60s Popeye getting stylish with some Fashion Fotography

I got to wondering this past week: what do I like about these 60s Popeye cartoons? Nostalgia, for one; I grew up watching these a lot and liked them in that way a six-year-old will like everything. This is sufficient reason for me to watch again, but why should anyone else care? Even the best-produced of these — and this week’s is produced by Jack Kinney, who’s done quite well in production — isn’t going to be lavishly produced. Animation director Phil Duncan may be doing his best, but it’s not going to compare to, like, a 1930s cartoon where Popeye’s on a skyscraper. What has to be any good about them is story. A good story can fit to a cheap cartoon as well to a pricey one. Do we have it here? This week’s cartoon has a story by Ed Nofziger. His past work has included Hamburger Fishing and Swee’Pea Thru The Looking Glass, pretty good fairy tale riffs. Also Jingle Jangle Jungle, not a fairy tale riff, but circling around being one. These have been interesting. So how is 1960’s Fashion Fotography?

I quite like the story here. It’s got texture. It moves in ways that Popeye cartoons don’t usually, but that still make sense. We start with Olive Oyl attempting to take her own picture. She’s confident she’s getting her picture in the fashion magazine — pardon, the fash-ion ma-ga-zine — but taking her own picture is hard. I did wonder if, like, she had an invitation to send a picture in or if she was just doing this on spec, but, no matter. When the camera falls onto her feet she tosses the stupid thing out the door.

This hits Popeye, who unfortunately couldn’t see the camera coming because cartoon characters can’t see stuff that’s off-screen. Also he was walking up the sidewalk with his eyes closed. But he figures it’ll be an excellent surprise present for Olive Oyl, because he’s not able to extrapolate why the person who lives in the house he was walking towards might have thrown a camera away. Olive Oyl’s unwilling to have visitors until Popeye promises presents, when her attitude changes; it’s a cute little filip that makes plot-necessary things into a joke. Popeye kicking the door open and knocking Olive Oyl over is also a good bit, adding something silly where it’s not necessary.

Olive Oyl declaring she hates cameras, until Popeye explains that he could take her picture, puts me in mind of Homer Simpson’s brain explaining how money can be exchanged for goods and services. So I like this line better than I would have in, say, 1980, but that’s all right.

Popeye attempting to get a picture ready is a bunch of sight gags built on premises almost surely passed from human memory. Someone might understand Popeye checking that there’s film by pulling the roll out is a self-destructive thing. But you need some deep memories of what film cameras were like to remember winding the film until you got to a frame number. Or symbols warning you were about to get to a frame number. Me, I like sign humor, so Popeye seeing a never-ending series of arrows and chicken footprints and cops directing traffic could not possibly go on long enough. I understand if people born this millennium think this is taking a long time to get nothing done.

Olive Oyl attempting to take a picture of herself. She's tied a string to her foot to pull the camera shutter. But she's pulled it and the camera is leaping off its tripod, to fall on her bare foot.
Look, selfies used to be hard, that’s why older people get so cranky about how easy the kids have it now.

Olive Oyl loses patience and kicks Popeye out, right into Brutus. They briefly compete to take her picture, and break the camera. So they go to learn how to take photographs properly and come back to compete for picture-taking honors. Which is interesting: Popeye and Brutus as rival professional photographers seems like the start for a cartoon and here it’s just one beat on the way to the end. They come back, taking cartoon flash photographs, which leave Olive Oyl dazzled. She sends them away, favoring instead a portrait painted by Alice the Goon. Which is a neat choice. This is the first time in my reviews of these cartoons that we’ve definitely had Alice in. (She possibly played the sirens in Golden-Type Fleece.) The King Features cartoons had a lot working against them, but they were happy to use the surprisingly big cast of the comic strip.

Alice the Goon does a Picasso-style portrait of Olive Oyl. Popeye and Brutus hate it, with the hatred that comic strips, surely the most commercial of 20th century illustrative art, have always had for fine art. They laugh at it until Olive Oyl smacks them with the painting, and they go off chuckling at themselves. They even figure a way to have a singing couplet that Brutus can sing with Popeye.

On Not Having Any Idea What To Dress As For Halloween

I stand in the midst of the Halloween store, trapped.

It’s one of those temporary stores, of course. What strip mall, however luxurious, could support having a Halloween store all the year round? With the collapse in the costume rental industry after that time in 2011 someone spread a rumor Netflix was opening a line of costume distribution by mail, anyway? OK, there was that spot in Worthington, Ohio, that had one going in May. But that was probably a fluke. They weren’t there the next year. Maybe they were just having too much fun selling fangs to stop that one time.

But what to buy? What to wear? What to go as for Halloween?

Halloween should be a great Halloween for me. There’s all kinds of things it’d be more fun to be than me. Someone who knows what to dress as for Halloween, for example. Or someone really confident wearing costumes for the sort of stuff I might be doing on a Monday, like going to the bagel place for lunch and reading the alt-weekly there.

My unsureness about what to dress as for Halloween goes way back. I think it does. I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t remember a lot of the costumes I wore for Halloween as a kid. I don’t think we made very many of them ourselves, because there were four kids in the household and my parents had a limit to how much time they were willing to spend collecting parts and sewing stuff so that we could dress up as something called an “Artoo” for three hours. Even if they got pictures.

