60s Popeye: Lighthouse Keeping, a title I like more than I like the cartoon

It’s 1960 again and Jack Kinney’s producing. The story and the animation direction are credited to our friend Eddie Rehberg this time. Here’s Lighthouse Keeping for our consideration.

My love’s a Popeye aficionado. And also a lighthouse enthusiast. Logic tells us then that the only way this cartoon could be more perfectly targeted is if the top of the lighthouse had an antique carousel on it. There is no carousel, and the rest of the cartoon is, eh.

This isn’t calling it bad. Lighthouse Keeping has the nastiest problem for a reviewer. It’s competent without having any really great bits. Or any inexplicably bad or weird bits. There’s little for me to talk about that isn’t recapping the plot. And that’s mostly a string of gags set on a lighthouse. Brutus getting vertigo at the top of a 226-foot-tall tower. Olive Oyl trying to take a photograph and directing Popeye to step back until he falls off, spoiling her shot.

Brutus at least starts off reasonable this cartoon. It’s another in the string of cartoons where you wonder if the cartoonists are on his side. I mean, maybe he’s flirting with an uninterested Olive Oyl, but if “Nice day for fishing, if you’re not a fish” is flirting then I’ve grossly misunderstood human contact. Olive Oyl sinks her boat, somehow, and Brutus brings her to Popeye’s lighthouse. Popeye being a lighthouse keeper is a new thing; I’m surprised the gimmick hasn’t been done before. I can imagine a Fleischer cartoon where he goes off doing a string of preposterous feats of strength saving ships against various little fiascos. Or explaining to a reluctant kid how he can do all that because of his spinach-eating.

Scene of a lighthouse and the dock outside it. There are multiple Popeye figures visible, different steps in the run along that path. The last one, at the dock, is completely opaque. The Popeyes leading up to that are more and more transparent, until the most distant one, at the lighthouse, is barely visible. It almost looks like an example of how to animate the key frames in a movement.
Popeye’s speedrunning his own cartoon! Can he do that?

But that all gives us reason to have Popeye, Brutus, and Olive Oyl (urging peace) together, and we go through a couple of bits. These all go fine; there’s nothing too weird or bizarre in it. Eventually Brutus takes the hint and goes motoring off in his boat, with a rope that’s somehow tangled around Olive Oyl’s foot. Brutus is happy to feed her to the shark, so the animators aren’t skipping his heel turn. There’s the oddest animation bit this short here, with the ocean waves represented by Olive Oyl and the shark oscillating side to side, instead of up and down. Popeye punches the shark into Brutus’s boat, and then gets a boat from somewhere to bring Olive Oyl back to shore.

Oh, there is one bit of neat animation that I like. Popeye rushing down the lighthouse to the dock, to meet Olive Oyl, is done by making a succession of still pictures of him more opaque and transparent. It’s a neat trick, one worthy of a 1980s video game. But that’s as much ambition as the cartoon shows. It’s a cartoon that won’t convince anyone the King Features run was unappreciated genius, nor that it was a disaster.

Blinkin Beacon: Popeye keeps the lights on

I don’t draw many conclusions from the readership figures around here. But I know a few things. One is that people really want to read recaps of the story comics. Another is that they absolutely do not want to read about the 1960s King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons. So why am I reviewing some again? Because I’m not going to stop until I’ve made this blog a failure, that’s why. This week, it’s the Jack Kinney-directed Blinkin Beacon, fourth of a set of shorts some of which I’ll get to in future weeks.

I’ve learned to expect some things from these old cartoons looked at with adult eyes. That the music will cycle through four tunes, each of them three bars long. That the animation will be implied rather than shown. That the voice actors aren’t going to great lengths to differentiate characters. There are installments that break out of one or more of these, but I don’t remember one that broke out far enough to produce a really great cartoon.

I do expect the stories to be quite linear. Even a bit dull. This expectation gets beaten sometimes. Often enough that I stay interested in the series, even if I’m the only one who is. But Blinkin Beacon is one of them and I’ll try defending that claim.

