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Preview: Out of the Inkwell

Out of the Inkwell

Updated: 2018-01-19T00:35:37.776-08:00




I recently wrote a review for the newspapers I edit on the new “American Experience: Walt Disney.”  What follows is an expanded version of what saw print.            Every now and then a viewer of a documentary can be placed in a position of not just experiencing a film, but evaluating it from a place of knowledge.  This happened to me with my viewing of the new four-hour film on the life and career of Walt Disney.            I have been involved in researching animation for years with a concentration on the Fleischer Studio – the artists who brought Betty Boop, Popeye and the Bouncing Ball, among many other subjects to the screen.  Incidentally, I’ve learned much about Disney and I was very curious to see how the filmmakers were going to present him and his legacy.            Disney is a very polarizing figure. People who worked for him loved him or feared him. In the 1930s his films received serious attention from critics who otherwise dismissed animation, but by the time of his death in 1966 the films made by his studio were deemed by many as being out of step with what was happening in the nation.            Before I go any farther, I will readily admit that I’ve have a great admiration for some Disney films – the first five animated features – and will admit they advanced the art of animation in very significant ways.I’m not a cult member though and have rejected the kind of non-critical attitudes some animation fans and scholars have exhibited.Considering the gaps in the narrative in this film, I suspect the filmmakers were a little overwhelmed by the subject. Four hours may not have been enough time.            For example, there is surprisingly little discussion of his relationship with his wife, daughters and other family members other than the fights he had with his brother Roy who was the financial head of the studio. Although his son-in-law Ron Miller is interviewed there is little personal insight into this often-contradictory man.            A problem that undoubtedly faced the filmmakers was the fact that many of the people who knew Disney or worked for Disney are dead. The interviews with those studio employees still alive take up far less time in the documentary than a parade of college professors and writers.            An example of this is the Pulitzer Award-winning writer Ron Suskind whose many moments in the documentary were supposedly justified by a book he wrote about his autistic son connecting to the Disney animated cartoons. I’m sorry, but his prominent screen time doesn’t really explain anything about Disney but just offers his own observations.            Unfortunately the writer and historian who undoubtedly knows more about Disney’s career than just about anyone, Michael Barrier, appears all too briefly.            I was surprised how certain facts were presented or over-looked. In the late 1920s, Disney’s studio was producing a series of cartoons for producer Charles Mintz. Mintz owned the character of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, took it from Disney and hired away a number of his staff.  This event ultimately prompted the creation of Mickey Mouse, but it also spurred Disney to maintain ownership of his creations and films, a very important point.            The filmmakers don’t emphasize this and don’t note that from 1928 through 1955 Disney went through four different distributors until he formed his own in 1955. He finally achieved complete ownership and control of his productions.Where the documentary significantly fails is in its lack of explanation about what made Mickey Mouse work so well with audiences when the first sound cartoon debuted. Consider the following: Disney’s firs[...]



Talking with R.O. Blechman allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="420">It was a privilege to speak with a guy whose work I've admired for years.STOCKBRIDGE — You may not know his name, but if you've watched television or read The New Yorker, the New York Times or the Huffington Post, you've seen — and will recognize — his work. R.O. Blechman's distinctive squiggly line is featured in a new exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum called "R.O. Blechman: The Inquiring Line" through June 30.Blechman has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Cartoonist Society, won an Emmy in 1984 as the director of the PBS animated special "The Soldier's Tale" and has been featured in a exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, among other honors.Blechman has also done a series of children's books, and has collected many of his cartoons in the book "Talking Lines."In his statements made at the opening of the exhibit, Blechman marveled the exhibition even existed."A museum for a Saturday Evening Post illustrator? That's important. Me in that museum? That's fantastic," he said. The exhibit features a wide selection of original examples of Blechman's work from New Yorker covers to advertising work. Some of his animated productions play on a monitor.Perhaps no two artists could have such different style as Blechman and Rockwell. Blechman said growing up in New York City in the 1930s and '40s, his world didn't resemble the warm images of small town America there were the herald of Rockwell's most famous work. He came to appreciate Rockwell more, he added, when the painter's liberal politics came through in later paintings in the 1960s. Blechman also said that he really rediscovered Rockwell when his mother and father-in-law moved to Stockbridge and he visited the predecessor to the current museum."It was a revelation ... that guy could really paint, really paint and he could design," Blechman said. Blechman described himself as a self-taught artist who did some cartooning for his college newspaper. After graduating from college and serving in the military, he drew what would now be called a "graphic novel," "The Juggler of Our Lady" in 1953. Published by Henry Holt, the book was huge success, which Blechman said actually negatively affected his growth as an artist. First love is animationAsk him what his favorite medium has been and he answers it before this writer could finish the question."Animation," he said snapping his finger for emphasis. The medium combines his interests of telling stories and illustration, he explained.He has an idea for an animated feature that he would love to produce.Animation was the first step in his career as a professional artist. He began as a storyboard artist for acclaimed animator John Hubley who was impressed with "The Juggler of Our Lady." Blechman wanted to animate, but he said, "I could not draw in those days." "The Juggler of Our Lady" was later made into a cartoon as a collaboration between Blechman and directors Gene Deitch and Al Kouzel. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts nominated the production as best animated film.He was pleased with the results and later turned down an opportunity to remake the story in color with animation director Chuck Jones. Today, he expressed his regret not to have worked with Jones, but said with a laugh he wouldn't rate his mistakes. Blechman is still busy working, but he admitted, "I've lost projects because I'm told [my style] is old fashioned." He added that while more realistic illustration may be of favor now, he believes the pendulum will swing back to more idiosyncratic styles."[Johann Sebastian] Bach was lost for 150 years," he noted. "Illustration will come back."Although he expressed concern for the future of two-dimensional animation, he is no Luddite, though. Of digital techniques he said, "I love the stuff. It can be well used if you have eye [for design]."Digital techniques can enhance hand-painte[...]



More art from Inertron

I meant to post these two pieces of art from my fanzine Inertron. The first is a comic page by my fellow UMass student Scott Paauw. My caricature is wearing striped pants! Others depicted in the strip include Steven Cohen, Michael Moyle and Kevin Roy, all members of the UMass Science Fiction Society. This is the original complete with glue stains and white-out.

This piece is from the great artist Allen Kosnowski, who was a contributor for several issues. Allen is still working and you can see his current creations at his website.



