The Fourteenth Talkartoon: Mysterious Mose, perhaps Betty Boop’s first showing


I can’t do the thirteenth Talkartoon, not for want of will. That one, Accordion Joe, is not technically a lost cartoon. The UCLA film library has prints of the title. But that’s as good as lost for someone like me who isn’t near Los Angeles and can’t be bothered to, like, try finding a copy. So we move on to the next.

I’ve enjoyed the last several Talkartoons, no question. They’ve been nice discoveries, cartoons I had never seen before, or not seen in so long I’d forgotten them. This week’s is different. It’s one I know well. She’s not named in it, and she’s still not quite found her right model yet. But it’s got Betty Boop. And unlike her previous outings, she’s the protagonist, at least for the first half of the cartoon. For the first time she’s important to the goings-on. From the 26th of December, 1930, and animated by Willard Bowsky, Ted Sears, and (Wikipedia says) Grim Natwick, here’s Mysterious Mose.

This is almost the type case for a minigenre of cartoons the Fleischers would do: the surreal adventure set to a jazzy tune. Here the tune is Mysterious Mose, which Wikipedia tells me was a new song in 1930. I had assumed it was a folk song given new form. Live and learn, if all goes well.

These cartoons-set-to-jazz include some of the best of the decade, or of all time. They would give us beauties like Minnie the Moocher — apparently some of the earliest known footage of Cab Calloway performing — and Snow White. And lesser but still fantastic pieces like Popeye’s Me Musical Nephews. I don’t have a good idea why a surreal jazz cartoon works so reliably. I understand classical music playing well against cartoons: the strong structure gives the chaos of the cartoon more room to play. A good jazz piece has the illusion of a looser structure, though, so what is the cartoon playing against? I suppose you could argue that the apparent freedom of a jazz piece harmonizes well with the apparent visual freedom of the cartoon. But that seems like we’re getting near an unfalsifiable hypothesis. On the other hand, maybe it’s just that animated cartoons go well with both classically-structured music and the strong beat of this kind of jazz (and swing, come to think of it).

So the cartoon is great throughout. It starts out nice and creepy, the proto-Betty sitting up in bed surrounded by mysterious noises. And haunted! I’m not sure if we need to see Betty put her blanket over an invisible creature in her bed three times, but it is such a solid gag I can’t fault them doing it. It’s a neat bit of business and I don’t think I could resist.

I’m not sure that I like Betty Boop’s nightshirt flying off twice. I’ve been getting less amused by women left vulnerable. But it’s as close as they probably dared to having her be frightened out of her skin. And for the early, most normally scary parts, vulnerability is emotionally correct.

Halfway through Bimbo shows up, as Mysterious Mose. And more strongly the screwball character I’ve realized he was in his early days. We loose the spookiness as Bimbo brings a string of inventive weirdness in. And then even Bimbo fades out of the protagonist’s role, as stuff gets crazier without him until he takes drastic action with a tuba. I think all the jokes work, but it does reach a point where there’s no longer narrative. We don’t necessarily need narrative, but it does leave the cartoon without a good reason to end now rather than a minute sooner or later, other than that the song’s run long enough.

Take your pick for the body-horror joke of the cartoon. There’s plenty of choice. I’d probably take the cat who recovers from being smacked by turning into nine cats, or the chain of fish that turn into a caterpillar. There’s also Betty’s toes growing faces and arms to hug each other. The shadow of Mysterious Mose popping his head off and bouncing it. Then slipping in through the keyhole and snipping his own shadow off. Mose moving so much by turning into an ink dot and changing the shape of that mounted moose head. A couple mice show up, around 4:55 in, to add to the music and signal the action getting out of Bimbo’s lead for a minute.

There’s a nice blink-and-you-miss-it joke, at about 3:50. It’s when Betty’s heart flutters out and over to Bimbo, and Bimbo’s heart reaches out to grab it. Bimbo’s heart is wearing a robber’s eyemask. Great touch.

I’d thought that while scared Betty’s eyes spiralled, a use of this effect for something other than “character is being hypnotized”. I was wrong, though. They’re just flashing in concentric circles. Well, it looked like an eye spiral initially.

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Meanwhile In Town


The trading floor alluded to this yesterday. But Saturday there was some kind of open-air smooth-jazz festival going on down at the Armory, which is a couple miles away from here. I’m assuming it was open-air. If it wasn’t then the performers have to have obliterated the Armory with the force of sound alone. It was loud enough out here to recognize individual songs, which only got weird when someone started performing, for some reason, “Smoke On The Water” and that isn’t even me joking.

