Also not mentioned: that Tintin project because I don’t think Tintin was ever a comic strip and, like, Betty Boop had a short-lived comic even if it wasn’t good.
Also, coming back to the mentioned: Motley’s Crew? Really? Huh. I mean, I guess that’s a comic strip that existed all right, but … Really. Huh. I mean … huh. You’re passing on Bill Schorr’s The Grizzwells for this, then.
Reference: Nathaniel’s Nutmeg: How One Man’s Courage Changed The Course of History, Giles Milton.
“Yowza yowza, that’s a real thin man!” — Not said by Nick or Nora Charles, The Thin Man.
“Yowza yowza, that’s a real treasure of the Sierra Madre!” — Not said by Fred C Dobbs, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
“Yowza yowza, that’s a real love story!” — Not said by Jennifer Cavalleri, Love Story.
“Yowza yowza, that’s a real wizard of Oz!” — Not said by Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz.
“Yowza yowza, that’s a real Goldfinger!” — Not said by Goldfinger, Goldfinger.
“Yowza yowza, that’s a real cool hand, Luke!” — Not said by Dragline, Cool Hand Luke.
“Yowza yowza, that’s a real space odyssey!” — Not said by Dave Bowman, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“Yowza yowza, that’s a real Scrooge!” — Not said by Mr Snedrig, Scrooge.
“Yowza yowza, that’s a real shape of water!” — Not signed by Elisa Esposito, The Shape of Water.
“Yowza yowza, that’s a real Casablanca!” — Not said by Rick Blaine, Casablanca.
“Yowza yowza, that’s a real space jam!” — Not said by Lola Bunny, Space Jam.
“Yowza yowza, that’s a real planet of the apes!” — Not said by Dr Galen, Planet of the Apes.
“Yowza yowza, that’s a real Wall Street!” — Not said by Gordon Gecko, Wall Street.
“Yowza yowza, that’s a real Turbo!” — Not said by Turbo, Turbo.
“Yowza yowza, that’s a real Chinatown!” — Not said by Lawrence Walsh, Chinatown.
Reference: Inside Nick Rocks: The Complete Story of the Music Video Show You Remember Being On Between Mr Wizard’s World and You Can’t Do That On Television, and How it Changed the World — and Whatever Happened To “Joe From Chicago”, Dr Will Miller.
Hey, does it feel to anyone else like we should have heard Robert Zemeckis announce he’s trying to do a computer-animated remake of Who Framed Roger Rabbit by now? Has anyone checked in to see what he is working on? Maybe we could just make sure?
(So my favorite part of the teaser trailer is how right after the “COMING / IN UP TO 3-D / SUMMER 2022” title card you get Dot, Line, and Squiggle all shouting as they realize they’re going over the waterfall. What’s yours?)
Fun fact: one time Trivia Night at the local bar was about something I knew I knew nothing about, so I warned everybody at the table that I was just going to offer “Paul Blart, Mall Cop” for every question. The first couple times they chuckled at the bit, but this faded out after like the third question. Nevertheless, I carried on, and you know? By about the ninth time? It started to change. My commitment to the bit paid off: before the end of the night everyone agreed this had the structure of a joke and was slightly amusing, they guessed, in its way.
Reference: The Footnote: A Curious History, Anthony Grafton.
Jack Skellington opens the tree-door into Saint Patrick’s Day Town instead.
In a Prisoner Of Zenda scenario Jack Skellington has to pretend to be Santa Claus long enough to foil the evil plot that would destroy all holidays. Everywhere.
They kidnap the Santa Claus from the Rankin/Bass Specials Universe, the one who never saw a Christmas he wasn’t ready to ditch.
Story is set in an alternate history where a Progressive-era reformer convinced the American culture that his, highly idiosyncratic, order for washing his body parts was the one and only one truly hygienic way to clean, and since most everybody is naturally drawn to a different order and has to train themselves out of it most folks have very slight bathing or showering-related neuroses, and while there’s modern research showing whatever order you wash your body parts in is fine, not following The Cleaning Protocol is still seen as this weird-o hippie moon-man attitude and is shunned by respectable white cis-hetero society.
Sally has a specific interest that isn’t this Jack guy that I guess knows who she is but I’m not positive he does?
It starts with what looks like a Freaky Friday scenario, Jack and Santa swapping bodies, only for Jack to slowly realize that in the future he grows up to be Santa Claus.
