Saturday, May 31, 2008


Hands down, my favorite silent comedy is Charlie Chaplin's "The RINK," It's not perfect; sometimes you can't follow what's happening and you could argue that it's a little longer than it needs to be, but I don't think the best comedies can ever be perfect. Drama can be perfect because it logically builds to a pre-determined climax. Comedy has to look spontaneous. You start out with a plan but if some deviation turns out to be funnier you do that instead. Some of the best comedies are all over the place.

There are so many things to say about this film! Just to isolate one, I love the way the restaurant is a long, narrow room like a boxcar that stretches away from camera. I like the idea that there's a big walking path that goes right down the middle. That way you get to see people do funny walks up to and away from camera. You also get to see people make their funny entrances into the room before they walk down to the tables.

I also like the way the center path divides the room in two. This suggests plenty of gags where people on one side of the path get mad because the waiter (Chaplin) is giving all his attention to the people on the other side. It gets a kind of rivalry going. And the line going crudely down the middle is just plain ignorant, a quality that all comedies should try to cultivate.

It seems to me that too many animation backgrounds lack this precious quality of ignorance. A good, ignorant background is more than just a backdrop. It suggests gags and even story ideas. A good background artist is a kind of co-writer.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Have you ever heard actors say that all acting is reacting? I imagine what they mean is that everything you do or say on stage should come from your reaction to what someone else has said or done. Well, that's probably true. It must be helpful when an actor's trying to figure out what to do with his hands. Yeah, I can accept that.

The thing is, I can't help I can't help but interpret this more broadly. For me what's being said is that the reactor in a scene is more interesting than the actor. In other words, the person receiving the pie in the face is more interesting to watch than the person throwing the pie. If that's true then it says a lot about the way a scene should be written and set up, and what kind of actors you should use. With so much at stake I just had to test it.

That's what the five-minute video above is. I tried to make the actor and reactor equally interesting, and I gave them the same time on screen. I wanted to see whose role was innately more memorable, and who carried the weight of the scene. It's probably a silly experiment, with a predictable outcome, and everybody reading this is no doubt mystified about why I went to so much trouble, but it helped to clarify things for me, and now I share it with you.

The video is about 4 1/2 minutes. Sorry about the many, many flaws. I just didn't have time to fix them.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


I'm not a gardener, though I wouldn't be ashamed of it if I was.   My interest in gardening comes from my desire to reproduce the romantic Black Forest that you see in classic kids book illustrations: the mysterious and menacing home of witches, raptors and things that dwell in the shadows.  I like flowers but only as a counterpoint to set off the forest. They shouldn't look too civilized or fussed over. 

But I'm an appreciator of this sort of thing, not a participant. I'm always looking for the quick fix that'll provide the most stimulation for the least amount of work. Certainly an aromatic garden fits that description.  Some of the most fragrant plants are little more than weeds, and require almost no care once they get started. Lots of people have small herb gardens outside the kitchen door. They're easy to grow, smell great, and taste great...what's not to like?

Here's a book I just got from the library: "Crockett's Victory Garden," one of the bibles of backyard gardening.  I don't see much about herbs in there, but the book has an interesting structure. It's all about what you should do every month of the year to grow your own vegetable and flower garden. Crockett's not really interested in flowers but he figures that if you're going to go to all that trouble to grow vegetables, then you might as well throw in some flowers too.

According to Crockett it's already too late to get a lot of flowers and vegetables started. You start summer gardens in the late winter and early spring. Maybe you could start strawberries this late, but you'd better do it right away. According to Crockett you might get some fruit buds in just over a month, say in June, but you should resist the temptation to let them grow. Keep cutting off the buds until August and that'll force the plant to slow down and send out tendrils to make new plants. If you do this you should have batch of big, pluckable strawberries by the fall.

May is also a good time to plant pole beans.  You should grow these even if you don't like beans because the tendrils are beautiful. Books about weird geometric shapes in nature always include bean plants. I had some pole beans growing under my bedroom window and it was a treat to see the constantly-changing shapes they would take as they snaked up the screen.

I wish more people would plant shrub bushes (above) and ivy around their houses. They grow easily from cuttings, and require no effort to raise. You just have to cut them.

May is a good time to buy or plant geraniums. these are truly the lazy man's flower. They look great and only require light watering every other day in the summer. They bloom most of the year in warm climates like LA but the stems look gnarly after the first year. That's OK, just plant new ones from cuttings. Just put the cutting in a jar of water and it'll sprout roots.

Here's (above) a small Japanese garden that I found when looking for the other pictures. *Sigh*

BTW, the two paintings of plants in the middle of the post are by Christiana Kubrick, Stanley Kubrick's wife. I particularly like the one with tiny little bean and cucumber sprouts. Sprouts are a sheer joy to watch. You see the miracle of new life unfolding in front of your eyes. You find yourself asking,  "Are these delicate, fuzzy little things really alive? How can that be? They're so different than I am."  This time of year everybody should have sprouts growing out of old orange juice cans on their windowsills. That way you can witness the miraculous and profound while you scrub pots.

Friday, May 23, 2008


It was pizza for lunch and, as we all know, pizza is the food of the gods! John got there before I did and immediately started drawing background ideas for The George Liquor show. I don't know why he's always saying that he's not good at backgrounds...the drawings were great!

I talked about a party I did caricatures for the previous night. I didn't bring a camera, so I have no pictures to put up, but it's just as well because the night didn't go as well as I'd hoped. On the way to the party I got it into my head to draw the guys very, very ugly, just for fun. As it turned out I drew them so ugly that I somehow crossed the line into insult. One guy was positively grief-stricken! I felt terrible for being such a jerk. I'm amazed that I didn't get slugged!

The frame grab above is from a Popeye cartoon that Bob Jacques put up. I include it here because the ugly Bluto is where I got the notion to draw people the way I did...not in drag, but just in really extreme poses. John commiserated. Caricature can be a dirty business!

We talked some about the Maxim "Hundred Hotties" party we got to go to the night before last. I've never been to the Playboy Mansion but I imagine that this is what the parties there must have been like. Girls were everywhere! Mike should have been there...he would have thought he'd died and gone to heaven. The problem was that the music was so loud that I couldn't hear what people were saying, even when they were standing right next to me.

I met what appeared to be some pretty creative advertising people. I'd love to tell you what they said but the music was such that I only saw their lips moving. One thing I managed to get out of it: advertising, at least the kind that's geared to young guys, is all about what's perceived to be hip. If you're thinking of making a career in advertising and you're not hip, then think again.

Somehow we drifted into a discussion of "Mandrake the Magician" and "The Phantom," two newspaper strips that had the distinction of being action strips without any action. I looked it up when I came home and sure enough, they were created by the same guy, a radio writer and announcer by the name of Falk. He didn't draw, he found somebody else to do it.

Then there was the Phantom ...I think the Phantom was the first hero to dress in tights. He was pre-Superman so he didn't have any super powers, just a gun like The Shadow used to have. John said that was perfectly respectable; even Mighty Mouse had a gun in the early days. He used to shoot cats.

My childhood recollection of The Phantom was that he started as a white slave in Arabia and somehow managed to escape from his cruel slave owners. He dedicated the rest of his life to being a nemesis to the slave trade. That's not the story that's on the net but I could swear that that's what I read. He found a cave and a horse who would live in the cave with him, and he just sat around all day on a skull throne waiting for the phone to ring with news of the next slave caravan.

While John and I were talking about the Phantom, an extremely old woman was slowly walked into the restaurant by her care-giver. I've never seen a person that old in a restaurant, especially one who was walking and not riding in a wheelchair. Could she have been there to get pizza? Anyway, bear with me, I have a reason for bringing this up.

The woman's method of walking was to slowly slide her feet across the rug. She never lifted her feet, she just slid, and her attendant held her with great difficulty around the waist. This worked OK until she came to a tiny, little, insignificant wrinkle in the rug. A normal person would have walked on it without noticing it, or have just stepped over it. Not this poor woman. When she reached the crease she had to stop, just as if she'd hit a brick wall. She tried and tried to get past but couldn't. She was like a Flatlander who could be stopped by a single line!

I'm ashamed to say that while this was going on I was just sitting dumbfounded, watching it all. I can't believe I was so dense as to watch without offering to help. Fortunately some other men leaped up and managed to smooth out the wrinkle in the rug. The woman was too frail to risk lifting her. I can't help repeating what I said before...imagine being so frail as to be stopped by a single line on a carpet!

Well, that's it...No, wait! I forgot to mention the picture above...I found it on the net when I was looking for a picture of Mandrake. It's the living room of the creator of the old newspaper strip, "Mark Trail." It's a nifty room, huh? He actually did live in the outback, just like his comic strip character!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Here are two more Morricone themes, again conducted by Morricone himself. The one above is from "The Untouchables" and the one below is from "The Mission." Compare this to the Leone westerns in the post below; the western music succeeds and the ones in this post fail. Of course that's only my opinion, but for the sake of argument let's suppose I'm right. The question instantly comes to mind: why was Morricone so inspired by the Leone westerns?

Come to think of it, maybe what I'm really asking is, "What kind of story lends itself to good film music?" it seems to me that that the answer is, the one with subtext. Composers like to play with subtext because that way they're providing information that the story only hints at. They get to participate in the writing. A good composer lets you know, for example, that "Batman" is really a story about the grandeur of Gotham City and the efficacy of man, even if the writers fail to mention that.

This applies to visuals as well. A good book illustrator doesn't slavishly illustrate the events in the book. He adds to them. Take a look at the book illustrations Steve Worth put up on the ASIFA Hollywood site. Look at the illustrations by Tenggren, Dulac, Nielson, Deitmold and others. The best illustrators added to the text. In their hands Goldilock's forest is full of magic, mystery, and awe-inspiring beauty...all things never mentioned in the text.

The Mission was written by Robert Bolt who wrote the brilliant "Man for All seasons," but he goofed here because because his story had no subtext. Everything you could say about it was in the text. All that remained for the composer was to put happy music under the happy scenes and sad music under the sad scenes. Putting a creative guy like Morricone on a movie like this was a waste of talent. Not so with Leone. Sergio's characters were nuanced and mysterious, and the music helped to define them. In fact a lot of the philosophy in the film was in the music.

I'm tempted to talk about subtext and music in the Clampett and John K films, but I guess that'll have to wait for another day.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Here's (above) a Munich orchestra performing Morricone's "Ecstasy of Gold" theme from "Good the Bad and the Ugly." Wow! Surely Morriconne was one of the great classical composers of the 20th century! With films or film-like ideas for inspiration the 20th Century should have been one of the great eras of classical music. Jazz was about to enter classical see it coming with Gershwin and Ellington... yet classical died with the onset of the hippie era. Why? So many golden ages were put on hold so the hippie era could be born. Something about those days sapped the confidence of non-hippie art. Maybe drugs did it.

Getting back to Morricone, he evidently needed Sergio Leone for inspiration. His post-Leone work isn't nearly as philosophical and appealing. Maybe it's worth spending a couple of minutes in an attempt to figure out what that philosophy was.

Maybe Morricone was making a religious statement. In the old days the discovery of a murdered corpse filled everyone with terror and awe. That was the time when people still believed in something. People crossed themselves, lit candles, fell on their knees. The fact that someone was deliberately killed meant that a soul was taken to judgement before its time, burdened with all its imperfections, and that another soul had undertaken to defy God and would almost certainly burn for eternity. How different than nowadays when a corpse is just a statistic.

Or maybe Morricone was making a secular statement about the value of life. Our lives are so short and being alive to witness the wonders of nature is such a precious gift. You have to wonder how people could snuff it out so casually.

In the slide show above the bad guys are portrayed as thoughtless demons of the underworld, or as people who are so stupid and debased that they casually risk the loss of life. Henry Fonda is portrayed as different. He's the head of the gang but he's fully human and he knows the horrible consequences of what he's doing, yet he does it anyway. A couple of minutes into the slide show you see him looking into camera with that look that shows the greatness of man combined with the cold indifference of pure evil.

Friday, May 16, 2008


Wow! There's some interesting YouTube filmmakers out there! What do you think of these two guys? The first goes by the name "Forgettable" and is anything but. Here's (above) my favorite Forgettable film: "The Robber's Apprentice."

Here's (above) Forgettable making a funny film with just two kids and a couple of overcoats.

Here's Forgettable and a friend (above) doing a whole video of funny walks. Every cartoonist and animator should do the same, in fact every animation teacher should assign this.

Here's another film from Jorge, and it's a doosey. Jorge's friend's brother did it. Considering the age of the actors the film is amazingly sophisticated. It has humor, balance, character, movement, story...everything you could want. It's great to see a natural at work, somebody who's born to hold a camera.


Here's Jerry Beck and I at the opening earlier this evening of the new animation exhibit at the Motion Picture Academy. Of course the camera was equipped with the usual fat-enhancing lens, which somehow managed to spare Jerry.

The exhibit was great! You wouldn't believe how much Mary Blair was on the wall, and there was some choice Jones art including layouts and backgrounds from "Rabbit of Seville" and "What's Opera Doc." Clampett was well represented with original model sheets, storyboards and story and gag synopses. You could read an early version of the story for "Piggy Bank Robbery" which included a number of gags and villains that didn't make it to the final film.

I even liked the live-action set design exhibit on the fourth floor. It's not enough to see stuff like this on the screen. You have to see it and touch it and walk around in it. When you do, you'll realize that you've lived your life wrong and that your own home is sad and pathetic and lacking in character.

Here's (above) a reprint of the fashion girl from the previous post. I put it up again because I realized that I missed something about it the first time. You know, this girl isn't really such a bad speaker. She talks too fast, and her references are too cliched and too ghetto, but she's not without skill.

I actually like the way she posits an imaginary opponent that her arguments are directed to, and I like the way she puts on a different persona when she talks to that character. I like her confidence (drugs?) and I like the way she uses facial expressions for punctuation. I also like the way she sees the world as being populated by goofballs and people who can't see the nose in front of their faces. That's classic storytelling technique. You create a caricature of the world then make fun of it.

All these are good techniques, she just plugs in the wrong words. She should caricature specific people.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Just so you know: I do NOT have a crush on this girl. I put up another of her philosophy videos just because it's unique and I don't know what to make of it. Here she toasts the audience with a glass of wine studded with giant glass jewels, and stirred with her fingers. I don't know why but that gesture immensely impressed me. The video is 10 minutes long but I can only recommend the first four minutes.

As Chris and Matt observed about the previous post, Twyla is kind of...well, Twyla is Twyla...but you have to give her credit: she's funny and has style, at least in this

I also like the fact that she likes men. I mean men in general, not just Mr. Right. Some girls have base motives for that, some girls are just flirts or love humanity in general, but then some girls do it because they seem to like playing the role of muse for the men in their lives.

When a muse makes an effort to charm a guy I think the guy should accept it as a luxurious gift. He should fall in love with the muse and accept the sting of rejection when he discovers that he took it too seriously. Stendahl said creative people should always be in love.

Like I said, in spite of appearances, I do NOT have a crush on Twyla. She's not my type. I just like the way she provokes discussion, even when she has her fingers in the wine.

Just for fun, here's another philosopher courtesy of Jorge Garrido.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


When I woke up this morning I made some coffee and ate breakfast infront of the computer. While I was eating I did a YouTube search for "Girl Philosophers" and this is what I found. To my surprise girl philosophy is a whole genre. Who would have thought? Here's a sample....

Monday, May 12, 2008


If you're not interested in physics you should stay and read this anyway, because something major is about to happen and when it does you don't want to regret that you missed a chance to have it explained simply. I don't pretend to understand it myself, and the odds are that I'll goof up the explanation, but it's better than read on!

CERN, the European particle accelerator lab, is going to turn on it's new 6 billion dollar LHC collider later this year. It's first task is to look for the Higgs Boson, the so-called "God particle" that's thought to be the reason other particles have mass.

According to Higgs, the natural state of all particles is be massless and to travel at the speed of light. The reason that only photons and gluons really do travel that fast is that other particles are slowed down by the medium they're forced to travel through, something called the Higgs Field.

The Higgs Field (if it really exists) is a field, just like a magnetic field. It's everywhere in the universe, that's why even the most remote part of space isn't really a vacuum. It may be clear of particles, but it's not clear of fields.

Astronomers were amazed to find that the universe is not only expanding, but that the expansion is accelerating. Nothing in our experience can account for that, so it was necessary to posit a repellent energy that existed even in the vacuum of space. Lots of theories were put up to speculate where that energy might come from, including the idea that it might be leaked into our universe from parallel universes. That remains a possibility but the theory that excites physicists the most is that it has something to do with an as yet undetected field, the Higgs Field.

The Higgs Field is so important to the current standard model of physics that if it's not discovered we'll have to throw out a lot of current ideas about quantum physics and cosmology.

One problem with the CERN experiment is that in order to discover the Higgs Boson (the particle version of the Higgs Field) they'll have to recreate the simpler condition of the universe as it was less than a billionth of a second after the Big Bang. That condition might be what we would call today a black hole. One group is attempting to get a restraining order against CERN, arguing that a micro black hole, once started, might be impossible to stop. Such a black hole might consume the Earth, maybe our whole solar system.

CERN says not to worry, that Hawking Radiation would sap energy from the black hole and prevent it from growing, but CERN's critics point out that Hawking Radiation is a controversial theoretical construct which has never been born out by observation. What if there is no such thing as Hawking Radiation? The black hole will keep growing.

I assume the CERN people know what they're doing, and I'm dying to know the outcome of the experiment, but I'll sleep a little easier when all this is behind us.

The first video I put up (at the top of the page) gives an overview of the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) that'll become fully operational later this year. The other video shows Peter Higgs, one of the people who got the whole thing started. I don't understand a lot of what he's saying but the man is fascinating to listen to.

BTW, I forgot to mention why the question of mass is on the front burner these days. The accelerating expansion story I mentioned is one reason but there's more. The reason is that we now know the masses of all the quarks, etc. that make up matter. The problem is that when you add these masses up they don't equal the mass of the particles they're part of...not by a long shot. So where does the rest of the mass come from? It must come from something outside the quarks, maybe from a field of some sort. If it exists, that might be the Higgs Field. Interesting, huh!?

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Welcome to Uncle Eddie's Lunchtime Book Chat! It's a 6 minute video featuring a reading of H.P. Lovecraft's "Dunwich Horror."

Friday, May 09, 2008


Pinch me so I'll know I'm not dreaming! This is too good to be true!  ASIFA-Hollywood has just put up a whopping, large post on Fearless Fosdick, the best cartoon strip (actually a strip-within-a-strip) in the American newspapers of my time!

Many thanks to ace-cartoonist and Al Capp fan, Mike Fontanelli for putting this together! Mike knows what the good stuff is and he serves up only the best.  Many thanks also to ASIFA webmaster Steve Worth, for giving the drawings the star treatment.  Compare the way the drawings look here, with my layout, to the infinitely superior way they look on the ASIFA site. Steve is far and away the best web designer I know of.

Mike makes the point in his article that Fearless Fosdick was the major inspiration for Kurtzman's MAD.  Looking at the evidence, I don't doubt it for an instant.

Incidentally, did you know that the first 12 issues of Mad have been collected in two volumes of the set shown above?  I haven't seen them, so I don't know what they look like, but here's a link to a bookseller that stocks them:

Talking about Archie, what do you think of the new look the comic company is giving them? 

Here's (above) a page from the new Archie, borrowed from  When Cartoon Brew did a piece on this they were inundated with letters. 

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


I thought I'd show off my treasured Wrinkle Jacket. The video is 3 1/2 minutes long.

BTW, I said "Moon Mullins" when I meant to say Jiggs, a character from an old newspaper strip called "Maggie and Jiggs."

Monday, May 05, 2008


Here's a tribute to my grandfather, one of the best men I've ever known. He certainly wasn't easy to get along with, and he had no time for me, but he was a stand-up guy who deserves to be remembered.

