Saturday, April 29, 2006

Voter Reform

So, I don't think there's many people out there who would argue that the American voting system needs some reform. At least, I hope there's not. After two presidential elections fraught with shady dealings by the Republican party, I think some changes need to made. And I think I've finally come up with the answer: reality television.

I know, I know. But the reason I thought of it is because of the high scrutiny around American Idol. You cull 12 finalists together and before the first episode of the competition even starts, The Smoking Gun knows everything these contestants ever did in their entire lives. Well, I really think we need the high scrutiny more when it comes to our politicians who are, after all, only making decisions for us in our names. And since we don't have any reporters with the balls to ask George W. Bush why he he's hellbent on making American arms factories a subsidiary of his Saudi masters, or how much money his family stands to gain personally from the deal, or why he's such a racist that he opposes people with other languages embracing "The Star-Spangled Banner," maybe we need the pop culture bloggers to do it for us.

Make it a competition, reality TV style. Each candidate has to go on TV and have a reasoned debate, and that's how they try to win the American people. No campaigns, no TV commercials, no shady contributions from cigarette and oil companies. Just what they do on TV, week after week, until we find our next president. Yeah, it's a stupid idea, but the system we have right now is pretty fucking stupid, too. And we don't vote every week, either; I'm just hoping we would have more than two parties participating here. We give them three debates, spread across three weeks, and every side gets to present their own case. Then we have a rebuttal period, which also has to include someone talking about what it actually says in the Constitution and in American law, and not just what the politicians assume we'll believe is truth.

Dump the electoral college; electors can do whatever they want, and they're only there to protect the government from our attempts to choose our own leaders. The government is an institution that is over two centuries-old, and like most old institutions, it's really only interested in perpetuating itself. And that involves protecting itself from such a trifling thing as democracy. So we need to kick out the electors and make every vote actually count for something; a popular election will be fine.

The means of voting will have to be changed, too. It needs to be electronic, but secure; we need to be sure that everyone who votes only votes once. And voting has to be mandatory, I'm afraid. Everyone of voter age needs to vote, otherwise the system is for shit. Too many people want to hide their heads in the sand and think it doesn't effect them, but like my mama says, if your head's in the sand, you won't notice the government fucking you in the ass. Failure to vote must be penalized by either by the loss of some kind of government service or by a fine that is taken directly from your paycheck.

Another reason I think the government doesn't really want you to vote? It's always on a Tuesday, and it's hard for people to get out and vote when they have to work or go to college classes or whatever. It's a real hassle to find time on a work day to go and vote, so many of us just don't. So I propose we cap off the reality TV series by making Voting Day a federal holiday; no work and no school. Make it a Monday; everyone likes to take Monday off.

It's just an idea of mine. If anyone has anything better, I'd love to hear it.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Throwdown 4/28

15 random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. So, with Mission: Impossible III finished, J.J. Abrams may move on to Star Trek Babies or whatever the hell it’s called, and he’s bringing his fellow Lost producers on board. Because, what, the show is only going to get more creative and focused without the producers taking care of it? I already blame MI3 for the aimlessness of the first half of the current season.

2. Ian Somerhalder and Maggie Grace, who played siblings Boone and Shannon on Lost until both characters were killed off, are dating in real life. Sex-aaaay...

3. Elton John’s musical Lestat is getting panned. Imagine that, Elton John writing a bad musical. If only there weren’t already two bad ones that might have warned critics in advance. I liked The Lion King just fine, but have you heard Aida and Billy Elliot? Ouch, dude.

4. So, Jessica Simpson loses the cover of Vanity Fair because she won’t talk about the divorce, and Nick Lachey loses the cover of Rolling Stone because he won’t talk about her supposedly cheating on him. Wow, even the supposedly legitimate magazines are bitchy tabloids. Well done, American magazine industry. By the way, Nick: not cool deciding, after months of hookup upon hookup, that you need to tell an interviewer that you still love Jessica and want her back just two weeks before your album comes out and you need to look like a good guy with your chick audience. Not cool at all. Especially since we know you’re going to be all over Lindsay Lohan to spite your ex as soon as the album comes out and sells a whopping 25,000 copies.

