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Saturday, February 26, 2005

HERE SON, TAKE THIS SLED: Hollywood's Mid Movie Crisis

It's not easy being green. Have you ever wondered how the Wicked Witch of the West got that way? Me neither. Yet there is now a bestselling book and play based on that very thing (WICKED)

L. Frank Baum did not care about the emotions and
motivations of the Wicked Witch of the West in
THE WIZARD OF OZ. The Witch was Wicked, and that was enough, and generations of readers accepted a house dropped on her sister as sufficient justification for her dislike of Dorothy. It would annoy me, too.

WICKED is in the same vein as Tom Stoppard's excellent play ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, which has minor characters commenting on the action in HAMLET. But Stoppard is Stoppard, and most of us aren't, so this device can easily be overused. While I might be interested in learning a bit about
the background of
Doctor Victor Frankenstein, there are few other popular fictional characters with his depth of character in the original source material.
Sherlock Holmes, whose creator disliked him so much he tried to kill him, is ever in the vanguard of reinterpretation. He has been psychoanalyzed and deconstructed in
THE SEVEN PER CENT SOLUTION (1976) and reconstructed as a robot in SHERLOCK HOLMES IN THE 22ND CENTURY (1999) and will doubtless be around for many more outings of this sort.

Remakes of older movies and plays have been around since the beginning of theatre. Even Shakespeare wrote remakes. On a less Olympian level, we have had excellent remakes of early films such as CHICAGO (1927, remade in 1942 as ROXIE HART and again with its original title 2002) and THE FRONT PAGE (1931 and 1940). THE WIZARD OF OZ was first filmed in 1912, again in 1924, and finally in 1939. On a Stygian level, we have remakes of KING KONG (1976) and the new one by Peter Jackson which will seek to atone for Di Laurentis' sins; and Buster Keaton's SEVEN CHANCES (1925, remade as THE BACHELOR in 1999, which was unredeemable.)

A sequel is not in itself a bad thing. As someone who is always asking what
happened 'next', I'm cool with sequels as long as they are good ones. TOY STORY II was arguably better than the original film. The first three STAR WARS movies, which started this outbreak of sequel-itis, weren't too bad. As for the 'prequels'-
well, the less said the better. But animation has fared better. We've had SHREK II and TOY STORY II and both were successful, so we will have sequels in both 'franchises' into the forseeable future, the respective studios promise us.

But now there is a new phenomenon: what might be called 'mid-quels', in which we find out what we didn't want to know about stuff that the filmmakers didn't want to tell us.

Presumably someone at Disney thought that
BAMBI AND THE GREAT PRINCE OF THE FOREST was a nice commemoration of BAMBI's sixtieth anniversary, which actually passed three years ago. Be that as it may, (spoilers ahead) do we really care
or need to know about how Bambi spent the winter after his mother died?
And do we want to see it as a cartoon or as

This is the easy way out for those who consider these films 'franchises' rather than works of art. It is so much easier to insert a story that happens DURING the course of the original film's action, than to come up with a new story for a sequel. If
BAMBI AND THE GREAT PRINCE does well, (it even has 'costume design'!) live action producers will surely leap on the animated bandwagon and we can look forward to lots more 'elaborations' of
films that we thought were done years ago.

Here are some that I'd like to see:

ROSEBUD: THE STORY OF A SLED Don't you wonder why there is that huge jump cut in CITIZEN KANE, when
Thatcher wishes him Merry Christmas, and then we leap ahead twenty years as he finishes the sentence "And a Happy New Year?" ROSEBUD: THE STORY OF A
SLED will show us the 'missing years' of Kane's childhood. Young Charles will meet a little girl nicknamed 'Rosebud' who will show him that objects and possessions
don't really matter but friendship does. Of course he doesn't listen to her.

MONSTER!!! We're restricted in the number of sequels only by how much'source material' Igor originally provided here, since each film is be the story of the people whose dead bodies were used to build the Frankenstein monster. We see their hopes and their dreams and then they die and wind up as part of this seven
foot high green guy. This has an influence on him. This could go on for years. I'll bet the film about 'Abby Normal' is the hit of the series.

And what about: seven movies telling the backstory of all Seven Dwarves, including the real reason why Grumpy hates women and why Dopey doesn't talk? How about a prequel to DUMBO explaining Mrs. Jumbo's unhappy separation from Dumbo's
dad, who was clearly an African elephant, so we can work in a 'mixed-marriage' angle that will wring your withers? Actually, since none of the Disney characters have a nuclear family, and Geppetto seems to be actually ignorant of the methods
customarily used to obtain a 'real boy' as a son, there are great possibilities here.

