Monday, November 30, 2009

VINTAGE MENS MAGAZINES: A VACATION IN HELL


Sometimes I think the critics are right and Dante really was one of the handful of writers who shaped the Western mind. He certainly seems to have influenced 50s mens magazines. Cover after cover looks like a scene out of Dante's "Inferno."



Here (above) the guy is running away from a tribe of nymphomaniac amazons, and the only way he can escape them is to run across a field of crazed weasels.



Coming up with stories for these mens magazines must have been a real chore. After all, the same publisher probably put out confession, crime and adventure magazines, and these must have siphoned off a lot of stories the mens magazines could have used.

The writers must have thanked God for old staples like cheating housewives and prostitutes, but even these could get stale. Frequently the staff had to fall back on the tried and tested method of taking ordinary events, sleazing them up a bit, and locating them in graphic Hell.



Take this picture (above), for instance. Nothing out of the ordinary happening here but the blocked-out eyes and minimal, kids printing set/ransom note lettering at the bottom of the page make it look like something weird and taboo is going on.



If the weird and taboo thing can be shown to happen in Hell (as it is above), so much the better. Pulp paper didn't take black very well, but the publishers turned a liability into an asset by emphasizing subject matter that played better in dark grey.

Grey gave the page a weathered, amateur look, as if it had been printed by ghouls in some underground cavern, and the editor just happened to find it stuck to the bottom of his shoe...just the thing for a magazine that claimed to break all the rules.

And how do you like the black & white photography (above)? It underlines the noir belief that the world is a dark place, illuminated by shafts of light.


Black and white can make the most innocent event seem sordid, especially if the photo is tilted and crudely retouched. Here (above) even happy old Bing Crosby is made to look like a skulker in the corridors of Hell. The actress on the right shows a lot of leg, but would still look innocent if the same picture were to appear in full resolution in Life magazine. Here, at half resolution and retouched, she looks like a denizen of the underworld.



Here (above) the downshots and headless bodies add to the effect of the noir lighting. We're obviously in some Clive Barker-type catacomb. Tattooing is made to look sooooo creepy here. But that's what the reader wanted. The reader wanted to be taken out of the crowded commuter train to an unfamiliar and dangerous world, and the magazine obliged.



Here (above) bandleader Xavier Cougat draws a terrific caricature of the singer on his left. Light-hearted and innocent you say? No way! The Hell theme favored by sleaze magazines demanded that the execution of the drawing take place in Hades. The ripped headline graphic, dark shadows and downshot angle reveal that we're in a slime-covered alcove in a nightmare alley full of screams and demented laughter.



No activity was so wholesome that it couldn't be portrayed as Hellish. "Who does Disney (above) think he's kidding?", the magazine seems to ask. No innocence here. The text promotes Disney but the choice of graphics locates him in Hell. The layout artist chose cramped, fever dream compositions, planting the idea that Disney films are somehow sinister and malevolent.

All this emphasis on Hell may only have been half intentional. Some of it must have resulted from the kind of flash camera that press people used in those days. Some of it must have come out of WWII when a lot of graphic artists had to learn how to make the bad guys look demonic. After the war we had a lot of skilled propaganda artists with nowhere to go, except the sleaze magazines where these techniques were still appreciated.


I've said what I had to say about graphic Hell, but I can't resist commenting on the boring composition above. Ugh! I hate to see amateurs attempt the wild stories and graphics of the pros.



Here's a similar pictorial theme done with more panache. The young woman carousing with a beer bottle is underlit and in a dark place, suggesting Hell. The picture of the man suggests that she was bullied into this life by a dominating gangster. The two pictures are so evocative that we can't help but make up stories to fit them. Before we even read the text we imagine the girl resisting the fast life at first, then learning to accept it. We draw the tragic conclusion that it's a joyless, crazy world, but she wouldn't leave it if she could.

The mistake the amateurs made was to suppose that prostitution is interesting all by itself. It's not. If the girl was coerced into it, or forced to do it to feed her baby, or if her choice leads her to discover the unimaginable, then you've got a story...just be sure to locate it in graphic Hell.

BTW: Many thanks to the "Here Comes Madness" blog, which is where I stole these pictures from. Thanks also to Anonymous for telling me about the site in a comment. The blog's URL:

http://mkupperman2.wordpress.com/magazines-the-whatsisname-collection/

Also BTW: I couldn't bear to end this without calling attention to the name of an article listed on the cover of "Wildcat Adventures" above. The article is "Death Cruise of the Two Nude Cuban Cuties," surely one of the best names for an article that I've ever encountered. Sigh! Geniuses truly walked the Earth in those days.





Saturday, November 28, 2009

CAROL BURNETT: GENIUS


When I think of funny women on film I think of Imogene Coco and her work with Sid Caesar, of Madeline Kahn as Eunice in "What's Up, Doc?", and of Carol Burnett in her best TV sketches from "The Carol Burnett Show" in late 60s and early 70s. That's her in the video above playing Joan Crawford in a parody of "Mildred Pierce."