5. Looks like Britney didn’t go to Kevin Federline’s debut performance. Is their marriage in trouble? Hey, maybe she just doesn’t like shitty music. Speaking of Britney, I really hope she’s pregnant. Because there’s nothing worse for a fat chick than being mistaken for pregnant; that’s just insulting. Not that Britney’s really fat, you assholes. She looks perfect to me. Also in Britney news, she’s suing the manufacturers of the high chair. Well, you can’t blame her for that; it’s either that or look like a negligent mother. Hey, maybe the high chair wasn’t safe enough; child care products are always being recalled. She’s also fired her nanny and cancelled a ton of engagements, because she’s tired of looking like a bad mother and wants to stay home with the baby for awhile. Man, remember when our society criticized women for not wanting to go out and work? Now it forces them back into the house.

6. Michelle Rodriguez chose to plead guilty, pay a fine, and spend five days in jail rather than do 240 hours of community service. Dude, if I could pay the fine and get the time off work, I’d do the same fucking thing. Give me a break, man.

7. I hate blaming the victim, I really do, but... Denise Richards, you did marry Charlie Sheen... Were you expecting this divorce to be a classy affair?

8. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are begging for privacy while she’s gestating. God, if only it would happen. I’m already sick of hearing about this kid, and it hasn’t even been born yet. And speaking of children I’m sick of, how am I supposed to feel about Suri Cruise magically appearing just before Tom Cruise has to go off on his press tour for Mission: Impossible III? I mean, I don’t know, it just seems like such a coincidence, especially after those pictures of what looked like Katie Holmes with a beach ball under her shirt, and wasn’t the baby due on March 1 or something? Just sayin’. Mr. Family Values ran off to a European press junket straight off, by the way. As for Katie Holmes... well, what happened to Rosemary after the baby was born, again?

9. I love that critics who love Julia Roberts in movies are hating her in this play she’s in. I knew history would prove me right; she’s a terrible, flat, charmless actress with a monotone voice and no personality. Thank you.

10. Declassified intelligence documents reveal that Saddam Hussein never had any weapons of mass destruction. How will the Republicans spin this one? Saddam himself perpetuated the rumor that he did have missiles, because he was afraid Iran or Israel would attack him if they discovered he didn’t have them. Even his top men believed he had the damn things. You know, we could have done business with the guy and kept the region stable. I bet he would actually found bin Laden. I mean, the guy’s a murderer, but our leader’s a stooge, so what are you gonna do?

11. The FDA announced recently that there were "no sound scientific studies" on the medical effects of marijuana. Huh, that’s funny. The Review of Human Studies on Medical Use of Marijuana by Dale H. Gieringer, Ph.D., cites 609 separate medical studies. And that was in 1996! I guess the government just prefers that drug dealers stay in business.

12. I love this: the Granny Peace Brigade. Eighteen women, average age 85, were arrested outside the Times Square recruiting station for, disturbing the peace. They were offered a plea, and refused it, insisting on going to trial instead. They believe the war is wrong so much that they’re willing to let the nation look ridiculous by putting eighteen old grannies on trial for disturbing the peace! These women are my heroes, man.

13. President Ilham H. Aliyev of Azerbaijan is visiting the White House this week. True, his country has never had a free election, and his election wasn’t exactly fair, and he uses riot police to crush political dissidence, and President Bush has made demanding, er, promoting democracy a theme of his reign, but hey, Aliyev offered to buy us gas and he supports the war, so what the hell. Business before freedom, eh Dubya? You fucking prick.

14. Bush’s people tried to reserve the Royal Suite and the entire top floor of the Imperial Hotel in Vienna, considered one of the top luxury suites in the world, but it had already been reserved by the Rolling Stones. Apparently, Bush’s people tried to convince Mick Jagger to give the rooms up, but Mick, who has been an outspoken opponent of the war, couldn’t be convinced. Hey, no offense, Dubya, but you’re just some president. These are the Rolling Stones.

15. Turns out that cutting off all means of communications didn’t quell those teenagers in Nepal; they demonstrated their way right up to King Gyanendra’s palace in Katmandu. He’s offering to turn control of the state over to an elected (or selected by the crowd) prime minister. It’s always interesting to see countries where people actually care about their future and their governance, since I don’t actually live in one.

Is Britney Fat?