Reference: Empire Express: Building The First Transcontinental Railroad, David Haward Bain.
(Have to say I’m really interested in how #4 there plays out with the baseline story.)
Bambi, of movie and book fame, we remember is one of the princes of the forest. And then we know that he’s not a king because it’s the elk who are the kings of the forest. But this leaves us with the obvious question: who are the barons of the forest?
In the hopes of learning, I called Felix Salten (1869 – 1945), author of the original novel Bambi, A Life In The Woods. He said, “We were all having a pleasant time, and then you had to go and be like that. Why? Why do you do this?” before hanging up. I think this is an important contribution to the debate.
My love suggested that boars could maybe be the barons of the forest. This sounds good.
I apologize for the late notice; I only learned myself a couple hours ago. TCM (United States feed) is spending tonight showing “Leonard Maltin’s Short Film Showcase”. It’s a bunch of short films, as you’d think. Some of them I’ve seen; some are new to me. Many of them are comedies. There are a handful of travelogues, musical shorts, and dramas too.
Robert Benchley gets a couple entries, with “A Night At The Movies” right around … now, Eastern time. Three hours from now, less about ten minutes, Pacific time. Or, “How To Sleep”, sometime after 5 am Eastern and Pacific. Thelma Todd gets four entries, two of them with ZaSu Pitts. I’d recommend any Thelma Todd or ZaSu Pitts piece sight unseen. Some of the shorts, including at least one Thelma Todd one, star Charley Chase. Chase is an interesting person. In the silent era he was one of the second-tier comedians who kept edging his way up into the first tier, right up until he attempted a movie adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and made basically every choice wrong. That’s not on tonight and you’ll think better of Chase for that. There’s also, somewhere around 12:45 am, “Buzzing Around”, starring Roscoe Arbuckle, about inventing a magic rubber coating that makes things unbreakable. Other miscellaneous things include a bunch of Pete Smith specialties. Pete Smith made a lot of short films, mostly comedy documentaries, all with a reliable American Cornball tone. You’ll either kinda like it or not.
As I say, I don’t know how much of any of this I’ll watch. It is probably good for dipping into as you have ten minutes. One I am warily curious about, and that’s running sometime around 5:20 am, is titled “The Black Network”. The summary: “In this short film, the owner of a shoe polish company sponsors a radio show that showcases black performers”. So this does sound like a chance to see people whose talents were discarded. But, ooh, that mention of shoe polish does not sit well at all. Mm.
I got to thinking about Fly Me To The Moon, which is not a forgotten computer-animated movie from 2008 because even the people making it did not know they were making it. In the movie, a fly sneaks aboard Apollo 11 and saves it from Soviet flies.
Also the Wikipedia plot summary and the IMDB Goofs Page disagree about whether the Apollo capsule lands in the Pacific Ocean or in Florida. I grant that people of good will could disagree about the contents of an ambiguous scene. And that a movie does not need to have a single reading to be good. But I think if it is unclear whether an Apollo capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean or in Florida then the movie is doing something to stoke confusion, is all.
So if you’re in my age cohort you grew up seeing the opening credits of Tales From The Darkside. You know, where the camera pans across footage of a forest while the foreboding voice of Perilous McDoomenough intones, “Man lives in the sunlit world of what he BELIEVES to be … reality.” And then the screen fades to a posterized negative image about how there is “unseen by most an underworld”. And then you changed the channel because whatever was coming next would have to be way too frightening to watch.
I got thinking, you know, this has to be like slasher movies were. The hype makes it sound like this intense and barely-comprehensible experience. And it turns out to be about as scary as an SCTV episode. I was too much of a coward to watch horror movies as a kid. I mean, except the one time that they had us do a sleepover for Vacation Bible School and we camped out in some of the classrooms off in the CCD wing. And one of the things they showed was Friday the 13th. I thought it was pretty good. Also I don’t understand how this could have happened. We went to a pretty liberal diocese but still. I think we also watched Heathers. I know Vacation and European Vacation we watched at my friend Eddie Glazier’s bar mitzvah. I’m not sure I should be talking about this 35-plus years on. I might be getting somebody in trouble.