The cover of my first edition of InertronA fanzine made me what I am today – for better or worse.Perhaps I can trace my desire to write back to my love of reading and my visit with noted children’s writer and environmentalist Thornton W. Burgess when I was in first grade.Perhaps it was the good grades I received on reports I wrote in the sixth grade.Perhaps it was in the eighth grade, when my English teacher assigned me to be the editor of a “literary” magazine.My late father, faced with the realization I was not going to be a high school industrial arts teacher, asked me, “What made you want to be a writer?” With his tone of voice he might as well said, “dump picker” or “hobo.”Years later when I sold an interview to USA Today, for their editorial section, a story that was read by more than two million people, the old man was still unimpressed.And yet it was my mother and father who aided my writing career by helping me with my fanzine Inertron.And Inertron, a fanzine that never had a print run of more than 100 copies, in many ways, made me the writer that I am today.I came to loving horror films late in the day. My mother didn’t want me to see them, as she didn’t want me to read superhero comics – thank you Dr. Wertham. Subsequently as a kid, I freaked out whenever I was exposed to any film with a horror element.Living in Montgomery Alabama in 1962, I went to kiddie matinees with my younger brother Patrick. They were run on Saturdays on a continual showing and we walked into the conclusion of “Voyage to the Seventh Planet” with the giant brain with one eye, the alien monster of the story. Gobsmacked, I promptly turned around and marched with my little brother in tow and waited two hours for my parent’s return outside of the theater.I lost my movie-going privileges for years because of my actions.It wasn’t until junior high school when I decided that I needed to come to grips with this phobia and started watching horror movies on television. I started realizing that actors such as Boris Karloff, whom I came to love, also appeared in non-horror films, so I watched those as well as I found them. Before long I was interested in a variety of films.I was pretty much alone in my pursuits at Granby (Mass.) Junior Senior High School. My brother liked a lot of things I liked, but I quickly realized that comic books and monster movies were not the norm. I had learned that prattling about Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing at school was not something I should do. I had enough problems being the new kid in a small town.This was before the kind of fandom we know today. Before “fans” were seen as an important demographic group for marketers. Before anyone would have willingly or proudly called themselves a “nerd” or a “geek.”Fandom was truly underground. Being a movie fan was acceptable, but seeking out films that most movie fans just seemed to tolerate at best was something else.Horror, science fiction and fantasy were seen as marginal genres, bordering ¬– if not crossing the line – on juvenile entertainment.Somehow I found out about fanzines. Perhaps it was through Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and the first one I ordered was Photon #18 in 1969.I was smitten beyond belief. Photon was well written, had illustrations by Richard Corben, and Dave Ludwig and featured as a bonus a movie still – a copy of a “Dracula” with Bela Lugosi.This all for $1. It underscored that I was certainly not alone in my interests, which was actually quite comforting. A magazine I could buy in the newsstand that had the same fannish spirit was Larry Ivie’s Monsters and Heroes. A quick search of the Internet reveals little about Ivie, who was clearly a fan, but also a pretty accomplished artist. Ivie featured a story about young people who made their own movies – MADE THEIR OWN MOVIES ?! – that also blew my mind.Could non-professionals do such things – publish their own magazines and make their own movies? Ap[...]



This is the first part of a draft of my chapter on the silent cartoons of Max Fleischer.In just a few short years, Max Fleischer went from being a hired hand at the Bray Studios to the head of not just his own studio, but of a releasing company, which expanded and then imploded under its own weight.It must have been a heady ride for Max and his brother Dave. Breaking off from Bray in 1921, by August, 1926 Max’s Red Seal Pictures Corp. announced how it was releasing a series of live-action comedies as well as the Out of the Inkwell cartoons, the “Ko-Ko Song Car-tunes,” newsreels, the “Animated Hair Cartoons,” and many more shorts.Red Seal had 22 exchanges throughout the country and did not rely on the states rights method of getting their films into theaters.But, as fast as the rise was to the top, the ride down was equally quick. By November 1926, Max had lost control of Red Seal and was soon an employee in his own company.How did the film industry, audiences and critics view animation in the 1920s? An interesting perspective is provided by “The Best Moving Pictures of 1922-23” edited by Robert E. Sherwood, a prominent critic of the time whose reviews appeared in “Life” and the New York Herald.Sherwood introduced his chapter on the year’s short subjects by writing, “It is unfortunate that this book must necessarily be devoted to consideration of feature pictures (of five or more reels in length), with insufficient consideration of short subjects: comedies, scenics, animated cartoons, news reels and travel pictures. I do not hold with the notion that a one or two reel film is not better than ‘filler,’ and may dismissed as such. Many of the best pictures that have been compressed into brief form.“I don’t want to ignore that short subjects and yet I am painfully aware of the fact that it is utterly impossible for an one writer to comment authoritatively on this tremendously wide field. There are so many hundreds of short subjects and their release schedules so uncertain, that I have been unable to cover them with any great degree of accuracy.“However there have been certain producers whose one- and two reel products have stood out from the rest …”Sherwood then details how Buster Keaton was the leader of the shorts performers and writes later in the essay, “Foremost among the animated cartoons have been Paul Terry’s ‘Aesop’s Fables’ and Pat Sullivan’s ‘Felix the Cat.’ The romantic adventures of Mutt and Jeff have been discontinued, but Max Fleischer’s ‘Out of the Inkwell’ goes on.”It’s vital to assess cartoons from 1920 until the mid-1950s understanding several important points. Exhibitors competed with one another. In this era in which chain theaters are alike, it’s difficult to imagine that theater owners were considered showmen who cared deeply about what they presented in their theaters and how they presented it.As they had done in vaudeville, owners of movie theaters assembled elements of features and shorts that they believed would attract and satisfy their audience. They did so by building programs. Many of these programs were assembled for both adults and children.Cartoons were among those building blocks. Just like comic strips were a selling point for newspapers during that time, the right cartoon series could contribute to a theater’s success.That’s why the trade papers of the day actually paid attention to short subjects and to animated cartoons.Film Daily, for instance frequently noted how the larger New York theaters were programmed by announcing that a particular house had certain live acts or performances – many larger theaters had more than just an organist or pianist during the silent era, but a full band. These notices carried which specific feature was shown with which shorts. The goal was to give other theaters owners in smaller markets an idea of what was happening in the larger communities. Max’s cartoons were part of that[...]



Rob Schneider was a gentleman and someone I could talk to for a long time as he really is a student of comedy.Rob Schneider is more than a successful comedian. Speak to him for just a few minutes and you realize he is a true historian of comedy.The former "Saturday Night Live" cast member, who has starred and co-starred in a string of popular movies will be performing at the Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee for two shows on Dec. 28.Among Schneider's credits are films such as "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo," "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo," "The Hot Chick," "The Animal," "You Don't Mess With The Zohan," "The Benchwarmers," "50 First Dates" and "The Longest Yard." Schneider explained to Reminder Publications that he has been doing more stand-up comedy in the last few years in part because the late George Carlin inspired him. Schneider started out as a stand-up comic, but said, "I never got to the place where I thought my stand-up was great. I never conquered it."When he saw Chris Rock perform, he decided to get back on the road. "It feels good," he said, but readily admitted that traveling was tiring.He said the difference is now — since there has been a 20-year gap in performing live — "I feel I can take the audience further and talk about things that interest me."Schneider also enjoys the freedom of performing live on stage, a freedom that he didn't find during his recent television series, "Rob." A mid-season replacement series, "Rob" was based on one part of Schneider's life: his marriage to Mexican television producer Patricia Azarcoya Arce. Although the show attracted 11 million viewers a week, it was cancelled. Like all television shows, network execs tried to tweak the comedy. "It's frustrating to get notes from people who don't know as much about comedy as you do," Schneider said. He is philosophical about the cancellation, though."It's their money, it's their stage. You're just renting it," he said. The show did give him the opportunity to work with one of his comedic heroes, Cheech Marin. Half of the legendary comedy team of Cheech and Chong, Schneider remembered the joy he had as a child listening to their comedy albums. Marin, he added, has "a lot of charisma and is very funny."Marin, Schneider explained, like many successful comic performers has been typecast. "Very few people can break [a typecast]," Schneider said. "You're stuck, but it's a good stuck. At least you're being cast."Despite his less than pleasant experience with a television series, Schneider is looking at another potential show, this one based on a hit Australian series called "Mother and Son." The premise is about a man who cares for his aging mother who may or may not be suffering with dementia.Some of the Schneider's film work has been in starring roles, while others have been co-starring. In "Judge Dredd," Schneider's character did a spot-on impersonation of Sylvester Stallone to the action star's face and Schneider recalled Stallone telling him, "You better be funny or you're dead."His association and friendship with Adam Sandler has been without any death threats."Adam just gives me the opportunity of playing different ethnic guys," Schneider said. Currently Schneider is working on an animated feature, "Norm of the North," playing a polar bear Norm. He is enjoying the work as he said it allows him to "really create."Since he and his wife are recent parents, he is interested in finding work such as this assignment that keeps him closer to home.Schneider believes that there is a renaissance of comedy going on today and has a theory that when the economy has its problems, the arts flourish. He noted that after WWII, Great Britain was having problems returning to its pre-war conditions. "There was a feeling things were not going to get better for the English," he said.In reaction to what was happening, came the very successful comedies starring Sir Alec Guinness from the Ealing Studio, Schneider noted. Post-war Gre[...]



