Wednesday, April 30, 2008

FRANCES LANGFORD'S "LOVELY HULA HANDS"



Here's a couple of songs by Frances Langford, a popular singer and actress in the Big Band era. I wouldn't say that Langford is a great singer, but she's a really good one and that's no small thing. She has a great feel for pace. Some songs pay better when they're sung Langford-style: straight and sincere, with no mugging...songs like "Lovely Hula Hands (above).





I thought I'd add another Langford song just for the heck of it. Here she is (above) with Jimmy Cagney, singing "Over There." Once again she sings the song straight and that turns out to be just the right way to sell it.

Monday, April 28, 2008

MY HERO: WILLIAM BLACKSTONE



Here's a 3 1/2 minute video about one of my heroes, William Blackstone. Blackstone was the English lawyer who in the 1760s wrote the influential four volume "Commentaries on the Laws of England," an attempt to explain the principles and origins of English law. This is the law as it stood in the 18th century, where the king could do no wrong and, together with parliament, was considered the guarantor of English freedom.

You don't have to agree with what Blackstone said in order to see that the argument was masterful and infinitely romantic and enriching. Blackstone chronicles the attempt of fragile, fallible humanity to understand the principles of governance implicit in nature and the mind of what he considered the Supreme Being. Watch out, if you read this you might drop everything and become a lawyer!





That's Blackstone on the very top of the post, replete with powdered wig and robes, and below that is Jeremy Bentham, his nemesis. Blackstone not only believed in monarchy but in individual liberty and what we call today "checks and balances." This seemed stupid to Bentham who couldn't see the point of deliberately having a government that was forever at war with itself. Bentham was wrong in my opinion but the debate is an interesting one. All of us should have studied this stuff in high school.


BTW, if you decide to buy a volume I recommend looking for one that's set in a modern typeface. One of the old-style facsimile editions that's on Amazon is hard to read. Google's book archive has a free edition but that might be hard to read as well (I haven't seen it). Look on the net. I'll bet somebody put up a copy that easier on the eye. The problem there is that backlit computer books are hard to read for very long, even if the type is OK.






Blogger decided to put my video on the very bottom, so here it is. It's only 3 1/2 minutes, which will either go by quickly or feel like an eternity, depending on whether you like stuff like this.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

FOR THE GRADUATES: "GAUDEAMUS IGITOR"



This is for the students out there who will be graduating this year: three versions of the medieval song of student life and academia, "Gaudeamus Igitor." I love this song. Find out if it's on the agenda for your graduation ceremony and if it's not then get it there, even if you and a few friends have to sing it yourselves.






Here's (above) Mario Lanza's version. It's very beautiful but a little strange since the song is meant to be sung by a group. You could argue that it's best sung by earnest amateurs. Very often academics would sing this in informal ceremonies to honor one of their own. It would be a high honor indeed since it indicates that your peers believe that you somehow exemplify a tradition, that you've kept alive the spirit of something that's vital to everyone in the room. It reminds me of the ceremony of the pens in the Russell Crowe film about the mathematician.





Of course no graduation ceremony should be completely solemn and it's fitting to end with a second version of Gaudeamus, something like the one above. you can see why this has to be the closing number... no serious business will be conducted after a song done like this.

Here (below) are the lyrics to Gaudeamus, which is always sung in Latin. I love the part that wishes long life to mature women and the state.




Latin English
Gaudeamus igitur

Juvenes dum sumus.
Post jucundam juventutem
Post molestam senectutem
Nos habebit humus.
Let us rejoice therefore

While we are young.
After a pleasant youth
After the troubles of old age
The earth will have us.
Ubi sunt qui ante nos

In mundo fuere?
Vadite ad superos
Transite in inferos
Hos si vis videre.
Where are they

Who were in the world before us?
Go up to heaven
Or cross over into hell
If you wish to see them.
Vita nostra brevis est

Brevi finietur.
Venit mors velociter
Rapit nos atrociter
Nemini parcetur.
Our life is brief

It will be finished all too soon.
Death comes quickly
We are cruelly snatched away.
No one is spared.
Vivat academia!

