Thursday, February 21, 2008


Here's my favorite MC Hammer video. Man, Hammer could dance! All that jumping...surely even professionals had their lungs jumping out of their chests after a number like this! You'd swear the background dancers were defying gravity.

This one's very far from James Brown's best video but I include it because it gives us a sustained look at his unique dancing style. If the weirdness of the video bums you out, you can clean your eyes with "Night Train," also on YouTube.

Here's Eddie Murphy making fun of the way James Brown talks.

Monday, February 18, 2008


ANNOUNCER:  "Yes, he's The Smoker, and a smoker knows many things.  Through the curling wisps of tobacco smoke he perceives truth and error....and MURDER!"

The Smoker:  "She was a looker alright. Young, feminine and confident, maybe over-confident, maybe a little too worldly for her own good. I know the type well. In the photos she's dressed in high fashion and low inhibitions...just a rich Dad who can afford a private dick like me when one day she just vanished into thin air. 

The only lead I had I was this address in the country that I fished out of her waste basket.  It's not much to go on but it's a place to start. That's it, that farm up ahead." 

"Hey Buddy, you mind if I ask a couple of questions?"

"You haven't seen this girl around here, have you?  She hasn't done anything wrong, I just want to talk to her.  No? But you didn't look at the picture..Here, take a look!"

"I shot a quick look inside and there was somebody inside bowed over a table counting something in the darkness. Why's the house so dark in the middle of the day? "

"Hey, don't think I could use your phone do you?  Just a local call. I'll just go in and...."

"Hey, hey, no need to get rough. I just wanted to make a call that's all."

"OK, I'll be seeing you! Have a good day and all that! I know you have to get back to your farming!"

"Farming in a pig's eye! That's a city rat if I ever saw one.  Something here doesn't add up!"

"I gotta bring the law in on this right away. If she's in there, there's no time to loose!"

"What the...!? Somebody's on the road! Get outta the way, ya......"


ANNOUNCER:  "Who was the mysterious figure on the road? Why did he risk his life to flag down The Smoker?  Did The Smoker survive the crash!? What about the girl!? Was she in the farmhouse? And who was the figure counting in the shadows?  Find out next week, when we present another exciting episode of.......THE SMOKER!!!!"


Sunday, February 17, 2008


I like to kid about the beauty of buck teeth, and an unexpected outcome of that kidding has been that I've convinced myself for real that buck teeth are genuinely beautiful. That's so counter-intuitive that I thought I'd better stop and think, to see if I really mean what I seem to be saying.  I think I do...sort of. 

That's me above, with a piece of paper serving as my buck teeth. On the basis of the photo above I'd say that buck teeth make you look younger, and that doesn't hurt.  Buck teeth make you appear idealistic as well, another unexpected benefit. 

Of course there's no denying that buck teeth make you look stupid...or do they?  The Nutty Proffessor looks stupid but his fake buck teeth are superimposed on a normal dental template and are obvious symbols for comedy.  

Real buck teeth occur on on a forward thrusting palette, and in context, don't look so bad. Take a look at the kid above. His buck teeth look good to me and if I was his dad I might consider doing without braces. Or maybe I wouldn't, I don't know.

Here's (above) another example of fake buck teeth on a normal palette. It doesn't look right.

Why is this girl (above) said to have "The Ugly Betty" look?  She looks fine to me. Does she really need braces? 

Sometimes buck teeth are blamed when the real culprit is a weak chin.  Buck teeth are fine for my taste, and so are weak chins, but the combination of the two is a sure visual symbol for stupidity, regardless of how intelligent the person may really be. I have both, but I take it in stride. There's no use worrying about what you can't change. I wouldn't look like me with a strong chin, and I wouldn't give up my buck teeth for anything.
This (above) is my species. We evolved overbite and buck teeth to better masticate the gnarly fruits and bark to be found on high jungle branches. If a comet strikes the Earth again bark biters like us will carry on the human genotype. We stand ready to give our all for the continuation of human life on our planet!*

* OK, I made up that stuff about high branches but there must be some advantage to buck teeth. I have noticed that we tend to be sexier. You never see buck-toothed bachleors.



My vote for the most under-rated technology, the sleeper that's most likely to completely alter the future in 50 years or so, is virtual reality. VR isn't very visible in the consumer market right now. I guess the novelty wore off after it was introduced 15 years ago in video arcades.

The headsets were clunky and the graphics were pretty poor. Back then I thought game companies would go after VR, and they did for a short time, but interest wained.

I like the films about VR: "Lawnmower Man," "Dreamscape," "Vituosity," and "The Matrix." In a way I like Lawnmower man the best, even though it was objectively the worst of the films I mentioned. The other films posited that we'd want virtual reality to mimic real life. Only Lawnmower Man posited that we might prefer to live in artificial, man-made worlds which resemble abstract video games like Mario Brothers.

One day, maybe in our kids' lifetime, quantum computers will give us the power to create whatever worlds we like. Almost certainly a lot of people will prefer VR to the real world. Some might not even feel like eating and may starve to death. If I could fly, if I could reach for things with arms as long as football fields, if I could be an insect or a T-Rex, if I could sleep in a bird's nest or be a fish in a lagoon, if I could have unlimited sex and explore the atomic world by flying through molecules....if I could do all that, maybe I wouldn't want to leave the virtual world either.

