes, Julianne Moore and the film's producer. Although Moore doesn't talk much, the other two seem like they're having a grand old time and can laugh about the strange things they did on this movie ten plus years ago. It's like overhearing someone else's lively dinner conversation. Anybody else have a personal fave to share?
The Enigma of Anna May Wong
The Price of Modernity
is an appreciative San Francisco Bay Guardian story on Anna May Wong, the first Asian-American film goddess (via GreenCine Daily
). The same issue has a review
of her restored silent, Picadilly
. Long before seeing any of her movies, I've always been fascinated by Anna May Wong. I think it's because she photographed so beautifully - this online gallery
is ample proof of that. She conveyed a steely drive and intelligence in still photos that undermined her often stereotypical onscreen roles. The photo of Miss Wong below is a permanent fixture in my living room.
John Waters was the guest
on today's Fresh Air with Terry Gross show. Waters is always a lively interview subject and he doesn't disappoint here - especially when he discusses gay marriage and the strange reappearance of upturned collars in Dorothy Malone movies (pictured). I wasn't aware that he has a new photography show - Change of Life
. More photos can be seen here
Movie Watching Weekend
Big weekend personally for movies. First off, we went to see The Triplets of Belleville
. Whoah. This thing is so imaginative and weird, you could never imagine an American studio doing it. The Triplets filmmakers were obviously not squeamish about making their characters and settings less-than aesthetically pleasing, even downright ugly. It makes the visuals of Disney and their ilk formula-bound by comparison. I was glad it got some Oscar recognition - and now I'm rooting for the jazzy theme to win Best Song!
We also saw the amazing Capturing the Friedmans on DVD. It takes a special kind of masochism for a family to videotape themselves during their worst times (when dad and son were accused of child molestation). A riveting experience. I hope this wins Best Documentary Feature.
And finally, I finished watching 'Picnic' recorded off Turner Classic Movies. Never saw it before, I kind of liked it. Two individuals stood out for me - Rosalind Russell as the spinster schoolteacher and Jame Wong Howe's wonderfully atmospheric cinematography.
Keepers of the Keys
The NY Times goes inside the National Film Registry
. The most interesting thing here is that the Registry sometimes caves into public pressure to include films (so that's
why 'Hoosiers' and 'Naughty Marietta' are included). Christopher sent me this article. Thank you, Christopher!
The Award Goes to ...
I filled out my predictions in the Web Goddess Oscar Contest
. There's a sock monkey at stake here, people!
One a Day, Plus Iron
366 Days ... 366 Movies
. Inspired by Kevin Murphy's book A Year at the Movies
, a movie fan resolves to view and write up one theatrical feature a day in 2004. Good luck! (via Otis Fodder
A Year of Movie Watching
A New Year, time to post my 2003 film diary
. Once again, it shows my complete dependence on Netflix and TCM. I saw one movie in a theater, and about 800 on TV.
My film diaries from previous years used to be on the sidebar, then they disappeared. Now they're back.
How Do You Say "Ho Ho Ho" in Spanish?
All about Santa Claus (1959)
, a cheeseball Mexican holiday film redubbed by U.S. impersario K. Gordon Murray and unleashed upon generations of unsuspecting children. My pal Ron sent me a DVD of this recently. Hoo boy, what a trip. Santa lives in a palace atop a silver cloud, and whenever he's not spying on earth's kids, he's battling the devil for their souls! As if that wasn't chilling enough, Santa is portrayed as a maniac who enjoys sniffing a magic flower (made by Merlin, who also strangely lives in Santaland) that makes him disappear. And his reindeer are fiberglass! Wild sets, weird dialogue
, baffling musical numbers - this one has it all.
- article about DVDs on the internet by Donald Melanson of Mindjack
. I supplied the photo illustration, which is presented below without text (bonus points if you can identify what movie is pictured):
Blood on Concrete
Just finished watching the DVD of Hell's Highway: The True Story of Highway Safety Films
. This documentary deals with the making of those gory highway safety films that a generation of kids had to watch in Drivers Ed class. It was pretty good, uncomfortable viewing - although it rambled and digressed at times. Despite the title, it's really focused on the one company that produced the most widely seen films out of Mansfield, Ohio (this movie made me think twice about driving through Mansfield!). Forty-plus year later, the footage of bloody corpses in twisted metal is still shocking. But was it effective? Thankfully the film doesn't editorialize too much in that area.