But that’s sort of how terror was for a white middle-class kid growing up in the suburbs in the 80s. And yes, I mean New Jersey-type suburbs, which in other states are what you would call “urbs”. Or “great undifferentiated mass of housing developments and corporate office parks stretching from the Amboy Drive-In to the Freehold Traffic Circle, dotted by some Two Guys department stores”. Still. I grew up a weenie and I would be glad for that if I didn’t think being glad about myself was kind of bragging.
And we knew how to be recreationally scared. We just had to think about the nuclear war. New Jersey enjoyed a weird place for that. I know in most of the country you came up with legends about why the Soviets had a missile aimed right at you. One that would be deployed right after they bombed Washington and New York City. “Of course the Kremlin knows Blorpton Falls, Iowa is the largest producer of sewing machine bobbins outside the New York City area. They’ll have to bomb us so the country can’t clothe itself well after World War III.” It was a way to be proud of your town and not be responsible for surviving the nuclear war.
Central Jersey? We didn’t have to coin legends. We knew, when the war came, we’d be doomed. It wouldn’t be for any reason. It’s just we’re close to New York City, we’re close to Philadelphia. Nothing personal. All we were doing was being near something someone else wanted to destroy. This turned out to be great practice for living in 2020 that I don’t recommend.
Oh, sure, there was the soccer field what they said used to be a Nike missile base that would have protected New York City from the missile attacks. Maybe the Soviets would have an old map, or refuse to believe that they built a soccer field in the United States in the 60s. That former-Nike-base could be a target, if the Nike missiles to intercept the missiles didn’t work, which they wouldn’t.
You might ask: wait, why didn’t they put the base that was supposed to protect New York City in-between New York and the Soviet missile bases instead? The answer is that in-between New York City and the Soviet missile bases is Connecticut. The construction vehicles for the Connecticut site set out on I-95 in 1961 and haven’t made it through traffic yet. Central Jersey was a backup so they could build a site that couldn’t work but could abandon. Anyway I don’t know the soccer field was ever actually a Nike base or if we just said it was. If it really was, I suppose it’s a Superfund clean-up site now. Makes me glad I realized I didn’t want to socc. I wanted to type in word processor programs from a magazine into my computer.
Anyway after thinking about that long enough, it turns out the movie threats we faced were kind of cozy. Yeah, they might turn you into an Alice-in-Wonderland cake and eat you, but at least you’d be singing all the way.
So back to Tales From The Darkside. You know what you find if you go back and watch it now? Tales From The Darkside never even had episodes! They knew everybody was going to be scared off by those credits. Each episode, for all four seasons, is one frozen negative-print posterized image of a tree while someone holds down a key on the synthesizer.
It is way more terrifying than I had ever imagined.
Dethany Dendrobia, the pale Goth guest star is from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. I’ll get to what she’s doing in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy some paragraphs down. On The Fastrack is a longrunning workplace-humor comic strip. It turned up often enough when I was Reading the Comics for my mathematics blog. Dethany Dendrobia is the comic strip’s third protagonist. She took over the strip about a decade ago from previous lead character, Wendy Welding. Dendrobia is Goth, yes, and I forget whether her paleness is makeup or her nature.
Holbrook’s three comics (On The Fastrack, Safe Havens, and the web comic Kevin and Kell) go in for a cartoony world. In it, for example, the Computer Bug, source of so many problems, is a real literal character, who can speak with and negotiate with you and all. Dendrobia, hardworking and cheerful, is also Goth, fascinated by death and time’s ravages. So her “freakish”, Morticia Addams-influenced, appearance codes her in Dick Tracy as a villain. But in her home comic strip this is how a normal person looks.
While the characters are crossing over there are some differences between the comic strip universes. Dick Tracy is carrying on as though the Covid-19 disaster weren’t happening. Except for the Crimestoppers tips at the top of Sunday panels, which carry warnings about scams. People faking being from the IRS asking for stimulus check information. People running fake health screenings. Scammers telling you the schools are “safe to reopen” for in-person classes. People claiming that employers should not be legally liable for their employees getting the coronavirus at work. People selling fake vaccinations. The frauds you would expect.
On The Fastrack, meanwhile, has made the characters being locked down an important part of the story. The easy way around this is to say the Dick Tracy events happened, like, last year or so. Except both strips have built in how Dendrobia is preparing for her wedding, to Guy Wyre, this coming Halloween. (Dick Tracy also recently made a guest appearance in On The Fastrack, there as a hologram, to avoid spreading non-ironic death.)
