Saturday, March 01, 2008

Love You Till Tuesday

David Bowie is my favorite musician ever. I came across these videos and just had to share them. These are from the 1969 promo film Love You Till Tuesday. In 1969, David Bowie'd had a number of failed singles (some of which are quite good) and a failed album on the Deram label (which yielded the singles "Love You Till Tuesday" and, um, "The Laughing Gnome"). His manager at the time, Kenneth Pitt, had the idea to put together a film promoting his artist by showcasing his talents as a performer, a psychedelic folkie, a mime artist, and a sort of Anthony Newley-esque all-round entertainer. Bowie's stuff from this period is interesting, especially considering what he became and how he never really moved that far from this period. The execution was just different.

The film also features John Hutchinson and Hermione Farthingale, his collaborators from this period. They were a trio called Feathers for a little while. The music is sort of a psychedlic folk cabaret, and you can tell that Bowie has always been highly influenced by Jacques Brel and Scott Walker.

Sell Me a Coat. This is a reworking of one of the songs on his debut album with better production. Bowie's music from this period is always a little Renaissance-y, a little old fasioned. This is also much cheerier sounding (and better separated) than on the album. I like the mix of voices.

When I’m Five. It's a shame that this song has been sort of lost in time (it's not on The Deram Anthology, though all these other songs are; I got it on a bootleg). It's Bowie at his sweetest and most endearing.

Rubber Band. Very cabaret; this was actually a single from his first album. Becca hates this song to death.

The Mask. This is the mime segment from the movie; he's very good at it. You can see how a lot of that kind of thinking about performance art has influenced his work, too.

Let Me Sleep Beside You. This is, I believe, one of the songs rejected by Deram for a possible second album. I remember reading that Deram (or the BBC or someone) was quite scandalized by the idea of a song about two young people sleeping together, copulating or otherwise.

Ching-a-Ling. A fun little tune. Bowie used the tag as a melodic line in the song "Saviour Machine" on The Man Who Sold the World. I like how Bowie uses every part of the animal.

Space Oddity. In its original version, with pan flutes and everything. For some reason, Bowie is doing Hutch's part on camera as well as his own.

When I Live My Dream. I think this song must have originally been for one of the stage shows where Bowie played Pierrot. I have a great bootleg with a live version of it that includes the other songs from the show (including "Threepenny Pierrot," which Bowie later put new lyrics to for his early single "London Bye Ta-Ta." This song also appeared on his Deram album in a slightly different version.

Love You Till Tuesday. With end credits. I love this song; it's silly and cute.

The film was never released; no one wanted to buy it, and it sat on the shelf until Polygram released it on video in 1984. A fascinating time capsule, and some of the music is really nice, I think.

Kid Lit

Britain's Booktrust has released their list of the Top 50 Children's Books. Unfortunately, they don't really seem to have any criteria for the list. I know it was a poll, but there seems to be a wide gulf in how this is presented. I don't think you can really have a list like Top 50 Children's Books and then just include any book that's for anyone under the age of 15 or whatever they're thinking. There's a huge difference.

1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
Yeah, it's an okay book. I appreciated it much more re-reading it a few years ago than I did as a kid (when I was a kid I found Narnia and anything to do with it about as exciting as Sunday school). Number one is a stretch, but it is a good book.

2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
See, this is what I mean. There's a vast difference in the audience for the top two books. It's a different level of reading. I don't know that you can put both books on the same list and call them the best books for kids. That almost doesn't make sense to me. This is a great book for the little ones, though, and consistently popular. I still see it in first grade classrooms all the time.

3. Famous Five series, Enid Blyton
I don't know what this is or who Enid Blyton is, but she's got several books on this list. Books and series. Interesting how they can choose an entire series here, but when it comes to Narnia they just chose the one book. Again, there seems to be no real criteria.

4. Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne
Which leads me to wonder if the people polled really meant the book Winnie the Pooh or the entire concept of Pooh as a whole. Really, all four of Milne's Pooh books are wonderful, but The House at Pooh Corner is probably my favorite.

5. The BFG, Roald Dahl
My sister loved this book; I never read it. In fact, I've never actually read any Roald Dahl book. I should really read some, as I'm sure I'd like Dahl.

6. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling.
Another case where they pick one book instead of the whole series. I wonder why. Is this the best book of the series? I honestly don't remember. I loved reading the entire series, and they've merged enough together in my head that I don't feel like specifically praising one over the other. Not to take away from them, but this is a case where the entire series feels like a whole to me (episodic, though it may be). I think that probably Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was the one I enjoyed the most, though. But that's only because I read it before Harry Potter Mania took over the Western world, and it was more fun to relax and read instead of racing to the finish line. Too many people read those last three books as though they were American Idol contestants to be judged by each and every person with even a casual interest, and that got old to read very quickly.

7. The Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
Don't know it.

8. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
I'm glad people still read this book. It's a wonderful, charming book.

9. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
I think the second book goes with it, but the first one is more enjoyable. The second has some of my favorite episodes, though (especially the Griffin and the Mock Turtle, the Jabberwocky, the Walrus and the Carpenter). A classic of illogic.

10. The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson
I don't know it, but it sounds cute. Donaldson also has a number of books on the list.

11. The Tales of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter
Definitely. A classic.

12. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
I need to read this. Especially after that disappointing Tim Burton movie with all of that daddy crap.

13. Matilda, Roald Dahl
Haven't read it, but I liked this movie.

14. The Secret Garden, Francis Hodgson Burnett
I never read this one, either. Where I grew up, this was stereotypically a girls' book. I guess because it was about a girl.

15. The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss
Okay, again, there is a vast difference in this, essentially a picture book, and a novel like The Secret Garden. It just kind of bugs me. And this is the only Dr. Seuss book in a list of 50 great books for children? This is a classic, no argument, but hey, where are How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Green Eggs and Ham, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, Oh the Places You'll Go!, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, There's a Wocket in My Pocket!, Horton Hatches the Egg, The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, Fox in Socks, Oh the Thinks You Can Think!, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, Yertle the Turtle, The Butter Battle Book... damn, man.

16. The Twits, Roald Dahl
Somehow, I've never even heard of this book.

17. Mr. Men, Roger Hargreaves
I assume they mean the entire series. I remember one of my math teachers (8th grade, I think) who gave all of the kids gag gifts for Christmas. She gave me Mr. Lazy. I read a lot of these as a kid, of course, and I enjoyed them. Do they still have these, or are they all gone?

18. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
Do kids read this? And do they understand it, or is it just used to browbeat them into digging Christmas (which Harlan Ellison used to say was the whole point of the story, anyway). I love this story, and I read it every couple of years. I didn't really start to pick up on a lot of the subtlety until I was older, but the fact that it can be read over and over again kind of says that it's the sort of thing that gets through on different levels. Kids should also read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which I think is kind of similar (and also excellent). I don't think of either of them as kids' book, specifically, but they're great.

19. The Malory Towers series, Enid Blyton
Don't know it.

20. Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie
Personally, I find this to be a book that doesn't get fuller as you get older. It's not written for children so much as directly at them, and it can be a little irritating as an adult. So much of the prose version is written in a manner that to an adult seems a little condescending. It's a great book, don't get me wrong, I just find it can be a better book to remember than to read. Still, there is a lot of great phrasing in there that just sticks with me over the years: "Put up your swords, boys, it's Hook or me this time." "All children, except one, grow up." "When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies." "To die would be an awfully big adventure." "And thus perished James Hook." I also love that there really is this dark underside to the novel that people forget.

21. The Railway Children, E. Nesbit
I think E. Nesbit must be the British E.B. White. I've never read any of her books (with the exception of the collection Bedknob and Broomstick), but most of the British people I've met consider her a staple. I've heard so much about this book that I almost feel like I've missed out by not reading it.

22. Fairy Tales, Hans Christian Andersen
Heartfelt and charming tales of death, the way all good fairy tales should be. Seriously, everyone's always dying at the ends of these things. They're more like cautionary tales and sketches of bravery. And they're awesome. Any good collection would also include Grimm, Perrault, and Oscar Wilde, but none of them appear here.

23. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
One of my favorite books since I was a child; I love the whole series, really, but this is a classic that just can't be touched.

24. The Witches, Roald Dahl
At the risk of angering his fans... haven't read it, but I liked the movie.

25. Stig of the Dump, Clive King
I've heard of Clive King, but not of this book.

26. The Wishing Chair, Enid Blyton
There she is again.

27. Dear Zoo, Rod Campbell
Don't know it.

28. The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Judith Kerr
Don't know it.

29. Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Jan Brett
I know who she is, but I've never looked at any of her books.

30. James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
Again... I know Becca loves this book.

31. A Bear Called Paddington, Michael Bond
I read this when I was a kid because I loved those Paddington Bear shorts they used to show on Nickelodeon's Pinwheel that were narrated by Michael Hordern. I like Paddington very much.

32. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
I've never read this. One of the movie versions I saw was okay. Is it worth reading the book?

33. Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
This would've been my number one. Much love to Bernard.

34. Aesop's Fables, Jerry Pinkney
I don't know who Jerry Pinkney is, but I read a book of Aesop's Fables when I was a kid.

35. The Borrowers, Mary Norton
I've never read this, but I know it. As much as I can without having read it, I guess.

36. Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling
For some reason, "How the Elephant Got Its Trunk" made a huge impression on me as a kid and I've never forgotten it. Kipling is wonderful. Both Jungle Books should probably be on this list, too. "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" is such a great story.

37. Meg and Mog, Jan Pienkowski
Don't know it.

38. Mrs. Pepperpot, Alf Proyson
I think I've heard of this. I might be thinking of Monty Python, though.

39. We're Going on a Bear Hunt, Michael Rosen
I don't know it, but I'm all for any kids' book that involves bears of the non-Berenstain kind.

40. The Gruffalo's Child, Julia Donaldson
He had a kid? Man, a lot can happen in 30 list slots.

41. Room on a Broom, Julia Donaldson
Don't know.

42. The Worst Witch, Jill Murphy
My sister loved the movie with Fairuza Balk, but I don't know if she ever read the book. There's quite a cult following for that movie, which is funny, because when you see it it's so lame.

43. Miffy, Dick Bruna
Never heard of it. I should look these up, I know, but I'm just being honest. I've never heard of it. No judgment intended.

44. The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery
This is far too low for this beautiful book. It should be much higher and as well known as Peter Pan. If you haven't read this, read it right now. Seriously, I'll wait here, just read it.

45. Flat Stanley, Jeff Brown
All I can think of is that episode of King of the Hill where they destroy Flat Stanley.

46. The Snail and the Whale, Julia Donaldson
I don't know it, but the title is very cute. Not to take anything away from her, but is she contemporary? I only ask because when they make these "of all time" lists, there's always someone contemporary who gets a lot of books on because people tend to confuse "of all time" with "really popular." I mean, I don't have kids, but I work with kids and I used to work in book retail and I have younger sisters and I've never heard of this person. It sounds like I'm being arrogant, but I'm just asking.

47. Ten Little Ladybirds, Melanie Gerth
I don't know this one, either.

48. Six Dinners Sid, Inga Moore
I haven't heard of it, therefore it isn't worth knowing. (I don't really think so, I just feel like that's how I'm coming across.)

49. St. Clare's series, Enid Blyton
Not ringing a bell.

50. Captain Underpants, Dav Pilke
I've never read any of his adventures, but oh, man, do kids love Captain Underpants. They're still nutso over him. When I have a class of first or second graders and it's reading time, at least one kid is reading a Captain Underpants book.

And that's the list. I should do my own, just for the hell of it. It's an interesting insight into what British people read to their kids or read as kids. Here, I just assume everyone's read Charlotte's Web or Where the Sidewalk Ends or any of the other books I read as a kid, so this list looks off to me. It's a cultural thing. An interesting list, but highly flawed... if only because I read different books.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Happy Leap Day!


Throwdown 2/29

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. Larry Craig is looking for interns. So, if you’re in a pinch and want to get into a different one…

2. Noel Gallagher of Oasis is selling his home on Ibiza because James Blunt lives up the street and he can’t stand the thought of living in the same place as him. I think that’s my favorite story this week, or at least the most pointlessly funny. Fuck I hate James Blunt.

3. I swear, these are for a German international lifestyle magazine and not a bestiality manual. Make of them what you will.

4. Apparently they have legislation in New Zealand against smacking your kids. Now over 320,000 parents in NZ have signed a petition to have it overturned. Supporters of the overturn say that this is not about being pro- or anti-smacking, but a larger issue of democracy; Kiwi parents want the right to raise their own children as they see fit, and not have discipline legislated because of fears of abuse. Polls show that 74% of New Zealand parents are against the bill that makes smacking your child illegal, and point out that it will do nothing to stop child abuse, but instead make it illegal for parents to use discipline. I support the parents; I think a lot of kids grow up to be assholes simply because they didn’t get popped in the mouth enough as a kid. Seriously. Child abuse is catering to your child's self-esteem so much that they fall apart and take it out on other people when they discover that the world actually doesn't revolve around them.

5. Tyra Banks said this week on America’s Next Top Model that she understood what it was like to be homeless because she was homeless for a day on her talk show. I wonder if she thinks homeless people get to knock off at the end of the day, too.

6. Michael Musto has outed Ellen Page. Look, I don’t like if people lie to the public about being straight, but I don’t think Page has done that. I hate even more when people think it’s their duty to take someone and make something personal public. Is Ellen Page gay? I don’t know. But here’s the thing that bothers me even more than Musto trying to out her. I’ve seen people writing on their blogs about how Ellen Page doesn’t deserve the negative tag that comes with being labeled a lesbian this early in her career. Negative tag? Being a lesbian (or not) is a negative tag? What the hell is that supposed to mean? And how does it affect her career, exactly?

7. While we’re on this subject, what about those Diablo Cody pictures of her looking very cute and semi-naked? There are people out there acting like she should be embarrassed over them and, if I may say so, taking a perverse delight in trying to diminish her Oscar win by trying to embarrass her with pictures of her nipples. Why does she have to be embarrassed? She was a stripper, BFD. Why is it that people think being a stripper is something to be so ashamed of? And why does that diminish the accomplishment of writing a damn good movie and winning an Oscar for it? Why do people want it to? I haven't seen this much backlash against an Oscar winner since Titanic took Best Picture a decade ago.

8. Ouch! Turns out Hulk Hogan has been banging his daughter’s best friend. Just another way to sublimate his intense sexual desire for his own Brooke. I’m just saying. Watch the show. It’s obvious. In the National Enquirer, this other woman (who is 33, apparently) talks about how bad she feels to lose “an amazing friend” like Brooke. Yeah, well, I’m sure talking to a tabloid about it will patch things up for sure. Poor girl.

9. Another fun poll: only half of American students know when the Civil War was fought, what the theme of 1984 is, and who Senator Joseph McCarthy was. This is part of the reason America is not going to solve its problems. Most kids only care about what directly relates to their immediate needs. That’s understandable when you’re a kid, but what about when you grow up? Oh, they did know about Pearl Harbor and Martin Luther King, but I wonder if they can name all of their leaders. I was in a university sociology class three years ago and was the only student in the class who could name the Secretary of State.

10. This is the kind of stupid bullshit that just needs to not make it into print. Go here and read an apparently serious India Daily article about how there are signs of extraterrestrial intervention in Abell 1835 IR1916, the furthest galaxy we’ve found (about 13 million light years away)…because it’s a part of the Cosmic Renaissance artificially engineered by the Type IV beings who created the Big Bang with supercolliders… Wow, that’s just… wow.

11. Does Bill Cunningham ever talk, or does he just scream his every word in a flat, nasal monotone? Can you imagine living with that guy? “Yes I’d like peas with my mashed potatoes!” “Good night, dear, I’ll see you in the morning!” Ugh. It's like a Will Ferrell sketch. Yeah, Obama’s middle name is “Hussein.” Is there a point you’re making, or what? I mean, a meaningful point, not a stupid one. Because what you’re looking at is a coincidence involving a name that goes back centuries.