One nifty extra on the DVD: the bonus disc contains three complete highway safety films and excepts from a bunch more vintage educational shorts. What stand out here is the contrast between the quaint and clumsy narrative portions and the explicit highway carnage footage, all in washed out color. DVD Savant's review goes into more detail.
Spot the Director
Alfred Hitchcock's cameos
, complete with screen grabs (via fimoculous
, which has precisely 777.8 times more daily visitors than scrubbles). The neatest cameo was in 'Lifeboat'. Considering how it took place entirely on a small boat, Hitch found an ingenious way to get himself in.
By the way, Christopher just finished reading Patrick McGilligan's Hitch bio A Life in Darkness and Light and tells me it's really swell.
Hot Cartoon Love
My copy of The Looney Tunes Golden Collection
arrived last week. Now I'm awash in Technicolor crashes, boings and bayoooops. So let's get down to it and discuss, huh?
Even if the packaging is something of a letdown (Why the 'Space Jam'-like airbrushed charachers? Why???), this set satisfies in just about every other way. This DVD Journal review does a good job of outlining what's on each of the four discs. Cartoon-wise, Chuck Jones gets the lion's share of attention - with much of the rest devoted to the reliable Friz Freleng and the bland Robert McKimson. The set contains only one Bob Clampett cartoon and nothing at all from Tex Avery - a huge disappointment. The restoration job is gorgeous. Warners is to be congratulated. Extras are plentiful and classy, highlighted by a two part 1975 'Camera One' special hosted by a very Greg Brady-ish John Canemaker.
If I have one major complaint, it would be that the cartoon selection weighs heavily toward the overly familiar '50s material and gives historical short shrift to the other eras in Warner cartoon history. There's very little from the peak years of 1941-45, and nothing at all from the '30s. Perhaps it's because Warner Home Video didn't own the rights to these? Throughout the '90s, cartoons from 1948 and after were owned and distributed for video by Warners, while pre-'48 cartoons were owned by Ted Turner and distributed by MGM/UA. I'm not sure if that deal is still in effect, but it might explain why there are so few wartime cartoons in the set. Or maybe Warners just doesn't like the earlier stuff as much.
But whatever. Those are minor quibbles. We clamored to get these gems on DVD, and now that it's here I couldn't be happier. My next wish would be sets devoted to the cool early Merrie Melodies or the earliest, jazzy Porky Pig cartoons.
Incidentally, I would like to thank the four people who pre-ordered 'Golden Collection' copies when I wrote about it last August. If anyone else wants to join the club, buy one by clicking here. Thanks!
Disney's Disposable Concept
What costs $6-7 and becomes a useless plastic disc two days after being opened? It's the disposable DVD, and according to Wired
they aren't selling as well as Disney hoped. Once again, common sense prevails!
International House of Posters
Italian movie posters
(via The Cartoonist
) and Egyptian movie posters
). Take your pick, both have an abundance of weird, painterly illustrations.
Things Not DVD that Should Be
Felix Salmon writes
on items the DVD market is ignoring, along with reviews of three tantalizing music video collections grouped by director. He mentions TV documentaries as a genre that's sorely underavailable in the format, and I have to agree. Even in our zillion channel universe, it's amazing to me how some docs show only a few times, then seemingly vanish forever. For example, PBS aired one on '39 New York Worlds Fair back in the late '80s that I would pay serious bucks to have on DVD.
Then again, maybe I shouldn't talk as I'm experiencing a windfall of new arrivals in the DVD stash around here. Last week, I went to Best Buy specifically to purchase the super-packed Adventures of Robin Hood set. While there, I also grabbed a copy of Logan's Run for only $5.99 ($5.99!!). Then over the weekend my family got me a bunch of discs as early birthday presents -- the MST3K Volume 2 box, Imitation of Life (which unfortunately has horrible, horrible picture quality - even worse than the VHS) and What's Up, Tiger Lily?. I've got some serious discwatching to do.