Olive A. "Sue" Dobbs 1924 to 2013My mom and me when I was probably two years old. What my brother and I have gone through in the past several weeks is in the big picture nothing special. Every second of every day someone loses a parent. It’s the hope of most people that they do not have to go through this event until they are in their middle age, but too many of us face such a loss when much younger. My mom died in the morning of Jan. 9 at the age of 88. I’ve written about my father from time to time, but in our family there was no one more important in many ways than my mom. She and my father, Gordon L. Dobbs, had a relationship, that least to me seemed pretty typical of the time during which they were young: my father had the career and my mom stayed home. It’s fair to say, though, what my dad wanted for his life could not have been possible without my mom. My dad died in 1996 and while his death was a blow to me, there wasn’t the more profound sense of finality until my mom passed. Now, my brother and I are the oldest in our small family. Will our kids look to us as we looked to our parents? I doubt it. It’s a different time and place and we are all different people. My mom came from pioneer stock and hers is a very American story. For instance, her great-maternal grandfather was a Dutch shipping heir who secretly left his vessel in San Francisco harbor when he learned of a plot against his life. He went into the gold fields of northern California and met a young Bavarian woman who had come to America with her sister. Her sister was married and the brother-in-law knew what a commodity he had in gold country: a single young woman. The Dutchman, as my grandmother Edith Gage would say, married this girl to keep her from living the life of a prostitute. There is much more to this story and to others in my mom’s history. I know relatively little about my father’s family, although I now have a book on the Dobbs side that I will read. My mom grew up in small towns and communities in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern California where the Feather River played a prominent role cutting a zigzag through the mountain canyons. Her father, Shirley Gage, came from a hardscrabble family in Texas and my mom used to say that he was born a century too late. He was an outdoorsman who spent much his life working hard jobs: lumber and mining. He loved to fish and hunt and there are many family photos showing him in the woods. Although my mother said she never thought her family was poor as a child growing up in the Depression, she spent considerable time living with her mother’s family in Oroville, Ca., simply because her dad was having trouble earning enough money or finding a place for his small family – my mom was an only child – to live.Mom in Oroville with a favorite doll. Oroville was a big city compared to the hamlets here she lived. Her maternal grandfather, Emil Kessler, who was often described to me as “bantam rooster,” adored her. Emil was from Switzerland and had a well-known temper. He had nasty nicknames for many people, but for my mom he was a pushover. When she was born, she was named for one of my grandmother’s brothers, Oliver. Her birth name was Olive Adell Gage. My great-grandfather, though, looked at her and declared, “She isn’t an Olive; she’s a Sue.” From that moment on, the only people who called her “Olive” either didn’t know her well or was referring her in an official sense. She was “Sue” for the rest of her life. Following graduation from Greenville (Ca.) High School in 1942, my mom attended a secretarial college in Chico, Ca., where she met my father who was training to be an Army Air Corp pilot. They were married in 1944. Days later, my father shipped out to Europe commanding a B-17.My mother not long after her marriage. My dad stayed in the Air Force for 26 years. He flew bombers over Korea as w[...]



Time for some DVD reviews!The SamaritanSamuel L. Jackson has a strong work ethic and has appeared in many films playing a very similar badass. Sometimes he's a good guy, sometimes he's a bad guy, but frequently he is the same type of character.That is the curse of being a movie star. Once you've established a successful persona that's what producers — and audiences — want from you.That's why I enjoyed "The Samaritan," a new crime thriller that gives Jackson a chance to ditch all of those "Snakes on a Plane" roles for something more substantial.Jackson is Foley, a man who has been released from prison after serving a sentence of 25 years. He's a consummate grifter who was caught by a victim midway through a con. The victim forced Foley to kill his best friend and partner in crime and then turned him over to the police.Foley now wants simply to be left alone. He wants to find a job and go straight. A quick check shows most of his old friends and cronies are dead and the few left alive don't want anything to do with him.The only person eager for his company is the son of his dead partner. Evan (played with slimy intensity by Luke Kirby) wants to recruit Foley into a big con. Foley refuses, but Evan has rigged Foley's life to draw the ex-convict into his scheme.What complicates matters is that Foley has met a young woman, Iris (Ruth Negga), and has entered into a cautious, and at times reluctant, relationship.This film is full of twists and turns, which I can't reveal, but I will say some of the plot points will leave your mouth hanging open in shock.While there are moments of violence, this is not an action thriller, but rather is a character-driven drama. Jackson excels as Foley, a man who is actively trying to change his future. Foley is a thinker and Jackson's performance is filled with moments of quiet that convey much about the character.Director David Weaver does well with the look and pacing of the film and co-wrote the script.If you're up for a different kind of crime movie, seek out "The Samaritan." width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>SuperAs I've mentioned before, the movies to review quickly add up and this film has been in that pile waiting patiently. I thought that considering the success of two huge summer blockbusters, "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Avengers," it may be time to look at a more realistic approach to superheroes."Super" stars Rainn Wilson — best known for his role on "The Office" — as a short-order cook named Frank. Frank's life has been marked by two positive events. The first is when he helped a cop catch a criminal and the second is when he married his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler), a waitress at the restaurant who is battling addiction.Life is good for Frank until his wife falls back into a bad crowd and leaves him to live with a local drug dealer played with twitchy charm by Kevin Bacon.Filled with grief, Frank makes efforts to retrieve her, but Sarah doesn't want to be rescued. Frank doesn't know what to do until a group of tentacles saws open his skull to allow the finger of God to massage his brain. Well, at least that's what Frank believes has happened to him.Frank may suffer from delusions, and he understands that about himself. His love, though, for Sarah is so strong that he is willing to accept what he thinks has happened.The resulting inspiration triggers Frank's alter ego, The Crimson Bolt. In a homemade costume and with a huge wrench as his primary weapon, Frank decides to fight crime and get his wife back. What constitutes crime ranges from robbery to someone cutting into a line at the movies and both are met with concussions from Frank's wrench.Frank's rallying cry is "Shut up crime!"The violence is increased with the arrival of his young sidekick, a comic book store clerk played with a frightening intensity by Ellen Pa[...]