I should explain this was the late 70s and early 80s, when photographs were something that took effort. You had to find that weird little camera that looked like a harmonica, and find where that flash bulb plug-in was, and find that it was totally spent. Then you had to wait to get to the store and buy a replacement. That would give you four or maybe eight flashes, good for up to six pictures. And then you could get the photos developed by driving around until you saw a teeny tiny little bitty house sitting in the middle of a parking lot. Then Mom drives up next to it, gives a roll of film, and then sometime later gets back dark, blurry pictures out of focus that clearly show some figures in the state’s fourth-place finalist, Most 1974 Kitchen Ever Contest. The one wearing the worst imaginable outfit in the picture? That’s me. And then we lose the photos in a minor basement flood. So it’s hard to tell what I was wearing back then.

At least a couple years we went to the Toys R Us and bought those licensed figure packages. You know the ones. You get a plastic face mask with eyes that don’t line up for some figure like The Incredible Hulk and then a T-shirt showing The Incredible Hulk going off and lacking credibility. It’s a surprisingly old model of costume, going back to the ancient Greeks and the year everyone went as Narcissus. People loved that outfit, especially Narcissus. But the costume industry learned the wrong lesson from that and figured we wanted to go as people who were fans of themselves. That breaks down when you’re someone like me who isn’t sure he can even be a fan of someone with enough self-esteem to be a fan of themselves. What you’d get is maybe me going out as The Incredible Hulk I Guess, if he wanted people to think he was always thinking about The Incredible Hulk while being confused and faintly disappointed in what I’m doing. I’m confused and faintly disappointed in what I’m doing all year anyway, so the costume always felt a bit hollow.

One year we got a new washing machine, and I seized on my rights as the eldest to claim it for myself. And I also grabbed as much aluminum foil as I felt like I could get away with. So I know one year I went as the ever-popular Kid In A New Washing Machine’s Box Wrapped In Aluminum Foil. I think it technically qualified as a robot costume. It taught me many things, like how I should have cut arm holes, and that absolutely nobody in the neighborhood would get that they would “input” candy to the big slot labelled “input candy”.

Then we moved, to a new neighborhood where they didn’t much like kids, and even if they did the neighbors didn’t much like us. And then I got into high school and even if I were invited to costume parties it was very important I spend every night watching The Wrath of Khan on videotape. In college it was more important I write incredibly detailed reports of what the student government was up to for the unread leftist weekly paper. It’s only the last few years I’ve tried getting into costumes again.

I grab a $4 raccoon mask and hope things will work out all right.

Me, wearing a raccoon mask, standing in front of our Tri-Zone pinball machine.
The weird part is that my natural beard hair looks like the mask’s grey fur. It’s a little unsettling.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Index traders would like to ask just how you know that bigger numbers for it are better? What if a lower number is better and then being down below 90 would be way better than being up above 140? Golf works like that, so why can’t the Another Blog, Meanwhile index? Huh? Is your mind blown yet?


The Big Picture

I’ve been reading Peter Buse’s The Camera Does The Rest: How Polaroid Changed Photography. It’s the kind of pop history I like, full of nice crunchy little facts sprinkled into paragraphs about the cultural context and implications of making pictures easy. And then quotes from old Polaroid sales copy about how they should encourage customers to make friends at the beach by taking pictures of strangers and giving them the prints. I think that’s a fine idea sure to work right up to the point you get punched. But until then it’s going to do great. Granted most stuff works great if you omit the part where you get punched.

Buse also reveals to me that in the 70s Polaroid made a version of its self-developing film big enough to make prints 20 inches by 24 inches big. The camera weighed over 230 pounds. The film rolls were 150 feet long. And I’m a little sad I can’t talk about this without it sounding like a bit. I can imagine a comedy podcast having the inspiration of “really, really big Polaroid camera” and making five minutes of jokes about it. It’s almost certainly The Flop House. You couldn’t just wheel the camera around and take snapshots, you had to make an appointment to use it. See? Literal facts about it sound like some Bob Newhart thing. Ansel Adams took Jimmy Carter’s portrait in office using it. Again, it sounds like I am being all goofy.

So let me reassure you this isn’t a fun bit of whimsy by pointing out, thanks to a friend, the 20 x 24 Studio’s official web site. It’s got explanations of the camera system and why it’s there and what it’s like and also that it’s closing down in 2017 because it’s so hard to get really large Polaroid film stock anymore. And now I will receive your thanks for bringing to your attention this imagination-capturing whimsy alongside the news that it’s even more imminently doomed than most of us area.

There where the lens is wide

So, to summarize, I’d like everyone to know that I do too know how to take a picture on a digital camera. I don’t want to brag, but I have noticed how every digital camera in the world has a little button on the top that you press to take the picture. I’d got this worked out pretty well sometime in like 1978 when I first heard of the idea of taking pictures with anything more advanced than taping the newspaper photograph up to the window so I could trace over it on some paper.

And yes there were too digital cameras back then, models with up to four pixels and the ability to differentiate between one shade of grey and another slightly identical shade of grey, producing photographs that could be shared on the primitive Internet just by running a simple UUencode filter on the file type, then copying it into your e-mail client, which was horrible, and then waiting twenty minutes to find out that your Internet connection died halfway through, and then running down the hall to the recipient and slapping him for wanting to see a picture of this. The point is, every digital camera in the world works by having a button on the top that you press.

Yeah I know cell phones don’t take pictures like that. And I know with iPads you take pictures by standing there holding the iPad up until everyone around you notices how awkward you look and feels bad that you have to do something so embarrassing, and that finally triggers the shame sensors that puts you out of your misery by taking the photo already. Those don’t count. I’m talking about cameras, the kind made of fresh-mined cameraonium ore, and with icons on the side showing that little lightning bolt and the flower representing the climax of Eadweard Muybridge’s vision of a day when the average person could have flowers electrocuted.

Continue reading “There where the lens is wide”

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