Vivant professores!
Vivat membrum quodlibet
Vivant membra quaelibet
Semper sint in flore.
Long live the academy!

Long live the teachers!
Long live each student!
Long live all the students!
May they always flourish!
Vivant omnes virgines

Faciles, formosae.
Vivant et mulieres
Tenerae amabiles
Bonae laboriosae.
Long live the virgins

Easy and beautiful!
Long live mature women also,
Tender and lovable
And full of good labor.
Vivant et res publica

et qui illam regit.
Vivat nostra civitas,
Maecenatum caritas
Quae nos hic protegit.
Long live the state as well

And he who rules it!
Long live our city
[And] the charity of benefactors
Which protects us here!
Pereat tristitia,

Pereant osores.
Pereat diabolus,
Quivis antiburschius
Atque irrisores.
Let sadness perish!

Let haters perish!
Let the devil perish!
Let whoever is anti-student
Who laughs at us, perish!

Friday, April 25, 2008

HOT PROSPECTS AT "MATCH.COM"






I got a great comment from Cynthia where she talked about both of us doing a parody of the match.com ads that are all over myspace right now. I looked up the ads and they were great! Match.com is now one of my favorite companies!

I can't believe how smart these ads are! They're funny, so they're viral, and they sell the product like crazy! It was a genius idea to get the customers to make short, silent films of themselves. How many times have you seen somebody who looked great with the volume down and who came off like a gorilla with the volume up? Let's face it, it's no accident that romantic film stars are always silent types!

When you speak, even if it's just a few words, you reveal your culture, income level, personality, education, sexual experience, philosophy...everything! There's bound to be something in there that's a turn-off to the person you're trying to impress. Better to sell yourself silently, and that's what the geniuses at match.com do!





Anyway, here's (above) my fake highlight reel of match.comers pitching themselves. Many thanks for the great idea, Cynthia!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

LETS TALK ABOUT FRANK GEHRY

Here's "Merzbau,"(above) a terrific corner of a room by German Dada artist, Kurt Schwitters.


I'm a big fan of Schwitters. Starting in the 1920s he'd build these constructions (above) in every house or apartment building he lived in. Almost all of them survive only in photos he took, casualties of war or indifferent landlords. He had faith that someday these sculptures would influence things, and he was right, they did.



The old Dadaists work survives today mostly in the architecture of Frank Gehry. Gehry likes to make buildings out of dynamic, chaotic, confusing shapes, just like Schwitters. Some of them, like the one above, are very exciting, at least when viewed from the outside.



Of course he sometimes goes too far. This model (above) is for the administration building of a playground. There are so many non-structural decorative elements that there can't be much room left over for the offices.



Here's (above) the Disney concert hall in downtown L.A. It strikes me as a conservative, sterile, fairly standard post-modern structure embellished by extraneous twisted shapes, but maybe I'm wrong. I haven't been inside yet.




You've got to give it to Gehry, he seems to have gotten better with age. His earlier buildings were just too sterile. Here (above) are two views of Gehry's famous Winton Guest House. I wish I could have found a wider aerial shot of the house because when you see it in context, with all the trees around, you realize that this design has no fit with its location at all. It's bad enough to see arid stuff like this in the city but in the country it comes off as a jarring incongruity.



Here's (above) one corner of the California Science Center. You can't see the airplane attached to the side of the building from this angle which is OK because the design of the airplane, which is a genuine work of art, had nothing to do with Frank Gehry. I can't stand this building. It contains so much wasted space that there's not much room left over for actual exhibits.



Here's (above) Gehry's design for Loyola's law school, here in LA. What have we got? I see a plain, blank wall with the standard post-modern windows and the standard industrial stairs. Gehry's firm built a lot of things I bet he wishes he could take back now.

SCIENCE CORNER: HOW WE SMILE

"Hey, all you artists out there! Since I have a face model I thought I'd take a crack at describing how some simple expression plays out on the face. How about a smile...that's pretty basic!"



"I mugged in the mirror for a while before writing this, and I'm already forgetting what I saw, so I better hurry up."