It gets more “inconsistent”. In Holbrook’s other newspaper comic, Safe Havens, Fastrack built and launched a spacecraft to Mars. That crew went and bioengineered that planet into new life. In that strip, Dethany is the chief flight director for Fastrack Inc. There is no good reason I haven’t been doing plot recaps for that comic. But that’s even harder to reconcile with what we’ve seen here. Especially since Holbrook decided to freeze the On The Fastrack characters’ ages, when Dendrobia took over. But Safe Havens continues aging the characters in loose realtime. You never hear this mentioned by people who say they can’t understand the relationship between Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean.
(Tom Batiuk’s Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean both take place in the present day. But Funky Winkerbean is also a decade “ahead” of Crankshaft. That is, if a Crankshaft character appears in today’s Funky Winkerbean he’s ten years older than he “should” be. A Funky Winkerbean character appearing in Crankshaft is about a decade younger. That’s all.)
Dyer bails Shaky out of jail, a surprising fast return for last story’s villain. Shaky’s uncle, the original Shaky, was married to Breathless Mahoney’s mother. Dyer says she wants more background on Mahoney. So he’s got a job now, that’s great. The job seems to be talking about their relatives over dinner with Dyer. That doesn’t cause any conflict at all with Edison Lighthouse, Shaky’s girlfriend, whom he starts missing date nights with.
Lighthouse, annoyed at her abandonment, turns to her one friend: Ugly Crystal. You know, whom she met while fleeing the cops last time around. Over coffee at the mall Crystal recommends dumping Shaky. She doesn’t know what his deal is. But she knows someone sending his signals is not good. Lighthouse challenges Shaky, who admits to what’s going on, even though it’s a little weird.
Meanwhile Dick Tracy learns that Shaky’s out of jail, when Sam Catchem notices Shaky at the filming location.
In another mall hangout, Ugly Crystal mentions how her dad’s got a cool Oklahoma Days centennial belt buckle. And there’s a whole world of belt-buckle-collectors who’ll pay good money for that sort of thing. Shaky, eavesdropping, hears how this could be worth thousands. He forms a plan. Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. He needs cash. Dyer’s been pumping him for information, but all she’s delivered is the promise of a movie cameo. When she puts off a dinner date, he breaks in to Ugly Crystal’s home to steal her dad’s belt buckle.
Tracy goes to the movie set to arrest Shaky, who’s doing his cameo as Uncle Shaky. The arrest is for “harassment”, and I’m not sure who he’s harassing. But he’s got the belt buckle on him too. There’s a short fight, and a new arrest, and that’s it for Shaky.
Also maybe for Dyer. On Shaky’s arrest she drops her method-actor pose of demanding everyone call her Breathless. .
Oh, and that $2,000 buckle was actually a $20 buckle. Ugly Crystal was “worried” about Edison Lighthouse being with Shaky. And Shaky thought that baiting Shaky into stealing from Austin might “[help] save Fortuna Dyer”. Which … I guess succeeded, but it feels like some class of entrapment at least. Also it’s not clear that Tracy did much besides have the matter solved for him.
The current story began the 5th of July. It brings in Dethany Dendrobia from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. Fastrack itself is a company with a slightly vague portfolio, but a lot of what it does is data warehousing.
Dendrobia’s in Tracy Town because Fastrack is buying a new warehouse. Dendrobia’s investigating the string of construction accidents. Someone’s following her, and took a shot, tearing her overcoat. The warehouse is one that used to belong to Stooge Viller, whom GoComics commenter Neil Wick writes was the fifth-ever Dick Tracy villain, back in 1933. Viller survived a couple stories and died in 1940.
The antagonist is someone named Coney, a rotund fellow whom we meet buying a double-wide ice cream cone. And the motive: there’s a rumor that Viller hid millions somewhere in the building. But after a month of work Coney’s gang hasn’t found anything.
Tracy and Dendrobia investigate the warehouse. They find Coney and his gang. Coney insists he’s the building’s owner. So, all right. That stalls things for a couple days. Coney goes to Wilson Properties, complaining about these snoopers. Alex Wilson says the warehouse was sold by mistake and they haven’t been able to negotiate anything with Fastrack. It’s … a heck of a mistake. But, don’t worry. The real estate investment trust that fraudulently sold the building? Whose mistake results in the attempted murder and actual kidnapping and possible death of several people? They will never face a consequence.