Wow. I don't know why that's called fat and unattractive, because it gives me an excruciating hard-on. Britney, seriously, I would be happy to sit at home, raise your kids right, give you all the moral support you need, and let you take care of me. Sounds like a perfect marriage to me... Posted by Picasa

Jessica Moping

Aw, she looks so forlorn and lonely. She just needs to be loved. Hmm, maybe if my marriage to Britney doesn't work out...  Posted by Picasa

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Employee of the Month

A still of Jessica in her next movie. Jesus Christ, if I had worked with a girl like that at Target... Posted by Picasa

Great Big Globs of Greasy, Grimy Gander Guts

There's been quite the controversy in nearby Chicago over foie gras. Yes, crime-and-drug-ridden Chicago, the home of Scarface Al Capone, Jack "Machine Gun" McGurn, Hymie Weiss, Bugs Moran, has itself all in a snit over foie gras.

Foie gras is, of course, fattened goose liver. It's a delicacy of French cuisine, apparently, though I've never had any French cuisine, and the pictures of foie gras I just looked at on the internet are not very enticing. The big problem that PETA terrorists have is that it is inhumane to force-feed geese with a tube in order to fatten them up. That's right. PETA, who think animals which have no concept of ethics are meant to to be treated ethically, have looked at a country where too many people have no food at all and have decided the worst problem the corrupt city of Chicago has, is that geese are fed inhumanely when preparing them for their deaths.

Inhumane? INHUMANE? One of the reasons I find discussions like this impossible to comprehend is because of the hair-splitting on what constitutes humane deaths. Humane deaths. How do those two words even go together? If it were humane, it wouldn't involve killing!

So, just so we're clear, forcing geese to eat through a tube is inhumane, and forcing braindead comatose patients to eat through a tube is not in any way playing God.

Anyway, Mayor Richard Daley at least has his head in the right place. He's quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times as saying: "We have children getting killed by gang leaders and dope dealers. We have real issues here in this city. And we're dealing with foie gras? Let's get some priorities. Our priorities should be children, the quality of education. It should be seniors. We should worry about the gas price. We should worry about the global economy."

Amen, brother.

But, apparently the members of animal rights organizations don't see any real problem with the lives of Chicagoans beyond the inhumane treatment of non-humans. Seriously, people, if Alderman Joe Moore can't find anything better to do for the city than decide what people can or cannot eat, then he doesn't deserve to be an alderman anymore. Get a job, you dope. Aren't there starving children somewhere in Chicago that need a hand?

A Little Less Jesus, a Little More Clarity

I know the Northern Star is only a university paper, but can't they get somebody to proofread the damn thing? The copy in the student-written articles is all over the place, with errors piling up constantly, both mechanical and grammatical. Today at lunch, I was reading an article headlined "Unlocking mysteries from the popular 'Da Vinci Code'" by Michelle Gilbert. This thing reads like it was written by a junior high student.

At NIU, there was a screening of The Da Vinci Code, followed by a Q&A session and a lecture given by Nicholas Perrin, the professor of New Testament studies at nearby Wheaton College. The event seems like it was set up as one of many public Catholic refutations of the film, as well as of The Secret Gospels. Ms. Gilbert devotes the bulk of her article to four major questions, and how they were answered.

Question 1: Was the divinity of Christ voted upon centuries later at Nicea?

The Star's Exact Words: Perrin's answer: No. The divinity of Christ had long been established by that point. "Jesus was viewed as a mortal profit, a great and powerful man, but a man none the less," Perrin said.

Okay, first off, let's get the mispelling of prophet out of the way. God damn it, that's a fucking stupid mistake. Now let's get to the structure of the two sentences. First, the Star is telling us that the divinity of Christ had long been established by the fourth century, when the First Council of Nicea took place; and a second later, Dr. Perrin is telling us that Jesus is a mortal prophet, which implies a lack of divinity. What is the answer here? Can we have some clarification on this muddle?