12. First the failed sex scandal, now there’s “news” that John McCain was born in Panama and may not be eligible for the presidency. I’m yawning at the news. Someone out there is running the most ineffective smear campaign I’ve ever seen in my life. You’re telling me this guy can’t be attacked on a variety of issue stances and bad decisions? Hey, why not look into what he does for his lobbyists? It’s right frigging there.

13. Prince Harry has been serving on the front lines in Afghanistan. Apparently the members of his unit have nicknamed him “the Bullet Magnet.” Hey, what’s Jenna Bush doing these days? And for that matter, what about those Romney kids? I mean, they’ve got to find a way to serve America now that Mittwit is out of the race. Incidentally, now that the whole world knows Harry's there because Matt Drudge can't keep his fucking mouth shut, he's being taken out because he's a prime target. Thanks, Drudge. Oh, and thanks for the Lewinsky scandal too, asshole.

14. Sorry if this offends anyone, but this is completely indicative of why I think religion is overwhelmingly silly. In Australia, Muslim students are asking universities to respect their superstitions by separating male and female students so the men won’t get “polluted” by femininity. It’s hard to take grown men seriously when they’re terrified of getting cooties.

15. This week, archaeologists announced the discovery of a circular plaza in Peru that is 5500 years old. That makes it the oldest structure in the Americas. The find is at Sechin Bajo, near the site of Caral, one of the earliest centers of civilization (the others being Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, and India). It does my heart very good indeed to keep seeing things found. History needs to be recovered as well as remembered.

16. Katie Holmes is not pregnant. Does that mean they ran out of L. Ron Hubbard sperm? Did they use it all up on Jennifer Lopez and her twins? I only ask because I read that Tom Cruise is throwing J. Lo and Marc a party that costs $200,000, and even though that’s not much for the “church” of scientology to throw around, it is a lot when you consider J. Lo and Marc aren’t alien-worshipers. Or are they? Now I wonder. How long until they make that announcement? I can’t wait to see J. Lo’s twins; I hope they look just like Suri Cruise.

17. Oh, good for the gray wolf. It was almost hunted to extinction and spent decades on the endangered species list. Now it’s finally made a recovery and the federal government says it’s okay to hunt them to extinction again. Progress?


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Masters of Animation: John Hubley

No history of animation can be complete without the mention of John Hubley. Which is why it's so surprising to me that there is so little written about the man. Before Hubley and UPA, cartoons had progressed doggedly in the style Walt Disney had laid down, losing their charm and becoming hollow as the Disney studio insisted that there was only one suitable artistic style in which to tell stories in animation. John Hubley was instrumental in changing that attitude and changing the artistic landscape as a result.

John Hubley was born on 21 May 1914 in Marinette, Wisconsin. When the Depression hit, he was sent to live with an uncle in Los Angeles, where he went to high school and college and, in 1935, was hired as a background artist working on Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He was part of the first wave of new employees who were hired to work on the massive Snow White production. He also worked as a background and/or layout artist on Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi. The new employees did not feel the same reverence and loyalty towards Walt as those who had been there from the beginning, and it was these employees who were instrumental in the 1941 strike. Hubley sympathized with the strikers, but was one of the employees who was more disillusioned with Disney's quest for more and more realism and his belief that stories should be fueled by gags. Hubley wanted to do something different, and instead of participating in the strike, he simply left the studio.

Hubley was hired by Frank Tashlin, a former Disney and Schlesinger artist who was now running the Screen Gems animation studio for Columbia Pictures. Tashlin hired most of his staff of the strike line, most of them like-minded friends who loved animation and wanted to discover a way to do more than just imitate Disney. These artists were more interested in the aesthetics of animation; they wanted to do more than just imitate life. They were advocates of strong design. Tashlin encouraged them to experiment with styles and explore new ideas, and it was briefly a designer's paradise. There, Hubley found the freedom to make cartoons like Wolf Chases Pigs, The Dumbconscious Mind, King Midas Jr., and the cartoon in which he completely broke with the comforting coziness of circular designs and realism, Professor Small and Mr. Tall.

The animation collective was short-lived; in 1942 Tashlin was fired and replaced by Dave Fleischer, who had just lost the family animation house to Paramount after the failure of the Superman series and his feature Hoppity Goes to Town (unfortunately released on 7 December 1941). He promoted Hubley to director, a move which changed Hubley's approach to animation. Apparently he realized that strong writing was the most important factor in making a film that was heavy on design.

Later that year, Hubley joined the Army and was assigned to Rudolf Ising's Army Air Force First Motion Picture Unit. There, animators were forced to take a more hands-on role in cartoon production, doing a myriad of jobs instead of just animating, giving them a better understanding of the entire process. Hubley was further inspired to take what he called "a progressive, intelligent approach to animation." When he saw Chuck Jones's inspired cartoon The Dover Boys, he was thrilled by the linear stylization that was so different from any other cartoon (famously, this was the cartoon that Leon Schlesinger practically disavowed and ridiculed). He was especially struck by the comedy, which came out of character and humanity instead of wild action and slapstick gags. As many other historians have pointed out, the real value of the FMPU was that the Army didn't care about style because they were more concerned with the message; it was a perfect time and place for a man like John Hubley to form and cement his ideas to approach and revitalize animation.

Hubley began freelancing while he was still in the Army, and in 1944 he storyboarded and designed the groundbreaking Hell-Bent for Election, a pro-FDR re-election film for the United Auto Workers Union. The work was done primarily by United Film Productions, the commercial company founded by Zack Schwartz (an old friend from Disney and Screen Gems) and Dave Hilberman (one of the leaders of the 1941 Disney strike). The film was directed by Chuck Jones and proved to be an effective calling card for the animators and producers involved. It was the first time Hubley was able to put into practice all of his new ideas about stylization, and they work very well.

The company became United Productions of America in 1945, and producer Stephen Bosustow bought out Schwartz and Hilberman. He hired Hubley and made him supervising director. But the company became the target of FBI investigations into Communist infiltration in Hollywood. Many of the liberals involved in the studio had previously been Communists; some still were. Hubley in particular had had ties with the Commmunist party. Goverment contracts, the lifeblood of UPA, dried up in the wake of reports that UPA was harboring Communists. In order to save the company, Bosustow went to Columbia and talked to them about contracting their animation to UPA; the Screen Gems cartoons were now unpopular failures, and the person Bosustow talked to was a liberal Democrat who had seen and loved Hell-Bent for Election. A deal was made and, after two test films starring the mainstay Fox and Crow characters (whom Tashlin had created in 1941), UPA cartoons would be officially released by Columbia Pictures. Both cartoons, Robin Hoodlum and The Magic Fluke, both directed by Hubley, were not popular with the Columbia execs. They worried that the cartoons departed too much from the Disney/Warners formula. What convinced them was that both films were nominated for Academy Awards.

By this time, Hubley had met Faith Elliott, a sound effects editor, music editor, film editor, and script supervisor. She, like John, was an art school graduate and very left-leaning. She would influence him with a sense of internationalism that would influence some of his later work.

In 1949, John Hubley directed the cartoon that began the real shift in animation: The Ragtime Bear. For this cartoon, Hubley created the character Mr. Magoo. Columbia was reluctant to have a human character in a cartoon instead of a funny animal, so the bear appeared in the film to allay their fears. In his first outing, Magoo is perhaps the funniest he ever was. Hubley conceived the character as a shortsighted man, but he had also added a layer of what he described as bullheaded obstinancy. He had a handicap, but he refused to admit it and tried to function anyway. Jim Backus was hired to do Magoo's voice and was allowed to improvise during the recording, finding a perfect note of frustration that somehow made Magoo endearing instead of irritating. He found a human frailty in it and played it for laughs. Here, for a change, was comedy out of character instead of comedy out of situation (although the situation is played for some hilarious laughs; Magoo mistakes the titular bear for his fur coat-wearing nephew). He was fresh and new at a time when Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse were over-familiar. The cartoon was instantly popular.