"OK, in the mirror I leaned back and registered surprise before smiling but I need to simplify things so I'll skip the lean. Here I just tried to look mildly surprised. You can see that all the features are flattened out. "


"My type of smile begins with the eyelids. They close softly and gently. It happens fast but if you could see it slowed down you'd be impressed by how innocent and tranquil the expression looks."


"Now the cheeks begin to dominate. They go up, out and in under the eye, describing (in the picture above) the letter "C" It's not symmetrical...one cheek usually gets a head start on the other. While all this is going on, the eyebrow begins to push the eyelash area farther down."


"This is the part I like the most. There comes a point when the scrinching eyes and cheek look like they've gone as far as they can go. It looks like the smile is over, but wait...."



"....it's not over at all! The eyebrow unexpectedly becomes dominant and violently forces a farther, deeper, more intense squinch. Even the cheeks are drawn into it. It fattens and wrinkles up the whole area around the eyes. But that's not all!

Toward the end of all this, before the face is completely wrinkled, the mouth suddenly springs to life. It had been busy traveling outward in order to help push the cheek upward, but now it asserts itself and makes a bid to dominate. It redoubles its effort, forcefully stretching the chin waaaay back and really far up before it settles to a red hot, smoking stop. When that ends, that's the end of the smiling mechanics. Fascinating, huh?

To summarize all this, what we have here is a quick fight for dominance. First the eye lids dominate, then the cheeks, then the eyebrows, then the mouth. It all happens very fast and a lot of it overlaps. I had to do this over and over before I could isolate the steps.

Of course, this is how I smile. Maybe you're different."


"Well, that's it! See ya next time on....'Science Corner!' "

Sunday, April 20, 2008

IT'S LI'L ABNER SEASON AT ASIFA!!!!!!

I couldn't believe my eyes! It was just too good to be true!  Steve and Mike did a tribute to Al Capp on the ASIFA-Hollywood Archive site! What's up there now is the first installment and they say there's more to come! 

http/www.animationarchive.org/ 

This is a major, major event because the people putting it up are hardcore fans who know what the good stuff is.  Capp was immensely popular in his day. If you've only seen the second-rate strips then here's your chance to see what all the fuss was about!

"L'il Abner" was far and away the best comic strip ever to appear in American newspapers. From the vantage point of the minimalist present, it's hard to understand how Capp could have put so much detail and creativity into a daily strip.  Even with assistants, you wonder how he managed to get any sleep!


No doubt about it, Capp could draw women! He seemed to believe there were two types of women, the ugly and the beautiful. It's not surprising that he thought that way because that's not too far from the way that he caricatured men. His cartoonist instincts told him that humor lay at the extremes, a good lesson for us all!

 
According to Mike, Capp's assistant for a time was Frank Frazetta, one of the greatest girl artists of all time, but even when Frazetta drew the bodies (from Capp's rough layouts) Capp still insisted on drawing the heads and hands.  Capp's style of drawing female faces was absolutely unique.

 
I see Capp's influence on other stylists like Wood, Kurtzman, Elder and Davis, but who were Capp's influences? Maybe we'll find out during The ASIFA Season of Capp!

 
I don't know about you, but reading Capp makes me want to draw, which is the highest compliment one artist can give another. For cartoonists who can't afford art school here's a whole art education for the price of a few large paperback books!


L'il Abner lent itself mightily to merchandising. Collectors' stores are full of Capp stuff even now...most of it still worth having!


I'd buy anything endorsed by Fearless Fosdick! Can you still buy Wildroot? I want to get some, right now!



Friday, April 18, 2008

MAKE WAY FOR "ROCKET ROBINHOOD!"



What were the formative influences on John Kricfalusi? Clampett, Jones, Avery, Yogi and Quickdraw, right? Well, not exactly; there's one name missing from that list, and that name is...."Rocket Robin Hood!"


John's mentioned this show in the past, but I'll bet a lot of readers still haven't seen it. I just spent an hour looking at YouTube clips of it, and found myself laughing out loud the whole time. The limited animation cheats are hilarious, and some of the poses are to die for! How do you like the one above? The show is full of gems like that!