The fact is this: Jesus was trying to reform the Great Temple of Jerusalem and the organization of Judaism, not establish his own church. If you look closely, you'll see that he's not asking people to worship him, he's telling them to make their peace with God, because the world's about to end. The term "Catholic Church" was not used, as far as we know, until Ignatius of Antioch used it in a letter written in 110 (maybe; many claim the letter is a forgery written 250 years later). The Jewish Christian religion was hijacked by Paul of Tarsus around 55-67, and he broke with the Temple because they were unwilling to accept the divinity of Christ; the Jews considered him, and still do, a prophet. Paul played on the anti-Semitism of Rome to build an entirely different religion dedicated to the divinity of Christ. But the persecution of Christians in Rome didn't stop until 313, when Constantine's Edict of Milan made the Roman Empire religion-neutral. The First Council of Nicea, in 325, attempted to codify all sects of Christianity into one organized, universal church; it was specifically set up to refute the Arianist belief that Christ was a man born of woman, and not an aspect of the God himself. The Nicene Creed states that the apostolic (Roman) Church does not recognize those who say God and Jesus were separate. The divinty of Christ had not, then, been long established by 325.

Question 2: Were the 80 Gospels really considered for the Christian Cannon?

The Star's Exact Words: Perrin's answer: No. Gospels such as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John had all appeared, even by the most liberal views, by the year 120 A.D., while gospels like Philip did not appear until a bracket of the years 175 through 250 A.D. "There is no evidence to more than three dozen gospels by the 4th or 5th century," Perrin said. "The best evidence is in the times of the appearance of different gospels."

Again, let's just get the awful mispelling of the word canon out of the way. I don't know what Dr. Perrin is trying to say here, probably because the Star is so badly condensing his words. Yes, all four of the canonical gospels had appeared by 120. General scholarly consensus is that Mark was written around 68 to 73 (to a Roman audience), Matthew around 70 to 100 (to a Jewish audience), Luke around 80 to 100 (to a Greek patron), and John between 90 and 110 (to a general readership). All four were most likely written in Greek. There are nine gospels in the New Testament Apocrypha, and numerous other texts that are referred to as gospels, though they do not purport to be revealed. Most of the apocryphal gospels were not included because of doubts of authorship, too much distance to the purported events of Jesus's life, or simply because of heretical elements. The Gospel of Peter, for example, is considered heretical because of docetic elements (docetism is the belief that Jesus's physical body and crucifixion were an illusion). There are other small reports throughout history of many gospels being written and burned, but there is no real evidence to support these claims. 80 sounds like a number pulled out of thin air.

Question 3: Do the canomeal gospels supress a human Jesus?

The Star's Exact Words: Perrin's answer: No. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John show emotions in Jesus such as amazement, distress, hunger, temptation, and fatigue, while Perrin said the Gospel of Philip paints a very in-human picture of Jesus. "He's like a chameleon. Whatever you are, he'll be like you," Perrin said.

Did Dr. Perrin really say that dumbass quote? Because it's so simplistic and retarded that I don't know how to approach it.

I can't figure out what the heck canomeal means. I think it's most likely a wild misspelling of canonical.

"A very in-human picture of Jesus"? Does that mean the Gospel of Philip makes Jesus seem inhuman, or, like in The Three Amigos, is he so human, he's inhuman? I've not read the Gospel of Philip, so I have no idea. All I know about it is that it is considered a Gnostic text, there is only one manuscript of it extant, and it was written in Coptic Egyptian. It is the source of the belief that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. Perhaps Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh should sue Philip for plagiarizing their idea somewhere between the years 180 and 350.

Question 4: Was Jesus married?

The Star's Exact Words: Perrin's answer: Though it is hard to be 100 percent sure, no. Within the Gospel of Philip used throughout The Da Vinci Code, Perrin said sex is viewed as inherently bad in any situation, including marriage. Prophets also were normally seen as single, and often practiced celibacy to show their commitment to the study of the Torah.

From what I've read about the Gospel of Philip, there are some passages which praise virginity; the gospel says that Adam was born of two virgins (the Holy Spirit and the earth) and Jesus had to be born of a virgin also to correct Adam's sin. Was Jesus married? Well, not in the canonical gospels, and since the Church uses the canon, I guess the official papist answer would be no. And, as I've argued many times, Christianity is not a philosophy, it is an organized belief system that you have to adhere to. Otherwise you're not practicing magic, but claiming that belief in it makes you a witch.

