Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Bible Summarized by a Smartass, Part Two: Genesis 28-50

When last we left Jacob, he was getting the hell out of Dodge because he had tricked his brother into giving up his birthright and tricked his father into giving him the firstborn's blessing. At Rebekah's behest, Jacob flees to his uncle Laban's house.

Chapter Twenty-Eight
While Jacob is busy letting his mom run his life, he also accedes to her request that he not marry a Canaanite, because racism is so clearly a part of God’s design (and if there’s anyone more pious than a woman who ruins the life of one son at the expense of another’s by playing an elaborate trick on their father, I haven’t heard of her). Rebekah reminds Jake of the family pipe dream: the nation, the descendents, etc. Esau, too, decides that he can’t marry a Canaanite and, despite being married to two Hittite women (see Chapter 26), he gets married to Mahalath from Ishmael. Jacob dreams of a ladder to Heaven; at the top, God natters on about the land, the descendents, etc. When Jake wakes up, he declares he is at the Gate of Heaven and names it Bethel, despite the fact that it’s apparently already called Luz (probably by people who already live there, but since when does that stop anyone?). Jake vows to honor God, provided God helps him find a wife and keeps him safe. Is God really the guy you want to slap conditions on?

Chapter Twenty-Nine
Jake falls in love with Rachel, despite the fact that she’s Uncle Laban’s daughter and therefore his cousin. Lots of cousin love in the Bible. Laban lets Jake move in, but makes him work for his room and board (unpaid because, hey, they’re family). Jake agrees to work for seven unpaid years if he can marry Rachel at the end of it, which seems like a real waste of his twenties and besides, when those years are over Laban gives Jake his older daughter, Leah, and Jake “accidentally” makes it with her. Jake’s pissed in the morning, but Laban just shrugs; can’t give away the younger daughter when the older daughter’s not married, it just isn’t done. Jake, ever the sucker, works another seven unpaid years (and this despite a wife to support), and then gets his beloved Rachel, even though they’ve wasted fourteen years of fun, healthy marriage that might’ve been. Then, I guess for good measure, Jake works a third seven year shift. Turns out Rachel’s barren anyway, but Leah has four sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah.

Chapter Thirty
Despite his undying love for the girl, Jake gets really, really pissed off that Rachel can’t have children. Rachel offers her maid Bilhah, and the heir-crazed Jacob knocks her up twice: enter Dan and Naphtali. One kid always gets the crazy name. Not to be outdone, Leah gives Jake her maid, Zilpah, and a seventh son appears: Asher. As a reward for the use of a breeding maid, God “blesses” Leah with a fifth boy, Issachar. Oh, and another one, Zebulun. And there's someone called Gad in all that mess. Oh, and a baby girl, Dinah. And still, after all of this soap opera that’s produced ten sons, Jake is fucking pissed that Rachel ain’t pumping one out. So God takes pity and gives her a boy, Joseph, and Jacob finally shuts up about children. He decides it’s time to move on with their lives, so Laban gives him some sheep and goats and off they go. Jake prospers, probably because of all that free labor his sons put in.

Chapter Thirty-One
Laban is jealous that Jake is doing so well. Laban’s operation is failing and, as always, it’s leading to some fairly murderous thoughts. God tells Jake to go back to Canaan; Rachel steals her dad’s family idols, leading to a wild pursuit that is in no way exciting. Laban sets off after Jake & Sons, and, despite some of God's warnings, confronts Jake, who admits he’s running because he’s a scared little bitch. Laban looks around for his idols, which offends Jake, but the two hug it out and build a little stone heap to mark their peace. Laban’s parting advice: “Don’t marry anyone else.” To which Jake probably thinks: “No shit, pal.” Or at least none with crazy, murderous fathers.

Chapter Thirty-Two
Angels meet up with Jake and tell him to send messengers to Esau, who has done quite well for himself despite Isaac refusing to bless him. Esau decides to meet Jake with a couple of men, 400 or so, and Jake starts wetting his pants with fear, wondering if big brother is still upset about the “give me your birthright for soup” incident, or the “I stole your blessing from Pa” thing. Jake’s answer is to divide his things into two companies, pray for his life, and immediately give big bro 500 of his best animals. Then, out of nowhere, Jake wrestles with an angel and forces a blessing out of him. Fuck, this Jake is one greedy fucker. The angel calls Jake Israel.

Chapter Thirty-Three
Jake hides behind the skirts of his wives, but Esau isn’t holding a grudge anymore and hugs his little brother. Esau even has to be talked into taking the animals Jake offers. Magnainmous guy, this Esau. Jake builds a house and an altar.

Chapter Thirty-Four
Jake’s daughter Dinah is raped by Prince Shechem, so Jake does the sensitive thing and demand they get married. Jake’s sons get pissed and promise the marriage will go forth as long as the prince and his people mutilate themselves through circumcision. The men actually do it, and while they’re likely getting drinking the pain away (I’ve seen circumcisions, it hurts like a bitch for six months afterward—and that’s just from watching one!), Simeon and Levi waltz into the city and slaughter everyone. They take Dinah, all the livestock, all the money, the children, the women. Now those are two brothers who know how to defend their little sister. Jake is pissed about it, but Simeon and Levi basically tell him to fuck off. Good for them. Finally, a revenge killing in the Bible that isn’t motivated by jealousy, but by protecting family. After the fact, but still.