On the other hand, maybe reality is the ultimate virtual world. There are so many weird and unpredictable mysteries, even in a leaf. Maybe the more realistic VR gets, the more people will learn to crave and appreciate reality. Who knows?

Thursday, February 14, 2008


I thought I'd do a whole post on the subject of Clampett's "Buckaroo Bugs," but I quickly realized that the cartoon is so rich that I could scarcely do justice to a whole sequence here, let alone the whole film. Maybe I'll focus in more narrowly, just on the cartooning in one of the sequences.

Clampett was lucky to have an animator, Rod Scribner, who was a terrific cartoonist as well as a brilliant animator. He could draw funny, he could move things funny, he could act a character and project a winning personality, and he had that indefinable thing that's so rare in the industry...charisma. Since Clampett had a lot of these virtues himself, the match was made in heaven.

The title card credits Manny Gould as the principal animator in this cartoon. I wish I could tell which scenes were his. I'm crediting Scribner with the animation here, because it looks like his style, but Clampett's practice of switching animators in mid-scene can make identification difficult.

Anyway, here's the cartoon, starting about a quarter of the way in. Bugs is pretending to be a bandit and has just denuded Red Hot Ryder with a magnet to the belt buckle.

Before we talk about the action, check out what's happening in the drawing above. Bugs is a big guy wearing a black mask, which is a strong graphic symbol denoting mystery and menace. Red Hot Ryder is a tiny little guy with panties and what appears to be woman's shoes (they're actually short boots).

It's a clash of opposites with big, pretending-to-be-mean Bugs attacking what looks like a poor little lady. A third element is the absurdly over-sized hat, which has a life of its own and threatens to overshadow whatever Bugs and the "lady" do.

Bugs makes like he's going to grapple with the little guy but instead comically attacks the guy's hat.

He pulls up on the hat and the little guy is pulled along with it. Look how inert the little guy is! It's funny to see a body that had a will and a structure a moment before, suddenly become a wet sack of potatoes. This is not only a funny thing to do, but it underlines the idea that gravity is attempting to hold everything down and sets up the gravity-gags to follow.

This is a good example of how exaggerated, cartooney handling -- the suddenly inert body -- makes for interesting animation possibilities. If I were an animator I'd kill to get scenes with gravity gags because they're fun and make use of the unique capabilities of animation. Don't expect to find gags like this in scripts written by non-artist writers.

BTW, the long, back part of the hat (above) is a great visual joke. Why are long, sagging things that stretch out behind us funny? Do they remind us of testicles or loaded baby diapers? I'm not sure.

Clampett was a visceral director. He did lots of gags about things that are funny for reasons that are difficult to put into words. Most other artists avoided gags like that but Clampett reveled in them. Life contains zillions of funny but hard to articulate anomalies, but among the Warner directors, only Clampett seemed to be interested in them.

Here (above) the hat as wet bed sheet (or pizza dough) is emphasized. Bugs' earnest, serious expression is a terrific contrast to the absurdity of it all.

How do you like the funny proportions in Ryder's body: a long torso, a bulbous round pelvis, then stubby little legs with girl shoes. Genius!

Bugs (above) suddenly covers Ryder with the stretched out hat.

The momentum (above) causes him to flip over.

Ryder (above) stands and flails around inside the hat.

Bugs (above) needs to run off screen to set up the next gag, but instead of going into an immediate run he instead flails around with Ryder for an instant. I had to cut frames to compress the action so you may not see the scramble here. I mention it because I like it when characters unexpectedly go in and out of synchronization with each other. You see it in Fred Astaire movies and it's devastatingly effective.

When it's time to leave bugs just leans into his run and is offstage in an instant.

More cute pantie shots (above). Notice that Ryder has stepped out of his pants while we was flailing.

He steps back into his pants, which for some inexplicable reason I find funny, and the hat brim takes over as the dominant funny element. Here the brim develops wings, sort of. I always find it funny when a comedic character has a suddenly billowing cape or a loose, blowing skirt. Maybe that's because you don't expect a fleshed-out, three-dimensional character to become, without warning, a graphic symbol.

The big, floppy brim (above) really dominates now. it's like a wet bed sheet.

Ryder (above) pushes up and it pops off.

Now it billows out (above) and settles down. Look at the oodles of energized space that's enclosed between the hat and the top of Ryder's head. Artists love stuff like this. We're constantly amazed at the efficacy of the tools at our command. Only a moment before, the scene was about how much like pizza dough the hat was. Now the scene is about the gracefulness of the falling hat and the power of unexpectedly enclosed and activated space.

Now the hat (above) goes back to its previous shape, which is delightfully drawn. Simultaneously we're reminded of how stupid-looking and funny Ryder is. This sets us up for a bunch of stupid poses that are coming shortly.

I'm just amazed at how frequently Scribner and/or Clampett change the focus of the gag within a scene. One thing is emphasized and then another, and yet the scene retains it's over-all unity of purpose.

I'd intended to comment on a the frames that follow but look how much space it's taken just to describe the few pictures we've seen so far. Clampett cartoons are so rich that you could spend hours analyzing simple actions.

I'll leave up the remaining frames without comment. Remember that I had to drop frames to compress the action.

Oops! I can't help but comment on this one (above)! Ryder puts down his guns and withdraws his hands. That doesn't sound like much, and it won't seem like much in still pictures like the one above, but when you see it in motion it's hilarious!

I associate this technique with Friz because he used it so often. He realized that the simple, understated act of picking things up and putting them down can be incredibly funny when it's done right.