This was also the first time that Hubley was able to make full use of the limited animation style he'd had in mind. Hubley was a perfectionist who could blow through his entire budget just redesigning layouts, so the famed limited UPA style was partially a necessity due to cost. But it was also the design style that Hubley had been imagining for years, and perhaps not being able to spend more money on it helped to sharpen his talent. He could work within limitations without compromising quality.

I've already written about the history of UPA here and here. Hubley's time at UPA was short; as supervising director, he didn't have much time to work on his own cartoons. Mr. Magoo was given his own series (against Hubley's wishes) directed by Pete Burness; Hubley directed on other cartoon with his creation, Fuddy Duddy Buddy, before watching as Mr. Magoo fell into sentimentalism and gags. He also directed one of UPA's best cartoons, Rooty Toot Toot, which I touched on at length in the earlier post. It was quite a step forward for Hubley, a creation purely of great writing and line drawings that indicate character (and a great color scheme and musical score that do the same). If Disney's cartoons were the Classical music of the cartoon world, Hubley's cartoons were becoming free-form, experimental jazz. Rooty Toot Toot was released in 1952; the same year, Hubley left UPA amid HUAC investigations. Columbia wanted the former Communist fired; Bosustow stood up for him, but Hubley left rather than strain the relationship between Columbia and UPA. John and Faith married and went into business for themselves.

Their first project in 1955 was an animated feature version of Finian's Rainbow. The Hubleys both loved jazz music, and it influenced their approach to animation as much as Faith's international outlook and John's ideas about writing and design. Under musical director Lyn Murray, the music and voices were all recorded; the cast included Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald. But the funding ran out and, for reasons that remain unclear to me (but which may involve blacklisting), the film was never finished.

John and Faith moved to New York and set up a studio called Storyboard. Faith acted as business manager, co-producer, organizer, and artist. John was the film director. They were successful as commercial animators, and it's my feeling that, even if you don't know who John Hubley is, you've seen his work (for example, he designed the Vlasic Pickle stork). The look of UPA cartoons had influenced everything else in animation, which is indicative of just how much people were ready for a change. Even Disney would try to ape the UPA style (and, with Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom, win an Oscar for doing so); so would Warner Bros, although that was partially because they stopped spending much money on their cartoons in the late fifties. The animated commercials being made for TV were in the same style, and it quickly became the mainstream.

John Hubley, though, continued to experiment, releasing the independent cartoon The Adventures of an * in 1957. It was made for the Guggenheim in Bilbao. It was animated in the same commercial studio style Hubley had honed at UPA, but it looks nothing like a UPA cartoon. Most animators who leave a studio have trouble shedding the same look (for example, take Chuck Jones's independent cartoons of the seventies, which are proficient but which look almost exactly like his later work at Warners). The Adventures of an * is more avant garde than UPA was willing to go, a very abstract film with improvised dialogue that serves as a meditation on the distractions of life. Many of Hubley's films are meditations of the same sort, and as a result he does have a reputation as being a didactic filmmaker.

Hubley decided that he would only do one film a year and devote the rest of his time to commercial work; his next film, The Tender Game (1958), is a surprisingly beautiful romance between line characters who have no resemblance to physical reality, nor any tie to it. There is no dialogue, just the backing music of Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald. Many of Hubley's films would be in a similar vein; almost formless but, like a jazz improvisation, returning to key themes and coming to a structured end.

In 1959 he released Moonbird, an expressionistic film about two young boys trying to capture a bird at night. It's a beautiful, affecting cartoon with animation by Bobe Cannon. It's a quiet, moody piece, and the voices are actually the long, unstructured conversation of the Hubleys' sons, Mark and Ray. It's hard to describe this film to someone who hasn't seen it; there's a tendency to talk it up to a standard it can't possibly meet, but it's a special film and one of the milestones of American animation. In 1959 there was nothing else like it; it was the first independent animation to win an Oscar. And it's lovely.

Many of Hubley's films were in the same vein, although he certainly didn't repeat himself. He and Faith found a particular style that suited them and continued to make films that way. In reading up on Hubley, I've found that opinion on his work seems to be split between people who think he was a genius and people who find his work didactic, fitful, and repetitive. I'm firmly in the genius camp; it's impossible to see work like The Ragtime Bear, Rooty Toot Toot, The Tender Game, and Moonbird and not see the hand of genius at work. That none of those films demands attention or insists on themselves too much makes them all the more delicate and special. Of particular mention, I think, are the films The Hole (1962), another Oscar winner that simply animated the improvised conversation between two men (one of them Dizzy Gillespie) about their fears of nuclear proliferation; Of Stars and Men (1964), based on a philosophical monography by Harlow Shapley; The Hat (1964), the conversation of two men on border patrol duty; Windy Day (1968), a film which uses the chatter of the Hubleys' daughters Emily and Georgia in the same way Moonbird had utilized the dialogue of their boys; and the Oscar nominated Of Men and Demons (1969), featuring animation by Art Babbitt.

In 1973, the Hubleys made Cockaboody, which I make special mention of because it's probably my favorite Hubley cartoon. Again utilizing the voices of Emily and Georgia, the film is an expressionist masterpiece. It is simply the two children playing together at home, babbling and making up games and imagining the lives of inanimate objects the way children do. There is something about this movie that is just pure and light without being precious. The film isn't saying "Hey, look at how cute our kids are" the way it might have. Instead it's an improvisation, culled from the recorded tracks used earlier for Windy Day and edited into a seamless conversation (it's impossible to notice the edits, since young children go from one subject to the next with no warning). Michael Sporn has a series of storyboards for the film on his blog here, here, and here, as well as a post of layouts and a post highlighting Tissa David's animation of Georgia walking.

It was also in the seventies that John Hubley directed the 60-episode series of Letterman cartoons for The Electric Company, another reason why I'm sure everyone at some point has seen a Hubley cartoon. (I'm unable to find out if any Hubley cartoons were shown on Sesame Street, but cartoons like Cockaboody are very much like the type of cartoons they used to air on the show in the seventies when the makers seemed to have more faith in the intelligence of their young viewers.)

Letterman and Cockaboody were made in the last years of John Hubley's life. So was Voyage to Next (1974), a beautiful cartoon featuring improvised dialogue between Father Time (Dizzy Gillespie) and Mother Earth (Maureen Stapleton) on humanity's past and its eventual fate. The film was nominated for another Oscar. From there, Hubley went on to make Everybody Rides the Carousel (1975) for television. Based on Erik Erikson's theories of the eight different stages of phyical and emotional age, the film is unforgettable (though the camp is split on that film as well; many find it boring). The film was made in diverse styles that included still illustrations. His final project was A Doonesbury Special (1977), a fun bit of whimsy which is not really indicative of Hubley's best work.

I would also like to mention the work he did on Watership Down, one of my favorite films and one which has especially influenced me in what I search for in animation (I first saw it when I was five or so). Hubley was hired by producer Martin Rosen to direct the film in London, only to be fired because he was taking too long with little to show for it. What remains of his work in the film is probably only the opening sequence (again, there's another great Michael Sporn post on Hubley's work), which as a kid was the part that made the biggest impression on me. Specifically, it was so visceral that it practically traumatized me. The artwork is like nothing else in the film, inspired by Australian aboriginal art and told completely in narration by Michael Hordern. Rosen directed the rest of the film himself.

John Hubley died on 21 February 1977 at the age of 62 during heart surgery; he was still working on A Doonesbury Special, which aired in November on NBC. Faith kept working on animated films of her own until her death on 7 December 2001. His daughter Georgia plays drums and sings for the band Yo La Tengo; Emily is an animator who, among other films, made the animated inserts for the film Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Through his work, he had changed the unspoken rules regarding how an animated film could look and feel, and had some influence on the style of animation throughout the fifties, sixties, and seventies. He had also established the viability (and critical acceptance) of independent animation. And he had simply made some of the best cartoons in film history.