I’m pretty excited about something that has been recently posted on-line: a beautiful print of the Fleischer Superman cartoon “Terror on the Midway.” Warner Brothers Online has posted beautifully restored prints of the Superman shorts. This short, part of the legendary series of adaptations produced in the early 1940s by the Fleischer Brothers, has long been available on various public domain labels. The rights to these cartoons reverted back to DC Comics and, believe it or not, the person in charge of renewing copyrights at DC at the time at the time of the cartoon’s expiration neglected to do so. The results of this action have been both good and bad: the good aspect has been the cartoons have been readily available, but the bad is that all too often the quality has been sub-standard. Gone were the days when it was truly difficult to see these cartoons. Although I saw them on TV as a child, the first time I saw a number of them to study was in DC Comic’s office, watching the company’s own 16mm prints. Even when various VHS and DVD collection boasted of superior prints, there was never a good print of “Terror on the Midway.”The Superman series was the first comic book adaptation to film. Although comic strips had been the subject of both short subjects and feature films, the Fleischer Superman shorts broke ground. They also broke ground at the studio with a radical departure from the kind of animation for which the Fleischers were well known and tried to change the perception of what kind of stories were suitable for animation. Although very popular with audiences, imagine if other adventure strips had been transformed into animation maintaining their signature look – “Flash Gordon” or “Captain Easy” or Terry and the Pirates.” These are cartoons that are staged as a live action film would be staged. They effectively used pans of static drawings in order to put the animation budget into the action scenes. Fleischer head Animator Myron Waldman told me that animating the Superman shorts wasn’t easy. He said that additional drawings were added to give the characters a greater sense of weight.The Fleischers were smart enough to use the vocal cast of the popular Superman radio show – starring Bud Collyer – that provided an additional thrill to Superman fans.Let me quickly add that Superman wasn’t a project the Fleischers wanted. It resulted from a deal made between Paramount Pictures DC Comics after an effort to secure a serial version of Superman at Republic Pictures failed. The Fleischers knew to do the shorts in the manner that they should they would be more expensive than most cartoons – making it more difficult to recoup their production expenses and deliver a profit. Paramount basically forced the studio to undertake the assignment.Republic, by the way, then turned to Captain Marvel and produced the live action film based on a comic book superhero. The look of “Terror on the Midway” was unique to the series. On paper, it seems sort of mundane. Lois is saddled with the boring assignment of reviewing the circus. By accident, a monkey releases a huge gorilla from its cage, which sets off some terrifying circumstances.Here, watch it. width="420" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>I loved the use of shadow, the almost film noir feel, that is used to add drama and horror to this story. This cartoon is “lit” in a way audiences hadn’t seen before. I also admire the use of sound in this film from the ambient noise of the circus in the beginning to how the cartoon falls silent when the gorilla makes his appearance in the big top.This is the Superman, by the way, who couldn’t fly, but took tremendous leaps. While he was bulletproof, he could be stunned by electricity. The fact that he was more vulnerable than[...]



The door to the offices or barracks of my dad's squadron.My dad's B-17, named after my mom.My dad, Gordon L. Dobbs (with hat on right) in the pilot's seat. I don;t know the name of the crew member. My mother and father were keepers. Perhaps it was their experiences as children of the Great Depression, but both of them hung onto things. Make no mistake, neither were pathological hoarders. They simply saw value in keeping objects and documents that many other people would have thrown away.My brother and I saw a lot of that recently as I helped him close down my mom’s house, now that her health as forced her to move in with him. There were the standard objects –furniture, books, kitchenware – and then there are those items that instantly transport me to either a time earlier in my life or to a point in our parents’ lives that I only heard about.My parents liked taking photos and there are several suitcases of family photos. My brother Patrick is a skilled photographer and so these photos interest each of us on several levels.My father was an Air Force veteran of 26 years who piloted B-17s in WWII, B-29s in the Korean Wars and after, B-52s with nuclear payloads, until 1961 when an accident grounded him. He stayed in the Air Force on the maintenance side, serving in Vietnam as his last assignment.Three wars in one life. I can't imagine the impact other than my dad was changed in some ways upon returning from Vietnam.As a rule, He talked very little about any combat experience. We heard very few stories as kids. As he grew older, he would call members of his various crews and speak with them. The experience they went through linked them in a way that someone who had not been there couldn’t understand. For years, he would read the "Air Force Times" to follow the careers of guys he knew and with whom he served.About WWII, he did say you could never tell who was coming back and the B-17 crews were witnesses to seeing fellow squadron members shot down before their eyes. Occasionally there would be a colorful detail, such as how he chewed tobacco when he flew to help stay awake. I never asked him how he spat wearing an oxygen mask. So the discovery of photos my brother and I never have seen helps us gain a tiny shred of additional insight about our dad. My brother found a large roll of unprinted negatives, which we believe are from the WWII period. He plans to scan those to see what they are.My dad was pretty tolerant of my interest in films, but he had no interest in any war film. He didn’t want Patrick or me to watch them as he said they glorified war. With combat vets you never know what trigger will cause a cascade of memories – negative or positive. My dad liked the television series “M.A.S.H.” but when McLean Stevenson’s character was killed on his flight home and out of the service, my father stormed from the room. He said something the effect, “That’s not funny. That kind of thing really happened.”The following photos include combat photography taken in the skies over Europe by an unknown cameraman. Pat and I have made the assumption the reason my dad had these prints was because the photographer was either in his plane – Sue’s Special, named after my mom – or flying somewhere within my father’s squadron.Those puffs of smoke are flak from German guns. This photo shows a B-17 that has been hit.[...]



In honor of Turner Classic Movies' programming of classic animation I decided to post the following information on "Gulliver's Travels." This material, in a finished form, with be in my book that – yes, I'm indeed writing – titled "Made of Pen and Ink: The Fleischer Studio Cartoons."The making of “Gulliver’s Travels”Although some people have erroneously written that Max Fleischer had produced the first animated feature, his movie on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in 1924, that documentary was largely live action with some animated sequences. Fleischer, who was seen as Walt Disney’s primary rival in the 1930s, had indeed experimented with longer form animation prior to Disney’s “Snow White” with great success. In 1936, the studio’s two-reel special Popeye cartoon for the Christmas season, “Popeye Meets Sinbad the Sailor” had gorgeous color, effective use of the Fleischer 3-D sets and a marvelous script. Exhibitors and audiences loved it, and the studio was preparing another two-reeler for Christmas of 1937. Disney, though, had an 83-minute feature, and Fleischer, his staff and the rest of the film industry wanted to see if audiences would accept a long cartoon. “Snow White” was released nationally in February of 1938 and its overwhelming success prompted an announcement from Paramount Pictures. Paramount, Fleischer’s distributor, said that Max would be producing a feature for them. They would be fronting some of the production money for Max and also would help Max build a brand-new studio near Miami, Florida. Fleischer had settled a bitter strike in October, and had decided to move his operations from New York to Florida. The Fleischers had vacationed in Florida and the warm climates, generous local tax incentives and lack of union activity appealed to him. So the studio’s plate was quite full. Max had to produce his studio’s first feature-length cartoon, move the operation from New York to Florida into a new studio he was helping to design and maintain the studio’s commitment of short subjects. Disney had worked on “Snow White” for five years. Paramount had given Max a release date of Christmas 1939. During the same period, “Variety” reported that Universal and Walter Lantz would be making his feature debut with an adaptation of “Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp.” This feature apparently never made its past pre-production. In June, Max signed a contract with Paramount to produce “Gulliver’s Travels” (GT). Like Disney, the Fleischer brothers had chosen a “pre-sold” property that had a certain amount of name recognition, especially in Europe. How Jonathan Swift’s sometimes bleakly satiric novel would be adapted into a family feature was another problem. According to a discussion guide prepared for high school teachers by the Educational and Recreations Guides in January 1940, there were several different scripts, several of which had Popeye playing Gulliver. According to this booklet, designed for teachers to use in the classroom, Dave Fleischer had wanted a light Gilbert and Sullivan-style operetta, while Max wanted something closer to Swift – “a truly sociological pictures, retaining the full weight of Swift’s satirical theme with modern implications.”The final script was publicized as a compromise. The cartoon would have a surplus of music and would have the war between Lilliput and Blefuscu not over which end to open of a hard-boiled egg, but rather their national anthems. If Max’s intentions were to actually convey some of Swift’s satiric rage, this script was scarcely a compromise. There is little of Swift in the Fleischer’s “Gulliver’s Travels.” Although there would have been reports that GT had at one time been discussed as a vehicle for Popeye, one could wonder if [...]