Japanese Movie Posters
for American and foreign movies, organized by star or theme. The images are small, but I like seeing them all together the same page. (Thanks, Ian
When Dali Met Disney
that the Disney Co. has completed 'Destino' - the short film that Uncle Walt and Salvador Dali collaborated on in 1946. Can't wait to see that one!
The Dark Side Of Mrs. Olson
A couple of nights ago, we were watching the 1946 version of The Killers
. During a scene where a lovely blonde watches Burt Lancaster's amateur boxer at a fight. Christoper turned to me and said "Isn't that Mrs. Olson from the old Folgers commercials?" Sure enough, it was actress Virginia Christine
in an early role. She played a woman who follows the shady Lancaster around like a masochistic puppy dog, then gets dumped as soon as he meets sultry Ava Gardner at a party. Even though she played the prototypical film noir gal with aplomb, the woman seemed much more in her element in a later scene as a happy housewife. Still, it was strange seeing her young and in b&w, playing without a phony Swedish accent or a serving tray of hot coffee.
Ms. Christine played Mrs. Olson
in a series of Folgers ads that were a constant prescence on the airwaves between 1965 and 1986. Mrs. Olson was always the picture of calm benevolence, but it also seemed a bit creepy how she gently prodded her neighbors into divulging their affairs while serving rich "mountain grown" coffee. Like her Killers
character, there was a darker subtext to Christine's Mrs. Olson. Everything seemed too perfect and orderly in her world. She had to be hiding something.
50 Reasons Why I Never Go
50 Ways to Improve the Movies
(from the Toronto Sun, but I'm using the ArtsJournal
's shorter URL). For the first time this year, I will be seeing a movie in an actual theater tomorrow - Finding Nemo. Can't wait!
Not Another One!
Slant Magazine's 100 Essential Films
only numbers seventeen so far, but it's a promising start - full of well-informed quirkiness.
The American Splendor trailer
is online, can't wait to finally see the final film. Harvey Pekar is unique in the comix world in that he writes and conceptualizes his work, then has other artists do the final drawings. Check out his weblog
Dancing Blonde in Fringy Outfit
The encyclopedic Music of the Beach Party Movies
is a hundred times better than it should be - probably because it's written in an engaging style that nicely communicates the goofball fun of those movies. Frankie and Annette would be proud. I found this via Musical Taste Links
Reasons why Pajama Party is my favorite "Beach" movie:
1. Frankie Avalon has a mere cameo here. Nothing against Frankie, but this is Annette Funicello's show all the way and she really shines.
2. A very young Terri Garr and Toni Basil appear as swingin' dancing girls.
3. The male lead is Tommy Kirk, who was such a cutie back then.
4. Dorothy Lamour performs the movie's best number, "Where Did I Go Wrong," the lyrics of which coyly refer to her heyday as the sarong girl.
And mostly, 5. A general air of weirdness pervades the whole thing. Read here for more.
What a Blast
Detail from the lobby card illustration for The Thing with Two Heads
, done in the painting style known as Early PG. This was the movie where, in every shot, Ray Milland looks confused and Rosey Gier looks like he's thinking, "Shut up, fool!" I got it off of BadAssMovieImages
, an index of high quality movie stills and stuff. Neat-o!
Katharine Hepburn 101
The New Yorker recently ran an appreciation of K. Hepburn
which delves into the woman's contradictions and serves as a nifty life story for casual fans. A worthwhile read, much cheaper than $18.17
Gag Me with a Chopstick
Different fun stuff that struck my noodle today -- Jerry Beck's Cartoon Research News
reveals full specs for the forthcoming Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD set (at last! finally! huzzah!). Leonard Maltin writes
on political correctness, outdated stereotypes and classic film. I direct a special "phfft!" at the boneheaded execs who canceled a Charlie Chan film festival on the Fox Movie Channel because some Asian awareness groups got their panties in a bunch. Why don't these groups direct their energies toward getting more positive Asian roles in current
films and TV, anyway? And finally this gallery
of romance comics cuties is delightfully colorful and kitschy (via Coudal