Still, it gives underling Howdy a new chance to get rid of Dendrobia or else. Howdy by the way looks rather like Howdy Doody. This makes me think we’re supposed to recognize Coney from something, but I don’t know what. He looks generically like an ice cream mascot but that could just be good character design. He also doesn’t look anything like the iconic “Tillie” caricature of Coney Island showman George Tilyou, which knocks out the other obvious association.
Reference: Something New Under the Sun: satellites and the beginning of the Space Age, Helen Gavaghan. Bonus fun fact according to Gavaghan: for a while in the mid-50s rocket designers talked about something that could launch to earth orbit as an “LP rocket”.
If you’re like me, again, a thing I don’t recommend, you were amazed to learn there was a movie version of Gulliver’s Travels back in 2010. Yeah! Starred Jack Black and, of course, James Corden and everything. Nobody cared about it, or went to see it, which is why even Jack Black and James Corden are learning about it right now, from this post.
Still, this entails a mystery. Logic tells us that there should have been, somewhere between 2015 and 2018, a somehow more indifferently received sequel. Its name should most likely be Gulliver’s 2ravels. It should star whoever’s the one-tier-lower versions of Jack Black and James Corden. I can find no evidence it exists, though. I’m not saying that all our troubles are caused by this unexplained gap in the popular culture. We should just see if maybe that’s a problem and if we could fix it.
I got to thinking about a particular 1982 installment of the comic strip Frank and Ernest. If you’re wondering why I was thinking about a particular 1982 installment of the comic strip Frank and Ernest? Then, hi there. It’s nice to meet you for the first time ever. In your journey to someday not interacting with me anymore you’ll find I have thoughts like, “is there a 4X-style game to be made out of the story of time zones?”. Or, “are there any good pop-history books about the origins of standardized paper? How about bricks?”. Maybe, “who was the first person to propose the flush being a valuable hand in poker, and how did they convince other people to agree?”. This is why I have two friends who’ve put up with me for longer than ten years, and one of them is my wife.
Anyway the particular Frank and Ernest had them walking past a movie theater, remarking how there was already a sequel to the heartwarming summer sci-fi blockbuster: ETC. This strip I remember annoyed me. I somehow knew that Steven Spielberg had declared there would never be a sequel to E.T. You might think this is a reason they treated me like that in middle school, but, no. I wasn’t yet in middle school. This was a warning sign that they would treat me like that.
But you know why that particular strip is seared into my memory? Other than that I have the sort of memory that latches onto, say, the theme song to the 1984 sitcom It’s Your Move starring Jason Bateman and Garrett Morris? It’s because this comic got used as a project in school. We were assigned the task of writing titles for a sequel to E.T. even though, as noted, I was aware there would never be such a thing. I don’t remember that we were being graded on quality or quantity of titles. I do remember getting competitive about it. Also, please remember that this was 1982. While it was not literally impossible, it would be difficult for any of us to submit E.T. II: The Secret Of Curly’s Ooze. I want to say I got up into sixty-plus sequel titles before running out of ideas. I also want to not say I got up into sixty-plus sequel titles. It is thoroughly daft to have come up with sixty-plus possible sequel titles for E.T., even under the direction of a teacher.
But one further reason I remember this so well is that this was no ordinary class project that got us writing out imaginary E.T. sequel titles. This was something we did for the school district’s magnet program for gifted students. The Education Through Challenge program. You see how we had to think about this Frank and Ernest. The program had the educational philosophy that students who test well should do things for school that are fun and creative and maybe a bit weird. Everyone else can … I don’t know. I would say diagram sentences, except I thought that was fun too. If that hasn’t shaken you off knowing me I don’t know what will. Also I guess we had days the teachers didn’t feel up to challenges.
What the program mostly did, though, was take a couple students from each grade and from each school in the district, and bus them to a different school for a half-day each week. You can see why I clung to participation in this program. Who would turn down a built-in field trip every week of the school year? It gets better: the last year and a half I was there, they didn’t take us to a different school in use in the district. They took us to a whole separate school that was completely closed except for administration needs and our program. That’s right. I was part of an elite cadre of students who once a week got to go to school in an ex-school and, one time, do a list-writing project based on Frank and Ernest.
This is the value of a good education. It gives you thoughts to enrich the rest of your days.
In July 1982 E.T.‘s director Steven Spielberg and writer Melissa Mathison wrote a treatment for E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears.