And this is what I hate most about The Passion of the Christ, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Da Vinci Code: every dumbass with time on his hands thinks that he's a biblical scholar. And then they go around misquoting bible professors, or reporting this mythological garbage as though it were actual news. It's hard to argue that movies have no effect on sophisticated people and their ways of thinking when too many people I know have become Christians because Mel Gibson shamed them into it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Doubtless there are some who will call me a stick in the mud, but I don't find plotless torture as incredibly entertaining as the rest of the Western world seems to. This is another one of those modern "horror" movies that are really just action thrillers with nothing interesting or original to say. These stupid things are extremely popular right now, but damned if I know why. I feel like I've seen this movie five times already. The plot... no, there's no plot. This film is devoid of such complex storytelling devices as characterization, motivation, and structure. Alright, the concept is that two young ladies from Britain are touring around the West Australian outback with an Australian friend. They're all total idiots, and like every victim, weak and civilized (this is another one of those movies that argues violence as the natural state of man, although it's not creative about it, or even original). They're captured by one of the many sick freaks who, if the movies are to be believed, are prowling around the furthest regions of Australia. The rest is all brutality and cruelty, and then it mercifully ends, formula completed. The young man escapes, and we're told that this is a true story, even though the major bulk of the film was not witnessed by the only survivor, so it's still complete bullshit. A sick waste of time. No stars.

Nice little documentary about the origin, evolution, and final end of short films that used to play before the feature. Good grouping, if not exactly compelling. **1/2 stars.

TRAUMA (1993)
I didn't find this up to the usual quality of Dario Argento's films, but lesser Argento is still better than 95% of the horror films ever made. The lovely Asia stars in this one as a teenager who is running from a mental institution and a psychotic killer (with a mechanical garotte--definitely something I haven't seen before) after the death of her parents, who are mediums. It's odd and it doesn't quite come together convincingly, but like all of Argento's films the pacing is impeccable and it's never boring. Great score by Pino Donaggio, with some great gore effects by Tom Savini. All of Dario Argento's films are essential viewing. ***1/2 stars.

Best described as The Wizard of Oz with a holocaust. Based on Jane Yolen's book, a modern Jewish girl played by Kirsten Dunst (?!) doesn't appreciate her heritage until she goes back in time and spends a few days in a concentration camp. She also meets her aunt as a young woman, played by Brittany Murphy (?!). Dunst and Murphy are actually very good in the movie (this was before Dunst became so irritatingly detached from her performances), and it has its moments. A good movie for kids who don't understand the Holocaust, and it's not so preachy, either. The gas chamber scene is chilling. *** stars.

THE WILD (2006)
It's not a bad movie, it's just not a very good one, either. It's better than Chicken Little, and it's much less irritating than Madagascar, but it's not really a movie I would recommend to anyone for any reason. In fact, during much of the movie, I kept making a mental list of things I don't want to see in animation anymore: animals as allegories for American adults working on their existential problems, fart gags, having the characters play the sport-of-the-moment (Cars will do NASCAR, the animals in this movie are curling), penguins, and movies that end with a big dance party. But there are good points, too. For the most part, the animation is very good. The pop culture references are kept to a fairly acceptable minimum. Some of the voices work, especially Eddie Izzard, who is actually allowed to be funny in a movie for a change. There's one really good seqeunce where the characters, hiding in the back of a garbage truck, enter Manhattan for the first time while Coldplay's ethereal "Clocks" (the only thing history will remember them for, and the only thing they deserve to be remembered for) plays; it's the only time I've seen something like this that really feels alien, like the characters are really out in the unknown. It's the best moment in a mostly middling film. And a squirrel kissing a giraffe? Ew. Uncomfortable and ew. **1/2 stars.

THE BEAST (1975)
Walerian Borowczyk's contemplation on sex feels like a direct answer to Jean Cocteau's 1946 Beauty and the Beast. Where Cocteau argued that innocence and dreams were the natural state of mankind, Borowczyk argues for lust and sexuality. This is a film that is alternately fantastic and savage, and opens with graphic (and surprisingly erotic) scenes of horses mating. The plot is pretty much beside the point next to the imagery of the fantasy sequences and as a setup to an erotic display of bestiality that is one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. The modern-day scenes only serve to highlight what Borowczyk sees as the hypocrisy of society, which pushes aside and represses all things irrational, fantastic, and sexual in favor of a mundane, materialist existence. It is frank and adult, and completely unapologetic in its plea for honesty in dealing with our emotions about sex. The graphicness of the film (and make no mistake, this is a very graphic film) doesn't throw me off, however, because the director is able to use it to make his point. This is a striking, very European work that stands as a hallmark of erotic cinema. ***1/2 stars.

