Wednesday, July 28, 2010

MY LAST (AND BEST) BETTE DAVIS POST

This'll be my last Bette Davis post for a while. I hate to put an end to this, but I think I'm boring everybody. Well, I'll go out with a bang by putting up what has become my favorite Bette/Joan Crawford story.  


Here it is, as told by Bette's daughter in her book, "My Mother's Keeper." I think the daughter is about twelve years old here (below). The incident takes place on the set of "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?", which as you know, costarred Betty Davis and Joan Crawford, who both hated each other.  Both women took their children to the set with them (click the book pages to enlarge).  



Add caption


Great story, huh!? Geez, my admiration for Joan Crawford doubled when I read this.  I  tacked on a little of the next paragraph about Joan's boobs because Bette's reaction to them was so funny.




On a different topic: a lot of critics consider "All About Eve" (1950) to be the high point of Bette's career. It wasn't, not by a long shot. There are some terrific lines in it, but she doesn't deliver them right. Don't take my word for it, see for yourself. Here's (above) her most famous line: "Buckle your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night." See what you think.

Did you watch it? Then you see what I mean. Bette's way too restrained. The line calls for style and she reads it almost straight, like it's just information. I don't entirely blame Bette. I also blame her director friend William Wyler, who someone on the net credited with talking her out of her over the top approach to everything. This is a story that requires over the top.






















I also blame Joseph Mankiewicz who wrote and directed the film. Mankiewicz writes great dialogue but he was an inept director in this period. Look at the boring compositionh in the picture above. That's how Mankiewicz shoots the most memorable line in the film. Can you believe it? It's the lamp's scene, not Bette's. 


Sometimes it seems like everything and everybody in the film is more important than Bette. In other scenes (not shown in the clip) even the maid, Thelma Ritter, is allowed to upstage her. What was Mankiewicz thinking of? He inexplicably downplays the star and lets everybody else go over the top. 


And what's with the awkward dress and the super wide hair style that de-emphasizes her face? What's with the flat lighting? What's with the camera angles that make the star look short and dumpy? Did Mankiewicz even like Bette Davis?




BTW: The awkward paragraph spacing in this post and others comes courtesy of Beta Blogger, which has great potential if the bugs can be ironed out.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

WAS BETTE DAVIS CRAZY?

The way I heard it, John Huston was so taken with Bette's over the top rage in "Of Human Bondage," that he was hot to do a film with her which would be one long mad scene.  With "In This Our Life" (1942) (above) he finally got his chance.


















The expressions Betty makes in this film are not to be believed.  She must have spent a lot of time in front of mirrors at home, figuring it all out. 



You have to admire her for putting so much into a role that made her look evil and crazy.



















Bette was a live action cartoon character. I can't believe that no modern animation studio except Spumco ever attempted to use poses like this.






















Animation fans talk about Disney's Cruella de Vil as if she were the ultimate example of villainous cartoon acting. She's okay, but she can't hold a candle to Bette (above).  Disney should have pushed Cruella farther.


















Here (above) Bette begs a dying old man to help her get out of a crime she committed.  He's only moments away from meeting his maker and can't force himself to pay attention to her.


















She's outraged at his self-absorption (above) and gives him a piece of her mind. The last thing he sees on Earth is Bette screaming at him. What a scene!




















Oooch! Big mistake (above)! Never slap a crazy person, not unless you want to find arsenic in your morning tea.
Look at the way Bette reacts to the slap.




















Bette plays crazy so well, that it's hard to resist wondering if she was crazy in real life. I wish I knew. She certainly had a reputation for being hard to get along with.  Her daughter wrote a vitriolic "Mommy Dearest"-type biography, called "My Mother's Keeper" which I'm reading right now, but there's no way of telling if the book is reliable. 





















That's Olivia de Havilland above. I digress to include her here just to call attention to the number of good manhandling scenes there are in the Huston film. We could do this easily in 2D animation, but you're not likely to see it in computer films. In 3D the polygons would interfere with each other and produce a hideous monster. 


Back to Bette acting crazy: Vincent Sherman, the director of my favorite Bette film, "Old Acquaintance," had an interesting story to tell about it.  He said Bette gave him a lot of trouble at the outset of the film but eventually became friendly. Even so he got the feeling that he was walking on eggs, and had to be very careful. 

One day, near the end of the project, Bette confided to him that she loved him, and he didn't know how to respond. Soon after her husband (or boyfriend...I can't remember) came to visit Sherman and advised him, for his own good, to be careful, that having an affair with Bette would be like taking a bull by the horns. The implication was that Bette was crazy. The affair never occurred, and Bette and Sherman parted amicably. 



