I've got a million of 'em.

Saturday, February 19, 2005


I'm going against my principle of not talking shop since I had to comment on this new incarnation of Bugs Bunny and friends which is scheduled to hit your screens this Fall.

Greg' Ford has worked with the Rabbit for most of the last three decades. I had the privilege of working with him on a number of short films and one feature starring my favorite cartoon character. Naturally I was interested in hearing his thoughts about the new

"They are the perfect models for the current era," Greg told me. "Bugs Bunny was created during a populist era in the second Roosevelt administration, and a few years later, he fought the Fascists.
These characters are the Fascists."

"It's just wrong," another professor said, when contemplating the lineup from LOONATICS.

Maybe the show will do well. Maybe Greg is right and this is an appropriate set of characters for the time.

And these are, as the old Chinese proverb says,
interesting times."

Saturday, February 12, 2005

KICK THE BABY! Dysfunctional Elephant Families

Elephants, it seems, are only human.

Or, rather, they are a bit more human in their behaviour than previously thought.

I reached this conclusion after attending a wonderful talk on the habits of Forest Elepants that was sponsored by the Science department at our university.

One of the best things about teaching at Universities is that, well, they're universal. I've only attended or taught in Art colleges previously, so it's quite a concept to consider that I am a cartoonist who is teaching on the same campus as physicists, biologists, and industrial designers. I had a rare opportunity to see a presentation that did not conflict with my own classes.

The speaker was Ms. Katy Payne of the
No, she does not tap their wires. But she could be described as a pachyderm psychoanalyst.

Katy Payne is the lady who first discovered that Humpback Whales sing. Her sensitivity to low-frequency sounds led her to realize that the 'vibrations' she sensed near an Elephant enclosure in the Zoo, was an old female 'talking' to a bull separated from her by a concrete wall.

Sub-sonic equipment revealed a range of noises that were below the range of normal human hearing. Which is, on the whole, not too good by animal standards. We are the deaf men of the planet. Elephants, in the wild and in captivity, are communicating over large distances--and who knows what those two in the Zoo were talking about?
"Keep it down, Bruce, there's someone listening on the line."

The human species is totally anthropocentric. We think that we are the only ones who have a language or 'self awareness'. Other animals, and possibly vegetables, are talking around us all the time and most likely having a good laugh at our expense. Searches for 'intelligent life in the universe' are probably doomed because they assume that everyone will have radio communication and written literature. Most Human societies didn't have that until very recently.

Anyway, elephants may not have television but they have well developed soap operas. Rank and social status are very important in pachyderm communities (DUMBO was closer to reality than any of the filmmakers could have known at the time!).

Ms. Payne ran some remarkable footage obtained at a watching and listening post in the Central African Republic, whose dense forests are home to most of the remaining Forest Elephants. The forests are so dense that scientists normally travel along forest trails blazed by the elephants themselves, and observe only the Elephants' dung piles. These, when counted, indicate the probable number of elephants.

I question the accuracy of a poo census. Let's face it, what if one of the elephants just happened to have gotten into a bad batch of fruit? There could be an official population explosion. Subsonic monitoring will provide a more accurate, and certainly a sweeter-smelling, appraisal.

The Elephants only come out of the dense forest at a swampy clearing. They drink brackish water that contains necessary minerals.

It's not just the forests that are dense. Baby Forest Elephants are always wandering off and getting into trouble, like eight hundred pound
Bassett Hounds.

Occasionally a female elephant will 'kidnap' an infant she fancies. The baby can't seem to remember which elephant is really its mama. It will follow any stranger who offers the elephantine equivalent of red lollipops, and wander happily off with her.

Mama eventually notices that something is missing.
If she is of lower social rank than the interloper, she will approach backward, seeking to get between the baby and the kidnapper. The baby usually does not help much; it will happily follow the new mama.

Mama then usually has to get relatives to help her back up and box the baby into the center of the square. The whole thing resembles a slow motion traffic jam.

At other times the baby is just a pain, getting underfoot (though none have, to Ms. Payne's knowledge, actually been trodden upon). One baby who lingered behind a sibling during a private moment was only removed by a hearty backward kick that sent the smaller creature almost literally flying.

It's actually a little depressing to find that the elephants are not really nobler than us. They have jealousies, territorial imperatives, and sometimes they just have to give the kid a slap upside the head--for its own good, of course.

KICK THE BABY Posted by Hello

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Party On, but Clean up Afterwards: My Chinese Animal Signs

Many years ago, when the Buddha called for the animals to assemble before him, twelve showed up.
These twelve animals (rat, monkey, dog, goat, rabbit, dragon, snake, rooster, horse, tiger, ox, and pig) were immortalized as the Chinese horoscope signs.