The problem with Burnett's show was that the sketches were sometimes too long. There weren't as many commercials on TV in those days, and you had to stretch out ideas to fit the longer time slot. That's okay when the ideas were as good as the ones here, but that wasn't always the case.



Burnett was hilarious when she was working on all cylinders. She had a real talent for playing feisty, low rent characters like Eunice (above) in the family sketches. Those sketches struck a chord with audiences, maybe because so many people actually lived that way.



So far as I can tell, domestic arguments used to be a lot more common than they are now. Couples would argue about who came from the more high class family, the man's drinking, dinner not being ready on time...things like that. Nobody ever attempted to answer what the other person actually said, or look for a solution.

If you were accused of drinking too much you would respond by saying your wife kept a dirty house. Arguments like that never end, they just recur and recur, a chance to blow off steam I guess, or a ritual to reconcile the two to the fact that neither of them will probably ever change. Anyway, there was a lot of that going on, and Burnett was really good at making fun of it.


One more quick sketck...it only takes a minute and twenty seconds and in that short time it succeeds in explaining everything that's wrong with modern music.


On a completely different topic, I thought I'd put up a sequence from "The Miracle Worker." I posted about that film a few days ago and was surprised to find that nobody had seen it. I thought it was one of those films like "Citizen Kane" that everybody sees. Well, if you haven't, then here's an eight-minute clip to enlighten you. It's hilarious.


Above, an SCTV parody of the same film. Thanks much to Anonymous for sending me this. But who sent me the "Mildred Fierce" parody at the top of the page? I need to know who to thank!






Thursday, November 26, 2009

I CAN'T FIND MY KEYS


EXT. THEORY MANSION:

UNCLE EDDIE (VO): "(Cry of anguish) Aaaaagh! I can't find my keys! I have to be somewhere and I can't find my keys!"



INT. THEORY MANSION:

UNCLE EDDIE (VO): "Tracy, you're my secretary...do you know where my keys are?"

TRACY: "Sorry Uncle Eddie, I haven't seen them. Have you tried the living room?"



INT. LIVING ROOM:

UNCLE EDDIE (VO): "Florence! Have you seen my keys?"

FLORENCE: "Keys? Hmmm...no keys around here. Maybe they slipped into a crack in one of the sofas."


BAMBINA: "I just looked. Nothing in this sofa."



YVETTE: "Nothing here either, Uncle Eddie! Have you tried the kitchen?"



ON THE WAY TO THE KITCHEN:

UNCLE EDDIE (VO): "Hi, Weirdina. Have you seen my keys?"

WEIRDINA: "Sorry Uncle Eddie, I can't think about that now! I'm writing a poem. It's about famine and pestilence and man's inhumanity to man!"

UNCLE EDDIE (VO): "Oh, uh...right. Sorry I interrupted."



INT. KITCHEN:

UNCLE EDDIE (VO): "Penelope...do you know anything about my keys?"

PENELOPE: "Keys? Mmmmm, no. No keys here."



CHARLOTTE: "They're not up here either, Uncle Eddie."



PENELOPE: "I don't see anything down here."



UNCLE EDDIE (VO): 'Monica, have you..."

MONICA: "Nope, sorry. Ask Tracine."



ON THE BALCONY:

TRACINE: "Maybe you left them in the car. (Then, shouting down to the street) MINERVA! SEE IF UNCLE EDDIE'S KEYS ARE IN HIS CAR!"



ON THE STREET:

MINERVA: 'Keys? Okay!"


MINERVA: "Hmmmm, let's see...keys, keys, keys...hello, what's that?"



MINERVA (VO): "...They're here! I FOUND THEM!"



MINERVA (VO): Hi, little boy! Will you take these keys and give them to Uncle Eddie inside the house?


UNCLE EDDIE (VO): "Oh, thanks, kid! Tell, you what...go downstairs and tell the chef I said he should make you any kind of sandwich you like. Tell him to put lots of paper parasols and little plastic swords in it. Come to think of it, I'll go with you. I'll just get my jacket and...

...hey wait a minute! Where's my jacket!? TRAAAAACYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!"






Tuesday, November 24, 2009

THEORY CORNER BOOK REVIEW: "SUNDAGGER.NET"


Hello! This is Chico Cognoscenti, book reviewer for the Theory Corner literary magazine. Today we're going to explore the strange world of the modern woman's novel. The book is "Sundagger.net" by Margaret Murray.

It's a Tony Hillerman-type novel about an Anglo woman who's invited by modern Indians to participate in their sweat lodge ceremonies. It's not my thing, but I'd hoped that reading a little bit of a novel written by a woman exclusively for other women would give me some insight into the sex, and I wasn't disappointed.

Let's read a few paragraphs, shall we?