Guilty, guilty pleasuresYes, I can appreciate the great movies – most of them, at least – but I find that I'm drawn to films that live on the fringes of polite movie society."The Mad Doctor of Blood Island" is a thoroughly unhinged mad scientist movie shot in the Philippines with an American cast, but a decidedly different point of view. I will watch damn near any film shot in that nation in the 1960s and '70s. They look and feel different, even if an American director is on board. width="420" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>"The Fiend of Dope Island" is the kind of film that makes me wonder, "Just why did they make this thing?" Bruce Bennett was an Olympic athlete who was slated to play Tarzan at MGm before an injury prevented him from doing so. He made a number of low budget films under his real name of Herman Brix in the 1930s, but changed his name and appeared in a string of big budget A films for major studios. By the late 1950s, he appeared in this pt boiler. He also co-produced. It has an evil hypnotic char, width="420" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>Few films deserve more of revival than "Shakes the Clown." Starring, written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, "Shakes" gives all of us who grew up mistrustful of clowns plenty of ammunition. Very funny and in highly questionable taste, "Shakes" is one of my favorites. width="420" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>There are few films from the 1970s that I love more than this movie created on a dare by Joe Dante and Allan Arkush when they were cutting trailers for Roger Corman's New World Pictures. Made in 10 days and utilizing a lot of existing footage from other Corman movies, it has a true charm and stars an actress who is largely forgotten today, Candice Rialson. She was a young woman who should have been a major star, but spent most of her career in low budget films. She could have done much, much more.By the way the trailer is not safe for work. width="420" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>[...]



I've been watching a lot of DVDs for work and here's a few of them.The Three StoogesLike many Stooge fans I was very uncertain whether or not I should spend the cost of a movie ticket to go see this homage/rebooting of the venerable slapstick trio. After all, I couldn't see someone "being" Buster Keaton's or Charlie Chaplin's on-screen character in a new movie, so why the Stooges?Fanboys hadn't been so divided about a movie since Tim Burton cast Michael Keaton as Batman.Now that the film is on DVD, I'm willing to risk the time and reduced cost of admission to see it and I have to say that I enjoyed myself thoroughly with this love letter to Moe, Larry and Curly.Rated PG, the film has just three gags that are more attuned to modern comedy conventions, with all the rest falling squarely in the Stooge's tried-and-true brand of ultra-violent slapstick.Directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly are clearly devoted fans and they cast this film carefully with three actors who did the Stooges proud Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe, Sean Hayes as Larry and Will Sasso as Curly. Sasso had perhaps the most difficult assignment, considering how many people love Curly, and he carried it off well.Hayes actually brings something extra to Larry and does a great reaction bit when Moe throws a live and irritated lobster down Larry's pants.Acknowledging the beautiful Christine McIntyre, the long-time Stooge co-star who could either be a heroine or a villain the directors cast Sofia Vergara as the bad guy, something the actress seemed to enjoy.The directors even used some of the original sound effects from the shorts and ended the film in a very appropriate Stooge manner.Now if you don't like the original Stooges, you won't like this film, but if you're a Stooge fan, watch it.By the way, at the end of the film is a short piece designed to keep youngster from doing things such as hitting each other over the head with a sledgehammer. I wondered if 20th Century Fox attorneys demanded this sequence to lower the studio's liability? width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>Pirates! Band of MisfitsSome people get all excited by a new animated release from Pixar, but I get twitchy when I learn that Aardman Studios have a new project. The people who brought audiences the adventures of Wallace and Gromit and "Chicken Run" are not only amazingly talented animators specializing in stop motion, but also are vastly clever."The Pirates!" may not be the studio's most laugh-out-loud film, but it provides a very enjoyable 90 minutes or so.The story centers around The Pirate Captain, a man determined to be voted Pirate of the Year, but is so ineffective he doesn't have a chance. His men admire him, though, and stick with him when the ship's beloved pet Polly, the last dodo, is suddenly sought after by Charles Darwin who is in love with Queen Victoria!This mixing and matching of real people and fictional characters — along with pirates of the 18th century with the technology of the latter 19th century is part of the film's unique charm.To appreciate the animation one must watch the documentary that is included on the Blu-Ray (but not on the DVD). The process is astounding.The voice cast is headed up by Hugh Grant, who does well, and also includes Martin Freeman and David Tennant.For a great family night, get your hands on this film. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>Girls Gone DeadThe late great David Friedman, producer of dozens of exploitation films, explained in many interviews that when you make such a movie you better be prepared to at some point give audiences what they expect.This limp dishrag of a film purports[...]

The 2012 Great New England Air Show


This C-47 transport plane was used in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. In the collection of the American Airpower Museum, it was given the nickname "Second Chance."The spartan interior meant room for more troops and more supplies.There's little room in the cockpit.My dad's last plane, a B-52 bomber.The vertical take-off Osprey drew crowds.This modified Hercules cargo plane is iced for trips to the North and South Poles. Note the skis for landing.Once my dad received special permission to show us a B-52 up close. For years, it was almost classified. I remember standing looking up at the bomb bay and thinking it was huge. It's become a bit smaller with age. I love nose art, this one on a WWII vintage Avenger fighter.This is General Hap Arnold's personal B-25.Is there anything cooler than the standard nose art of the Warhawk?Well, maybe a half-naked woman on a B-25 is cooler!There are some assignments I truly enjoy and covering the Great New England Airshow at Westover Air Reserve Base is one of them. My dad, Gordon L. Dobbs, was a career Air Force officer, who entered the Army Air Corps as an enlisted man, applied to flight school on a bet and commanded a B-17 in Europe. He flew B-29s in Korea and was a B-52 nuclear pilot when he had an accident that left one side of his body paralyzed in 1961.He recovered and continued in his career on the maintenance side. His last assignment was commanding a unit Bien Hoa outside of Saigon keeping helicopters in the air. Three wars in one life. He retired after Vietnam.For me growing up on and near air bases was all a great adventure. One of my earliest memories is visiting my father through a chain link fence when he was on nuclear duty. The bomber crews that were on alert had to stay in an underground barracks called "The Mole Hole" at Westover. My mom would come a pre-arranged time and Dad would come out to see us.One of the biggest treats in the world to me was when he would bring home a spare flight meal. I thought this was the most exotic food possible.I have very few regrets in my life, but one is not going into the Air Force myself. After his Vietnam experience, my dad had every mixed feelings about how the military treated its men and women.I have been privileged to have flown in two different B-17s – my father's favorite plane – and both times I was practically moved to tears. Both flights took place after my dad's death in 1996 and they seemed to offer a link to him that I hadn't had before.To this day, if I hear a plane overhead I will stop and look at it. The roar of a jet engine is actually a reassuring sound to me.The following is what I wrote for the newspapers I edit.WESTOVER ARB – As we cruised over Western Massachusetts and toward the Quabbin Reservoir, it occurred to me that the sound of the engines of the C-47 was what the paratroopers heard as it carried them to the D-Day invasion – that is until the plane crossed the English Channel and into the Nazi fortified coast of France. I was one of the lucky members of the media to be invited to fly in literally a piece of history on Aug. 2. It was all part of the publicity for the Great New England Air Show at Westover Air Reserve Base. The first air show in four years, the event drew hundreds of thousand of people last weekend.This year’s edition was different as it emphasized two themes: a salute to the veterans of World War II and the display of planes that had been stationed at the base, including the B-52 bomber.The C-47 was among those aircraft that flew from base from the late 1940s and into the 1950s.The crowds walked a good part of the long length of the tarmac seeing a wide variety of aircraft, from a FedEx cargo jet to a LC 130 “Snow Bird,” a mo[...]



