Friday, January 01, 2010


I got an interesting Christmas present in my stocking this year: The 1935 Seymour Hicks version of Dickens' "Christmas Carol." What a treat! It's not a good film, and Hicks is a terrible Scrooge,  but seeing what this film did wrong made me realize what the 1951 Alister Sims version did right, so I was glad to have gotten it. If you're curious to see what I'm talking about, then read on.

For me the fascinating thing about the Hicks version (called "Scrooge") is that the mistakes it makes are ones I might have made myself if I'd directed it. It's like seeing someone fall down a manhole when they stepped into the very place I was going to step.  But those mistakes aren't evident at the start. The film begins just fine with grand and ominous music which turns into "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Well, you can't argue with that. So far, so good.

Then we establish old London with a shot of the rooftops at night. No narration. The grand orchestral version of "Hark" is replaced with a cheesier version done by street musicians, and that motivates a pan down to Scrooge's office. A natural sequence of events you say but...uhoh...I'm already feeling antsy. Something's gone amiss. But what? The move seems logical enough.

Inside Scrooge's office we slowly dolly up to his back. The filmmaker wants to tease us with a back shot that doesn't reveal yet...a standard trick...but it's not working! Geez, I'm getting itchy, just thinking about it. Something is terribly wrong!

The camera slowly swings around and shows us Cratchit at his desk, struggling to keep warm. In the minutes that follow he tries to sneak some coal into the stove and Scrooge finally turns and yells at him. Once again we have what seems like a natural sequence of why is it so screamingly wrong!?

I could go on like this, but instead I'll ask a question: the filmmaker obviously believes the relationship between Scrooge and Cratchit is the central conflict in the film. Do you agree?

And another quetion: Seymour Hicks serves up a Scrooge who's an elderly, one-dimensional miser. Is that really what Dickens had in mind? [Jenny Lerew makes an interesting answer in the comments to the previous post.]

I infinitely prefer the 1951 Alister Sims version, which in America is known as "The Christmas Carol." It begins with a page from Dickens' book (above) and this time there's a narrator. He says, "Old Marley was dead as a doornail. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing meaningful can come of the story I'm going to relate."

That's a marvelously playful beginning! The beautiful words inform us that this is a story which will be constructed with bricks of virtuoso dialogue and showmanship. The Hicks film attempted to make a conventional drama out of the story. Big mistake! Christmas Carol is a drama alright, but it's also a performance piece, a platform for unforgetable images and wit, a poetic edifice, a vehicle for word music. it's more than drama. All my favorite stories are like that, including cartoon stories.

Inside the stock exchange (above0 Scrooge walks up to camera as the narrator explains that "The register of Marley's burial was signed by Scrooge, and Scrooge's name was good on the Exchange for anything he chose to put his hand to." That's a beautiful sentence, isn't it? Anyway, he's stopped by two business men who inquire if he's leaving early because it's Christmas Eve. Scrooge responds with wonderful "humbug"-type dialogue and storms out.

I like the idea of beginning the story in a social setting, and especially one as formal and institutional as the stock exchange. The setting makes fills us with wonder that mankind can organize itself to accomplish great things, and yet still be moved to celebrate deeply sentimental holidays like Christmas.

The scene also introduces us to Scrooge, who far from being a rigid old miser, is a witty warrior ready to do battle with the sea of idiots he believes surround him. And I like the fact that Sims is a young man playing an old man. The role demands an actor who can plausibly seem to possess boundless energy if only he'd remove the obstacles that confine it.

Outside (above), Scrooge is acousted by a guy who begs more time to pay his debts. If Scrooge won't give him an extention he and his wife will have to go to debtor's prison.  The back and forth is so skillfully and musically done, and Scrooge's "humbug" dialogue is so funny, that the scene is easily elevated into a set piece. Arguably the scene inside the exchange was a near set piece, too. Dickens loves his set pieces. The film has barely started and we've already had two...but hold your hat! Another one is on the way, the best one in the whole film.

I refer of course to the one where the two public-spirited men hit up Scrooge for a donation for the poor. It's the most memorable thing in the film. Don't ever let anybody tell you that best scenes should be saved for the later part of a story. Set-ups are almost always the most important part of a story, and best scenes are used to greatest advantage there.

There's more to say, but I guess that's all there's room for. Soon I'll put up the Theory Corner Store where I'll sell pamphlets covering subjects like this in more detail than I'm able to do here.  The price will be low enough that you'll be to afford it even if you're living in a cardboard box, and have to read with a flashlight.

BTW: My friend Byron Vaughns is selling off part his comic collection. He tells me he's parting with his vintage HAHA and GIGGLE comics, some for as low as 5 bucks. I haven't seen them, but these titles are highly regarded by animation artists. Check out the list on his site:

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


The wide-angled picture above was intended to open a parody of "The Christmas Carol" but my kid is visiting, and he's hogging the computer. I can't get enough time on the machine to shoot the story. Oh well, it's great to have him home for the holidays. I'll just have to put up something else. Too bad. Scrooge is the role I was born to play.

Well, let's see....what do you think of this (above)? This is one of a bunch of pictures that I shot on a whim at various times, and couldn't find a use for. There's some more here...hmmmmm.....

                                          Egad! I'm Howard Stern (above)!

Let me try an experiment.  I want to see if these pictures will take the same layout on the blog that I'm seeing when I type.

Jake the barber (above) encounters the girl of his dreams while on his lunch hour. If I were a photographer I'd try mightily to shoot candid pictures with themes like this, but I'd probably fail.The chance of capturing real moments like this must be one in a million.