Chapter Thirty-Five
After a few years off, God starts ordering the family around again, telling Jake to build an altar in Bethel. Jake makes everyone who works for him switch to his religion, which works because there’s no organized labor. Rachel’s nurse dies. God starts yammering on about the nation, the descendents, etc, telling Jake to multiply (was God out to lunch when those eleven kids were born?). Rachel dies giving birth to a second son, Benjamin. Finally, Jake goes home to visit his father Isaac, who finally dies at age 180.

Chapter Thirty-Six
Esau’s genealogy in brief, and then we join him traveling to Edom with a bunch of wives, kids, wealth, etc. Yes, the Bible, much like the Classical works and most of literature up until the Enlightenment, is a book about a bunch of wealthy landowners with supernatural protection and all of their rich shit. The genealogy continues for several generations.

Chapter Thirty-Seven
Jake, now called Israel, plays favorites with his kids. He clearly loves Joseph more than anyone else. Of course, this makes Joe’s brothers despise him with typical Bible jealousy. At age 17, Joey begins having prophetic dreams that indicate he’s going to rule over the brothers, which just pisses them off even more. Most of the brothers want to murder him, but Reuben actually comes up with something far more sinister: selling him into slavery. Joey does need to be knocked down a few pegs, so the brothers agree, selling him to slavers and ripping up his precious many-colored coat to make it look the wolves got him. Joseph is sold to Potiphar, officer of the Pharaoh.

Chapter Thirty-Eight
Let’s take a break from Joey’s horrible fate for a family story. Judah has three sons: Er, Onana, and Shelah. Er marries Tamar, but God doesn’t like Er so he murders him. Judah tells Onan to marry Tamar and impregnate her, but Onan doesn’t want his first son to be his brother’s heir, so he pulls out and cums on the ground, establishing the rhythm method. God gets pissed and murders Onan too. Tamar goes up into the mountains to wait until little Shelah is old enough to marry her, but when Judah comes to collect her, he sees a hot chick in a veil and, thinking she’s a whore, hires her out. He gives her a ring and some stuff of his, fucks her, and then leaves. When he finally finds Tamar, she’s pregnant; Judah wants her buried alive, but she pulls out the ring and reveals herself as the whore. Forced to fess up, Judah takes her home and she has twins, Zerah and Perez.

Chapter Thirty-Nine
Joey really takes to humbling, and becomes a model slave. Potiphar even makes him head slave, which is like being the tallest midget in the world, but hey, it’s a promotion. God helps out with blessings of actual value. Potiphar’s wife comes on to Joseph, but out of loyalty Joey refuses her, so she claims rape and has him sent to prison. That’ll teach him to turn down a desperate housewife. That’s what they’re for.

Chapter Forty
Joey interprets some dreams in prison and they come true.

Chapter Forty-One
After two years in prison, Joey is brought before Pharaoh to interpret a dream. Joey says that a famine is coming, but he knows how to prep for it. Pharaoh puts Joey in charge of the grain stores and disaster preparation and then, unlike some presidents I could name, actually gives him the resources to pull it off. Joey is so good at his job that he’s given an Egyptian name (Zaphneth-Paaneah) and made a citizen and a governor. Joey marries an Egyptian gal named Asenath and goes about the business of having his own kids, Manasseh and Ephraim. Famine is averted.

Chapter Forty-Two
Jake, old and starving, sends his 10 older sons to Egypt to buy grain. He’s overprotective because of Joey’s apparent horrible death, so he keeps Benjamin close by. In Egypt, the brothers don’t even recognize Joey, but he recognizes them and accuses them of being spies. He imprisons them, pretending he doesn’t even speak their language, and demands to see this younger brother they’ve talked about.

Chapter Forty-Three
Daughter-in-law-fucking Judah puts his foot down and demands that Jake send Benjamin to Egypt so they can just get some fucking grain. Joey feasts his brothers, and is so overcome by memories of his father that he privately weeps.

Chapter Forty-Four
Apparently that sadness turned to anger, because Joey has a chalice planted in Ben’s bag so he can accuse the brothers of theft. Joey threatens to make Ben his slave, and is surprised (and probably a little offended) when Judah pleads for his life.

Chapter Forty-Five
Joey, overcome by this action, reveals his true identity. He even forgives his brothers for selling him into slavery. They go get an overjoyed Jake in Canaan and bring him to Egypt for a family reunion.

Chapter Forty-Six
God comes to Jake in a dream and tells him to go to Egypt because of the nation, the descendents, etc. Each of his sons will be the 12 tribes of Israel, and he comes to Egypt dragging 66 children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren behind him.

Chapter Forty-Seven
The entire family moves to Egypt. Joey seizes the land for famine control and makes Pharaoh the absolute ruler (under the church, of course). Joey saves Egypt from famine, and Jake lives another 17 years before capping off at the age of 147.

Chapter Forty-Eight
Jake tells Joey about the nation, the descendents, etc, and blesses Joey’s sons (but he seems to favor Ephraim over Manasseh, playing favorites once again).

Chapter Forty-Nine
Jake has it out with all of his sons on his deathbed in a sort of living will.

To Reuben, I leave total failure because you fucked one of my concubines, Bilhah, who is the mother of two of your brothers, you sick fuck. Cursed!

Simeon and Levi: you murdered all those people for raping your sister. No, I appreciate that you love your sister (wherever she is these days), but murder’s bad, mm’kay? Cursed!