Indian Day 2012I don't ride a bike, but I would like to and I love going to Indian Day each year at the Springfield Museums. If I ever hit the lottery, one of the first things I'd buy would be a classic restored Indian. I guess I would have to learn to ride.The Indian was the first successful American "motocycle," and was made here in Springfield, Mass. from 1901 to 1953. It was a product of the incredible pool of engineering and manufacturing talent here in Pioneer Valley.On Indian Day, Indian owners ride their vintage bikes to town and it's quite a sight to see – rolling history.The classic bikes summon up a time and place in this country – before the Interstate when U.S. highways such as Routes 20, 5 and 66 were the principal roads linking this nation. It was a time of mechanical innovation, when someone working in their garage could change the course of a product or invent a new one.The following are some of the photos I took.Have a hankering to bring an Indian back to life? The guy who had this 1946 model was asking only $12,000 and assured me the engine was in great shape as all of the parts were in boxes!© 2012 by Gordon Michael Dobbs[...]



I've been watching a lot of DVDs lately and here's a few thoughts!The Decoy BrideNormally I would avoid most any film that has the word "bride" in it only because of the prospects of yet another romantic comedy that is neither romantic nor funny.But when "The Decoy Bride" was delivered to me, I knew I had to watch it. First, the film was shot in Scotland — my wife is Scottish — and second, it stars David Tennant.Who? That's right, but actually you might know him with a title: Dr. Who.Tennant is no longer traversing time and space in the long-running British science fiction series and he returned to his native Scotland to make this film.The problem is the publicist sent the review copy in the Blu-Ray format instead of a DVD. I had to upgrade my technology in order to watch it, so I hoped it was actually worth of all of the expectations and the $100 in a new gizmo.I'm happy to say this film is actually funny and the romance is actually acceptable even to this old curmudgeon.Tennant plays James, an author who is engaged to Lara, a world famous movie star (played with sympathy by Alice Eve), and a woman who can't get a private moment away from the paparazzi. In an effort to thwart the press, the couple decides to get married on a small island that is part of the Hebrides.At the same time, a resident of the island is coming home after her failed engagement. Kelly Macdonald is Katie, who seems to be willing to resign herself to a kind of exile.When a persistent photographer shows up on the island, Lara's management comes up with a plan to fool him: stage a phony wedding with a decoy bride. Katie is recruited when they offer her 5,000 pounds.Although Tennant's name may attract American fans to the film, the movie is really Macdonald's and she shines. She is a familiar face from a number of films including "No Country for Old Men," the last "Harry Potter" film and "Nanny McPhee," among others.Now for those who might think a film full of Scottish accents would be a challenge, don't worry. Everyone makes allowances for non-Scottish audiences.This little film is a lot of fun. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>The ArtistPerhaps the most celebrated film from last year, "The Artist" is now out on DVD and Blu-Ray. I wrote about this movie when it was in theaters last year and was eager to see how it would be presented on home video.The extras are pretty standard — interviews with the cast and crew and a gag reel — and I was surprised that they did not include something about the inspiration for the film and whether or not there were models for the characters and the events.If you've not seen "The Artist" I urge you to do so.Since "The Artist" was the first silent film many people had seen — and not one from the silent era of cinema — I thought it would be appropriate to present some information that might shed some additional light on the film and the time it recreates.Did an actor like George Valentin really exist?In interviews, star Jean Dujardin said his inspiration was Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Gene Kelly. That's very apparent, as Valentin is cocky like Fairbanks, who was also extremely likable. The director even used a clip from Fairbank's first Zorro film as a wink to the audience. I think, though, the part of the film that chronicles Valentin's fall is modeled after John Gilbert.Gilbert was a major star in the silent era. He is the actor who has been surrounded by a myth that his voice was so bad that sound ruined his career and he drank himself to death.In reality, Gilbert's voice was just fine, but his clashes with MGM head Louis B. Mayer had m[...]



Recently I received the "The Three Stooges: The Ultimate Collection" for review. The following is what I wrote for the newspapers I edit with some additional information.Many times when I receive a boxed set of a series of movies or television shows to review, the reaction around the office is "Why would spend $100 on that?"When "The Three Stooges: The Ultimate Collection" came into the office, though, I had to fight to keep it.It's difficult to believe that "The Three Stooges," now seen as American comedy icons, were once an act that were popular with audiences but received little critical attention or respect. Today, I predict, this boxed set, which runs around $100, will sell well due to the several generations that discovered the Stooges' short subjects on television. I'm not sure who said the world could be divided into two groups of people those who like "The Three Stooges" and those who don't but that person is correct. Not everyone appreciates the barrage of one-liners, silly situations and often shudder-inducing physical violence that are the hallmarks of the best Stooge shorts.The Stooges were part of a rich comedy tradition that was killed by television in the 1950s: the short subject. Theater owners used to create a program of feature films and shorts to entice audiences to come to their theater. Today's audiences might find it difficult to believe but in the 1920s through the early 1950s, the bills at theaters would change weekly and theater owners knew they were in a competitive business. They wanted to give people reasons to return, and running short subjects that were popular were part of that strategy.The Stooges made the shorts at Columbia, which had a huge comedy unit turning out 20-minute comedies two reelers as they were called with a wide variety of stars, from Buster Keaton to Andy Clyde to El Brendel. The Stooges not only had the longest-running series from 1934 to 1959 but certainly the most popular.Typically, the short subjects were a proving ground for comics, who would then try to graduate to feature films, such as Laurel and Hardy. The Stooges, although they appeared in features, never were stars in longer films until after 1958.This 20-disc set gives a viewer the opportunity to see the growth and decline of the two reelers and how the studio's cost-cutting measures affected the Stooges' films. It also shows how the act differed with the arrival of new members.If nothing else, this boxed set will show that Shemp Howard was a great comic and that many of the shorts featuring Shemp were just as funny as the shorts with Curly, the most popular stooge.Shemp was the original third stooge and had left the act before the contract with Columbia. He had established himself as a busy character actor and comic, appearing in feature films and in shorts.The most impressive thing about the collection besides having all 190 "Stooge" shorts in a single collection is the bonus disc with 11 more hours of material.Columbia has a rich history, but the current owners, Sony, have been pretty stingy about releasing material for which hardcore film fans have long clamored: two-reel comedies and cartoons. In this collection, the producers give us two of the Stooges' feature appearances: "Rocking the Rockies" and "Have Rocket will Travel." "Rocking the Rockies" is a 1945 B-movie that stars the Stooges in what is billed as a Western comedy, but is really a loosely written musical revue featuring Western swing acts and the Hoosier Hotshots, a novelty band. The film is interesting, but not necessarily good. width="420" height="315" src="" frameborder="0[...]



Last summer, my buddy Steve Bissette waxed eloquently about the virtues of one nasty little horror film "Creature."

Steve's reason for such a display of manly movie love was that "Creature" was an unadorned, unapologetic 1970s style drive in movie. It is low down, no holds barred film that would have been at home at any "ozoner" – a term Variety used to denote a drive-in – back in the day.

The fact that "Creature" was an abject failure at the box-office clouded some people's perception about the film. The mere fact it had a national theatrical run at all was a story in itself. Distribution is so tied up in this country it's next to impossible to get a low budget film into a theater.

Here's the trailer so you can get some of its retro flavor.

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Sex, violence, a man in a monster suit and Sid Haig – get the picture?

Now, I've not yet seen "Creature," but I recently bought a film that is my candidate for a perfect little exploitation film: "Bitch Slap." Why is this a gem?

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First, it has a wonderful exploitation title. I saw this film on the racks about two years ago and instantly wondered just what the heck it was. Getting someone to question what a film is about is a great marketing tool and exploitation is all about marketing.

The film makers knew exactly where they were going with the film. There is no pretension to aspire to art. Instead, as revealed in the great making of feature, the director and producer wanted to make an over-the-top film featuring three very hot women beating the crap out of some men, but primarily themselves as they search for some sort of treasure.

They chose performers who did the roles proudly. The three female leads were not known to me, but these women certainly gave it their all. There is only one brief moment of naked breasts in the film and none of the principals are involved with that scene. Instead there is a whole lot of old fashioned sizzle. I'm sure the push-up bras made up a significant part of the costuming budget!