Bernadette, I Want You Because I Need You to Live

I don't know why or what I watched when I was a kid that did it, but Bernadette Peters is the first sex fantasy I ever had. Well, I know why; come on, she's gorgeous, sexy, and a damn good performer. But thinking back to the kind of women that turned me into the depraved man I am today, I'm now certain that my earliest sex fantasy was Bernadette Peters. And we're talking at a very early age. Screw that claptrap about guys not being into women until they hit puberty. We know who makes us feel a certain way when we're young, even if we don't quite understand why. Bernadette Peters was the first woman who gave me that special feeling, and even today, if I see something with her from the late seventies or early eighties, I can feel it again, still urgent and more powerful. She's awesome.

Funnily enough, I was just talking about this the other night with some friends. And today is her 60th birthday.

Happy Birthday, Bernadette!

And thank you for everything you did for me (and continue to do). I'd like to say that I still have a special present for you, but that would just be a caddish thing to say, not like me at all.

And Now, an Emergency Press Conference from the President

Bah! Fund muh war!
The wiretapping I illegally asked the telecoms to do is totally legal!
No class action lawsuits!
Congress hates the troops!
Everything I do keeps you from getting killed!
Vote Republican or the planet will explode!
Al-Qaeda! Al-Qaeda!

The Idiot in Chief is addressing the nation right now in an emergency press conference, trying to bully Congress into keeping the money flowing and bully the rest of us into stepping in line unquestioningly. Guy needs an emergency press conference to threaten people not to sue the telecoms for breaking the law and giving away our personal information? Apparently his acting lessons wore off, because he can't disguise his total contempt for us anymore than we can disguise ours for him. I can't even listen to this ass because it's like listening to a doll that can only repeat the same three phrases over and over again: "Congress needs to fund the troops," "al-Qaeda and other extremists," and "keeping America safe from terrorist attack." Blah blah fucking blah you suck. One day, you won't be president anymore. And when that day comes, George, I recommend you stay out of crosswalks. Whiny douchebag.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Film Week

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

I think the late thirties and early forties must be my favorite period for John Ford movies. Most of the films he made then are just so solid, so well-structured and acted. In a way, it's easy to undervalue those films because they don't call attention to themselves with technique and flash. But for me, they're the foundation of American cinema. This film is based on four one-act plays by Eugene O'Neill. A crew of sailors on a tramp steamer combat boredom and crisis and become close; there's not much more to it than that, but it's the characters and how they interact that make the whole film. Some of them die, some of them meet other kinds of tragedy, and some of them just keep going. A typically great Ford cast--John Wayne, Ian Hunter, Barry Fitzgerald, Ward Bond, and, doing some of his best work, Thomas Mitchell. **** stars.

A great creepy Hammer movie, with Stefanie Powers as a woman who stops to visit the mother of her late boyfriend. The mother, Tallulah Bankhead (in a wonderfully bizarre performance), decides to lock the girl up in order to keep her pure. Certainly it's a better and creepier film than The Collector, with interesting turns from Peter Vaughan and Donald Sutherland (as an idiot manchild). Atmospheric and odd, like the best Hammer films. ***1/2 stars.

One of the great samurai films, starring Tatsuya Nakadai as a great swordsman who is also a sociopath. He has no morals or scruples; he doesn't delight in killing, he's just coldly indifferent to human life. This makes him enemy upon enemy, and it becomes a tense matter of which enemy will catch up with him first. It's a compelling, almost thrilling movie, excellently made, that eliminates the typical trappings of action movies (sidekick, love interest, moralism, humor, adolescent themes) and presents the character honestly and without judgment. It leads up to an abrupt, exciting conclusion (it was meant to be the first part of a trilogy) and is well worth watching. If you haven't seen this and you love samurai movies, you must rectify that. **** stars. Toshiro Mifune also appears.

Pretty, but not much else. Steven Soderbergh tries to make a film that's basically a modern version of one of Cary Grant's more serious films (Notorious seems to be one influence). George Clooney is solid, as always, and Cate Blanchett is sharp, as always. Tobey Maguire is quite good in a role that's the total opposite of Spider-Man, but he disappears from the movie far too quickly. It looks great, but the story isn't compelling and the characters aren't worth it. **1/2 stars.

Energetic movie about a comedy team who split up for mysterious reasons and the young writer who worshiped them both as a child and now wants to get to the facts. Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth are excellent as the pair who share a few secrets; they're sort of a Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, with Bacon clowning desperately and Firth barely concealing a brutality that comes forth more than once. Alison Lohman plays the writer who ends up giving away much more than she means to (and probably was the wrong choice to star in Black Beauty; once you've appeared in a movie with a girl dressed as Alice in Wonderland going down on you, you're not really the girl star of children's fare anymore). Riveting, stylish, well-acted and everything else Brian DePalma movies aren't anymore. **** stars.

Interminably boring film by a boring director (Richard Attenborough, who directed Gandhi, which was also boring). I used to work with a guy at Barnes & Noble who warned me this was a bad movie; he was of the opinion that this and other movies about a white guy caught up in a dire situation with a so-called minority group only carried the message that things like, in this case, Apartheid were bad because they made white people sad. That's a pretty good description for this movie. There's not much to it; it's telling people what they already know, which is that racism is wrong and instutionalized racism is inherently destructive. I didn't need the three hours to let that sink in. Denzel Washington, as activist leader Steve Biko, is very, very good. How come he didn't win his Best Actor Oscar until years after he'd forgotten how to act? He used to be good. Otherwise, ** stars.

Well, I finally bit the bullet and sat through it for my Jessica, mostly because it's on Showtime now and I don't have to rent it. It wasn't as annoying as I thought it would be, but it's still not very good. Dane Cook (not funny) and Dax Shepard (not funny) play guys who work at a Costco analogue and get in competition to make Employee of the Month because new employee Jessica Simpson supposedly drops her panties for the Employee of the Month. I liked some of the humor because it was familiar--like a heightened version of what it was like working at Target--but the characters are all pretty lame and the movie can't decide whether it wants to be sweet or be funny so opts to be neither. I will say a couple of things about the casting. First, some of the supporting cast is alright, but no one should ever put Andy Dick or Harland Williams in anything. Second, I thought he was good in Zathura, but I now officially hate Dax Shepard; it's been unfunny after unfunny with this ass. His painful turn in Idiocracy was Olivier in Hamlet compared to this movie. Third, and I hate to be complimentary to Dane Cook, but he actually didn't suck in this movie. I don't know if the director reigned him in or what, but he managed to not be obnoxious or aggressive or all the other things that make him the shittiest stand-up comic not "named" Carlos Mencia. But my real concern is, of course, my Jessica, who shouldn't have bothered unless the movie had a much, much better script. She's likeable, but I'm a huge Jessica Simpson fan already. She's got nothing to do but be sweet, and she is, but not in a memorable way. She's just there and the movie can't really think of anything for her to do but be the impetus for Dane Cook's life change. She can do better with the right people; sadly, the right people aren't interested. If she wants to keep acting (and I hope she does), she needs to get herself a TV vehicle. She's funny and likeable, but she needs to not be in crap. **1/2 stars; it's like watching a CW pilot that has no personality.

I wasn't really prepared for this movie at all. I thought it would be a little cowboy drama, but this movie completely blew me away. Tommy Lee Jones stars as a roustabout who befriends a Mexican over the border illegally. When his friend turns up dead, Jones tries to find the indentity of the killer and fulfill his friend's wishes to be buried in a specific place. Meanwhile, Barry Pepper is a rookie border cop who has brought his bored wife (January Jones) to the same small town to settle in. There are a lot of great character turns in this movie, including Dwight Yoakam as the impotent sheriff and Melissa Leo as a rather callous waitress; Levon Helm is great in a small role as a blind man who asks Tommy Lee Jones for a surprising favor. In its way, the movie is a deliberately-paced meditation on border relations and the influx of Mexicans over the American border, but it is also a sensitive, beautiful, very masculine, quiet story about characters and loyalty and what it's wrong or right to do in the name of friendship. It's a powerful movie that comes out of nowhere, and I hope Tommy Lee Jones has more of these in him as a director (he especially handles the screenplay's flashback structure well, jumping in and out of time). If not, this one is quite a gift. **** stars.