Sherman looked forward to working with his old friend on their next film together, "Mr. Skeffington," and was shocked when, with no warning, Bette showed up on the set ready for war, and loudly refused to co-operate with Sherman on absolutely anything.  The entire shooting became a famous disaster.


So was Bette crazy? I don't know, but does it matter? If she was crazy we can be grateful that she channeled that craziness into her art, and by doing so redefined film acting. 













Wednesday, July 21, 2010

MY RANT ABOUT MODERN ARCHITECTURE

Where would you rather live? Here (above).........

















....or here (above)?












Which is easier on the eye? This (above)..........

















....or this (above)?


















Listen to my rant against modern architecture on the latest ASIFA Archive podcast, link below:



And on another subject.....















Holy Cow! It's time for The San Diego Comic Con!!!!!!! 


In a few hours all the LA cartoonists will have migrated to San Diego. Almost none of our ilk will be left in the city. The studios will be dark and empty. Computer screens will flicker aimlessly, and automatic urinals will flush needlessly. Here and there a lonely and unloved curmudgeon will do his miserable work in silence, believing that his absence down South is somehow making a statement.






















To everybody else: may you find what you're looking for in San Diego! Good hunting!


This blog will resume after the convention, on Sunday night, July 25th!



Sunday, July 18, 2010

WHAT KIND OF ADS SUCCEED ON THE NET?



The answer is: Almost none. Almost no ads succeed big on the internet. The truth is, it's a lousy place to advertise. It's kinda sad because advertisers are throwing dollars at the net these days, and they're not going to get most of them back.


Okay: iTunes, ebay, Amazon, porn, airline and hotel booking agents, gambling and dating services are making out like bandits on the net....but, really, who else is? Try to sell detergent or coffee on the net. You can't.

Try asking your friends this question, and see what answers you get: "Can you name an ad for a product you discovered on the net, (but not on Amazon or eBay) that gave you an intense desire to own it?" I bet you'll draw a blank.  Nobody takes internet ads seriously. It's odd because we can all name print and TV ads that had that made us salivate. I'd kill to have TV products like AirHog or a Fushigiball or a bladeless fan. I'll bet my daughter is mulling over Boody Pop right now.



Maybe the net's a bad place to advertise because it's a bad place to tell stories.  Print and TV excel at stories, and the net doesn't.  That's important to know because fiction, or documentary that's structured like fiction, is what drives sales on TV.  You buy Donald Duck Orange Juice because you've grown to like and trust Donald Duck on TV, and you secretly believe that Donald will somehow know you've bought his juice.

 In my opinion advertisers made a big mistake in not supporting print and broadcast media, even when their audiences declined.  The net's not a great place to discover a new product, but it's a killer place to follow up on a desire that's been planted in your head by another medium.

BTW: John K just told me how he would advertise on the net if given the chance, and the ideas were brilliant. That prompts me to amend what I said here to something like,  SO FAR advertising hasn't worked well on the net.

Friday, July 16, 2010

BETTE DAVIS ACTING TECHNIQUES

I'm a huge Bette Davis fan, and so are lots of people in the animation industry.  In view of that, it's hard to imagine why her style of acting, or anything remotely similar to it,  never gets into gig studio feature animation. Our industry churns out cartloads of perky, predictable, feminist Cal Arts heroines that nobody cares about. You'd think that in all that clutter somebody would find room for a heroine based on a different model.  Someone more like...well, like Bette. 

I thought it might be fun to examine what that style consists of.  It's a big subject, and we won't be able to cover it all in one post, but we can make a start.



















Come to think of it, maybe modern actresses would have a hard time doing what Bette did, because her acting style was built around around carefully articulated speech, and not many film actors study that any more.  Bette gives almost every new syllable a different facial expression.

I also love the technique (above) called "leading with your eyes," a trick used so often by Davis that it ought to be named after her.  

















Boy, she really fishes (above) for those those consonants.  She inflates her chest and cranks her head up in order to snatch them from the air.














Davis has great cheeks (above) , that look sunny when she smiles.  Sometimes she plays against type and combines happy cheeks with seedy eyes. 















Sometimes she says a whole word or two with her eyes closed.  Dark eyelashes and high, clearly defined eyelashes  on a smooth face help the effect.


