With exploitation you have to deliver what the audience expects and with a film like this, the fight scenes need to be epic. Thanks to stunt coordinator Zoe Bell, they are exactly as what would hope.

The producer also made sure there were surprises. Eric Gruendeman and Rick Jacobson worked on both the "Xena" and "Hercules" televisions series. Michael Hurst, the co-star on "Hercules" plays a major role here, and Lucy Lawless and Kevin Sorbo makes cameos.

The budget was used well and with the use of a green screen, there are multiple virtual locations, but actually only one real one – a smart move. The script was obviously written to the budget, another smart move.

I had a ball with this politically incorrect movie. Perhaps it and "Creature" would make for a solid double bill. Now, if you have a countdown clock to run in the intermission your show would be complete!

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Mary and I just got back to a trip to Virginia to see my mom, my brother Patrick and one of his sons, Matthew and his wife Annette. Matthew and Patrick have partnered in a new business, Street Rockets of Virginia and I happy to report they are doing quite well.

They also have a Facebook page here.

Originally, Matt wanted to sell used cycles and accessories, but state regulations proved to be not worth the effort to surmount them. So, he is building a business based on the needs of bike owners not to just maintain their rides, but to upgrade them.

Also at the heart of the business is supplying riders with what they want to wear. The proper t-shirt, sunglasses and jacket are very important.

My nephew is a born salesman and is a diehard rider, so I think he will be successful in this venture. His father is backing him 100 percent. I need a get a cycle now!



Cape Cod tripMary and I went to our timeshare on the Cape for a week earlier this month for a very necessary time of unplugging and re-charging.I find about the only way I can truly relax is to not watch the news, not check news websites and do nothing that smacks of my work.Up in Wellfleet on U.S. Route 6 we found a barbecue place that was definitely worth going to again. Wellfleet is also home to Books by the Ocean, an insanely claustrophobic used bookstore with tons of odd items. I picked up a wonderful still of Joan Blondell from "Havana Widows." The only problem with the place is that many items – magazines and comics – are in plastic bags which you're not allowed to open. I do it anyway.The Greenbriar Nature Center in Sandwich is a regular stop for us. Celebrating the life and career of children's author Thornton W. Burgess, the facility also features a large jam and jelly kitchen.The center has a collection of original Harrison Cady art. I'd never seen this image before.We had always wanted to walk through the Old Town Cemetery at Sandwich, which was the first settlement on the cape. I'm fascinated by the imagery used on the stones and how over years the angelic images changed to a weeping willow.I wondered if this was a portrait of the deceased.If I was to be buried, this skull image would be on my grave marker.This inscription was amazing in detail. People actually wanted their loved ones remembered and frequently suppled much information about them. We drove around the Cape quite a bit and stopped at the Chatham light house.There were many walks on the beach.This gull was looking for a hand-out.This is Mary's favorite activity: watching the ocean.Despite cool temperatures and persistent winds, I managed smoking a cigar.[...]



So, in 2007, my buddy Marty Langford calls me to see if a friend of his could shoot some footage for a movie he was making in our office since a newspaper was one of the key settings in the film.I asked my boss who said , "Yes," especially after he learn the star of the film was Corbin Bernsen, the busy and popular star of television shows and a number of films. I was very happy that, even though I wasn't on film as an extra, my office was cast as belonging to Corbin's character, a reporter in the Kolchak mold. I was even happier that the daughter of the late Darren McGavin was working on the film and sat down to speak with me about her father. She liked the fact I had a copy of the famous "leg lamp" on my desk. Film-making isn't terribly glamourous. I've been on two sets and indeed there is a tremendous amount of time devoted to setting up a shot that lasts on screen for seconds. Still, as a film guy, both visits have been fun and very informative.So now, years letter, I had the chance of seeing a completed cut of the film at the Bing Arts Center here in town. Now called "Hellbeast: The Ascension," the film is actually of combination of footage shot by producer and director Bob Stock did known as "Angel's Blade" with the footage he shot with Bernsen.It was the first American screening of the film, as Stock has made only foreign sales of it.Let me first present the material I wrote at the time of the shoot and then I'll offer a little review. Corbin Bernsen sits in my editor's chair as William Gove, the director of photography and Bob Stock (back to camera) lines up a shot in my office. EAST LONGMEADOW It's mid-way through Wednesday afternoon and actor Corbin Bernsen is walking up and down an aisle through the cubicles at Reminder Publications' office saying the same line over and over.Bernsen strides down the aisle, looks into the camera in the cubicle and delivers the simple line, "Thank you very much, Sarah" about nine different times. Each one is a different reading of the line. It's slightly surreal to have a well known actor a long stint on "L.A. Law," films such as "Major League" and currently a co-star on the USA Network show "Psych" filming in your office, much less hanging out and munching on donuts. Bernsen is the star of the new film "Angel's Blade 2: The Ascension," written, directed and produced by Robert Stock of Granby. A day of shooting needed to be at a newspaper office since Bernsen's character is an investigative reporter caught up in a story of the paranormal.Stock's crew took over the East Longmeadow offices for a day, much to the delight of the staff of Reminder Publications. Autographed photos of Bernsen decorate many cubicles.Stock is a computer animator and games designer who produced, wrote and directed "Angel's Blade," a horror film set in both the present day and the 19th century over a year ago. He did a test screening of the film in a Long Island theater and is revising and augmenting some of the film's special effects. Stock is co-producing the second film with Angel Light Pictures and, unlike the first film, has a name actor in a pivotal role. Bernsen's role is a loving homage to "Carl Kolchak," the character created by the late Darren McGavin in the highly popular "Nightstalker" movies and television series from the 1970s.An interesting coincidence is that McGavin's daughter, Graemm, is the film's line producer. She also has a small role in the film.This writer was heartened that his messy, artifact-strewn office was deemed "funky" by the crew and bec[...]



With Sgt. MikePerhaps the reason I saved a bunch of "With Sgt. Mike" cartoons, is the my father served in Vietnam. A career Air Force officer, it was his final tour of duty as the commander of a unit at Bien Hoa maintaining helicopters. Today I'm glad that in 1968 and 1969 I clipped the cartoons from, I believe, the Holyoke Transcript. I believe, although I certainly could be wrong, that "With Sgt. Mike" was the last nationally syndicated comic strip that was created to comment on a specific war and on the condition of American troops in that war.Service comedy is a signifiant genre in American popular culture. Think of movies such as "Buck Privates," comic strips such as "Beetle Bailey" and television shows such as Phil Silvers' Sgt. Bilko," "I Dream of Jeannie" and "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." The bureaucracy of the military, the questioning of authority and the peace-time missions that spawned behaviors out of boredom have all been basis for comedy.Shows or movies that adds the real issues of war into the comic stew are tricker propositions. A show such as "M.A.S.H." certainly proved that it could be done."With Sgt. Mike" had far less polish than a "Beetle Bailey," but far more soul. The cartoonist, Michael T. Hodgson, was a Marine who served in Vietnam. This is all I know about him. His work was definitely in the tradition of "Willie and Joe" and "Sad Sack."The tone of his work is pretty black, but he pulls it off because he is writing from experience. He successfully conveyed the ambiguity of the troop's feeling: they wanted to complete the mission, even if they question it. What fascinates me today is how much of his humor is applicable to what American troops are experiencing now in the longest conflict in the nation's history.Who was or, hopefully is, Mike Hodgson? I've not been able to dig up much information. The cartoons were collected in one volume published in 1970 and copies can be found on eBay.Any information would be fascinated[...]