Judah, go with God. You’re a good boy. You’re a great leader who will produce mighty warriors. Blessed!

Zebulun, you’re a mighty sailor. Blessed!

Issachar, you’re a lazy son of a bitch and your people will all be slaves. Cursed!

Dan, you’re a shrewd judge of character and people love you. Blessed!

Gad, you’re going to know defeat, but then you’ll win. Cursed at first, then blessed!

Asher, you’re going to be rich, la la! Blessed!

Naphtali, you’re a nice boy who writes nice. Why did I let your mother name you Naphtali? Blessed!

Joey, you know you’ve always been the best. God be with you!

Benjamin, you’re a great warrior, and even though I’m against murder that apparently makes me proud. Blessed!

Now, if youse could bury me near Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebekah and Leah?

And he dies.

Chapter Fifty
Joey mourns his dad; even Egypt mourns. The brothers all go up to Canaan to bury their old man, and Joey forgives his brothers again, which in no way makes it seem like he’s holding it over their heads for the rest of their lives. At least it led him to save all those people from famine. Joey lives to be 110, telling his great-grandchildren on his deathbed, because for four generations (technically longer; since Noah, really) God’s been promising the nation, the descendents, etc, and surely he’s going to keep his promise. Right? Eventually?

Up next: not really. The Book of Exodus, next week.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Who Watches the Makers of Watchmen?

Okay, I’m going to go against the accepted wisdom of comic book fans and say this: adapting Watchmen to the screen should be a no-brainer. Of course, to think so you’d have to accept the simple fact of movie adaptations. Which is that nothing is going to be exact, ever, in any way. You have to cut things out of the story to make it flow together. You have to be fearless and arrogant. You have to say that you can tell more or less the same story as Alan Moore with far fewer words. You have to know, deep down inside, that the important thing is not to preach to the converted, but to address the uninitiated. Fuck anyone who makes comic book movies “for the fans.” Those people are pandering idiots without the balls to make a movie that anyone can walk in and enjoy. Those are filmmakers who don’t deserve the job title; they have accepted that they are such shitty filmmakers that they can’t tell a story without decades worth of supplemental material that will explain all of the dumbass holes in their plot. Look at Spider-Man. Spider-Man was not a movie made “for the fans.” That was a movie made for anyone who wanted to watch it. My mom fucking loved Spider-Man, and she loved Spider-Man 2 twice as much. She’s never picked up an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man in her life; in fact, she’s probably never even thought about it. But she didn’t have to know the 40-odd year history of the character to enjoy the movie.

Anyway, Watchmen has been built up into a legend over the years, and deservedly so. It is one of the single greatest works of the medium; some argue that it is the greatest. It appeared in 1986 as a 12-issue limited series, and it’s very big and very dense. If anything is going to make the case for comic books as serious literature, this is it. Watchmen is one of the great American novels, even if it was written by a British man. It tells the story of a group of former superheroes and what has become of them in the politically ultra-conservative eighties. Through it, writer Alan Moore not only makes a lot of salient points about comic books, comic book heroes, and comic book readers, but he also makes a lot of dark observations about conservatism, fascism, Reagan, the Cold War, the arms race, idealism, political tension, and what kind of sacrifices might have to be made in order to usher in a brighter future. Frankly, it’s fucking brilliant.

There have been ideas for a film kicking around for a long time; pretty much since it was published. But it is the convention among comic book readers that Watchmen just can’t be made into a movie. It’s so long, so huge, and you’d have to condense so much. It’s been too long, the politics are out of date; hell, Richard Nixon is president in the story! When Terry Gilliam, a director of some brilliance, declared that a movie would be total pants because you wouldn’t have the length to give the characters the same depth (I’m paraphrasing, of course), comic book fans starting quoting it as gospel. No Watchmen movie; it just can’t be done.

And the attempts to turn it into a movie have, so far, borne this out. Sam Hamm wrote a draft around the same time he was writing Tim Burton’s Batman, and his adaptation of Watchmen is so close but marred by a completely bogus third act and a nonsensical ending. But his instincts about what can be cut out were, for the most part, right on. Drafts followed over the years, none of which I’ve read, but I hear the David Hayter script was almost perfectly spot on. It all looked like a go, and even comic book fans (especially the generation that came in when Watchmen was already a legend and not as recent) were starting to get excited.

Some of them got even more excited by news that Zack Snyder, he of the completely-unneccesary-but-sorta-kinda-okay Dawn of the Dead remake and the so-far-looks-unbelievably-lame 300. Snyder had someone called Alex Tse rewrite the script, and some of the people who’ve read it say that it ruins Hayter’s script with a lot of ridiculous crap. And as if that weren’t enough, I can tell already by the way Snyder’s been talking about the project that the movie just isn’t going to work. Here are some recent quotes from Empire magazine.

Snyder: “I think the script that Alex has done for us is the closest the graphic novel it’s been [since development started], for better or for worse.”
Why This Is Disheartening: What was that I was saying about having the balls to tell a story and not just try to copy what’s already there so the fans don’t get pissy? Dude, the fans are going to get pissy anyway, so who cares if it’s close to the graphic novel? And what’s that about being close to the graphic novel “for better or for worse”? Huh? You know who says something like that? A spineless pussy with no sense of story, that’s who. That sentence can easily translate into this: Well, even if the script totally sucks, it’s still really close to what Alan Moore wrote twenty years ago, so that somehow makes it artistically correct. What a fucking pussy.