Here William Buckley (left) interviews....

...Noam Chomsky (above)...

...and it's all observed by Robert Culp (left).

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Just before Christmas Steve Worth sent me a comment about the new histories of the circus and of magic by Taschen, and I just spent some time looking at them on the Taschen book site. Wow, very nice! Very pricey, too... over $200 for both books; too much for my budget. Even so, they're worth a mention here. I get a million ideas when I look at stuff like that.

One of the ideas has to do with something I might have mentioned before, viz., that LA (and every town with cultural aspiration) desperately needs an arts district, or, more specifically, an arts street like the one in Edo depicted by Hiroshige above and below.

I prefer an arts street on the old Japanese model, with open store fronts and raised stages for hucksters to hype what's inside.

Here's (above) a ground view of the same pedestrian street. My preference is to limit the stores to crafts theater: marionettes, puppets, ethnic dancers, magic shows, circus-style acrobatics, small-scale live theater and the like. It would be great if movie theaters and contemporary dance halls were close by, but this street should be reserved for up-close entertainments of a more traditional Japanese sort.

Here (above) you can better see the small stages and balconies reserved for the barkers. I don't see any stairs, so I wonder how customers were expected to enter these shops.

The second floor (above) would offer a superb view of the street and shops.

The facades should all be Japanese, but I picture some of the entertainments as being old European (above).

Some would be European, but most would be Japanese, or at least Asian. Here's (above and below) a couple of pictures of modern-day Hanoi's "Long Water Puppet Theater." Things like this would work well on the arts street.

Do the puppeteers really work underwater?

Many thanks to Craig, who sent me this video clip (above) in a comment. According to Craig the puppets are on long, hollow poles with strings inside, and the puppeteers are standing behind the silk fence in the background.

Old European magic shows (above) are second to none in their appeal to the weird and exotic, so I might throw some of them in there too.

Man, I love magic shows!

I love carnival shows (above), too. Is their any way to integrate American carnival with the Japanese theme? Maybe not.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Hey, it's me, Uncle Eddie! You're not going to believe what happened!

John V. sent me a Christmas song...and it's about me!!!! It's a rewrite of "Must Be Santa!"

What are we waiting for? Let's sing it! I'll just dial up some music to go with it...there, that's it (Bob Dylan's "Must Be Santa")!

Who admires Glen Kennedy's work?
Eddie admires Glen Kennedy's work!
Who thinks Ray Bradbury's a jerk?
Eddie thinks Ray Bradbury's a jerk!

Thinks Ray's a jerk, likes Glen's work...
Must be Eddie, must be Eddie, must be Eddie, Eddie F.!

Who wrote the TTA segment "Pluck Twacy"?
Eddie wrote the TTA segment "Pluck Twacy!"

Who posts photographs which are racy?
Eddie posts photographs which are racy!
Photos racy, wrote "Pluck Twacy"...

Thinks Ray's a jerk, likes Glen's work...
Must be Eddie, must be Eddie, must be Eddie, Eddie F.!

Who has license to act pretentious?
Eddie has license to act pretentious!

Who posts theories which are contentious?
Eddie posts theories which are contentious!

Posts contentious, acts pretentious...
Photos racy, wrote "Pluck Twacy"...

Thinks Ray's a jerk, likes Glen's work...

Must be Eddie, must be Eddie, must be Eddie, Eddie F.!

(He grabs the Tooth Fairy, who happened to be passing by)

Who when he hears this song will barf?
Eddie, when he hears this song, will barf!

Who laughs this way: Narf! Narf! Narf!
Eddie laughs this way: Narf! Narf! Narf!

Narf Narf Narf, he will barf...

Posts contentious, acts pretentious...
Photos racy, wrote "Pluck Twacy"...
Thinks Ray's a jerk, likes Glen's work...

Must be Eddie, must be Eddie, must be Eddie, Eddie F.!


...and thanks a million to John V.!

BTW: I don't really think Ray Bradbury's a jerk. I love the guy...he just can't stand the sight of me!

BTW: Thanks to commenter Lastangelman for identifying the source of the arrangement on Dylan's "Must Be Santa": it's a group called The Brave Combo. Their site is definitely worth a visit:


Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I can't even imagine Christmas without recalling the story of the Nativity (above, click to enlarge), and the life and death of Christ, which is the great story which for 2000 years has been the heart of Western civilization.

I'm always amazed when fans of art seem to have no time for pictures like the ones on this post. There's always time to stop and admire a devil mask from Pago-Pago, but no time to admire the masterpieces of our own culture.

You would think that the event that would be most remembered in Christ's life would be The Sermon on the Mount which, along with the Ten Commandments, Pericles' Funeral Oration, the Magna Carta, and the Bill of Rights, was one of the foundations of the Western notion of freedom. You would think so, but the events that most inspired artists had to do with themes like birth and death. I guess the heart has its own agenda.

The New Testament only briefly mentions the reaction of Mary to her son's torture and death, but tradition fills in the gap, and most of us have a vivid mental picture of what she must have looked like when she held her son's corpse in her arms.

But maybe I'm getting morbid. That wasn't my intention. I hope everybody reading this has a Wonderful Christmas and a very, very Happy New Year!

BTW: I included The Sermon on the Mount in the list because the high ideals it contains, together with their widespread acceptance, inspires me to believe that my fellow man can handle freedom. I just assumed that what inspired me inspired others as well.