Helen Mirren gives an excellent performance as the Virgin Queen, bringing a surprising amount of passion to the role. Even as a miniseries, this newest depiction of the Elizabethan Age is perhaps too long, but it's completely tempered by the presence of Mirren, who shows the life inside of the symbol, who had the same wants and needs as any woman, but could not exercise them at all (as the Duc d'Anjou tells her, "even our gestures are not our own"). I don't know if this was intentional, but the casting of Helen Mirren, an actress who has given many of her best performances as a passionate, erotic woman who acts on those impulses, gives Elizabeth an added energy. Mirren has always been good at playing sexual; here, she has to repress that, and the obvious pain it causes Elizabeth is palpable. The rest of the movie isn't quite up to her, even though some of the performances--most notably Ian McDiarmid and Toby Jones--are standout. Otherwise, the miniseries meanders too much, and Hugh Dancy is likeable as the Earl of Essex, but doesn't quite have the gravity to be believable. *** stars.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Evaluating Disney: 1938

No one would have accused Walt Disney in 1938 of being unambitious. He would not just rest on his laurels after the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; there were many, many projects already in stages of development. He was a tad uncertain of which direction to go in, but he knew one thing: he was not going to cave in to public demand for another Dwarfs feature.

Although he would never really work up any enthusiasm for it, Walt had purchased the rights to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, including the Tenniel illustrations, in 1931 (the film was originally intended to be a live-action/animation hybrid, similar to the Alice Comedies, starring Mary Pickford; this was scrapped when Paramount released their all-star Alice in Wonderland in 1933). Walt was more excited about Peter Pan, which was proving to be problematic, as was Felix Salten’s novel Bambi: A Life in the Woods, which had been kicking around the studio since 1935, and about which Walt had very specific ideas. Also floating around the studio at the time were The Romance of Reynard, Edmond Rostand’s Chanticleer, The Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, and even J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which was rejected pretty early. Walt wanted to move right away on the next animated feature. His original plans were to follow Snow White with Bambi and then Peter Pan, but both projects were having story problems. Instead, he decided to go for Pinocchio, which seemed to have stability going for it.

The shorts were starting to undergo a shift in focus as well. Mickey Mouse was proving to be a victim of his own success; his standing in the community was so legendary, it became impossible to build gags around him. Audiences would be offended if Mickey indulged in any of the bratty, amoral behavior that had made him popular in the first place; less and less cartoons in the Mickey Mouse series would appear, and he would most often appear with Pluto and/or Donald and Goofy. Donald Duck, whose own series of cartoons had begun the previous year, was proving to be wildly popular. There were no restrictions on Donald; he had a temper, he smashed things in anger, he behaved badly, and his solution to every problem seemed to be clubbing it until it went away. Mickey couldn’t drink or smoke or find a piano in the jungle and dance with cannibals anymore, but Donald’s short-fused reactions were what made him so funny in the first place. Two cartoons would appear in 1938 that focused on Donald and Goofy without the Mouse; they were simply funnier than Mickey.

The Silly Symphonies seemed to be coming to an end; in 1938, only five of these cartoons would be released. Walt saw their popularity waning, and more and more used them as training ground for the techniques he would use in features. He also wanted to put the animators to work elsewhere. But there was still a constant influx of ideas for future episodes that never came to be: Jabberwocky, Carl Sandburg’s Abdul Abulbul Amir, Struebel Peter, The Musicians of Bremen, Santa Claus Symphony, Minehaha. The Emperor’s New Clothes was not considered strong enough, but Walt liked Hans Christian Andersen, and wanted to adapt more of his stories. Although attempts to make The Emperor’s New Clothes with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy didn’t pan out, Walt had other Andersen-based Silly Symphonies in development: The Emperor’s Nightingale, Through the Picture Frame, The Little Mermaid, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, and The Little Fir Tree. The problem was that Andersen’s stories ended on such down notes, usually with the death of the main character, and no number of beautifully-rendered Kay Nielsen concept art could change that. But Walt wouldn’t give up on the idea, and started active production on the idea of an Andersen feature, telling the life story of the fairy tale writer and punctuating it with animated episodes depicting the stories. Tales of Hans Christian Andersen was put into development just before the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The Silly Symphonies had also been the seed of another major project. Walt Disney had met popular music conductor Leopold Stokowski at a party in Hollywood, and Stokowski had put forth the idea of a two-reel cartoon using Paul Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice starring Mickey Mouse. Stokowski offered to conduct the orchestra for such a project, and by 1938 it became obvious that the experimental film would cost too much money to be successful. Walt decided to expand it into an anthology of such cartoons, tentatively referred to as The Concert Feature, which would be bold and daring, but would also signal the end of Silly Symphonies. With an enormous set list of classical music being kicked around in 1938, and hundreds of concept drawings being cranked out, Disney had at least three films he was certain would be completed in the next year or two: Pinocchio, Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, and The Concert Feature.