Snyder: “I feel like Alex has done an awesome job. It’s keeping all the things that are cool about the comic.”
Why This Is Disheartening: Yeah, but is it telling an interesting story? Because, let’s face it, you could cut a lot of stuff out of there. Not that it isn’t great in the book, but this is a comic, and unless it’s going to be as long as The Lord of the Rings, you don’t have a lot of space to tell a story. It needs to be coherent, it needs to be entertaining, and it needs to be tight. I know audiences aren’t used to movies like that (we don’t have a lot of movies that aren’t at least forty minutes too long these days), but I bet they’d really like one. I don't know about you, but I've about had it with movies that are supposed to be "cool" and "awesome," like those fucking Matrix movies. Now I'd like movies that make a little sense.

Snyder: “[Setting the movie in] 1985’s a problem for some people. The Cold War’s a problem for some people. But these are things I’ve been trying to [tell people] would be cool. I like that Richard Nixon is the president in it. I think that’s important. Those kinds of things tell you exactly what kind of movie this is.”
Why This Is Disheartening: What kind of movie is that, one that’s politically outdated? When Philip Kaufman remade Invasion of the Body Snatchers, he was smart enough to update the politics; it was no longer about the Cold War, but about Me Generation selfishness. When Abel Ferrara remade it again, he changed the politics so the film was about militarism and conformity. All three versions are pretty great, and they all make their own points. Again, if Snyder and Tse had any spine whatsoever, they’d update the politics so that it all makes sense in the current political climate. I know things look like 1985 these days, but they aren’t. There’s so much out there to be made fun of, from our puppet president and our puppeteer VP to our love of reality television and California’s son-of-an-SS-officer governator. Setting the movie two decades ago shows a total lack of thoughtfulness; why retreat into the past when you can try and make an insightful point about what’s happening now? Then again, what can you expect from the guy who turned Dawn of the Dead from a spoof/damnation of consumerist culture into basically an action movie about nothing?

Snyder (referring to the fact that he’s not going to use stylization effects like in Sin City or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow): “There are places like Mars and Antarctica [which will need to be blue screen] and then there are certain places where you need to feel the reality.”
Why This Is Disheartening: Reality is going to make a man running around with a Rorschach mask and a dude in an owl costume look fucking ridiculous. Even Spider-Man, which is a good facsimile of reality, presents us with an idealized version of New York City. Why? Because the reality is a stuntman in a silly costume flipping around. Idealized NYC is a landscape for heroes and villains to fight grand battles in. Reality? Fuck, can you imagine Sin City set in reality?

I don’t know, I’m not feeling the enthusiasm here. I think this is going to be a mistake, and I probably won’t go see it when and if it gets made. As a finale to this piece, I present the following video, which was made by one Bryant Hodson as a film student project. It’s an adaptation of page 5 of Watchmen, and it’s only about a minute long. It comes close to the feel that this movie should have; something vaguely sinister set in a world that is like ours, but not overly realistic. It’s called allegory, Snyder. Look it up.

Maybe they should let Bryant Hodson direct the movie.

No Throwdown 10/6

I just don’t have the energy to do a regular Throwdown this week. In a week where this can happen and this can happen to it, celebrities and even politics seem like a waste of time. I don’t care that Kazakhstan is so pissed off over Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie that they can’t even get out of bed for all the crying. Scarlett Johansson named Sexiest Woman Alive? Well, that seems obvious to me. Somehow, I couldn’t give two fucks that Eva Longoria is struggling with her relationship, or Nicole Richie broke up with some guy I never heard of, or that I’m starting to think Penelope Cruz is a lesbian because now she’s dating Orlando Bloom and the men she goes out with seem to be designed for someone who has a real problem with male secondary sexual characteristics. I think it would behoove George Michael to get checked for narcolepsy lest he fall asleep in his car and get caught with drugs a third time (and what the hell is going on in England that people can’t leave a guy alone while he’s sleeping in his car?). I think it’s a tad late for Chevy Chase to “bravely” come forth and defend Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic raving because, you know, he was drunk, and men say things they don’t mean when all of our societal inhibitions are stripped away, right? I don’t care about Paris Hilton and Shanna Moakler getting in a fight over something as worthless as Travis Barker; why are any of the three people in this sentence even famous? Did Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn split up? Fuck, it would be nice if I never had to read another word about either of those people again.

Here's a couple of other quick observations.

Is this the sort of thing that comes from Joe Simpson being put in charge of the photos of his daughter the world gets to see? And is anyone really surprised?

Does 300 look incredibly bad, or what? I knew it wouldn't take long for the whole Sin City/Sky Captain CG background thing to get run into the ground hard. This looks more laughable than any Mickey Hargitay Hercules movie.

I have no idea where this came from, but real or fake, thanks very much.

And congratulations to my friend Carl, who, in his secret life as Peter Sarsgaard, became a father this week. Damn, I didn't even know Maggie Gyllenhaal was pregnant! You work fast, my friend. I think we both know who little Ramona's godfather should be, right?