SKIDOO (1968)
Blagh, what a waste of Jackie Gleason! No stars.

Shirley MacLaine plays an expatriate Russian piano teacher who takes on a young Indian boy (Shabana Azmi). Their relationship begins as imperious teacher and reluctant student, but the boy, Sushila, is gifted and they soon establish a sort of friendship that almost becomes maternal in nature. Meanwhile, the boy's mother (Navin Chowdhry) is needy to the point of being batty and demands easily as much as Madame Sousatska, and Sushila soon finds himself pulled in both directions, attempting to find a peaceful center. Of course, he's also at the age where he's very interested in the would-be pop star who lives upstairs from his teacher (Twiggy), so he's even more confused and trying to find a release through music. An excellent character piece that moves a little slower than I would like, but is nonetheless very rewarding. ***1/2 stars.

Ingmar Bergman's great drama is about two sisters (Liv Ullman and Ingrid Thulin) who band together to watch over a third (Harriet Anderssen), a spinster who is on her deathbed. In flashbacks, the sisters reflect on their lives and the deceit, callousness, guilt, love, and unfulfillment that they've lived through. They try to be their for their dying sister, but are both secretly disgusted to watch her die. This is not a warm, emotional movie about forgiveness; Bergman instead deals in cold realism and a sort of profound dissatisfaction with life. And deep, deep cynicism about the thoughts of others. It's almost psychoanalytic, and seems to conclude that people are really animals who care only for themselves and hate being bothered with the reality of other people. This is the kind of film that puts people off Bergman, because there's no redemption in the end; it is horror and hopelessness and death and then nothing. Liv Ullman is masterful, playing against her usual type, and Harriet Anderssen is touching. The film looks beautiful, with red backgrounds playing against the cold, stark browns and blacks and empty whites. The film is not empty, but it's about emptiness. Does that make sense? **** stars.

Boleyn Girls

Actual Natalie Portman quote: “Seriously, I would really want to grab Scarlett's breasts. She's got beautiful ones.”

Scar? Baby? I have a great idea for something we can do this weekend... Um, for Valentine's Day? Two weeks ago? Damn. Did we do anything to celebrate, um, President's Day? Well, we could celebrate the beginning of, um, Daylight Savings Time. Oh, right, we don't have that on Mars. St. Patrick's Day? Hey, babe, I'm the Martian Prime Minister; I don't need a reason to celebrate.

Seriously, though, I'm hoping to go see The Other Boleyn Girl this weekend. I haven't seen one of Scarlett's movies in the theaters in a long time, I love Tudor history, and I'm psyched to see something good from 2008 now that the Oscar high is over.

Of course, what I'm imagining right now in my head probably isn't going to happen in the movie. But a man can dream. Oh, yes. A man can dream...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Health Report, Year 2: Week 11

I dunno.

I stopped eating so much crap and am eating a little healthier again. My meals aren't so big, and the food is lighter. I'm still not exercising, really. I'm not doing much of anything, except occasionally working. And blogging, always blogging, for whatever reason anymore.

My mom came over this weekend. She looked at my teeth and said I was definitely grinding them. She showed me how I could tell she was grinding hers, so I know what I'm in for. She made a dentist appointment for me next Monday; I haven't been to the dentist in about eight years, and now I'm probably going to have to be fitted for a guard so I don't grind my teeth anymore. I also told her about the horse nightmare and another recurring nightmare I'm having: the Irish elk. I haven't had that nightmare in a long time; it just involves me walking into my living room and seeing it filled by the skeleton of a prehistoric Irish elk (with heat rising from its nostrils). I'm doing other little obsessive-compulsive things, too. I wiggle my ears so much my head hurts, or I clench my jaw and then click my teeth. I nod my head forcefully until my eyes hurt. I'm scratching my hands so much that they're dried out and I'm starting to get little scabs.

My mom said that she thinks I'm very upset about something and afraid to talk about it. That the reason I've eaten so much junk is that I'm trying to stuff it down so deep inside that the words physically can't come out. That I'm shaking and having nightmares and hurting myself because I want to talk so bad. I don't know for sure. It feels like I'm cracking up a little.

I dunno.

I don't know what to tell you that's positive.

About the only times I felt really, really good this week were while watching the Oscars (it was a distraction) and at a friend's house on Friday. I had some pot and a little Coca-Cola and that relaxed me enough to enjoy the night. I slept really well for the first time in weeks. I need more pot.

I know I have to pull myself together. I'm just not sure why yet.

Darth Vader and 'Nobi Kenobi

Two that made me laugh.

First, we have the plot of Star Wars explained by an adorable three year-old. This is what I imagine the original pitch meeting was like.

And second, with a little creative editing, you can see how Darth Vader can sometimes just be a jerk.


Hey, today's Dub Taylor's birthday! Why am I pointing this out? Why the hell not! He's one of the great "That Guys." In fact, someone's made a documentary about him: That Guy: The Legacy of Dub Taylor. He was born in 1907 today, so it's just past the centennial mark for the late character actor. Rest in peace, Dub.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Javier Bardem and Oscar

It probably would be cliche to say something like "Damn, I wish I was Oscar right now." But damn, I wish I was Oscar right now.

Oscar 80

Every year, this is the morning when people get on their blogs and talk about the Oscar ceremony in snarky, opinionated language. And that includes me, so here I go. These will probably be longer than I mean them to, but these are just my observations and opinions.

* I don't remember for sure, but is that the same opening they used last year?

* I'm not exactly thrilled to see Jon Stewart back as host. I understand that it was up in the air until last week or so whether or not they'd get writers, so Stewart didn't have a lot of prep time, but I just don't think he's that good, anyway. He wasn't good two years ago, either. I think his political stuff especially fell flat; as I've said before, his humor is basically sucking up for laughs by playing up to the liberal intellectual crowd who thinks humor is being told how clever and smart they are. Maybe it's against the grain, but I still think the last really, really funny host of the Oscars was David Letterman. And I liked Ellen DeGeneres, too. They were more fun than watching Jon Stewart sweat and undermine his jokes.

* The funniest part about Jon Stewart's "Vanity Fair should actually invite some writers to the party" joke is that most of the people applauding couldn't care less.

* Jennifer Garner is so fucking beautiful it almost hurts. I adore her and I really hope she gets some bigger roles.

* Best Costume Design: Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Seems right to me. All the other movies I liked for costumes didn't get nominated. They've made a lot out of Keira Knightley's green dress in Atonement, and it is a stunner (even appearing on Keira Knightley, the skeletal clothes hanger), but one dress doesn't make an Oscar for me. Still, I could at least get Atonement's nominations for artistic categories; it looked beautiful, despite being a terrible movie.

* I liked George Clooney's quip about the ceremonies having one thing in common: "it's long." I just like him. He's charming, he's a little self-important but he's cute about it, he's always well-dressed. I don't like these kind of comparisons, but when they compare him to Cary Grant, I don't think they're far off.

* Great line from Steve Carrel to Jon Stewart: "You never cease to amaze me with your constant need for attention." He and Anne Hathaway seem good together; I hope they're fun in Get Smart, since I'm going to see it just because they're in it. I love Anne; she's beautiful and funny and realistic. Becca asks: "Why can't Steve Carrel host the Oscars? He's actually funny."

* Best Animated Feature: Ratatouille. Yay, Brad Bird has two Oscars now! I love him; his speech was nice, too. I haven't seen Persepolis yet but I'm dying to; I loved thos graphic novels.

* One of my favorite moments of the night: when Katherine Heigl came out, Keri Russell was shrugging at Seth Rogen. I'm not sure why, but it cracked me up. Heigl looked pretty, but I'm not sure why she was there (hey! Watch Gray's Anatomy, also on ABC!). Also, ever since she ripped on Knocked Up the way she did, I can't stand her. Ingrate. She didn't get the point of the movie and neither do a lot of people, apparently (it doesn't celebrate being a loser with no responsibilities, it's an argument for actually cutting the shit and growing up). Plus I keep hearing so many stories now about what a bitch she is. I think that's going to hurt her chances of becoming the movie star we're supposed to believe she is; who wants to work with that?