The story starts in media res: the Sea Hag’s already kidnapped Swee’Pea and demands lighthousekeeper Popeye turn off the light. That’s surprising. It’s not a complicated setup, but for once, a thing has happened right away. The Sea Hag even has good reasons to want the light out. We learn why when we first see the Hag and the chained Swee’Pea. It’s a suspenseful opening. I grant it’s not a lot of suspense. But it stands out when the norm is for the villain to declare they’re going to do something and then do it.

Except the story doesn’t quite start in media res. It starts with Popeye looking to camera and saying he’s supposed to hear a knocking now. It’s not like Popeye hasn’t spoken to the camera before. But this feels different. It’s a playful comment about how he knows how this cartoon is going to play out. The tone is one that I associate with stuff like The Muppet Show, where the characters know they’re actors and don’t mind breaking the scene.

And it puts this playful energy on the cartoon. Even personality. At 20:22, the Sea Hag orders her vulture to drop the depth bombs on Popeye’s submarine. (The story’s a little absurd here.) Swee’Pea begs for mercy, crying out, “Do what you want with me, but spare good old honest Popeye the sailor”. It’s a melodramatic gesture. More precisely it’s the kind of thing I remember from spoofs of melodramas. It would fit in a Dudley Do-Right cartoon. It would fit in those Betty Boop cartoons with Fearless Fred. It’s certainly a much more interesting line, and line read, and animation of the line, than the story needed. Similarly, Popeye’s response to the Sea Hag’s demand that the lighthouse turn off is a note “No, no, a thousand times no”. Similarly melodramatic. I believe even cried out by Betty Boop to whoever her captor was that cartoon.

So I like this, and I think I’m reasonable in doing so. The story has more structure than usual. It’s got a healthy number of fun side bits, like Popeye supposing a message in a bottle “must be another light bill”. Or the Sea Hag listening to Music to Sink Ships By. Sea Hag addressing Popeye as “Poopsie-boy”. It of course has editing weirdness, like Swee’Pea asking “How mean can you get?”, interrupted by Popeye taking a look outside the lighthouse, and then the Sea Hag answering that “I enjoy being mean”. And a line that sure feels like it’s a reference to something forgotten since 1960, Captain Wimpy boasting how he’s sailed the seven seas, “or is it eight?”. And some animation weirdness, where Sea Hag’s vulture (Bernard, at least in the comic strip) is momentarily twins. Or the vulture just hovering nearby the open hatch of Popeye’s submarine instead of letting him have it, as per the Sea Hag’s direction. But it’s all cheery and silly stuff. It’s got more personality than I’d expected. I’m happy with the result.

Picturing Me Some More

OK, so, Pinball Selfie Leagues. That’s what I meant to describe some. It’s a new thing in the world of Competitive Pinball Which Is So There. This is a new kind of tournament where your seeding is based on games you play on your own. And we know there’s no cheating because SNAKE! Totally a snake right over there! Look at that! But really, who’d do anything underhanded in the search for glory in competitive pinball rankings? And here I pause to consider the number of rules that the United States Lighthouse Society’s Passport Program has in place regarding how to count visited lighthouses. I do not know how many there are, other than there’s at least one. But why would we expect cheating in competitive pinball leagues from a species that has people who would try to gain renown for a fraudulently great ability to see lighthouses?

I’m still not sure what I think of Selfie Leagues, other than that they aren’t leagues. Also the first one I participated in wasn’t all that Selfie-bound. After some consideration the organizer ruled we didn’t need to actually take selfies. We could just photograph the score instead. Sometimes that’s the only way. There’s older games where they only show the score a split second. We’d be fumbling for weeks trying to catch that moment if we weren’t looking directly into the camera viewfinder. “Has that got my score?” players would ask. “No, you just took a picture of the hipster bar’s fan-made poster of Rocksteady and Be-Bop confessing they secretly love turtles.” “How many points is that worth?” The answer is 4.5, but only in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fan rankings.