"Sara hurried, untying her hiking boots, pulling off her sweater, her black Levis, unhooking her black lace bra. the door creaked as one of Vera's seven cats, an all black streak of fur with one white paw, slipped in and meowed. Sara threw her thick, green socks in the duffle along with the clothes and slipped on the caftan....

...She saw herself in the mirror with her caftan ballooning around her ankles. Before she had time to disapprove of her big-boned face, her bright blond dyed hair, long and fuzzy, unraveling from the batik scarf she'd wrapped around her head an hour ago, she spied the gleam of her silver earrings and her turquoise choker. Quickly she took them off as well as her watch and Australian opal ring, a gift from her ex-husband, Paul, the year Dan was born. Sara dropped her jewelry in her cosmetic bag, along with her car keys, picked up her bagfull of clothes and rushed out, nearly slamming into a young woman outside the door...."




"She had a perfectly oval face, smooth peach skin, and almond shaped black eyes. Her thick, shining, black hair was twisted up in a gold and feather hair ornament. She wore a tiny orange halter and skintight blue jeans showing her perfect belly button. Sara couldn't help thinking how Deborah Yu (her co-worker) alternated between wearing similar designer tank tops made of silk with Calvin Klein jeans and logging boots...

So here was another newbie....who invariably wore skimpy bathing suits or tight short-shorts and T-strap tops without bras. This girl's firm, smooth body curved seductively...she looked both excited and fearful, her pert breasts bobbing beneath the orange jersey top."




"[This contrasted with Sara, who had] two large towels, one old and frayed to sit on inside the sweat lodge, another thick one for afterward when she would be streaming with sweat, and a pair of shapeless cotton underpants that she didn't mind getting soaked and dirty from sitting on the ground..."



Gee, women certainly seem to be fond of their underwear. It's hard to imagine a man describing his BVDs that way.

Come to think of it, women are always changing their clothes in this book, in the part I read anyway. I guess they really get a kick out of stuff like that. Of course it helps to have a cute, fluffy animal present, or to change in a room with memorable characteristics , like mildew on the floor or cold stones or peeling paint on the walls. I don't think men really care where they change. For us a toxic waste pit is just as suitable as a palace.



If you can trust the author, women are also obsessed with the details of life, and mementos...they LOVE mementos. One of the things I learned from this book is that if you're a bachelor, and you're going out with a girl, be sure to give her a one-of-a-kind gift that she can use to remember the experience...even if she didn't like you. Girls are strange, alien creatures. They don't know how silly it is to be sentimental like that, so we should take the opportunity to make them happy.

So, what's my review? My review is that I'm a guy. It's not meant for me. I'm glad I read a few pages, though.


BTW: To be fair to the author, I did some editing to highlight the clothing descriptions.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

DINNER WITH "THE MIRACLE WORKER"


EXT. SOUTHERN MANSION.

SON (VO): "Meanin' no disrespect Father, but Helen's deaf and blind. Maybe you expect too much of her."


THE COLONEL: "Tarnation! What makes you think I expect too much? I let her eat off my plate don't I? I simply said she'd benefit from some table manners!"



THE COLONEL (CONT): "Bless her li'l heart! It's not her fault that she's filthy and disgusting, and possibly evil. She needs some tender, lovin' care."



THE COLONEL (CONT): "That's why I hired The Miracle Worker!"



ON THE MIRACLE WORKER: She's doing some serious chowing down. She pauses to wave when she hears her name, then resumes eating.

FATHER (VO) (CONT): "She's a Yankee gal, but she knows that finger talk."



FATHER (VO) (CONT): "Maybe she can do some good."



SON: "But Father, maybe we don't need The Miracle Worker. Maybe Helen's never going to be better than she is right now."



SON (VO) (CONT): "Look at her. She spontaneously eats the food of others. She's a true child of nature."



SON (VO): "Maybe she's better off not knowin' the rules of man."



SON (VO) (CONT): "I envy her her. She lives in a simple world of gentleness and calm..."



SON (VO) (CONT): "...a gossamar, wispy world where the only emotions felt are those of happiness and love."







SFX: FWAP!!!!!































SFX: WHACK!!!!! She hits Helen with the spoon!















SFX: WHACK!!!!!!!!!


SFX: CRU-U-UNCH!!!! She bites Helen!











SFX: CLOOOONG!!!!!!!!! Helen hits The Miracle Worker with a baseball bat!



THE MIRACLE WORKER: (ROARS)



COLONEL: "MISS MIRACLE WORKER! I INSIST...I say I INSIST that you STOP this instant, before someone gets hurt!! Helen, you come outside with me! Poor child! You must be a bundle of nerves!"



EXT. OUTSIDE ON THE LAWN:

THE COLONEL: "Oh my Gosh! Look at this! She can hear and see! It's a miracle! The Miracle Worker has done it again!



















THE END