* Best Makeup: La Vie en Rose. I still want to see this movie (and it's on DVD now, so I really should have), so I can't comment, but I'm hella glad that Norbit and Pirates of the Caribbean didn't win. Personally, I thought the makeup effects in Planet Terror were especially good.

* I hate that music that cuts off winners from accepting awards. Gosh, this is their moment, just let them speak, for crying out loud. I think everyone gets it by now that they need to keep it short. I wonder if they cut people off in the days before it was televised. Fucking advertising concerns just rule everything. They were being really rigid that night, and I'm always embarrassed for the poor people trying to talk into a microphone that's been cut off.

* It was so wonderful to see Amy Adams performing "Happy Working Song." Becca says she was lipsynching; I said I'd brain her with a free weight if she said that again. Abuse is love! Actually, I don't care if she did or not. She looked absolutely stunning and classy. Why, why, WHY did she not get nominated for an Oscar? Do they still refuse to believe that a comedic performance requires acting? She was so spot-on perfect in that movie, and it's probably still my favorite performance of the year. That's a damn good song, too.

* Best Visual Effects: The Golden Compass. People seemed surprised. Personally, I thought all three nominated films had spotty effects. The effects in Compass were kind of hit-or-miss (Iorek looked like a video game character, the monkey never looked like it was sharing physical space with anything, and flying Eva Green was just boring--the movie looked pretty, but the effects were iffy). All three Pirates of the Caribbean films, especially the last two, have some of the worst effects I've ever seen. It's painful to look at those badly-rendered sea people. The second movie gets a pass because the Davy Jones effects are amazing, but all the rest of the effects are putrid. And I've complained a lot about the character designs for Transformers, which look haphazard and sloppy and, thanks to Michael Bay's love of movement over clarity, hard to see clearly. I liked the effects in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 300, Spider-Man 3, and even Elizabeth: The Golden Age so much better.

* Best Art Direction: Sweeney Todd. I haven't seen the movie and don't really plan to. But Dante Feretti is a genius, so I can't argue with it.

* Jennifer Hudson is yummy. Can't quite read the teleprompter, but she looks gorgeous.

* Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem. No surprise there, but I think he deserved it. If it hadn't been him, Tom Wilkinson would've been a nice choice, too. Javier Bardem is one hell of a good looking man, isn't he? I see he brought his mother. Just saying. That seems to mean something. At least, I kind of hope it does because, man, he's fucking sexy. I like when foreign actors win; they're so not caught up in the bullshit. He seems like a cool guy. When I said to Becca, very pointedly, "He brought his mother, eh?" she said, "The surprising thing about the possibility of Javier Bardem being gay is that I'm not surprised. I never thought about it, but, it seems plausible."

* By the way, since I don't think it's cute to see idiots on the news this morning saying "I have no idea what he said, but he won," here's the translation of what Javier Bardem said in Spanish: "Mom, this is for you, for your grandparents, for your parents Rafael and Matilde, for the comedians of Spain who, like you, have brought dignity and pride to our profession. This is for Spain and this is for all of you." He's the first Spanish actor to win an Oscar. It was nice and doesn't quite deserve to be subjected to "Ha, look how ignorant we are of other peoples' cultures!" humor.

* A quick conversation we had for no reason.

Me: "Oh, James Marsden is gay, isn't he? I mean, is he? That just makes so much sense to me."

Becca: "I don't know, but it does seem plausible, doesn't it? And it's kind of nice, because he's so good in musicals and comedy. After years of hating him for that stick-up-his-ass Cyclops performance, I loved him in Hairspray and Enchanted like crazy."

Me: "I know, me too. Boy, wouldn't it have been way better if he'd played Superman instead of whatever-his-name-was? I could see him getting the role. Plus, he's not 14."

Becca: "He would've been good."

Me: "I think I really like the idea of a gay James Marsden on a wholly superficial level."

Becca: "He an Hugh Jackman need to do a big musical gay love story. Now that would be an Oscar-worthy film."

* The song from August Rush was not unpleasant, I suppose, but how cool would it have been to get Hugh Grant to sing "Pop! Goes My Heart" from Music & Lyrics?

* Nice read, Owen Wilson. You somehow suck worse now than you ever have, which is quite a feat. Best Live Action Short: The Mozart of Pickpockets. It cracked me up how Owen Wilson read it as "Le Mozart des pickpockets, The Mozart of Pickpockets. I think when the only words you need to translate are le and des, you can probably skip the clarification. Do the French really say Moe-ZAR? It's a German name. The winner, Phillippe Pollet-Villard, has an extremely hot wife.

* Does the Best Animated Short really need to be presented by Jerry Seinfeld's animated character from Bee Movie? Hey, it's on DVD on March 11! Because, what, it didn't get enough publicity every five minutes on NBC throughout August and September? How would you like to win this award and have it be presented by a cartoon bee from a shitty DreamWorks movie? Did they run out of actual movie stars to present awards? Next year the presenters will exclusively be from whatever movies are coming out in the next couple of weeks. Imagine, it could have been "The Stars of Disney's College Road Trip Host and Present the 80th Annual Academy Awards!"

* Best Animated Short: Peter & the Wolf. Love it. I loved it; finally, a version of Peter & the Wold with no narration. I was afraid they'd go with I Am the Walrus, which is clever and hip but not, you know, very good. I also loved My Love's watercolor style animation, but Madame Tutli-Putli left me cold (excellent animation, confusing and tedious story) and Even Pigeons Go to Heaven was just cute and forgettable.

* I just love to see Alan Arkin, no matter what.

* Best Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton. I still have a powerful, near-violent urge to go down on her. Lots of people this morning making fun of her androgyny, but that's one of the things that turns me on. I like her as an actress and I'm glad to see her win. I was in the Jennifer Garner camp, personally, but Tilda is a great actress who has been around for a long time with virtually no recognition. I also liked that she seemed genuinely surprised to win. Becca, to my surprise, really liked Saoirse Ronan; for me, it was too hard to separate her from the hateful, lying little brat she played, but I guess that's a mark of her ability, really. I'm looking forward to seeing her in The Lovely Bones. I wouldn't have minded seeing Cate Blanchett win, either; more and more I think she's the most talented woman in films today. I liked Entertainment Weekly's saying of her performance as Bob Dylan in I'm Not There "name another contemporary actress who could have pulled it off." I can't. And I'm glad it happened because I've wanted to see Cate Blanchett play David Bowie in a movie for years now. I need to see I'm Not There.

* Jessica Alba was introduced as "always-fantastic." Okay, whatever... Apparently the announcer has never seen any of her shitty acting. She did the tech awards. They always get a hot chick to hang out with the nerds, which I think is a very nice thing for them to do.

* Another announcer thing: no matter what he does, James McAvoy will never be "brooding." I like him, but brooding? I thought he was so miscast in Atonement because he's always got that eye-twinkle and those angelic lips. Easily bruised, but never brooding. I liked him a lot in The Last King of Scotland. Another actor Becca is convinced is gay. When he came out with Josh Brolin, she said: "After they present the award, they're going to go backstage and make out, and then Josh Brolin is going to kick McAvoy's ass." I'm not sure I'd hate seeing that. I liked Josh Brolin a lot this year in Planet Terror and No Country for Old Men. I guess he's no longer just "that guy from The Goonies" for me anymore.

* Best Adapted Screenplay: No Country for Old Men. I'd like to read the book; I'm told by a few people that I'd like Cormac McCarthy. I can't speak for the adaptation, but I love the structure.

* Every year, the president of AMPAS comes out to remind us how Important the Oscars are. I liked the film, though; they got the information out and were witty about it.

* Why is Miley Cyrus at the Oscars? Because she's introducing a Disney song on Disney-owned ABC, I guess (watch Hannah Montana on Disney Channel and ABC!). She read the teleprompter a lot more naturally than some of the highly-paid actors, I noticed, but she's got such a lack of poise you can feel it. She's still so gawky and awkard, which seems out of place at the Oscars.