Besides a couple stray bits of that, though, the whole Eastside spent the day smothered under a blanket of background-worthy music. It finally ended around 9:30 in the evening, when someone thought to press a button and we finally moved, letting dozens of blocks of Lansing get out on the second floor.

As you’d figure there’s complaining about this on the neighborhood Facebook community. My love tells me there’s a sharp division between people who are annoyed at hour after hour of extremely soft jazz rattling their houses, and those who are annoyed at hour after hour of extremely soft jazz rattling their houses but think the complainers are just too old to enjoy music. You know, the hit music of DuPont industrial shorts from 1962. I’m only getting the good bits of the dispute, but that’s a good bit. And I haven’t made up a bit of this.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose sixteen points today and then Lisa came back from some kind of lunchtime meeting about her proposed TV show and you do not want to get anywhere near that. Neither did the index, which fell five points after all that went down so we settled in at about an eleven-point rise.

370

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? June – August 2017


Are you trying to work out what’s going on in Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy? Welcome, fellow confused reader. I’m doing my best to explain the current storyline myself. I’m writing this in the middle of August 2017. If it’s much past that date for you, the story might have changed radically or even concluded. If I’ve written another summary of plot developments they should be at or near the top of this page. Thanks for trusting in me to spot pop culture references in the venerable story comic about a scientific detective.

For other comic strip talk, my mathematics blog just reviewed some strips with the theme of “Pets Doing Mathematics”. Please consider that, too.

Dick Tracy.

4 June – 12 August 2017.

My last update, in early June, coincided with the conclusion of a storyline. So I have a nearly clean field for this one. The story for June and July focused on the B O Plenty family, hillbillies with one Devo hat and a powerful aroma to them who married into the comic strip decades ago. The Plentys worry about strange sounds suggesting their house is haunted. What they should worry about is Paragon Bank noticing there haven’t been any payments on their mortgage, like, ever. In foreclosure, Plenty points out that he paid for the house in full, and turns over the receipt. The judge goes against precedent and rules the bank may not seize their home and destroy their lives.

Not to worry for justice. The bank skips out on paying court costs. Tracy, at the behest of Gravel Gerty, goes to the bank to keep B O from shooting anyone wealthy. And while he’s there Blackjack and his gang pop in and hold up the bank. Tracy doesn’t get involved, on the grounds that he didn’t want to start a gunfight. Blackjack, a hardcore Dick Tracy fanboy, realizes the detective has been replaced by a pod person, but makes off with the cash. Tracy points out that Blackjack’s taken to robbing banks with notorious reputations for cheating people, so, you know. I’m sure the bank is working its way through to paying court costs like the manager says they were totally planning to do.

Blackjack's Hideout. 'I still can't believe it! I had the chance to meet B.O.Plenty and Gravel Gertie!' Winston: 'Why is that bothering you, Boss?' Blackjack: 'It's something you can't understand, Winston. If I'd met the Plentys, perhaps I could have met their daughter, Sparkle. I have all her toys. This is too much for me! I NEED TO GO ROB A BANK!'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 25th of June, 2017. So, better or worse: Blackjack going on a series of bank robberies, or Blackjack sliding in to Sparkle Plenty’s Twitter direct messages? Because I gotta say, he has got to have the creepiest come-ons.

Sparkle Plenty goes to the bank. There she hears the haunting strains of Blackjack’s leitmotif, Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” (“I get knocked down/But I get up again”), which I am going to go ahead and assume he adopted after falling out of love with Smashmouth’s “All Star”. She appeals to his fanboyishness, offering to sign all his Sparkle Plenty collectible toys if he’ll call off the bank heist. He agrees, dependent on his getting a selfie with her. So that works out great for everybody.

Finance rumbles on. With Fleischer Savings and Loan defaulting on pension obligations Tracy figures he knows Blackjack’s next target. Manager Frank Hickman appreciates Tracy’s warning, but he’s counting on Blackjack robbing the bank to cover a $250,000 shortfall the auditor is days away from discovering. But Blackjack takes his time, as he’s busy building plastic scale models of Dick Tracy. Here the last molecule of plausibility is destroyed. I’ve been a plastic scale model builder since I was like seven and I will not accept the idea of a plastic scale model builder actually putting together a plastic scale model. We just buy kits and paints and glues and gather reference materials and let them sit until a loved one yells at us, then we sell two of the most-duplicated kits at the next yard sale. Building the blasted things goes against the Code.