I always wondered why only twelve animals are ever mentioned as being in attendance. A summons from a God sounds like a very unwise thing to ignore. Probably the twelve moons of the year meant that only the first twelve to arrive got the job. Or maybe the others just didn't pass the auditions.

The Chinese horoscope calendar is far more interesting than the Western; everyone born in the same year is ruled by the same Animal sign and the animal, together with stars and other heavenly symbols, influences events throughout the year.Therefore, everyone born in the year of the Rooster has the same official birthday. This is very practical since it cuts down on the cost of parties.

A Chinese New year celebration is a lot of fun; San Francisco's was the most elaborate one I've attended but any city with a large Chinese population will have partying in the streets, the eating of dim sum and the giving of money in red envelopes, celebrating the new year.

I was born in the year of the Fire Rooster, which was not, on the whole, a good thing. Generally I find the Chinese horoscope more encouraging than that of my Western sign, Virgo; but the Rooster and Virgo are the two fussiest signs in the respective zodiacs.

I don't appear to have too many Rooster traits.
I am not neat.
I am not perfectionist, or incapable of showing emotion.
Mr. Spock must have been a Rooster. Sherlock Holmes definitely was.

The top career choice for a Rooster should be Nursing or working for a spy agency. One of my horoscopes actually said that.

I have a lot of respect for Nurses but never wanted to be one; and I have no desire to poke into anyone else's business so I'd be a lousy spy.

But, as the Witch said in SNOW WHITE, "There may be an antidote."

The hour and day of birth also are ruled by animals and minerals, so timing in the Chinese calendar DOES count for something.

So I ran my birthdate and time and latitude and longitude through a Chinese horoscope calculator (they can be found online, of course.) The results were ambiguous. I have never been able to figure out what Fire Rooster with Green Sheep meant, other than the possibility of a horrible mixup on the farm; but the Hour in which I was born certainly seems to have had an influence on my personality.

I was born in the hour of the Boar, or Pig. This made me very depressed. But the Pig didn't sound so bad after I'd read a bit about its generous and noble qualities. The heavenly Pig loves luxury and socializing, is generous to a fault, and is not overly worried about everything that the Rooster finds important. The signs are near-exact temperamental opposites.

The Rooster/Pig combination makes me a very intellectual, detail-oriented aesthete who is also a real party animal.

Works for me.

Gung Hay Fat Choi!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

DECORATIONS FOR THE VALLEY OF DEATH: 1920s Entertaining with Corinne Wentworth

No sooner had I walked into the little Rochester bookshop and asked "Do you have any bizarre books?" , what I can only describe as an 'irresistible force' led me to pick up the little yellow book on the shelf near the desk.

Nostalgists decry television shows such as JACKASS that feature people injuring themselves for fun. The entertainment was better in the old days, nostalgists claim. Mass Media, say the nostalgists, did not appeal to the lowest common denominator and entertainment stressed talent, not humiliation.

Nostalgists do not know what they are talking about.

ENTERTAINMENT FOR ALL OCCASIONS proves that there is nothing new about making people look like idiots for the entertainment of others...there are only new media! And why go to mass media for humiliation when you can get it at home?

It's difficult to picture people actually performing some of the antics in ENTERTAINMENT FOR ALL OCCASIONS: Parties Completely Planned for Evenings, Luncheons, Afternoons, Holidays and Other Occasions by
Corinne Wentworth (Barse and Hopkins, Newark, NJ 1921). My copy is a second edition from 1926, so Miss --I feel confident that she was a Miss-- Wentworth was obviously onto a good thing. Miss Wentworth was, in her own words, a professional Entertainer (with a capital E). It is clear that she took her job seriously. There is a distinctly peremptory tone to her writing, starting with the first paragraph of the Preface:

"To the clever hostess every day is a good opportunity to add to her list of parties, and every party is a good opportunity to add to her social success. But even the most clever agree that "two heads are better than one." So, isn't it a good idea to let an experienced Entertainer make the second head in conference with the clever hostess?"

This motivated at least one reader, presumably a woman perusing this book in Newark, New Jersey in 1926, to add her second head. But I somehow doubt that she realized any 'social success' from the advice offered by Miss Wentworth, whose party hearty motto was "Nothing is too good to be true."

I added my 'second head' when I turned to Page 13 and read the subheading
An irresistible come-on if there ever was one.

The Decorations were intended for a Halloween party, not a poetry reading. Halloween was not commonly celebrated in America in the 1920s. This book proves why. Miss Wentworth's suggestions are ominous from the
"Remove all the usual furniture from the room in which the Hallowe'en games are to be played. On the floor in the middle of the room make a pumpkin head witches' cauldron."