Texas Strawberry

Juicy, wet, sweet, my strawberry
I like to eat my strawberry
The scent really turns me on
My Texas Strawberry

Some bad stuff went down and it got a bit battered
But still it’s so tough and it’s not the least tattered

Pink tasty dream, my strawberry
Cover in cream, my strawberry
Tastes good from night to dawn
My Texas Strawberry

It tastes for breakfast, for supper and lunch
I snack and I snack till I eat the whole bunch

Soft blushing bliss, my strawberry
Fruity cool kiss, my strawberry
I just can’t have too much
My Texas Strawberry

5 October 2006

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Masters of Animation: Bob Clampett

Robert Emerson Clampett was born in San Diego on 8 May 1913. If I believed in destiny, I’d say that destiny had determined that Clampett should be an animator. First, his family moved to Hollywood when he was an infant; moviemaking became part of his everyday life. Then, at age 12, Clampett began publishing cartoons in the Los Angeles Times, sufficiently impressing William Randolph Hearst, who offered him a job when he graduated high school. Also at age 12, Clampett used the family camera to direct his first film (a silent one, this being 1925), and went to the trouble of getting a professional studio to make title cards for it. The studio was Pacific Title and Art. Its owner? Leon Schlesinger.

Clampett remained a cartoonist throughout his school years, creating a teddy bear character for the paper at Theodore Roosevelt Junior High, and drawing cartoons in the yearbooks for both of his high schools, Harvard and Hoover. His aunt, Charlotte Clark, was the person who conceived the Mickey Mouse doll; Walt and Roy Disney loved it and immediately bought it from her, put her in charge of manufacturing them, and began marketing it. Clampett began to spend a lot of time getting a free education in animation at the Walt Disney Studio.

After going to the Otis Art Institute, Clampett hit up Leon Schlesinger for a job. Schlesinger sent him to the Harman-Ising Studio, with whom he had just contracted for a series of cartoons starring Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid. It was 1931; at the age of 18, Clampett began his career as an animator. When Harman and Ising took their business to MGM in 1933, Clampett (along with Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson) stayed to work for Schlesinger’s new studio.

Clampett continued on as an animator. In 1935, he was assigned as principal animator under Tex Avery (with Chuck Jones as in-betweener). As stated previously, this is the unit that created Daffy Duck and shaped Bugs Bunny into a character audiences loved. Tex Avery liked wild and surreal visual humor; if anything, Clampett was an even bigger proponent of such a style. Avery let him experiment with a sort of rubbery, broad energy that was something very different from Disney or Fleischer or anyone else, who were trying to create believability and a certain sense of physical reality. Avery and Clampett focused on the bizarre.

While animating, Clampett worked on a pilot cartoon that has captured the imagination of genre fans and animation enthusiasts. He was a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s series of Mars novels, which follow the adventures of Confederate soldier John Carter and the princess of Mars, Dejah Thoris. A Princess of Mars has captured the imagination of a lot of the great fantasy illustrators over the years (such as Frazetta, above), and in 1935 it captured the imagination of Bob Clampett. He talked to Burroughs about it, and Burroughs was sufficiently excited about the idea. Clampett made a pilot movie for a proposed series of cartoons and showed it to MGM, who were producing the great series of movies about Burroughs’s Tarzan that starred Johnny Wiesmuller. MGM liked the cartoon, but thought it should be about Tarzan rather than the relatively lesser-known John Carter. Clampett’s enthusiasm waned and the project went nowhere. But what might have been, fans will forever dream of.

Meanwhile, Schlesinger was aware of Clampett’s activities, and offered him a new contract with a substantial pay raise and the promise of being named a director. But in 1936, when an opening became available, Schlesinger hired Ub Iwerks and assigned Clampett to him as an animator. Clampett threatened to quit, but Schlesinger seems to have been aware that Iwerks wouldn’t be in it for the long haul, and promised that Clampett would succeed him. Sure enough, Iwerks only directed two cartoons before leaving Clampett to take over, and in 1937 Clampett was officially promoted to director alongside Friz Freleng and Tex Avery.

Clampett’s first cartoon as a director was Porky’s Bedtime Story; it was a bizarre cartoon, but Schlesinger liked it enough to put Clampett in charge of Porky Pig. This led to one of Clampett’s great cartoons, Porky in Wackyland (1938), which allowed him to exercise his love of the surreal (its more surreal than any Tex Avery cartoon). He followed that with some of the great surreal cartoons: Falling Hare (1943, the famous Bugs Bunny cartoon with the gremlin) and Russian Rhapsody (1944, also with gremlins). Clampett also directed Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid (1942, the introduction of Beaky Buzzard), A Tale of Two Kitties (1942, the introduction of Tweety), An Itch in Time (1943), Horton Hatches the Egg (1942, the first ever Dr. Seuss-related cartoon) and the hot jazz number Tin Pan Alley Cats (1943).
It was a hot jazz cartoon that Bob Clampett may be most remembered for. Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (1943) is one of many cartoons, especially from Warner Brothers, that are considered too racist to air these days. Coal Black is a parody of Snow White, featuring the fantastic babe So White, the evil Queenie, a zoot-suited Prince Chawmin’, and seven dwarfs in army uniforms. Because of the caricaturizing, the cartoon gets a bad rap for being stereotyped. But in actual fact, Clampett’s inspiration came from African-American music. In 1941, he went to a Duke Ellington revue called Jump for Joy; upon meeting the musicians backstage, he was promptly asked: “Why don’t you use more of us?” Racial stereotyping had been a staple of Warner Brothers cartoons for years, usually in very broad burlesques that weren’t always very funny. With Coal Black, Clampett wasn’t setting out specifically to portray African-Americans in a better light; he mostly wanted to use black music and dancing for an energetic cartoon. He even sent his animators to Club Alabam to observe dancing. He tried to use black musicians for the score, though that was mostly thwarted by Carl Stalling and the Warner Bros. music department. He did use black actors for the voices, and had a number of black men look at the cartoon to make sure it didn’t feel racist. For his trouble, the NAACP demanded the cartoon be withdrawn because they felt it was insulting to black soldiers.

Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs is, however, not a racist cartoon. In fact, if one looks at the plot and the heroism of the dwarfs/soldiers, it’s more of a product of the propagandistic leanings of the time. There is an undertone beneath the cartoon of a union between whites and blacks in America against the institutionalized racism of the Nazis. True, the characters are comically exaggerated, but what cartoon character isn’t? The blackness is nearly incidental. Clampett was responding to the energy of the black dancing and musicians, not making fun of them. Coal Black doesn’t ridicule or damn black stereotypes; it doesn’t celebrate them, either. The cartoon barely comments on them.

Check it out and see what you think (for as long as YouTube doesn't notice it's there, because they'll remove it pretty fast):

Clampett liked to experiment without any boundaries. He didn’t care if the animators working for him clashed in their styles; in fact, he tended to enjoy it. So what if, in the middle of the cartoon, Bugs Bunny was suddenly drawn differently? It just made things more odd, and for Clampett, odder was better. His lead animator was Robert McKimson, who was rather less inclined to experiment that way (and which led to a number of clashes over style). Clampett was much more interested in depicting a certain kind of energy, rather than telling coherent stories. He hated his own drawing style and wanted to see more adult gags in his cartoons. Most of the people who work with him characterize him as remote, but always wanting to push the limits of acceptable behavior (Bill Melendez, an assistant at the time who would go on to direct the Peanuts cartoons, remembers one office costume party where Clampett showed up dressed as a giant penis).

Clampett’s cartoons for Schlesinger became strangely dark and melancholic in the late forties. He was especially concerned about making Daffy Duck a more well-rounded character. Clampett redirected his energies, changing him from a lunatic heckler to a ridiculously passionate pursuer. His best Daffy cartoon is arguably The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946), one of his final cartoons for Schlesinger.

Clampett left the studio in 1946; Robert McKimson took over for him as the new director. Clampett developed an interest in puppetry, and eventually started working on a short daily program called Time for Beany, a puppet show that told the adventures of the boy Beany, the lonely sea serpent Cecil, and the lovable rake Dishonest John (based on Schlesinger). The show began airing in 1949 and became popular very quickly, even winning three Emmys (and counting among its fans Groucho Marx and Albert Einstein). In 1962, the show moved to Matt’s Funday Funnies, a Sunday evening show which featured as one of its segments the newly animated Beany and Cecil. Clampett’s cartoons were so popular that it quickly became its own show, moving to Saturday mornings, where it ran until 1967.

In the 1970s, when the Golden Age of Animation was rediscovered by fans, Clampett was often in demand as a lecturer. For the 1975 documentary Bugs Bunny: Superstar, Clampett provided all of the behind the scenes film and drawings. Some of the people who worked with him considered him a shameless self-promoter who grabbed all of the credit for himself; Chuck Jones particularly didn’t like him, and his biography Chuck Amuck doesn’t even mention Clampett. Mel Blanc also carried a grudge against the man. Most notably, in the Chuck Jones-directed compilation film The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie, when Bugs Bunny refers to his “several fathers” by name, Clampett is not among them.

Bob Clampett died of a heart attack on 4 May 1984, just four days away from his 71st birthday. One of Bugs Bunny’s several fathers.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Bad Film Idea

Proof that I can think like a commercial screenwriter.

Walt Disney Pictures has announced that, following in the footsteps of their ride-based films Pirates of the Caribbean, The Country Bears, and The Haunted Mansion, they will be producing a film based on Jungle Cruise. Can other Disneyland rides be far behind in making the leap to the big screen?

Alright, here’s the gist of the plot: in 1776, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson discover a dimensional tesseract in the area that will become Washington, DC. They decide not to tell anyone about it, but instead make sure that the seat of American government will be moved there when the war is over and the time is right. Inside this time nexus, such as it is, Franklin is able to travel backwards and forwards to various points in the American past, present, and future. Using futuristic technology, he builds a command center that he can use to ensure the future of his country. This is a secret outlet that the government doesn’t know about, except for the man at the very top: the president. Throughout history, Benjamin Franklin will contact these presidents when they are needed to fight for the country’s survival. This secret headquarters run by Franklin and Jefferson has a grandiose codename: THE HALL OF PRESIDENTS.

The main plot focuses on a new, fictional president named James Arthur Douglas, who is tapped by Franklin to foil an internal government conspiracy. See, Franklin and Washington and all those guys were Freemasons; well, there are other secret organizations in America, one of whom is the Knights of the Golden Eagle (yes, it’s real, so we can always make up some kind of analogue). Anyway, the Knights want to take over the government, and Franklin knows how they can be stopped. But without going into great detail, there’s a lot of room here for exciting action sequences featuring President Douglas and, of course, because this is a Disney movie, his spunky/smart daughter Penny or something. Other presidents will be involved in the caper; I picture Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Grant, McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, and maybe Truman. Perhaps members of the Knights could include some of America’s more well-known criminals. The possibilities are endless. Lame, but endless.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Real Horror

What happened so long ago that Charles Carl Roberts IV couldn’t get over? What happened to him when he was 12 that stayed in the back of his mind for twenty years, gnawing at his soul and eating away at his psyche? Why did it become violent? How could the man, a father himself, come to believe that the only way to quell the demons inside of him was to murder or attempt to murder nine little girls yesterday?