Anyway, Blackjack wastes so much time that he gets to the bank just after Hickman’s set the place on fire. Tracy and his stakeout team, and Blackjack and his bank-robbery team, turn to rescue operations, hauling people out. Hickman fights Blackjack hard enough everyone knows something’s up. Tracy gets a major clue when all the bank workers say how Hickman set the fire. Blackjack’s arrested too, but he gets to see Tracy’s Wall of Action-Scarred Hats, which is a thing and really thrilling to him. And that, on the 25th of July, wraps up that story.

The Fleischer Savings and Loan is in ruins. Sam Catchem: 'Tracy, all the employees I've talked to say THIS FIRE WAS SET.' Tracy: 'Mr Hickman, we'll have to take you in for questioning.' Hickman: 'I WANT A LAWYER!' Tracy: 'As for you, Blackjack ... ' Backjack: 'I know Tracy. I had to help those people in the bank.' Tracy: 'Thank you, Blackjack.' 'Sure, I rob banks, but I'M NOT ALL BAD.'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 23rd of July, 2017. What I’ve never been able to work out is whether the name of the Fleischer Savings and Loan is a shout-out to the Fleischer Studios, the animation team that brought us all those great Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons, but also went and made Hunky And Spunky For Some Reason so maybe that’s why they get a rotten bank named for them?

The current story: Silver and Sprocket Nitrate escape from prison. Their liberator: an animate Moai named Public Domain. Domain wants the bogus-film experts to create a phony audio recording. There’s the legend that Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville had recorded Abraham Lincoln’s voice on his phonautograph in 1863. The Nitrates like this idea, figuring they can make it their one last caper before retiring to a farm upstate. While the Nitrates call everybody they know to ask if they can impersonate Abraham Lincoln, Domain primes his mark. And that’s where we stand now.

The work begins at Public Domain's hideout. Sprocket: 'You've got a package, Silver.' Silver: 'THE CYLINDERS ARE HERE! They're made of canova oil, like the ones Edourd-Leon Scott de Martinville used.' Sprocket: 'Are you going to record on this cylinder?' Silver: 'You got it. Abraham Lincoln was supposed to be a tenor with a Kentucky accent.' Sprocket: 'Public domain is right. You're the tops at scams like this!'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 6th of August, 2017. I am embarrassed to say how much I’m geeking out about this forged-audio-recording storyline. I mean, creating a plausible phony antique media document like this, which I assume has to come complete with a plausible provenance, presses so many nerd buttons on me.

There’s two major plot threads that have been left unresolved but got refreshes recently. Nothing’s been said about the weird noises that made the Plentys think their house was haunted. Other Detective Lee Ebony continues in deep undercover as Mister Bribery’s bodyguard.

Not given a refresh the past couple months: crime boss Posie Ermine wants his daughter, who’s been brainwashed and surgically altered into the Duplicate Mysta Chimera (“Moon Maid”), back. There was some (apparent) Lunarian in an Antarctic Valley pledging to investigate the mysterious Duplicate Mysta.

Next Week: Since my car has finally passed 100,000 miles I should take it down to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for a check-up. Will there be old-time radio references? You make the call!

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose eight points today despite fears among traders that there might be multiple open-air jazz festivals going on in the Eastside that we’re going to have to deal with? The heck is that even possible?

359

How To Wash Your Hands Or Someone Else’s If Things Have Come To That


Let’s suppose you’ve decided to go along with last week’s advice and wash your hands. If you’re not willing to then I’m afraid we aren’t going to do anything useful here. Maybe we should meet again next week when I’m going to talk about how movies get made or some other nonsense like that. While I admit I’m responsible for most of what goes on around here, I can’t do absolutely everything. At some point you have to read it or in some sense neither of us exists. That sense is foolish.

To wash your hands you need a couple of things, which is how they make their money. First is your hands, or the hands of someone who’s entrusted them to your care. If they are someone else’s hands do be sure you don’t return them to the wrong person. Returning hands to the wrong person can lead to embarrassing situations. It throws off their typing and they send text messages to incorrect people. If you take anything away from this essay it should be the importance of good inventory management practices. Bring them back when you’re done.