My love and I decided to respect the concept of the selfie. We’d put a hand or thumb or something into the pictures too, although we always used one of our own. But in the main I tried to respect the integrity of something called a Selfie League and take actual selfies with my pinball scores. After all, there’s good reason to have yourself in the picture with your score. It lets the league organizer know if you’re a playing vampire, and so wouldn’t be able to make it to playoffs before dusk. I’m assuming vampires don’t show up in photographs. It seems like something that would fit with the not-appearing-in-mirrors business. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they just made that up for the movies anyway. I guess vampires would have to just coordinate these things with their league president.

As said I’ve never been much for taking pictures with me, or any identifiable human being, in them. I’ve photographed statues of people like Benjamin Franklin, such as Alexander Hamilton, that didn’t even have the statue in them. And the history of photographs of me hasn’t been promising. Every picture of me used to look like a dough-filled guy who dressed himself just ripped out of bed and posed in front of something. Unless I was trying to not look asleep, in which case I look like a dough-filled guy who dressed himself just ripped out of bed and with my toes set on fire.

But since those days I’ve lost a lot of weight. And I’ve internalized my love’s advice on how to dress so I look less bad. (I have to not pick out the clothes that I would pick out to wear. Yes, there’s a logical paradox here. Isn’t that a merry bit of fun? To resolve it I have to start picking my clothes out early. Usually as early as 8:30 pm two nights prior. And I still come out with “maybe the green shirt that hasn’t got any holes visible from under my not-really-a-hoodie thing?”) And it’s produced dramatic improvements in how I get photographed. I mean improvements for me.

Because I’m pretty sure the ideal for this would be a picture of me standing beside a good game score and smiling. At least grinning. Not what I do manage, which is to be just far enough off-center that I appear to be creeping up on what’s otherwise a fair enough score on Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure. Or hanging around acting suspicious around a respectable score on Game Of Thrones: Not Subtitled The Pinball Adventure. Or, worse, looking on in despair at a score of Lord of the Rings: Not Every Pinball Machine Is Actually A Licensed Tie-In To Something Although It Does Seem Like It Anymore. “Oh, don’t cry,” I can imagine other people in the Selfie League saying. “64 million isn’t so abominable a score, given that you probably had somewhere else to be. You are going to go back and try again, right?”

I don’t know. I do like the pinball side of this but having a whole bunch of pictures of me hanging around is suspicious. There might be something better to try.

First-Class Mailings

A couple years ago I picked up a National Parks Passport Book, which is much like my coin collection in that it’s another thing in which I can put other things, until such time as I either lose the Book, or until I die and the executor of my estate finally throws it out. Unlike the coins, this one collects stamps, some of them the kind you lick, others the kind you just rub on an ink pad at a National Park gift shop and then smash into paper. This hobby has many benefits, beyond giving me a reason to nervously approach a cashier at a National Park gift shop and ask if they have the Passport Book stamp, and then repeat myself because I didn’t quite make myself clear, and then ask up to three other people while I wither and die of embarrassment before they find the stamp. For example, if I ever want to know on what day I visited Ford’s Theater and the Petersen House Where Lincoln Died I can flip to the appropriate section of my Passport Book, where I won’t find it, because I stamped those in my Letterboxing log book, which is a totally different ink-stamp-based hobby.

Anyway, I had a great chance to lose my Passport Book recently, when I visited my parents, who last year moved to South Carolina, catching South Carolina completely off-guard. We visited some of the National Parks in the area, as well as some lighthouses, since my love has a Lighthouse Passport Book good for another set of ink stamps, although the specific lighthouse we found had no stamp, which invokes an honestly complicated series of rules because it turns out lighthouse-visiting is a complicated hobby. The important thing is I left my Passport Book behind, and my parents eventually found it.