* Disappointed as hell that Kristin Chenoweth sang "That's How You Know." That was one of my favorite scenes in a movie this year; it was everything you want a musical scene to be, even if the whole movie stops for it (hence "show-stopper"). It was joyous and wonderful and light and fun and emotional. When that moment began in that movie, I cringed a little, but then I had this big, goofy grin on my face throughout. They took is and made it rather pedantic. They should've brought Amy Adams back to do it or just shown the clip from the film. The joie de vivre from that scene was nowehere to be found; this was rather pedestrian. And Kristin Chenoweth oversang it.

* Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill are fucking funny.

* Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing: The Bourne Ultimatum. I'm convinced that even most Oscar voters have no idea what the distinction means. Thank you, though, Academy, for not making Transformers an Oscar-winning film. How was that movie even considered for anything? (On my own awards, the Porter Awards, I gave it a nostalgia-induced nomination for Best Vocal Performance for Peter Cullen; it was on the shortlist for my Elia Kazan Enemies of Art Award, but that went to the people behind Pirates of the Caribbean.)

* Best Actress: Marion Cotillard. I really want to see La Vie en Rose. She seemed genuinely surprised and at a loss for words. I was glad she was excited but not overflowing with tears and pretension. She may be my favorite winner of the Best Actress Oscar for the last several years for not conquering the microphone with an embarrassing amount of crying (any of them), self-importance (Halle Berry's "I'm winning this for every woman of color" speech), or total pretension (Nicole Kidman's "art is important" tongue bath). Still, I think Amy Adams is the Best Actress this year. I also was glad Marion Cotillard won because I was so sick of hearing "they'll never give the award to someone in a foreign language movie" over and over.

* Irish really does come across as the most pretentious of accents. Colin Farrell looks much better with short hair.

* This is the song everyone's been hosing down with love for months and months? "Falling Slowly" is kind of okay, I guess, but I'm just not feeling it. Meh.

* I liked the Best Picture retrospective clip (I've seen more than I thought), but could've done without the rest. Still, the show seemed brisk and well-paced. Of course, I started my TiVo and waited a half-hour so I could flip past the commercials, so that helps. Thankfully, there were no dance routines.

* Becca on Renee Zellweger: "Her body is so weird, she's so ugly. She's never going to look sculpted because her body has such a weird shape. She should get over it." I wish she hadn't lost any of the Bridget Jones's Diary weight she gained to play a thin British woman. She looked so terrible in the sequel.

* Best Film Editing: The Bourne Ultimatum. Did that say "best" or "most"? I love the Bourne movies and I wouldn't change a thing, but I can't see them in the theater because the shaky camera and the constant editing hurt my eyes. It's a good choice, though I liked the less-flashy, spare editing of No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood better.

* Nicole Kidman can be so lovely sometimes, and this is one of those nights. Digging the crazy necklace. I like her so much better when she embraces her weird side than when she's doing the whole Meryl Streep thing. I loved loved loved her in To Die For, Eyes Wide Shut, Birthday Girl, The Stepford Wives, Bewitched, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus and The Golden Compass, no matter how bad most of those movies were (and they were), than in more of her straight fare. Did you ever see her in Flirting? God, she was good in that. Almost makes up for Far and Away. Or Moulin Rouge, for that matter. God, I hate that movie. She's totally working my ice princess fantasies tonight.

* Robert Boyle more than deserved his Honorary Oscar. Nice to see someone other than an actor or director winning it, too.

* I've heard Lust, Caution and Perseoplis and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days and La Vie en Rose are all excellent. The nominees for Best Foreign Language Film are movies I've never heard of. Do they make that decision consciously? Either way, I do think it's a little bit of a bullshit category, and I'm never interested in what wins. A foreign language is not a genre. Penelope Cruz was lovely, though.

* The worst song from Enchanted, "So Close," had me turning the sound down for a few minutes. Boring. Boring Patrick Dempsey introduced ("remember, that's Gray's Anatomy, only on ABC!"). The boring song from Once won for Best Song. Jon Stewart bringing Marketa Irglova out to finish her speech was genuinely classy.

* Ew. Did Steven Spielberg say winning the Oscar made him feel male menopause?

* Cameron Diaz is incorrectly called "talented and beautiful" when she's actually neither. Why do they keep trotting her out? Why do people fall in love with her fidgety persona when it's so clearly a schtick? Why do people confuse her callous stupidity for being genuinely clever? Ten years ago she was good at hiding it; now she just comes across as bitchy. I guess Jessica Alba is the new Cameron Diaz in that respect. What do these two have to be so self-important about? When Diaz came out, Becca asked: "Why? It's not like she's in movies anymore, is she?"

* Best Cinematography: There Will Be Blood. Very good choice, although I'd love to have seen Roger Deakins win it just because he's so damn good.

* The Memoriam roll; Becca was very annoyed and kind of disgusted by the introduction that accompanied it, which referred to people "whose work is done." She felt, and I think I agree, that it was disrespectful, especially to someone who died young, like Heath Ledger. His death still seems unreal to me.

* Best Original Score: Atonement. I liked the typewriters, but don't remember much else about it. Film scores somehow got less interesting to me the past couple of years; I couldn't remember what any of the nominated scores sounded like. I remember I especially liked Ratatouille, but looking at my personal Porter Awards, I see I also nominated Meet the Robinsons and Enchanted, so obviously I like Disney music. I even have Ratatouille on CD; I'll have to listen to that again. They might as well rename this the John Williams Award; they can never present it without bringing up two to seven of his themes. Of course, they are memorable themes.

* At 2 hours and 42 minutes, we had this little exchange.

Becca: "6 awards left."

Me: "But they've only got 19 minutes left!"

Becca: "They can do it! They only give people 10 seconds to talk!"

I think it's hilarious how ABC blocks out three hours for the ceremony every year when they always know it's going to run over. If they were more honest and blocked out four hours, people would talk about how short it is every year because it didn't go the whole four hours. I am so fucking sick of jokes (except for George Clooney's, apparently) about how long the show is. Duh, you know it's going to be, you don't have to watch.

* I thought having soldiers present Best Documentary Short was a little disingenuous. Hollywood loves the appearance of caring much more than the actual caring part. Did they do things like this during World War II or Vietnam? Why do they have this pathological need to tie themselves to things in the real world when this is just an industry party? Oh, right, because they're Important. Freeheld won the Oscar; that's the only one that I'm actually desperate to see.

* Best Documentary Feature: Taxi to the Dark Side. Of the nominees, I've only seen Sicko.

* Becca: "Did Harrison Ford have a stroke?"

Me: "No, he's just incredibly dull."

I caught Ford on the Barbara Walters Special beforehand. I thought he seemed more pleasant and relaxed than he's been in years. For a long time he was such a humorless hardass. I used to love him when I was a kid in part because he reminded me of my dad. Now I don't like him in part because he reminds me of my dad.

* Best Original Screenplay: Juno. I love how some people are acting surprised by that. It was, though, the best original screenplay, and not just because of the witty lines and sparkling dialogue. It also had a clear story with great characters and a genuine resolution. Less is more, and Diablo Cody seems to instinctively know that. I do think that if she were a man and not a woman, there'd be less support. Kevin Smith writes the same kind of movies, and he's not getting an Oscar. But I don't mean to take away from Cody's win, because she certainly deserved it.

* Helen Mirren...DAMN!

* Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis. He deserved it and he accepted it very graciously. Very nice. Very nice indeed.

* Best Director: the Coen Brothers. Again, deserved. Can't say much here.

* Denzel Washington always seems so fatuous to me. Funny how when Forest Whitaker won the Best Actor Oscar it wasn't this incredible blow for civil rights that Denzel winning for the kind of terrible movie you see on ABC at eleven PM on Saturdays was.

* Best Picture: No Country for Old Men. That was my choice, too. A hard choice, since No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood were both similar in technique and theme, but I think the Coen Brothers movie edges There Will Be Blood just slightly. They're both masterworks.