Portions of this film had to be redone because of objections by the Hays Office. The dragon was originally drawn with a navel which had to removed before the film could be passed.
Now I wish to believe the Hayes Office was sending many snippy letters explaining that as dragons hatch from eggs they have no biological need for belly buttons. And the Disney Office writing back that dragons are made up and can have belly buttons if we choose. I want to think they were arguing, by typewriter, for months. I decide to believe Ward Kimball sent the Hayes Office a most sarcastic drawing of a dragon mom nursing dragon toddlers. I choose to believe that the great-grandchildren of the people in this dispute are still angry at the other side. I shall not be accepting any evidence to the contrary. Thank you.
I am sorry, YouTube clickbait promising the “top ten moments of Transformers The Movie (1986)”, but that would be the entirety of Transformers The Movie (1986). Though I have not seen Transformers The Movie (1986) since college I am certain it is exactly as awesome as I remember and has no segments that are now really embarrassing or painful.
OK, Wheelie was bad. But otherwise every bit of Transformers The Movie (1986) was the greatest thing humanity has ever done, not excepting the extinction of smallpox, Voyager’s “Pale Blue Dot” photograph, and every scene where a Simpsons character gives a false name.
I had forgotten how much of The Empire Strikes Back is just “people falling off things”. Really a surprise. Movie would have been very different if they had put those rubber grippy-pad things for the shower on the floors. Would be hard on the foley artists, certainly. Yes, yes, Darth Vader’s menace would be undercut by his breathing harmonizing with the sqrk-SQRK-sqrk-SQRRK-sqrrrrk-SQRRK of walking on damp vinyl. But it would be easier on everybody’s knees and, I can say with the authority of someone whose knees would rather not be knees, that would be great.
You know, Mike Oldfield didn’t write “Tubular Bells” for The Exorcist. Director William Friedkin picked it when the original soundtrack was too scary, and he didn’t yet know about Tangerine Dream. So, like, in an alternate timeline, that tune doesn’t have any association with anything horrifying. It could have ended up being the sound for merry Christmas melodies of the 70s and 80s. You never see that sort of thing in alternate-history novels, though. Alternate history is a fun genre, ranging from stories about “what if the worst people won the major war” all the way to stories about “what if there were lots more moon landings”. But it never wonders about what if prog rock albums were appreciated differently.
The quarantine month has been a pretty tough time, as measured by how often we’ve had to go to the basement and berate cinder blocks. It’s a better coping mechanism than punching the cinder blocks was. The cinder blocks aren’t taking this personally. They know they’re there as support. Emotionally speaking, cinder blocks are bricks. I don’t say that cinder blocks are also literally bricks, because I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble with the brick enthusiast community. I don’t need someone explaining how something essential to bricks is incompatible with the nature of cinder blocks, because I would find that fascinating. I would read three different books, each at least 280 pages, on the history of bricks. I’m already enough of a caricature of myself. I do not need to become even more of that.
But this lands me on my point four times as well as I had expected just three sentences ago. Honest, I was lost. My point is: a lot of us are having a rough time now because we don’t have anything to do. There’s no hanging out at barcades. You can’t even go to the pet store and stare at the baby guinea pigs. A lot of people don’t have jobs. Those who do, have those jobs gone all weird. Two months ago you would spend all morning in a meeting to resolve what five minutes of e-mail would have. Today, you spend all morning in e-mail exchanges to resolve what five minutes of meeting would have.
All these things that we would do evaporated. So now we face the gap between the stuff we do, and who we are, and who we figure we want to be. That’s tough stuff. I remember who I wanted to be, growing up: the astronaut who draws Popeye. It’s been an adjustment, learning that the person I am doesn’t want to make the effort it takes to draw Popeye. Or to convince the people who hire astronauts that they need someone on staff who’ll draw Popeye too. That one’s on me. I keep applying for astronaut jobs, but at the interviews I never ask if they’re bringing a Popeye-drawer on board. I just take it for granted that if they don’t list it on their web site, they’re not going to, and I don’t even respond to their offers. I’m only messing up my own life like this.