You’ll need water, which can be found by turning on the faucet. This you do by turning the handle or pressing it down or pushing a button or something like that if it’s the kind of faucet that works. Or you might be at one of the city’s numerous weekend jazz street festivals. They’ll have those things where you step on a partly deflated rubber bladder so the spout spits a mouthful of tepid water at you. You don’t have to support the city in its weekend jazz street festival habit, you know.

If you have one of those sensor-driven faucets then you get water by punching it. At least I do. I have a skin condition which results in my being invisible to hand sensors. In public bathrooms I have to stand helpless by the sink. Then I have to wait for someone to come near and then shove their hands under the faucet, scrub swiftly as possible, and flee before they can identify me.

Identifying me is easy considering how often I wear t-shirts for obscure amusement parks and how I am taller than every person in Singapore. That last was more identifying back when I lived in Singapore. Now it’s only a solid identifier if the person I’ve technically-speaking committed battery against happens to know Singaporean demographics. You get less of that in mid-Michigan than you’d think. Not a lot less, only maybe six percent less. Still, less is less. Oh, I might also have technically committed a kidnapping across urinal lines. Anyway, I’m tall and I guess there have to be some drawbacks for how great it is otherwise.

Besides water you’ll need soap. Soap comes in solid form if you want to touch something that’s been repeatedly rubbed by strangers who needed to wash their hands. It also comes in liquid form if you want to not be sure you have enough of it. And finally it comes in a foamy form that smells great but never seems like enough even if you have a foamy puddle large enough to conceal a guinea pig. I bet someone’s working on another kind of soap even more generally inadequate. Maybe it’s a sensor-driven spray of ultraviolet waves that might not even exist. They’ll get called particles because it makes the diagrams of how to use the thing more cute. You just know they’re going to do that. Punch the ultraviolet-particle soap dispenser now, before it even exists, and don’t stop.

To clean the hands apply water and soap to your hands or the hands of those in your cleaning custody until cleaning is done. Drying your hands afterward used to be optional but not required. Many of us liked doing without this step. It let us brush a slightly-soapy water film over the whole world, one or two hands-widths at a time. But with the rise in smart phones there’s no doing that anymore. The water gets underneath your phone’s protective screen layer somehow and screws up everything, even tapping stuff nowhere near the trapped water bubble. Such are the ways new technology ruins old lifestyles.

A squirt of hand sanitizer is an excellent way to turn hands you’re not sure are clean into hands that feel gummy and unclean. I recommend it. Time things right and you can spend the whole day washing your hands, and wouldn’t that be an improvement on whatever you were otherwise up to?

Statistics April, Concluded


Yesterday’s mutterings about my suspiciously absent audience is enough of that. May started with my blog at 16,472 views total, which isn’t bad at all. The most-read posts of April make for an interesting bunch, to my eye, because … well, here:

  1. Statistics Saturday: Nations of Europe Ordered By Length, which was popular because people like lists of countries, and some folks were wondering just what I was getting at with all this.
  2. Betty Boop: Musical Justice, again not a surprise to me because it’s a weird and rare bit of Betty Boop arcana. This was one of her two live-action appearances.
  3. When We All Stopped Watching Deep Space Nine, a Caption This! item featuring that first-season episode where gamers from the Gamma Quadrant invaded the show. That inspired the question of “Allamaraine, is this worth the trouble of watching?” Fans of the show say yes, it got a lot better after this. Maybe so. Every time I tried watching it was a time-travel nonsense or a Ferengi Comedy Episode and I don’t need either of those in my life, thank you.
  4. Power Challenge Of The Week, drawing on everyone’s giddy delight at insulting Brutalist architecture.
  5. Betty Boop: Dizzy Dishes, another unsurprisingly popular piece because it’s got what’s always credited as the debut of Betty Boop. Betty Boop is more complicated than that, but what interesting thing isn’t?
  6. Betty Boop: Sally Swing, the debut of Betty Boop’s final redesign and the oddly stunted experiment at creating a new Betty for the swing era.

What most intrigues me is that the Betty Boop pieces are never popular the day they come out. The WordPress statistics are pretty clear about that. The number of page views on days when those are posted is lower than that of the day before or after. But they’re fun to write, and they clearly endure. It probably helps that each links logically to others, so they invite archive-binging. My normal major pieces for the week, where I report what I just read and what silly things it makes me think of, don’t.