Rocket Robin Hood was a funky Canadian TV show made in the late 60s. It looks a little like a Filmation product, which is not surprising since Filmation's top layout supervisor, Alberto DiMello, worked on it. Shamus Culhane is credited as executive producer, but I don't see much of his influence on the art. Maybe he supervised the scripts.



Wikipedia credits "Fritz the Cat" producer Steve Krantz as executive producer and Ralph Bakshi as director. Holy Cow! Ralph really had to pay his dues! Anyway, there's a cartload of clips from this show on YouTube. The clip I was dying to use was the one showing the end titles, but YouTube wouldn't allow it to be embedded.


Here's a clip that john K recommends, also not embeddable : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7pcqYtKwJs&NR=1


And be sure to read John's comment on the comments page!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

ABOUT "JANE EYRE"



I must be going out of my mind! NOBODY wants to watch a ten-minute YouTube video, especially when it's about a novel! Oh well, if you don't have time for it, I'll understand.

The audio clips are from the film starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. Maybe I should add Peggy Ann Garner who got an oscar for her role as the kid in this film. Does anyone know who I'm talking about? She was the idealistic girl in "A Tree grows in Brooklyn." Whatever happened to her? She was a genius! And Henry Daniell who plays the school master, might have delivered his best-ever performance here. I feel sorry for Garner and Daniell.  They were both brilliant but Hollywood didn't often make the kind of film that could take advantage of their kind of talent.  Two great performers, wasted!

Wasting classically eloquent actors was a common practice in old Hollywood. Maybe eloquent actors required eloquent scripts, and writers who could do that were in short supply.  Maybe Daniell's talent was perceived as being uniquely English, or suitable only for the stage. Maybe articulate actors suffered from the false perception that film was a visual medium that didn't require great dialogue. The feeling might have been, "Don't have an actor ask for the salt if he can accomplish that by just pointing." Actually I agree with that..most of the time...but if you have eloquent performers like Garner and Daniell then I want to see them beg for the salt, demand the salt, cry over the salt, have lordly disdain for the salt, get on their knees and cradle the salt. I want the ultimate request for salt that will forever after change the way I think about asking for salt!

I love the scene where Jane talks to the schoolmaster. In the hands of lesser actors and a lesser writer it would only have been about the collision between stern age and idealistic youth. Here it's much more nuanced. The schoolmaster takes pride in his ability with words. He spits them out like weapons. He's obviously bright and skilled, but the audience is repelled to think of the small-mindedness that must have led him to use these assets against a child.  The kid is earnest and full of passionate goodness, but she's also reckless.  She's ready to throw her life away over small things, and that makes her tragically vulnerable to the predatory adults. Two opposites are brought into conflict and given beautiful words to say...sheer bliss for the audience!


Monday, April 14, 2008

THE MEANING OF MUSIC



Here I am talking about the meaning of music. I don't mean the meaning of specific lyrics, I mean the meaning expressed by music itself, unencumbered by words. If anyone has thoughts about this I'd love to hear them.

The video is ten minutes long. Sorry about the length.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

THIS WILL BORE EVERYBODY!

This afternoon I spent a couple of hours on the floor of my local Borders perusing a couple of new books on the subject of fascism.  Holy Mackeral! There's a lot that I didn't know before! Apparently Mussolini was heavily influenced by the American pragmatist writers like William James (pragmatism = whatever works is good). Mussolini was a socialist, in fact he edited Italy's biggest socialist newspaper, but reading the Americans led him to think that there was a third way, which was neither capitalist nor socialist. It consisted of doing whatever seemed to work, whether the solution was a private or a public sector one.  The important thing for the pragmatists was to get things done!



This philosophy eventually created the Progressive movement in America, exemplified by Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. Wilson believed in drastically beefing up the power of the central government so that, when that power was needed, it would be there to solve problems quickly and definitively, without the ball and chain of endless arguments by local politicians.  Putting the power in the hands of higher ups meant a lot less power for individuals and Wilson and Roosevelt were fine with that.  They felt that parts of the American founding documents were fine for their time but were antiquated in the modern world, which demanded fast, decisive action.  

Of course the problem faced by the pragmatists was how to break it to people that the new ideas involved less freedom, and the solution was education to produce a new citizen who was so hyped up and so civic-minded that he wouldn't mind giving up some of his traditional freedoms. Wow! Shades of the French Revolution! 