Draft of sample chapter for "15 Minutes With"Okay... here's a preview of one of the chapters from my book "15 Minutes With..." This is a draft of the chapter on comedians. I'm still deciding if I should organize the interviews by alphabetical order or by year. Anyway, I hope some of you will take the time to read it and comment.I'm trying to find the other half of the Cosby interview, the three Firesign Theater interview pieces I've done over the years and have to include my 2003 interview with Dave Attell as well as an earlier piece with Jim Bruer.Also I need to rustle up photos to go along the the pieces.I just wanted to get some of the material out there to get some reactions.My first efforts in interviewing comedians came about when I was a local talk show host from 1982 to 1987 at WREB in Holyoke, Mass. A 500-watt daytime AM station, WREB was among the first station in that part of the state to adopt the talk format. Talk was still relatively exotic at a time when AM radio was king and music was the dominant format.I had received the job based on two merits: I had been a frequent guest on my friend George Murphy’s talk show speaking about the films of the 1930s and 40s and I was a newspaper reporter. I had no training in radio and received next to no advice or guidance about how to produce a show.I soon realized that I wasn’t cut out to assume some sort of persona to either inspire love or hatred from the audience – a talk radio device that is still used today. I decided that I should simply be myself and wanted to have a show that was hopefully entertaining and interesting to the audience.To achieve this, I prepared material for conversation everyday and booked a lot of interviews: local officials, people involved in presenting some sort of local activity or event and celebrities either passing through the area or looking for some press to publicize something. Several of those interviews are in this book, but many are not as the tapes for those shows are missing. Among the comics I spoke with were Emo Philips and Yakov Smirnoff and they quickly illustrated the difference between interviewing a comic for radio and for print. Radio is a performance venue well suited for most stand-up comics whose voice and words are their medium. Gags often don’t translate as well in print – the timing and inflection are missing or difficult to convey. So while I’ve had some good conversations with comics for print, the ones I interviewed for radio were largely stand-up sets with me as the audience. Philips has a highly eccentric persona and his interview was equally different. He actually had a friend at a piano for the interview who provided a music accompaniment to his jokes. Smirnoff basically did part of his stage routine – the Russian who escaped the Soviet Union for the brave new world of the United States – and was very funny. Lois Bromfield took a different approach to being on my talks show – she didn’t make one joke. She spoke about her life as a comic and later thanked me for not requiring her to be “on.” While many of the comics I’ve interviewed for print have been funny during our conversations, nearly all of them have of them have provided some insights into their process for writing and their life, which I find even more interesting. I’ve been surprised by some of the interviews – not in the least was with a guy whose signature person as a neurotic frequently irritated me: Richard Lewis. Lewis t[...]



Peter Bergman RIPFor some reason, the death of Peter Bergman hit me harder than I thought. Perhaps it was because ideas of mortality were rattling around in my head as we had attended the memorial service of a person we knew who died unexpectedly and was just a few years older than I am.Or perhaps it was just another reminder that someone who played a prominent role in my youth was gone.What Bergman's death means is there will never again be a Firesign Theater production that features the entire cast. Perhaps there never would have been another recording or video or tour, but now the possibility of any of that has been determined.Explaining the impact of The Firesign Theater on me is like talking about the impact of the Marx Brothers or Monty Python. For me, each of these comedy groups had an anti-establishment tone and attitude – very appealing to me – and a certainly density of material. I can watch the films all three of these groups produced over and over. They never fail to entertain.Of the three, The Firesigners had the least amount of mainstream media attention. They were truly an underground act with just enough success to keep them in the marketplace for 40 years. They were also the ones who produced the work that truly demanded your engagement.I've been trying to remember when I first heard them and recalled being at a high school party where their first album was played. I didn't get it, but then again I'm sure my attention was focused on whatever girls were there. In college and beyond is when my interest in them really flowered.One of the true privileges of being a journalist is being able to find reasons to interview people whose work you love. The Firesigners were no exception. I pursued them whenever I could.I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Bergman and Phil Proctor 1986 when "Eat or be Eaten" first came out. I'm looking for both the recording of the interview and the printed version to post here. The amazing thing about that discussion was how the Firesigners were working on a very early CD video game based on the TV special and subsequent album.I attended a performance of their 25th anniversary tour and it was a great evening. I met the guys in person afterwards and David Ossman said he recognized my name from a publication to which we were both contributors. That made my night.In 2001, I interviewed David Ossman with the DVD release of "Weirdly Cool." Great guy and a fun discussion with me flying my not-so-inner fanboy proudly.In Nov. 2002, I interviewed Peter Bergman and Phil Proctor again on the release of "J Men Forever," their delirious re-dubbing and editing of Republic serials into a rock and rock reefer comedy. When the film was first released in 1979, I went the theater twice where it was playing as I was so amazed by it. The DVD is one of the my standard "go to" discs when I need a laugh.I wonder who will replace them – a group who is funny and smart, willing to do challenging material, but not above a cheap laugh as well. The Kids in the Hall come closest, but they don;t have the multi-media edge that made The Firesign Theater what is was. Here is a great and little seen Firesign bit that was broadcast as part of the syndicated show "A Night at the Improv." Enjoy and thank you Peter Bergman. width="420" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> width="420" height="315" src="[...]



I've been watching a bunch of DVDs of late. Here are some!J. EdgarDirector Clint Eastwood's low-key biopic of J. Edgar Hoover, the founder of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), probably surprised some people. Some audiences may have thought Eastwood — known for his more conservative politics — might have presented a whitewashed vision of the man who held onto power by having private files on Washington players.Instead, Eastwood presents story of a very conflicted person and does so in a non-exploitative way. Perhaps this approach wasn't also satisfying to people who see Hoover as a villain.What I liked about the film is that Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black succeed in showing a portrait of an undeniable patriot and an uncontrollable paranoid; a man who was concerned about his image, more than his accomplishments; and a man who fought to create a federal policing agency, but also abused it.Ultimately, "J. Edgar" is about a man who fights against many personal odds to achieve a goal, but the very nature of how he achieved those goals destroyed the legacy he so desperately wanted to have.From capturing bank robbers in the 1930s to fighting Nazi spies in the 1940s, Hoover found himself unable to change with the law enforcement challenges of the last 20 years of his career. He fought acknowledging the existence of organized crime and looked for communist ties in anyone whom he believed was questioning the status quo. Leonardo DiCaprio is amazing in the role. Although he looks nothing like Hoover, DiCaprio, with the help of minimal makeup, transforms himself into the stubby bulldog.DiCaprio's performance is matched by Dame Judi Dench, who plays Hoover's controlling mother and Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson, Hoover's second in command at the FBI and his lover.Eastwood doesn't shy away from the issue of Hoover's homosexuality, but nor does he allow it to become the central theme of the movie. He effectively conveys the irony that Hoover sought to find out secrets about potential political opponents in order to protect his own secret.The film has a washed-out look, which adds a certain documentary feel to it. Eastwood effectively hops back and forth to different times in Hoover's life, but manages to keep the narrative from becoming confusing. It's a shame the Academy ignored the film. DiCaprio certainly deserved a nomination, as did Eastman. It's a fascinating drama, especially for those of us who remember J. Edgar. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>Bounty HuntersIf I was teaching a class in film as I did for years at Western New England University, I would be tempted to screen this new release as an example of how to make a low budget action exploitation film."Bounty Hunters" is a modest Canadian production starring former wrestling star Trish Stratus. Rule number one: have at least one person in the cast with some sort of name value who would appeal to the intended demographic.The story is straight forward: a team of bounty hunters must decide if they are going to accept a bribe of $1 million to return a gangster to the local crime boss who wants to kill him so he can't testify against him. Rule number two: keep the story simple.Rule three: give the audience what they want to see. Stratus can convincingly say a line and is quite beautiful, but she also can deliver the goods in the numerous fig[...]