Well. Now the other popular part, listing countries. The United States as ever sent me the most number of page views, at 585. Canada came in second at 34, the United Kingdom third at 27, and Germany fourth at 22.

A single reader each came from Algeria, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Norway, the Palestinian Territories, Poland, and South Africa. The repeats from March were Finland and Italy; Italy’s on a three-month streak. India was listed as sending me only two readers, which can’t be right, considering how much I’ve been doing to publicize it the last couple Statistics Saturdays. The “European Union” was also listed as sending me two readers. I don’t know what this designation means, since countries within the European Union are separately listed.

I did, finally, have some interesting search terms the past month. Here’s some:

  • dear penelope, i have been so tied up with work during the last week that i have not had a chance to get near a desk to write to you.
  • math comic strip clipart
  • crazy.bolle.com
  • funny pea soup cartoon
  • funny boss yelling at employees for productivity
  • spiderman newspaper boss
  • yard sale statistics
  • corny jokes about the milky way
  • reverberating voice cartoon
  • the king of jazz delbert cobain
  • math jokes on binomial
  • j. wellington wimpy character

I can understand why some of them would draw people here, but “crazy.bolle.com”? And I confess knowing nothing of Delbert Cobain. The most of what I know about yard sales is that if you are holding one, you should double what you think fair prices on all the things you’re selling, and then cancel the yard sale. You’ll be happier that way.

Krazy Kat: The World’s Fair/Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You


Previously in Krazy Kat cartoon adaptations:


In the early 60s, when King Features decided it needed a bunch of new Popeye cartoons, it hired pretty much everyone who could hold a pencil to make a cartoon, and in two years they made about as many cartoons as Fleischer/Famous/Paramount Cartoon Studios had made in the previous thirty years combined. There were some good sides to this — characters like Poopdeck Pappy and Eugene the Jeep finally reappeared after decades, and some characters like the Sea Hag and Alice the Goon finally got animated — but overall, the results are probably best described as “god-awful”, though some at least get fever-dream weird.

And yet … the first of this batch animated by Paramount Cartoon Studios, Hits And Missiles, is not too bad. It’s not Popeye at his best, but this story bringing Popeye to the Moon for reasons related to it being the early 60s is noticeably better than the lethargic efforts Paramount had been putting out before its series ended in 1957. Maybe a couple years off and having the time to recharge helped. If you judged just by the debut feature, you’d be justified in saying the 60s glut of Popeye cartoons was a pretty good new adaptation of the character.

So you probably know where I’m going with this: granted that the first Krazy Kat cartoon of the 1960s run was a pretty good adaptation of the comic strip to TV cartoons. What was the rest of the series like?

And thus I come to a convenient pair of episodes, The World’s Fair and Don’t Call Us We’ll Call You, and I admit feeling betrayed by them. The World’s Fair starts with a premise I can imagine almost fitting into the comic strip, that of Coconino County hosting its own you-know-what, and then slumps into a couple of foreign-country jokes and a logically confusing plot about the international pavilions being some kind of contest. Don’t Call Us We’ll Call You disappoints me more: it’s a string of Going To Vaudeville jokes that could be run in any cartoon or on any sitcom with the premise “let’s try out for a show”, without reflecting personality or character or anything specific to who’s performing them.

I haven’t watched all the King Features Krazy Kat cartoons, so I can’t say whether these happen to be the worst of the series (well, at least the ones that are the worst-adapted), and this was apparently one of the last cartoons aired, and probably made, so perhaps they had burned off all the easily-adapted stories anyone could think of by then and they had to do something. But it’s disheartening to see.

Is it fundamentally impossible to turn George Herriman’s comic strip into anything but what it started as? The track record of these cartoons hasn’t been encouraging, though it’s hard to say that anyone gave the comic strip a serious try, especially as many of these cartoons were made on very tight deadlines not necessarily allowing writers to do things like compose second drafts or sleep. I would think that the comic strip could be turned into cartoons and make sense, but, a half-century after the last cartoon adaptation, and seven decades after the comic strip last ran, would anyone try?

I note for the record that a jazz ballet based on the comic strip was made in 1922, and I remember it being performed again within the past few years. However, I haven’t seen it, and I’m ignorant enough of ballet that even if I had seen it I couldn’t say whether it was any good as ballet.