These are the questions being asked right now, and hopefully some of them may be answered. Roberts, a milkman in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, finished his deliveries and, around ten in the morning, walked into the West Nickel Mines Amish School. He had three guns on him, a stun gun, two knives, a pile of wood, a bag with 600 rounds of ammunition, a change of clothes, toilet paper, bolts, hardware, and a lot of clear tape. Enough, authorities say, to wait out a police siege for some time. He let all of the boys go, along with some pregnant women and some women who had infants. But the girls, all ranging in age from six to thirteen, he made stay behind. He let a female aide stay with them; she is described as being “slightly older” than the students. Whatever was going on in Roberts’s brain, whatever rage had become too powerful to reason with and too ingrained to let go of, was directed at young girls.

Roberts, oddly, was a father himself. He was a Christian. People use words like “fine,” “supportive,” “thoughtful,” and “exceptional” to describe him. But here he was, less than 24 hours ago, barring the school doors with desks, wood, bolts, and plastic ties. Here he was making little Amish girls, all between the ages of six and thirteen and one of whom was slightly older, line up against the blackboard. Here he was, tying their feet together so they couldn’t escape. Here was Roberts, calling his wife, telling her that he was going to take revenge for an old grudge. He had left suicide notes behind for her to read.

The authorities surrounded the school, but Roberts threatened to open fire on his preadolescent hostages if they didn’t back off. Seconds later, he couldn’t wait any longer. The teacher’s aide was killed instantly. Two more followed her, shot at point blank range. Not satisfied, the grudge not avenged, Roberts shot seven more of them as they stood before him, probably terrified and unable to understand why, why was this happening? What had they done that would mean the end of their short lives? Two of them no longer have to ask the question; dead in their hospital beds just last night, having made a final reckoning with the universe, perhaps they know the answers. Perhaps, if there is something more out there, they are at peace. They were aged seven and eight, an age when no one should even have to contemplate something so perilous. Of the five others wounded, four are stable, but one now fights for her life, perhaps waiting to join her friends. But hopefully not. Hopefully she will recover and live and, just maybe, overcome the awful things she has seen.

Perhaps Roberts had a moment of clarity and realized the horror of what he had done. Perhaps he was rushed and didn’t get a chance to finish his gruesome work. Either way, he shot himself afterwards, allowing himself the mercy of a quick end that he had denied those little girls. And perhaps he has his peace too. Perhaps he now knows what he didn’t before, and his soul can rest. The Christian thing to do would be to show sympathy for the man, who had something inside of him that drove him, tragically, to do something awful. The Christian thing would be to forgive him for something so unforgivable. But I’m not a Christian, and I don’t have the inclination. But then I try and think of what those girls must have felt. How confused and scared they must have been. And I am only sorry that he did not suffer.

This is the third murder inside of a week to take place in a school. And it’s only the beginning of the school year. Last Wednesday a drifter took six teenage girls hostage and molested them before murdering one of them and killing himself. On Friday a 15 year-old kid murdered his principal over some altercation. Usually these things happen towards the end of the school year, when the simmering tensions of the previous year boil over.

Do you see what happens in a society that teaches us to be afraid of sex but offers up violence as entertainment every night on television? Do you understand that this is happening because people are wired wrong? That we’ve taken the most natural and special thing anyone could do and shut it up in a box and made people feel ashamed for opening it again, all the while accepting violence as something so everyday that we don’t seem to mind children having all of the access to it they want? People are exploding with rage over the smallest perceived slights or the littlest inconvenience, and consequences do not enter their minds. Our society is ill right now, and needs to be healed. Otherwise, we are in terrible danger.

TV Report Update

I don't know what the hell's happening, but suddenly I'm watching shows that actual people watch. Which actually kind of makes me suspect something's wrong with those shows, funnily enough. Anyway, I just read that Ugly Betty was a smash; the most-watched new show of the season so far. 16.1 million viewers of its debut. It beat Survivor on CBS, My Name Is Earl and The Office on NBC (by more than 50%), and the season premiere of the supposedly popular Smallville on the CW (which had less than a third of Betty's numbers). According to ABC, Ugly Betty was the highest-rated show they've put in that time slot since 1995. I watched the pilot again last night to get another perspective on it, and I still really enjoyed it. I guess we'll see if it keeps up the same level of quality, even with the more outlandish elements.

The other surprise is that Shark is doing well in the ratings, too, even beating ER both weeks it's been on (ER is so obviously in its death throes, however, so I'm not sure if that means that Shark is popular or if people just don't want to watch ER anymore, which I can certainly understand; I haven't seen that show myself in about four years).

Last night I decided to stop watching Heroes. Not a tough choice, actually. Last night we had some severe weather in the Midwest, pretty early in the show, the weather report cut in and I missed about four minutes. And I realized that I didn't really care; it was only two minutes into the show, and I was already bored with its ponderous, portentous tone. I just decided to let it go into the next pasture. I don't really care; it was nothing original to me.