Sometimes Bette scans the person she's talking to (above) with her eyes. She carefully studies the wrinkles and buttons on the other person's shirt while they talk. This is a classic scene stealer's trick.




















Talking about scene stealing, here's (above) Davis stealing a scene from Mariam Hopkins.  Hopkins does a lot a lot of broad crying here, and no doubt believed she was the center of attention when the scene was shot,  but the scene really belongs to Bette.  She employs an attention-getting stare that vaudevillians called "the fish."

Once Davis stole a scene from another actress by unbuttoning her blouse in the shadows behind the woman. Davis played hardball, no doubt about it. Let me make it clear that I'm not criticizing her for this. She honed scene stealing into an effective style, and backed it up with virtuoso acting. I wouldn't have wanted her to change a thing.

















Davis (above)must have spent a lot of time infront of a mirror, getting the character right.




She could make faces that were unique and unforgettable, like the one above.  Talk about a picture being worth a thousand words....


Ditto.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I REVIEW THE iPAD


A couple of days ago I visited Steve Worth and he let me play with his new, fully-loaded iPad. To say I was impressed would be an understatement.  More than ever I'm convinced that this device is a true game changer, and not just an expensive toy.  Buy one and you may never use your laptop again.

To begin with, this thing is FUN to use. Navigating with it is like working a video game controller. You use your thumbs a lot, and you end up moving the machine all over the place, at least I did.  I'll come back to this in a minute.















The negatives? Let's see.....it was a little heavier than expected, but you get used to that.  A number of important places to tap weren't marked, but you get used to that, too. The scrolling overshot a bit. I forgot to test it on a Flash film,  but I watched part of Clampett's "Tortoise Wins by a Hare," and it was gorgeous. I couldn't find a still frame mode, but the paused frames were rock steady. The resolution was superb, far superior to the one on the laptop that was in the room.

















The fun aspect of the device is difficult to exaggerate.  Using it is an intense experience. You get a lot accomplished in a short amount of time, and have a ton of fun doing it. You have so much fun that it's a bit exhausting, and after a while you're ready to put it down and do things in the real world. Isn't that wonderful!? If you have a computer addiction, this might be the cure.




I wonder what changes this new medium will bring? Every new medium favors a new type of content. What will look horrible on iPad that currently looks good on desktops? My own  blog for one thing. I hate to admit it, but this blog sucks on the new machine. It looks fine on my widescreen desktop where there's plenty of room for sidebars, but it gets clobbered on the pad. Good Grief! Am I doomed to end up on the trash heap of history!?


Oh, one more thing...just a small item, nothing important.......nothing except: SKETCHBOOK PRO IS AVAILABLE AS AN APP...AND IT COSTS ONLY EIGHT FREAKING DOLLARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And (possibly) no need to own a cintiq....with a stylus the iPad may serve as a cintiq! Can you imagine that? GOOD LORD! STEVE JOBS IS A MIRACLE WORKER!


BTW: I have no experience with the Sketchbook Pro app, so I haven't personally seen the iPad function as a cintiq. This is how it was described by an article on the net, and I pass it on to you. Buyer beware!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A SHORT PLAY: "THE FRAME STORE"



INT. FRAME SHOP: AT THE COUNTER. A customer (BILL) talks on his cel phone while he waits for the proprietor. 


BILL (ON HIS CEL PHONE): "Yeah, you're not going to believe what happened! I found the perfect frame for that piece. It's green and looks like laminated cow skin. The only problem was the price: $300! That's more than I paid for the artwork! Anyway, the clerk orders it for me, and I put half the money down.


No, wait! There's more! I walk across the street and, lo and behold, I find another store that sells the same frame for half the price.  I couldn't believe it! Half the price! So I run back to the original store to get my money back, only it occurs to me that they might not want to give it to me, so I make up a story. You're going to die when you hear it! It's brilliant! It should be in the Museum of Excuse Stories. Wait a minute....here comes the guy who runs the place. I gotta go!"


He pockets the phone. 


PROPRIETOR: "Hey! You just bought a frame. Don't tell me you want another one  already!"


BILL: "Well, not exactly. See, what happened is...I got a parking ticket while I was in here. It's expensive, so...I hate to say it...I won't be able to buy the frame I was going to buy. I just can't afford it now."


PROPRIETOR: "Geez, that's too bad! It was a nice frame."


BILL: "Yeah. It's turning out to be one of those days."


PROPRIETOR: "How much was it for?

BILL: "How much was what for?"

PROPRIETOR: "The ticket. How much was it for?"