How to handle the gap between what kept you busy and what your identity is? This involves serious quiet, letting all the thoughts imposed from other people — well-meaning or advertisers — wash out. Think seriously about what you are when at rest, and see what residue of life remains. Then realize this is a hecking lot of work and the results are terrible. You know how, on your body, you have this indestructible nostril hair that every booger in the world condenses around? Your personality is like that, only worse. It starts with that time you were six and teased that kid Christian across the street because his name rhymes with the imaginary word “Ristian”. And it’s accumulated like that since then. No, you’re better off finding a new store-bought identity and putting that on.
There’s so many to choose from! You could be the person who cruises social media, finding folks who are screaming at CSS for not being able to do what seems like a simple CSS thing, and reassuring them that the problem is that CSS is not actually good at CSS things yet, and never will be. (CSS is that computer thing where, for no good reason, sometimes all the stuff in your web browser is 50% off the edge of the screen to the right.)
You could be a background character in a Studio Ghibli film. In these times you’ll definitely want to be in one of the lower-stress movies. Take up some role where you look over bunches of vegetables, that kind of thing. You’ll have to act nonplussed when a bunch of kids run through on some lightly daft whimsical adventure to help the ghost wolf reconcile with its family or something. So remember to look up exactly what “nonplussed” means. You want to know how to react.
Or you could try being an astronaut who draws Popeye. The drawing Popeye part should be easy, but the real trick is getting up into space. To do that, you’ll want to practice jumping until you’re so good at it you jump into outer space. Go practice right now! (Note to the rest of you: if you’re hired as astronaut they provide the outer space for you. I just want to get my competition for the job out of the way.)
The exact choice isn’t important. What matters is that you realize who you are. Then we can see about fixing that.
This week’s King Features Popeye cartoon is, it happens, directed by Gene Deitch, and produced by William L Snyder. There’s no story credit to it. Matinée Idol Popeye, another in the microgenre of cartoons where Popeye makes a movie.
Though I’ve called it a microgenre, there really aren’t many cartoons where Popeye is making a movie. At least one of the times he is, it’s a clip cartoon recycling one of the two-reelers. The benefit of doing a let’s-make-a-movie cartoon is you can put Popeye in any scenario without needing any setup or resolution. But, then, when have we ever needed a reason that Popeye should be in Ancient Egypt? It’s old-style cartoon characters. They could just do that.
The setup is Popeye and Olive Oyl making some Anthony-and-Cleopatra film. Brutus is director, sensibly enough. I’d wondered if this was a riff on the infamous Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton Cleopatra, and it seems … unclear. That movie, released 1963, had started production in 1958. So a 1960 cartoon could riff on it. But apart from its five-million-dollar budget what would stand out, in 1960, about the project? Probably it’s more generically a riff on that era of epic-style filmmaking.
We get early on some nice visual jokes. Popeye turning into a ham when Brutus accuses him of being one, that sort of thing. It reflects one of the good lessons of limited animation: if you can’t show complicated action, at least show a bunch of funny pictures. Brutus tries to woo Olive Oyl, taking out of his pocket a heap of flowers bigger than he is; that’s better than anything which would make physical sense.
The premise of the cartoon becomes that Brutus wants Popeye out of the way, but can’t fire him, so he has to get Popeye to quit or die. Bit gruesome, but, makes sense. We get the gag of Popeye’s head caught in a lion’s mouth, and him puffing his pipe to make the lion release him. That’s been done before; in the Famous Studios Tops in The Big Top Bluto even puts a slab of meat on Popeye’s head to ensure the lion tries to eat him. Here it’s just luck for Brutus that the plan starts to work. It’s a missed chance to make Brutus more villainous, but on the other hand, do we want Brutus to be that mean?
Brutus chuckles “that’ll be good for the end title” when a vulture rests on Popeye’s head. It is, and it’s a missed resolution that the end of the short doesn’t have the vulture on Brutus’s head. We get some nice and really exciting music as the elephant comes in. It raises questions about what the filming schedule for this film was supposed to look like. I wouldn’t want to try to shoot a lion and an elephant and a crocodile scene on the same day. Obviously Brutus is throwing stuff together in the opes of getting Popeye to quit, but he does seem to be filming all this. Without giving Popeye direction of what he should accomplish in the scene, though. If this were an actual film it would be a heck of an avant-garde piece. It’d have some weird verite-like style anyway. Brutus is optimistic to think this will win an Academy Award, but it will have a good shot at being a cult classic.