My father mailed it to me, and he packaged it himself. I should explain, the book is a little slimmer than a small paperback novel, the kind you might mail by buying one of the small-size bubble-wrap mailers and stuffing in and wondering if the self-sealing flap was going to come loose in actual mailing. That’s because you don’t share that side of my family’s heritage of over-wrapping.

I don’t want to brag but we’re really very good at it, if by “good” you mean “can routinely include so much packing tape that the package outweighs the delivery vehicle” and if by “delivery vehicle” you mean the “cargo-carrying Boeing 777 Freighter, piloted by elephants, who came to the airport right from the Mongolian buffet, which had just got a delivery in of ginger-spiced gravity”. That bubble-wrap mailer with the self-sealing flap you might worry about? Well, we’d put a layer of tape over that. And another one to cover the edge between the tape and the mailer. And maybe staple the envelope end closed just to be sure. And weld the staple in place. And glue a patch over the weld. When we put it in the mail, it’s never getting out again, and that’s not even considering what we do to make sure the address doesn’t get smeared in transit.

I don’t want it to sound like this package-wrapping thing is a chore or even unpleasant. It’s got an outright merry side. Every Christmas, for example, we bring out a present that my great-uncle Al gave to my father in 1949, and we all take turns trying to unwrap it a little more. We believe we’re nearly one-sixth of the way through it, and you can imagine how thrilled we are since various hints in family lore suggest it might be a model train with Jersey Central “Blue Comet” line livery. And someday some distant descendant might finally inherit these generations of family moments, and actually get it open, and then tuck the present aware somewhere, wrapping it up for safety.

My father didn’t take wrapping my Passport Book up to the greatest possible extremes, but it still arrived safe and sound and within hours of when the package tracking service said it would. It came as a neat little bundle, wrapped in the paper bag he got from the grocery, and wrapped again in more grocery-bag paper just in case, and I was able to get it open using just my fingers, the kitchen scissors, our pet rabbit’s incisors, the table saw, several cries to the heavens about the injustice of it all, and the smaller scissors I use to trim my moustache. Everything came through in great shape and I’m fairly confident that I haven’t lost the book yet.

Comments Of The Week, October 5-12, 2014

I’ve learned that Comments Of The Week posts are extremely popular, and what the heck, I’m not opposed to doing popular things myself even if I do get kind of suspicious of mass displays of any feeling. Anyway, I can give it a try and see how it works out. So here goes, Comments Of The Week for the week ending the 12th of October, 2014:

  1. Yes, if you make that out to be the defining characteristic of a V-neck sweater.
  2. Maybe they’re a band that just supports the concept of ‘girl’?
  3. He’s been trying to gain fraudulent renown for his ability to see lighthouses?
  4. I understand your objections to the gazelle speech.
  5. Plainly we don’t agree what we mean by “Earth’s sun” in this context.
  6. Yeah, so, me and some of the gang and everybody else in the world were talking and we decided we like the name brontosaurus a lot better, so, you can go on using apatosaurus as a synonym if that makes you happy, but if you’re going to keep on telling us we’re wrong for calling them brontosauruses every time we mention them and you aren’t going to talk about brontosauruses instead of commanding us not to say “brontosaurus” then all that’s really going to do is make us stop talking about brontosauruses with you and if that’s what you really want, all right, but is that what you really want? Just asking.
  7. People saying “gamification” make my teeth hurt.
  8. Please feel free to use these or any other comments wherever on the Internet you happen to be.

The Leaves

Well, the leaves started falling in earnest over the past week. With the help of a little rain last night there’s now drifts of up to eight feet tall in the backyard, with a strong undertow when I go out to put recyclables in the giant monster bin. We’ve had to tie a safety rope to the Bauhaus Monstrosity bench we have in the front yard, so passers-by can tack their way down the sidewalk, and the squirrels have assembled a modest lighthouse by the pond so their kind can navigate safely. Also I’m pretty sure I saw a flock of maple leaves attacking Tippi Hedren. Going to be a heck of a November.

%d bloggers like this: