Monday, February 28, 2011


How about some faces to draw? I'll start with one (above) that I can't begin to describe. It's fascinating, but why? Maybe it's because the skin is so vivid and so....fleshy. I can't take my eyes off it. I've heard the skin described as an organ. It's more than a covering, it's alive. It gets rid of waste, regulates the water content, electrical properties and temperature of the body, sends out chemical messages that affect sex behavior, and provides all sorts of visual clues about the state of our's an amazing thing.

For most people the skin is just a graphic canvas on which sits more memorable things like the nose and mouth. For some people the skin is the memorable thing.  My guess is that this kind of skin wrinkles sooner than most, but it's also sexy and appealing.

Above, a rectangular face made to seem more so by rectangular glasses. The skin is just background.

Hepburn's high cheekbones (above), prominent chin, thin nose, conspicuous nostrils, and sunken cheeks created a unique look. 

 Here's (above) another fleshy face, this one dominated by smooth and elastic skin, and expressive mouth muscles.   

Here's (above) a blank face on which surface features are attached. The nose, eyes and mouth appear to be glued on. The dark hair accentuates the effect. She'd look better with light hair.

Aaaargh! My computer won't accept more pictures right now. I have more to say about fleshy faces. I'll save it for another time.

Friday, February 25, 2011


I'm still reading "The Girls of Murder City, " but I have other books to read, and it looks like I won't be able to finish it before it has to go back to the library. Too bad, it's a fun book with a lot to say about  journalism and the way Chicago (above) was in the 20s.

My favorite girl murderer in the book is Beulah Annan (above). According to the cover blurb, she was "a Kentucky farm girl turned jazz baby whose wistful beauty obscured an ice-cold narcissism." Her husband adored her, and worked long hours to support her, but she found him boring, and she had a taste for bad boys.

One day one of those bad boys brought a couple of bottles of wine to her  apartment. Her husband was at work so the two sat on the couch drinking and fooling around, and then the guy asked to borrow some money. She gave him a few bucks but her tone might have been derisive because he replied that he might decide to leave her, and then where would she be? As he got up to leave, she grabbed her husband's revolver and shot him dead.

She didn't know what to do with the body so she left it where it was in the middle of the floor and danced to records for a couple of hours. Her favorite song was "Hula Lou," which she played over and over til her husband came home.  The husband was flabbergasted, and he called the police. When they questioned Beulah she calmly confessed to what I wrote above.

The end of the story, you say? Hardly. It was just the beginning.

The murder occurred in 20s Chicago which was the scene of a circulation war between The Chicago Tribune and Hearst's Herald Examiner.  On stories like this one the two papers could be relied on to take opposite points of view. For the Tribune Beulah was a spoiled brat and a dangerous killer. For the Herald Examiner and The American she was the lonely victim of a workaholic husband: a fragile, fairy-like waif from the farm trying to navigate the heartless big city. The scene was set: The Trib and the Herald nose to nose, with a fabulous murder trial and with Beulah Annan's life hanging in the balance.

Geez, I'm running out of space. I'll take this up again next time.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Steve Worth recently invited visitors to the ASIFA Hollywood Archive site to a get together at his house for a session on how Chaplin wrote his stories and gags. To get things started he showed the first part of a terrific DVD set called "The Unknown Chaplin." It was the part of the set that focused on outtakes from Chaplin's Mutual shorts. If you weren't there...too bad! missed a great night!

Well, if you had to miss it, all's not lost. I'll talk about a couple of the points we covered here. The opinions expressed are my own.

Here's (above) a set that Chaplin made for a short called "The Floorwalker." He had this entire set built, including a real escalator, with no script and no idea about what gags he'd do (he never worked from a script when he did the shorts). He just had faith that everything would come together when the time came to film it. And it did. It was a funny film.

He was right about scripts. They're fine for drama, but too often inhibit comedy. Slapstick live-action film is all about you and your talented friends doing what you're enthusiastic about, and what you have a proven knack for. Comedy is fragile. It resists being made from blueprints that were hammered out by a committee.

Here's (above) an unused shot from another short: "The Cure." The set is a spa hotel where the guests drink restorative water from a fountain. There's a big open space for outdoor gags, and a revolving door for...revolving door gags. It's OK, but Charlie felt that something was lacking.

After some trial and error he figured out what was missing....a hole! Putting the water in a hole in the ground was more iconic, and had more opportunities for gags.  What a brilliant idea! In the new version, anyone wanting to enter the hotel had to pass over the hole without falling in. The hole created an enormous amount of tension just by being there.

Back when the fountain was still there, Charlie played a bellhop. Here (above) he laboriously wheels in a big, Type-A, rich man played by Eric Campbell. He tries a few takes where he overshoots and slams Campbell into the wall and into the other guests. I thought the gags were fine, but Charlie thought they were just a rehash of Max Sennett, and this sequence was never used.

After the fountain was replaced by a hole, Charlie had a "Eureka" moment: the best way to maximize the hole was to have Charlie play a swaggering drunk who was always on the verge of falling into the hole. He was right! The bellhop was funny but the drunk was even funnier.

Now at last the main character was a perfect fit for the props. A bellboy can interact with a hole and a revolving door just like anybody else, but a drunk...he has an especially hard time with things like that!

Was it worth all the takes it took to figure this out? Yes! The bellboy made me smile, but the drunk made me laugh.  That's a big difference. If you've ever seen good prints of Chaplin's Mutuals with an audience, then you know what it's like to be surrounded by howls of laughter for an entire film.  Out loud laughter is the gold standard of comedy. It's worth the extra effort. It's worth staying flexible and making changes til you get it right.

Monday, February 21, 2011


The forbidding fortress above is Broadmoor Mental Hospital, where the most dangerous criminals in Britain are kept. Every man in there is not only a murderer, but he's also clinically insane. There are only 250 or so inmates, but it takes a facility this big to handle them securely.

Above, the hospital walls.

The four surrounding towns all have sirens mounted on towers to give warning if an inmate escapes.  The sirens are turned on at a fixed time every week for two minutes to be sure they're in good working order.  School children are drilled in what to do if the siren goes off any other time.

This (above) was one resident of Broadmoor: Graham Young, a serial poisoner. Prevented by his incarceration from murdering more family members, he devoted himself to poisoning other inmates.  He learned how to do it from medical books he found in the hospital library. He figured he had to experiment on other inmates so he'd do a good job on the general public when he was released....which he was after only nine years. Horrors ensued.

Here's another Broadmoor guest: Robert Maudsley, called "Britain's Hannibal Lecter." Killing a truck  driver got him sent to Broadmoor where, like Graham Young,  he turned his attention to other inmates.  He killed several. In one instance he forced another patient into his cell, and he...he....Aaaargh! It's too horrible to talk about.  Suffice it to say that he was nicknamed "The Spoon" after that.

Now they keep him in a glass cage, something like the one that housed Lecter in "Silence of the Lambs." His furniture has to be made of compressed cardboard. When he's taken out to exercise he's  accompanied by six guards. He's reputed to have attempted to bite his mother's face when she came to visit him.

Had enough? Me too! This is giving me the creeps!

Saturday, February 19, 2011


I admit that I don't know much about the fashion world, but a couple of weeks ago I thumbed through a giant book (above) about designer Elsa Schiaparelli, and I'm glad I did. She was one of the makers of the modern world.

Her first Parisian designs were heavily influenced by Surrealism. She had a great sense of humor. What do you think of the fur shoes (above), or the hat (also above) that deliberately looked like an upside-down shoe?

After a time she set up a second studio in Britain,  to be close to the wool manufacturers. They were experimenting with all sorts of new weaves and she wanted to be the first to see if anything interesting could be done with them. Seeing that a famous designer had set up shop right across the street, the mill people went out of their way to come up with new fabrics for her. It's a case of art and industry combining for mutual benefit.

She designed funny, over-the-top clothing all her life, but the designs which most interest me (above) are the minimalist, almost military designs she did in the thirties and forties.

She was going for simple shapes that emphasized quality fabrics and careful cutting. I imagine that Calvin Klein must have been influenced by Schiaparelli, only he took the additional step of making this kind of elegance available for a price that most working women could afford.

[Let me digress for a moment to defend Klein against his many detractors. Like a lot of people I was dismayed when Klein turned jeans into a high fashion item. It seemed to defeat the whole purpose of jeans, which was to break down class barriers and promote a youthful, adventurous approach to life. What I failed to realize was that tastes change and jeans were doomed to drop out of sight anyway. By adding design to them Klein gave them decades of additional life on the shelves...and they still functioned as class levelers. No small achievement, that. Klein was a hero.]

Over time Schiaparelli developed "The Knack." It seemed that everything she touched, even scarves (above), were characterized by simplicity and elegance.

I don't think Schiaparelli designed this (above), but it owes a lot to her sense of fun and surrealism. Lots of things we take for granted now began, at least in part, in Shiaparelli's head. One writer credits her with the idea of the fashion show, with it's combination of runway, art, music and long, skinny women. Man, some people just write their names on an entire age!

Thursday, February 17, 2011


It's a terrific book, and it makes a lot of interesting points. I was surprised to see how much 1924 resembled 1964. It's as if the revolutionary 1960s actually began in Chicago in the 1920s.  Those were strange times. Disillusioned veterans of WW1 roamed the streets. Radio was getting big. Following a century of unprecedented growth, the country was rich, and increasingly urban. A lot of men were clerks, not laborers. Change was in the air. 

The drug of choice was alcohol (above), only it was illegal! People drank a lot of fake liquor made of anything the bootleggers could get hold of. Bad liquor addled brains. People did crazy things. 

Jazz (above) was their rock n' roll, the faster the better. Records made it possible to listen to it at home.

Girls in particular picked up on the new sensibility. All over the Midwest girls were aching to get to Chicago so they could lead "The Life." That city was to them what San Francisco was to the hippies 40 years later. 

Girls made it their business to get to know men with cars. They saw cars as futuristic machines that could whisk them away from suffocating small towns... the giant metropolis of Chicago (above), and the big jazz clubs!

For small town girls the big city was liberating, no doubt about it.  The problem is, it was also decadent...and dangerous.

A girl (above) needed a protector.

Some of the girls (above) carried guns. They had to. The violent crime rate among women soared.

Some girls (above) flocked to men they thought were gangsters. Some of the gangsters were reputed to be gentlemen of a sort. Some women considered their men's murders to be funny. It was a weird time. Morality was considered old fashioned in some circles.

Where was all this going? We'll never know because The Great Depression and WWII intervened. But the social upheaval that began in Chicago wasn't exactly was just postponed. We'd see it again in San Francisco in the 1960s. Interesting, huh?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I'm really busy, so I hope you won't be offended if I put up something quick and dirty from my file of favorite faces. These are all good subjects to draw, I just don't have the time to comment on them adequately.

I'll start with Victor Mature (above). Now THERE'S a face! A vertical brow (most men have diagonal brows), ears that stick out at the bottom, deep-set eyes with heavy, dramatic lids, big lips, masculine's an interesting  combination of features.

Here's (above) Richard Widmark.... Aaaargh! Time restraints force me to post him without comment!

One of these days I'll have to do a post about Chaplin's partner, Eric Campbell (above). In the Mutuals shorts Chaplin and Campbell are a team. When Campbell died in an auto accident, Chaplin had to stop making funny shorts. His slapstick style depended heavily on Campbell as a foil, and it just wasn't possible to continue further down that road without him.

Campbell (above, without make-up) was a real pro with long stage experience in the same innovative group that the young Chaplin belonged to. 

Here's (above) proof that Wally Wood-type people actually exist. This man even looks like Wally Wood!