BILL: "Oh yeah, the ticket...it was, um...Three hundred dollars."

PROPRIETOR: "THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS!!!??" It's not supposed to be $300 here! This is Santa Monica. Two hundred and fifty is what you get for a ticket here!"

BILL: "Well, I could be mis..."

PROPRIETOR: "Let me ask my partner. DAVE,  COME OUT HERE FOR A MINUTE!"

DAVE comes out with a big roll of plastic in his arms. He puts it down. 

DAVE: "Bubble wrap. I'm making a place for it in the back. What can I do you for?"

PROPRIETOR: "It's not for me, it's for him. This guy just got a parking ticket for 300 bucks."

DAVE: "THREE HUNDRED BUCKS!!??? It's never three hundred in Santa Monica! It's 250! Everybody knows that! Do you know what that means?"

BILL: "Wait a minute, if you're trying to imply that I'm..."

DAVE (TO THE PROPRIETOR): "That means fifty bucks for the cop!"

PROPRIETOR: "Yep, fifty bucks! If he does 10 of those in a day, that's $500 a day."

DAVE: "$2,500 a week!"

PROPRIETOR: (on a calculator) "$125,000 a year! That's a felony!"

BILL: "Well, I..."

DAVE: "Man, I hate to hear stuff like this! It really eats at me, ya know? It just tears my guts out! One dirty cop ruins it for everybody! Santa Monica's a good town, and it deserves better than this. I'm gonna take this up with the city council!"

BILL: "Well, there's no use bothering the city councilmen..."

DAVE: "Whaddaya mean? I AM A CITY COUNCILMAN! Lemme see the ticket."

BILL: "The ticket?"

DAVE, PROPRIETOR (TOGETHER): "The ticket!"

BILL: "Well...well...er...um, the cop took it away. I just gave him a check."

PROPRIETOR: "What!!?? A check???  He took a CHECK from you???""

DAVE: "Whoa! Hold on! He's not supposed to take a check from you. He's not supposed to handle any money at all! Geeeez! This is big! The police here get federal money. That means the F.B.I.'s gonna get involved!" 

PROPRIETOR: "Congress, maybe! People are gonna get sent up for this!"

He reaches for the phone. 

BILL: "What are you doing!?" 

PROPRIETOR: "I'm gonna call the police."

BILL (MORTIFIED):  "No, no, wait!...put the phone down...just put the phone down!"

PROPRIETOR: "Wha...?"

BILL: "I um...well, I might as well just...spit it out.  I, uh.... I found a place across the street that sells the same frame for half the price. You charge $300 and they charge 150 for the same thing. I... just...wanted...to........to.... get-the-money-back-so-I-could-buy-it-from-them-instead.  There, I said it."

AN AWKWARD MOMENT as all three stare at the floor in silence, then....


DAVE: "I gotta put this bubble wrap away!"

DAVE EXITS.

PROPRIETOR: "Aw, that wasn't nice."

BILL: "Look, I'm really sorry. Tell you what. I'll still take the frame from you. I gave you half before,  and I'll pay you the rest now. You don't have to wait til the order comes in. It's the least I can do. "


PROPRIETOR: "Alright. I'll write up a receipt......Here." 


BILL: "Wait a minute! This for a hundred dollars extra. It says here that you're giving me gold wire and platinum nails. I didn't ask for that!"


PROPRIETOR (LOOKS BILL IN THE EYE): "Sure you did."

DAVE (AFTER A BEAT, RESIGNED): "(sigh!) Sure I did."


BILL, broken, exits the store. Just as he does,  a nervous woman enters.


WOMAN (TO PROPRIETOR): "Um, I was in here a little while ago and ordered a frame. I hate to ask for this, but I need my down payment back. The doctor just said that my poor mother is sick. We'll need the money for medicine."


PROPRIETOR: "Gee, that's a shame. What kind of sickness does she have?"


WOMAN: "What kind? Um...er...um, rheumatism."


PROPRIETOR: "Rheumatism!!!?? Nobody throws up over rheumatism! Who is this doctor? Who did he tell you he was? Maybe he's a not a real doctor! I hate to see people get cheated! Let me ask my partner about this. DAVE, CAN YOU COME OUT HERE FOR A MINUTE!!???"


FADE OUT.


THE END


The play is copyright 2010 by Eddie Fitzgerald. Anyone can use it for non-commercial purposes without asking, as long as the authorship is attached.