2/11: Self Control
Donald Duck. Donald tries to relax in a hammock while listening to a radio announcer give tips on how to keep from losing your temper. Of course, he’s severely tested when things start getting irritating. You know, I almost never feel like Donald’s the one in the wrong. Come on, the woodpecker was taking a bath in his lemonade, the little bastard was asking for it! The animation is great, even if the short is kind of average.

2/25: Boat Builders
Mickey Mouse. Mickey, Donald, and Goofy attempt to put a boat together with a kit "so simple, a child could do it." The best parts are with Goofy, who falls in love with the mermaid figurehead. There’s not much to say about it, but it’s yet another of those classic shorts featuring the trio doing a their usual inept jobs.

3/11: Donald’s Better Self
Donald Duck. Donald is the subject of a fight between his guardian angel and tempting devil when he has to go to school. Yeah, I would have gone fishing, too. Hell, I still would. That’s my problem. A little preachy, but cute.

4/1: The Moth and the Flame
Silly Symphonies. Not on DVD and unseen by me.

4/15: Donald’s Nephews
Donald Duck. Oh, here we go: the first appearance of Huey, Dewey, and Louie, masters of evil. In their earliest appearance, the nephews have no sense of justice, they just want to torment Donald as much as they possibly can. Donald turns to a book for advice, Modern Child Training, but none of the advice works with the little hellions, who just destroy his house. The nephews turned out to be perfect foils for the Duck. Though, really, anything little, assertive, and bastardly were perfect foils for the Duck. If Disney cartoons have taught me anything, it’s that little things are bastards. And just where the hell is Donald’s sister Dumbella, anyway?

5/6: Mickey’s Trailer
Mickey Mouse. The absolute best of the Mickey/Donald/Goofy shorts (and that’s really saying something), with the gang trying to cross the mountains in a trailer tricked-out with a lot of great gadgets. Man, when I was a kid, I so wanted to live like this. The great tracking shot, the gadget gags, the personality bits; director Ben Sharpsteen completely outdoes himself here. And whoever thought Goofy should do the driving... well, you can see where that one’s going.

5/27: Wynken, Blynken, and Nod
Silly Symphonies. On the one hand, it’s adorable and sweet and masterfully animated. On the other, it’s boring, precious, and tiresome. For children, it’s comforting; for adults, it’s pretentious. Walt was using this series more and more as a training ground to develop techniques for the features (in this case, the sparkly star effects), and they were becoming far too expensive to maintain. This is a good cartoon on a technical level (hell, a great one), but it sustains little interest beyond that.

6/17: Polar Trappers
Donald Duck. Goofy tries to trap a walrus in the Arctic while Donald, tired of cooking beans, tries to lure some delicious penguins into a trap. Yeah, that’s Donald; he just grabs an axe and tries to get him some dinner, and when that doesn’t work, he leads them on like the Pied Piper. There’s an extremely cute baby penguin in here, too, that’s the most adorable of the many, many animated penguins I’ve seen through the years. Goofy has some funny moments, and there’s some excellent animation when he’s crawling around inside an ice cave. This probably would’ve been funnier if it was just Donald trying to trap dinner, leading up to the penguins and the final snowball gag. But just as it is it’s pretty hilarious.

7/8: Good Scouts
Donald Duck. Donald and his nephews go camping, with typical results. This short firmly sets up the dynamic of Donald’s character and his relationship with Huey, Dewey, and Louie. He’s arrogant, opportunistic, selfish, and suspicious of his nephews; they like their uncle and want to be with him, but when he unjustly wrongs them they just have to get him back. This is a pretty funny short, too; the bear that chases Donald looks like an "old Disney" bear. The new look isn’t firmly in place yet. As soon as Mickey’s eyes have pupils, there’s no going back... Once again, Donald's solution to every problem is to take a club and whack at it.