In America and Britain the pragmatist philosophy was diluted by long held traditions favoring individual rights, but in continental Europe the concept of American and British-style rights were still controversial.  For them the idea of centralizing power led to power being vested in Marxist-style authoritarian parties,  and leaders who were like kings.  Since pragmatism involved using any solution that seemed like it would work, and since the party leader(s) decided what worked, European pragmatism degenerated into the whims of tyrants.

Is this a fair analysis? I haven't the slightest idea since I know very little about the period.  If the books are wrong then I'm wrong.  I just find it interesting that an American philosophy like pragmatism may have had a bigger impact than I'd previously thought.

Is anybody still awake out there?  

Thursday, April 10, 2008

WHEN I'M RICH.....

I guess if I were rich I'd engage in the same mixture of shrewd investment and philanthropy that most rich people engage in now...but what if I was a special case? What if a rich benefactor left me his fortune, but only on the condition that I spend it for luxuries? Does that ever happen? It must have happened to somebody, somewhere...why not me? I've already prepared for the day the phone call arrives!

First off, I want to be surrounded by an entourage of naked women (above). They should go with me everywhere I go. 


I make an exception for the mens room. In that case they should wait outside (above) and cheer when I come out. 



But let's be practical. During the winter months it gets cold and then I'd permit them to wear little mini-fur coats (shorter than shown above). I would wear only pajamas and they would keep me warm by bundling all around me when we walk. 

 
I must have a pet lion....


...but I think I'd prefer to walk it while slowly driving in some kind of cool car with my women. I'd drive only on the sidewalk of course...my taxes would entitle me to that.
 

Lots of rich people live in castles or mansions.  Not me. I want to live in a super-modern house high atop the middle of a large and interesting city. 


I'd expect my architect to come up with something exciting and different.  How do you like this hallway? Not much room to walk, but it's sooooo cool!!!!!!!



And furniture? Only the best! 

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

HOW TO EAT A TANGERINE LIKE ZORBA THE GREEK

"Hi everybody! here's a quick tutorial on how to eat a tangerine like Zorba the Greek!  You remember Zorba don't you? He was the Greek guy in the book and the film who really knew how to live! Zorba had a passion for the moment!"



"Begin the way Zorba would, by smelling the fruit.  Even the skin of a tangerine is fragrant!  Notice the little lunar bumps and valleys. This is the way your skin looks to a flea!"



Don't just peel the tangerine...violate it!  Risk going to jail over it!  Be Zorba the Greek!  Rip that little sucker apart!


"Oops! I forgot about the strings! Isn't life always like that? Just when you're having fun you discover the strings!"


"Well, there's nothing for it but to let the strings fall willy-nilly to the ground.  Don't be a dweeb and put them in the wastebasket.  Zorba rips his fruit and doesn't worry about the consequences!"



"Now lovingly apply the fruit to the tongue.  Tomorrow everybody on the net will have photoshopped a penis into this picture, but I include it anyway, because I like the angle."



"Ooooh! Feel the flavor burst out of the little flavor sacks! That's the taste of liquid sunshine!"


"Feel the citric acid burn your mouth!"



"Man! That's good!"



"Huh....?"


"OK, there's seeds!  No big deal!"


"Yummy!"


"OK, there's even more seeds. Actually they never end.  Every tangerine has more seeds than the total volume of the fruit.  It's a mystery.  Don't try to understand it."


"What would Zorba do with the seeds?"



"Now, you may have noticed that by this time your fingers have gotten pretty sticky."



"Zorba would have just wiped his hands on somebody's sleeve,  but I have a six month-old restaurant towelette, so I think I'll use that."


"Rip it open with gusto...."


"...and marvel at how they manage to compress a whole wet towel into a small space like that."



"Smell the exotic perfume. How many camels in how many caravans were necessary to bring this precious scent to the West?"


"Now wipe the fingers, taking care not to miss a single spot." 


"Amazing! It's just a little Beatrix Potter-size towel but it gets the job done."



"Well, that's it! Join us next week when we eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich Michael Eisner-style."