I keep feeling like I'm about to come to the same decision with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Three episodes in, and there still aren't any characters. I'm starting to find the whole conceit of the show, that the inner workings of an increasingly exact Saturday Night Live analogue are very important, less and less believable. A lot of it has to do with the writing; Aaron Sorkin apparently believes that a comedy sketch show has the power to change peoples' opinions, take the air out of the people in power, show up our societal beliefs for what they are, etc. But still, the way the tone is pitched you'd think it was as important as getting the Apollo 13 back to Earth safely. And the gulf between this triviality and the profundity Sorkin invests it with is unintentionally ridiculous. My sensibilities were actually offended this week by the plotline involving Harriett's attempts to remove a joke from the show that poked fun of a small town community that wouldn't put on a play of The Crucible because it criticized Christians, so decided to put on Shakespeare's sex comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream instead. Harriett (played by a very unfunny and very unlikable Sarah Paulson) went to all the trouble of looking up this small town online, and defending its people because they worked in a single industry town and "they're only trying to raise their kids." So? Maybe it looks to some of us like they're raising their kids to be typically small-minded small town bigots. I'm sorry, but I don't think there's any subject that's wrong for humor, for skepticism, or for cynicism. The fact that they would let her convince them to back away from that joke...I think you could argue that pointing out the hypocrisy of the everyday people who make up the fiber of this country's thought processes and shared societal beliefs is maybe more important than pointing out that Bush is dumb or scientologists are ridiculous. I'm offended by the whole notion (and the preachy tone at which Sorkin presented the argument) that we shouldn't make fun of "simple people." What a condescending ass.

What continues to be interesting about Studio 60 for me is the whole entertainment business angle. That always pulls me in. But even that feels forced and fake, and I'm really sick of Amanda Peet. If they don't pull something more than yet another unresolved debate about religion and sub-SNL sketches that aren't really very funny, I'm dropping it.

I've already dropped Smith from my personal viewing schedule, so I've got nothing on tonight. Ah, it's getting smaller and more manageable already...

I LOVE Michelle Marsh's Tramp Stamp

And any opportunity to post pictures of her ass, of course. Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 02, 2006

Orson Welles

"Even if the good old days never existed, the fact that we can conceive such a world is, in fact, an affirmation of the human spirit."

"Movie directing is the perfect refuge for the mediocre."

"If there hadn't been women we'd still be squatting in a cave eating raw meat, because we made civilization in order to impress our girl friends. And they tolerated it and let us go ahead and play with our toys."

"For thirty years people have been asking me how I reconcile X with Y! The truthful answer is that I don't. Everything about me is a contradiction and so is everything about everybody else. We are made out of oppositions; we live between two poles. There is a philistine and an aesthete in all of us, and a murderer and a saint. You don't reconcile the poles. You just recognize them."

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people."

"I don't pray because I don't want to bore God."

"A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet."

"I passionately hate the idea of being with it; I think an artist has always to be out of step with his time."

"Everybody denies that I am genius - but nobody ever called me one".

"I do not suppose I shall be remembered for anything. But I don't think about my work in those terms. It is just as vulgar to work for the sake of posterity as to work for the sake of money."

"Race hate isn't human nature; race hate is the abandonment of human nature."

"Living in the lap of luxury isn't bad, except you never know when luxury is going to stand up."

"I'm not very fond of movies. I don't go to them much."

"A film is a ribbon of dreams."

Heather Smiles

Daddy's little girl sees through the world with magic eyes
Breathing new life to the morning time
And when she smiles she blows my mind

Daddy's little girl ties a ribbon right around my heart
And when we part by ocean tide
She waves goodbye but dies inside

Though we're apart her thoughts follow me
And when I come home she gives a glow
That radiates a halo

Heather smiles
Playing on summer days she smiles
Heather smiles
When I come home her smile is my dawn

Anywhere I go I always know she's part of me
The sun will hide and the days go gray
But still her smile can never fade

Nothing's wrong when Heather smiles at peace and life
A gentle face I've seen before
So many times, so many more

Heather somehow knows just what to do
When the day is long and I am through
She makes life seem brand new

Heather smiles
Playing on summer days she smiles
Heather smiles
When I come home her smile is the dawn

Heather smiles
Whiling the day away she smiles
Heather smiles
And when I leave home her smile is gone

26 January 2005
based on lyrics by Jesse Spencer that I didn't like

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Song of the Week: "Surf's Up"

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I decided to go with a Brian Wilson song this weekend. "Surf's Up" is my favorite song from the 1966 aborted Smile project; it's a beautiful, delicate song that moves me whenever I hear it. Here's a two-minute clip of Brian performing the song alone at the piano that was filmed for a TV special being made about the recording of the album.

And here's a video with the finished song from the documentary Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of Smile. This is the version that made it to the 1971 album Surf's Up. Brian originally wrote this song in about an hour with Van Dyke Parks; if the album had been completed and released, Brian would've been responsible for one of the most beautiful and important rock albums of all time, following Pet Sounds and coming a year before Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (which was an answer to Pet Sounds). Brian was only 24 years old at the time. The Beatles are remembered as musical innovators. The Beach Boys...well, at least Mike Love's selling out arenas. But he's still bald (we all know it, just take the hat off, you big phony).