7/29: The Fox Hunt
Donald Duck. Pretty much what it says it is. This is another Donald/Goofy short that would’ve worked just fine without Goofy. Everyone seems to be on this hunt (Mickey can be seen in a cameo with, of all people, Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow), but of course it’s Donald who gets the crap job of keeping the dogs. The "shower of foxes" gag is particularly hilarious.

8/19: The Whalers
Mickey Mouse. Dick Huemer directed this short, in which Mickey, Donald, and Goofy try to catch whales at sea. Some classic gags here, including Goofy lighting his finger on fire in place of a fuse, and his classic closing line: "Gawrsh, he must have shrunk!"

9/9: Mickey’s Parrot
Mickey Mouse. Mickey and Pluto are harried one night when they think an escaped convict is hiding in their house. The parrot is pretty irritating, but Pluto has some really funny scenes with a fish. Mickey always has that shotgun handy, doesn’t he? This time, it’s hanging right up on the bedroom wall.

9/29: The Brave Little Tailor
Mickey Mouse. This is the absolute best Mickey Mouse short; you can tell a lot of time and money went into this cartoon. The backgrounds are so rich and lush, and there is not a single moment that looks like cost-cutting went into it. As a result, it was very expensive and didn’t really make its money back, but it does prove that Mickey is the perfect character to star in stories like this one. Based ostensibly on the Brothers Grimm tale The Valiant Little Tailor, Mickey plays a tailor who, for the hand of Princess Minnie, agrees to slay a giant (who is superbly animated by Bill Tytla). Trivia note: this is the only short film from 1938 that Minnie appears in. This adventure is genuinely exciting; they really should have put Mickey in more Grimm-based fairy tales, where he can be moral and likeable without being boring and average. I love this short.

10/14: Farmyard Symphony
Silly Symphonies. There is no dialogue in this classy short, just animals going about their daily routine to the music of Rossini, Beethoven, and Wagner. Just like Brave Little Tailor and Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, some real money was spent on this short (the water effects, in particular, are excellent). One of the Silly Symphonies that really is a precursor to Fantasia, but highly enjoyable on its own terms.

11/4: Donald’s Golf Game
Donald Duck. Pretty average for a Donald Duck cartoon, with Donald trying to play golf and his nephews caddying for him. Some good gags, but not a high point.

11/25: Ferdinand the Bull
Special cartoon. This is one of Disney’s most wonderful cartoons, based on the excellent Munro Leaf children’s book about a bull who doesn’t want to fight in the bullring; he just wants to sit under the cork tree and smell the flowers. The theme of the book is timeless: appreciate the simple things and don’t become something you’re not. There are also readings about homosexual acceptance and the effectiveness of pacifism, and I guess I can see those, too. However it’s interpreted, though, this cartoon never fails to leave me feeling comforted and warmed. It’s a nice cartoon, in the best sense of that word, and it deservedly won an Academy Award.

12/19: Merbabies
Silly Symphonies. This is another one of those pageant/parade cartoons, with Merbabies capering about, having a parade and a circus, and not doing anything very interesting. The underwater effects are nice, though, as are the backgrounds. Ostensibly a sequel to Water Babies. The most interesting thing about this short is that the workload at Disney was so intense (remember, Pinocchio, The Concert Feature, Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, Peter Pan, and Bambi were all in production) that this cartoon was actually farmed out to Harman-Ising Studios at MGM. So, we have the only Disney short directed by Disney’s old Kansas pal Rudolph Ising. Another short, The Little Goldfish, was also farmed to the duo, only to be canceled by Disney (it was released through MGM, instead).

12/23: Mother Goose Goes Hollywood
Silly Symphonies. This short caricatures many Hollywood stars in burlesque versions of nursery rhymes. It's very funny, especially if you know who all the stars are, and I enjoyed it. Fun direction by Wilfred Jackson.

As we'll see in the future, Disney's plans didn't always pan out. And it might have helped future projects if he hadn't immediately spent all of the Snow White profits on a brand-new studio (although, since that success, Disney found that banks were willing to work with him instead of against him). The lean times were coming. But for now, Disney's artistic ambitions were high and bright.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Best Picture of Lucy Pinder Ever

Never in my entire life have I wanted an ice cream so damn much. Posted by Picasa