Brutus finally turns to just grabbing Olive Oyl, because he has not learned how people work yet. Popeye does a slick bit of crushing his can open by dropping a beam of wood on it; that gets us to the fight climax. More time’s spent on Popeye making a sphinx of himself than the actual fight. I’m curious whether they were trying to limit the violence or whether Deitch (or storywriter) thought that punching was the least interesting thing Popeye did. Before we know it, Brutus is harnessed and hauling Popeye’s chariot. This seems like it should violate a Directors Guild rule, but we have reason to think the production is outside proper channels, what with how there’s no other crew.
This isn’t a lushly animated cartoon and after the initial business with the ham it doesn’t get too fanciful either. It does well with what animation there is. And it avoids having too many scenes that look like police lineups. We get a lot of close pictures of characters’s faces, or from chest up. Not so many of them standing in a line viewed from afar. I regret that it doesn’t show off the experimental energies I was talking so much about yesterday. But sometimes a cartoon’s just executed successfully after all.
Music. That’s something that helps in times of crisis. It’s a way to manage the feeling you’re having every feeling at once, and will never not again. Look deep into your music collection and find something pleasant and soothing, and enjoy.
Here’s where this goes wrong. My music collection is mostly weird, experimental, early-analog synth experiments. Oh, yes, and 100 Hits of Frank Crumit, who recorded in the 1920s and 30s. That’s pleasant, in that everything he recorded sounds like background music for a Betty Boop cartoon. As long as you don’t hit one of the lyrics that are crazy racist. There’s one song about being an outhouse-builder that’s not bad, although it’s not as good as you’d think.
But that’s the one album. The rest? It’s daffy stuff like fourteen takes of Raymond Scott trying to perfectly represent the sound of a robot mouse passing gas. And this in the service of recording a commercial for Bendix or Ohio Bell or something like that. Or the albums of Ferrante and Teicher. These guys recorded a bunch of wonderful, goofy, way-over-the-top renditions of, like, the theme to Star Wars or whatever. It’s music that makes you go, “seriously?” And yes, yes, they did a lot of cornball stuff. But they did it because it paid the bills. It’s what let them afford their serious music, where they’d try playing a piano strung up with sheets of paper or metal chains or stuff so it sounds all weird.
But. The comforting assurance of a person who knows a particular feeling and can make that a melody? Nope. My music collection brings out the warm communion of the soundtrack to Logan’s Run.
And that’s a great reference to make because I just learned one of my under-thirty friends likes Logan’s Run. For the aesthetics of it, mind you, not for the story. This is perceptive of my friend. I like Logan’s Run, but not because of the story, because have you seen the story? It’s a lot of meandering around through settings. Eventually two masses in the shape of protagonists escape the storyline. In the vast wilderness outside then they discover Peter Ustinov. The sudden presence of an actor then blows up the whole project.
So I like the movie, but that’s because of the look and the feel of it. You watch it and admire the things set designers can do with Plexiglass. And marvel at how ingenious this all was, even if it’s nothing like the props and effects and design of Star Wars. But, like, the films were separated by so much time. Then you look it up and find out that Logan’s Run came out twelve minutes before Star Wars and you feel all confused. Why is Logan’s Run not more less-bad than it is?
Still, I like that an under-thirty friend can appreciate the movie for what it’s good at. Also I like that I have an under-thirty friend, somehow. Or any friend, period. I know what it’s like to put up with me. Be friends with me and you have to put up with this nonsense. I track how much I’m spending on shampoo so I know whether to trim my beard. I think of stuff about Calvin Coolidge or the Wilmot Proviso or whatever. I get anxious if we have a flat surface without an unstable pile of papers and magazines and small purchases on top. I stop my reading so I can tell my love something from my book.
If my love wants any peace while I’m doing this, there’s nothing to do but put headphones on. The big headphones, ones look ready for broadcasting on the WKRP In Cincinnati prequel that’s on I’m guessing CBS All Access. And listen to music. Lots of it. My love has gone through the whole Kinks catalogue. Their good albums, their bad albums, their unpopular albums, Ray Davies leaving messages on Dave Davies’s phone that he can’t be in the band. Everything. When I get to reading the second book I’ve acquired in the past twelve months about the history of the United States Post Office, my love will have to start listening to wholly imaginary Kinks albums. That’s all right. I have my own earphones and can listen to Joe Meek trying to do a surf-rock theramin version of the theme to Popeye. This is the power of music in a trying time.