Said cauldron is of crepe-paper covered cheesecloth stretched over 'light weight wire' and illuminated by Christmas lights placed underneath with 'sticks of wood
, as for a fire', though "if electricity is not available, candles may be used, great care being taken to place them so the flame will not catch the cauldron."

When you have extinguished the resulting conflagration, you are exhorted to make ghostly robes for your guests out of crepe paper. "When your guests arrive, dress each in the white costume, then open
the door of the "Valley of Death" and push one guest in at a time."

Likely she had to, too.

Various antics are planned for the Valley of Death which read more like a ritual for Skull and Bones, the Yale secret society, than a cheery holiday party. Miss Wentworth's 'entertainments' include presenting 'pieces of cat' to the Devil as party favors, and partaking of the River Styx (coffee) and Chill of Death (ice cream.)

Miss Wentworth has many chapters devoted to parties for 'every occasion' that would not normally appear on the American social calendar in this or any other century. The Aeroplane Party, Luncheon or Tea for Picnic, Porch, Lawn, Beach or Indoors
(Wentworth covers all the bases) is clearly a nostalgic tradition that is sorely in need of revival.

The 'entertainment' for this party is as follows:

"Blindfold the guest, and have two persons lead her (emphasis in the original) into the decorated place. Have a wide, long board put on two stools far enough apart so the board will have quite a spring to it. Stand the blindfolded person in the middle of the board, placing her hands on the shoulders of the two persons who have led her in, and who stand on the floor in front of her. Turn an electric fan full on the blindfolded person, or have someone fan her, slowly at first and then furiously."

When everyone is suitably furious, two more people step 'noiselessly' up to the victim and

"begin to spring it (the board) gently, then more vigorously, up and down, and at the same time...have the persons on whose shoulders the blindfolded guest's hands are placed gradually begin to stoop...the swaying of the board underfoot, the breeze, and the shoulders slowly receding beneath one's hands, fill one with an uncanny high-up feeling."

The guest would have to be high-up from Prohibition-era liquor to be doing this in the first place.

When 'she has ascended as high as she is willing to go', the Aeronaut is handed a small parasol, told to open it over her head and "Jump if she wishes to save her life." If, of course, she hasn't already crashed to the floor along with the board, stools, fan, and four other guests.

"When she lands, turn her so she will see the sign given below, and take the bandage off her eyes: the sign may read, "WE'RE ALL UP IN THE AIR."
We certainly are.

We end the Aeroplane chapter with a spirited patriotic reading, "Aeroplaning Around The World in the Good Ship "America Over All", which confirms my suspicion of Miss Wentworth's
other occupation.
You have been a naughty, naughty go and worship my shoes....

a candid snapshot taken in a relaxed moment Posted by Hello

Saturday, February 05, 2005

The Skeletons at the Feast

I was looking for a sushi bar on the upper West side of Manhattan one Fourth of July in the last century when I came upon what appeared to be a refugee from the set of an INDIANA JONES picture.

A sort of Mayan pyramid was firmly ensconced on Seventh Avenue, with arrow-filled skeletons scattered across the face posed in mid-clamber, heading toward what appeard to be a huge tilted idol's head on the third floor of the building.

The doorman hailing the cab had been there for quite some time.

This was JEKYLL AND HYDE'S, a themed restaurant apparently dreamed up by refugees from movie and theatrical companies. Imagine a haunted mansion ride with the ghosts spouting New Yorkisms and making snide remarks about your hat and getup. The food wasn't bad either. I stood in line with a nice Australian tourist and we investigated the several floors of the restaurant.

Outside, I got this priceless shot of the little girl; absolutely unposed.

Mommy, how long did you say we had to wait for a cab? Posted by Hello

Friday, February 04, 2005


"But what if Maine does not have anything to say to Texas?"-- a review of the Telephone, 1878

A blog is an invitation to a total stranger to read your mail. Someone who won't tell you, as your mother or your doting friends will, that it's tremendous, colossal, stupendous...pretty good.

I have a friend who once managed a movie theatre. "I grew to hate humanity", he told me. "Then I realized that the only people I ever met were 'people who wanted to see the manager of the movie theatre.'

I figure, there are a lot of people out there who want to see the manager of the theatre when the seats aren't comfy or the show isn't up to snuff. This blog is not for those people.

I won't be writing about Politics because there's enough of that going on already. I will try and write about things that interest me. Perhaps they will also interest some of you.

There's one thing for sure: the type in this blog will be large enough to see.