Friday, July 09, 2010

MORE ABOUT WALLY WOOD



Remember this picture (above)? I put it up a week ago to illustrate the point that Wally Wood certainly loved his Ikea furniture. I kinda like it too. Thanks to Ikea, anybody can have a 50s bachelor pad at a reasonable price. 

Anyway, I thought the picture above deserved a second look. It reminds me that the young and struggling Wood was probably pretty dependant on his magazine reference. Before he worked on Mad, Wood shared an office with realistic artists Frazetta and Williamson, and was under a lot of pressure to improve his realistic drawing quickly. 























For interior backgrounds Wood seemed to prefer reference that that emphasized perspective and the blocky nature of furniture. My guess is that he chose these because he was insecure about his use of perspective and found the clarity and simplicity of these mathematical pictures to be helpful. 


I like to think that somewhere along the line it dawned on him that the simple perspectives he was using were funny. Maybe he began to laugh at his own pictures. Maybe after a point he decided that competing with Williamson and Frazetta for realism was pointless, and he broke out into pure style. 




















You could argue that his handling of human characters evolved the same way. At first Wood relied heavily on magazine reference. The girl above strikes a fashion magazine pose when she points her gun.  Look at her legs and feet. That's an odd way to stand when you're supposed to be in the throws of murderous passion. 

Eventually Wood would transcend this too obvious use of reference, but a lot of people believe he did uniquely interesting work in this period, when he had a foot in both worlds, and was making a transition to something more stylized.  The reference anchored him, made his work more complex. The space patrol girl is funny in her model pose, but she's also dignified, confident, and iconic. Her contradictions make her a puzzle that we enjoy trying to solve. And it all takes place in a bizarre bachelor pad full of obsessively blocky shapes. 

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Could this (above) have been the magazine ad that Wood referenced?   The legs are the same, so is the hair style...sort of.  The model's also off balance, just like the space girl in Wood's picture. 


Anyway, this is what I'm arguing here: that first out of necessity, then by choice, Wood thrust Pepsi Generation models into outer space to encounter hideous monsters.


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

WARD & BETTY KIMBALL


I was about to post something else when I discovered these pictures of the young Ward Kimball and his wife Betty on  Cartoon Brew.  I immediately put my own post aside, so I could put these up instead.  They're just too good to get anything less than the widest possible attention. 


As I said, the picture above is of animator Ward Kimball and his wife Betty.  Betty recently died at age 97. I don't know if I've ever seen a photo which so perfectly conveys young love.  The two seem so right for each other, so serene in each other's company.  If Eisenstadt or some other famous photographer had taken it, it would find its way onto the walls of a major museum.  Since it's a personal, family photo I don't know what its fate will be. 

























Above, a beautiful sketch, which also conveys the feeling the  two had for each other.  What a powerful medium pencil and paper is when it's in the right hands!
























Ward did this sketch (above) of Betty sleeping. Very nice! I wish I could have met her when she was alive!  I'm glad the two had each other.

Thanks to Amid for putting up the pictures I swiped.  You can see the whole set at Cartoon Brew, July 4th entry:



Sunday, July 04, 2010

IT'S JULY FOURTH!!!!!


This (above) is a short video I made a couple of years ago to express what I felt about the Fourth of July. I considered  remaking it, but after watching it again I concluded that I'm not likely to improve on it,  so here it is, in all its 2008 glory.



While I'm at it, I'll throw in this nifty opening title from HBO's John Adams series.



Last, but not least, here's (above) a brief excerpt from that series where John Adams publicly commits to the ideal of liberty. I always get misty-eyed over stuff like this.

Have a good Fourth everybody!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

RECENT ASTRONOMICAL PICTURES

More terrific photos from the Cassini orbiter! I still can't believe that it's possible to see the surface of a moon circling far away Saturn. Here's (above) a giant crater on Mimas. Be sure to click to enlarge all of the photos in this post.
 























Above, another moon of Saturn,  a small one called Phoebe. Maybe it's a captured comet.
 


























No doubt everybody here is familiar with the Horsehead Nebula. I thought you'd like to see it in context, framed by a ring of gas.  The horsehead is the backlit, little chess piece in the upper middle of the picture.

























This (above) is M66, one of the closest galaxies. It's a lot more impressive when seen large.


This is a detail of the edge of a another nearby galaxy.  Enlargement is a must.





Above, the Rosette Nebula.








Above, the stunningly beautiful Great Nebula in Orion.




























The Itokawa Asteroid...and it has no craters! What gives!? It must have been recently formed. And what are all those pimple boulders doing there?