Thinking about my grandfather always brings to mind Dickens' "Great Expectations." In that story a poor kid had a mysterious benefactor whose help allowed him to go to good schools and become a gentlemen. Late in the story the kid, now grown up, discovers that his benefactor was no less than the coarse, grungy, escaped convict that he helped as a boy. It's a story that means a lot to me because my own life unfolded in a similar way, and I also had a coarse, grungy benefactor whose identity was hidden from me.

Just a couple of corrections to the video: The Peter Sellers song I excerpted this time was "Ukulele Lady," not "Hula Hands," and "Days of Wine and Roses" was not a horrible film, rather it was a good film about a horrifying subject. The video above lasts 8 1/2 minutes. Sorry about the length.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


Steve Worth sent me links to a site that put up horrific playground sculptures from around the world. Holy Mackerel! These are really scary!

There's lots more that I can fit in here, so if you want to see it all go to:

These giant hornets (above) are positively evil. the bleak, un-inspired layout of the grounds heightens the effect.

The tree strangles a guy who'd stopped to rest. That'll teach him!

Yikes! A little bunny in the hands of an evil nurse!

Some of the nightmare sculptures impressed me as imaginative and stimulating, and possibly even good for kids. I wouldn't mind seeing sculptures like this one (above) in a park. It could have used more detail, though. It looks half-finished.

Or this one (above). Who wouldn't want have their pictures taken with the skeletons?

This one (above) is really thought-provoking. Your mind races ahead, thinking of stories to explain why the devil would be apprehensive about something in a green box.

Why is this idealistic girl tied to a tree? Boy, this park certainly prompts you to think. The problem is that I have a feeling that the park itself is unimaginatively landscaped. The physical layout of a park should be its greatest attraction. You need to get that right before putting in sculptures. Not only that but the sculptures need to be skillfully done, which this isn't. Even so, it's interesting.

Why is this guy sitting on the ground? Are his legs in stocks? Is he on a throne of some kind? Is he sitting on the shoulders of some underground troll? You can't help but weave stories about visuals like this.


While I was looking for Randi's video (the post below) I stumbled on this one (above) featuring two of my favorite magicians, Neil Foster and Dai Vernon. Both are what you call "manipulators." Manipulators don't levitate or saw anyone in half. They make things appear and disappear in their hands. In my opinion it's the highest form of magic, because everything takes place in a small area and is highly scrutinized. No curtains and no elaborate props. It's what you can do with your hands standing only a few feet from the audience.

The manipulation clips all occur within the first three minutes of the video.

Just for fun here's a clip (above) showing a couple of magic tricks that go horribly and painfully wrong.

BTW, I'm no fan of Uri Geller (refers to the post below) because he tried to pass himself off as a real psychic and not a magician, but I do admire the guy's skill. He may be one of the most skilled magicians of his generation. Think about it. He often did what he did in front of cameras, with people sitting all around him, often shoulder to shoulder. The scrutiny was infinitely more intense than usual, and sometimes he actually did use keys and spoons that he'd never seen before. The guy had talent, no doubt about it.

Friday, May 02, 2008


As most Theory Corner readers know, The Amazing Randi is a professional magician who's made a second career out of debunking charlatans. Randi's the reason you don't hear about the psychic key bender Uri Geller anymore. Now if you already know this, why am I bothering to talk about it?

The reason is that this video is the best debunking video I've ever seen. Uri actually bends the key -- I mean physically bends it, not mentally -- right in front of your eyes, and if you're like me you won't notice it until Randi runs the film back and shows it to you! When it's pointed out it'll seem obvious, but up until then you'll be puddy in Geller's hands, just like I was. It's proof that you can't always trust what you see.

The post is really about key bending, but I can't resist throwing in a couple of other 3 0r 4 minute videos. Here (above) Randi takes on Philippine psychic surgery. This was a very big deal a while back and it had a big following in this country. I'll bet some of the people reading this were taken in by it.

Here's (above) Randi exposing Peter Popoff (spelled right?), a popular faith healer on TV a while back. Randi exposed him and he vanished from TV for years, but he's back again, this time selling healing water. You'll hear Popoff's wife transmitting information to him at the very same moment that you'll see Popoff receiving the same information from heaven on the stage.