Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Joe Barbera Dies

Harry McCracken has quite an acerbic take on the passing of Joseph Barbera, the more creative half of the Hanna-Barbera animation partnership formed way back in 1939.

My memories of watching the early Hanna-Barbera stuff are a little rosier... maybe when I have some more time, I'll share....

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Scott Bradley Emerges From Carl Stalling's Shadow

Jerry Beck tipped me off to this CD release of Scott Bradley scores from M-G-M cartoons of the 1950's, and I immediately ordered a copy. It arrived a few days ago and I just finished listening to this massive 2-CD set. The sound quality is sparkling throughout and it includes some of the better efforts by Bradley of the period, including the funny "Pecos Pest" score featuring Shug Fisher (former member of the Sons of the Pioneers) singing for Uncle Pecos, the mouse guitar genius who always seems to be breaking strings... and looks no further than Tom's whiskers for new ones. Some of Tex Avery and Michael Lah's cartoons are also represented here. This was well worth the money!

With only 3000 copies of the CD pressed, you better act fast if you have any interest at all in cartoon music and you want this in your library.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Set Sail With PC World

What better way to spend part of your cold winter than a tropical cruise complete with computer technology lectures? It's being put on by a company called GeekCruises.com, and the media sponsor of this cruise is PC World Magazine. Editor-in-chief Harry McCracken will be among the experts to give several chats on topics such as computer freebies and the new Vista operating system. (Harry's own blog has been a little content-sparse of late... that's the price of being successful, I guess.)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

"What You Do In Illinois Matters To Millions Of Americans"

I don't know about you, but I sure winced at the news stories from earlier this week that made mention of the fact that Michael J. Fox was "stumping" for double-amputee Illinois congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Wait Till Next Year

After last night's crushing loss, it's going to be a long wait until next year. But wait we must. Mets in '07!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Team. The Time. The Comeback

IF these 2006 New York Mets are a savvy bunch that has one eye cocked towards the history books, they will look to the team of 20 years ago that proved they could get it done with backs to the wall.

They will remember Game 6 against Houston, possibly the most thrilling League Championship Series game ever played, and realize that they, too are capable of coming back from elimination.

Then they will remember those 1986 Mets who came back from an even deeper hole - just one strike from being World Series losers - to win a championship against the Boston Red Sox under the most unbelievable of circumstances.

Let's get behind those Mets. I'm not thrilled at the prospects of a St. Louis-Detroit World Series.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Just a Few Quickies

  • A reminder that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Please participate where possible and give to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Ladies, if you're of the age or inclination, schedule that mammogram. We've lost too many marvelous women to breast cancer, including my late wife Nancy who died a year ago this month. Chances are, someone close to you has been touched as well. So go do this.
  • More October loss, and not of the baseball variety: one of my dogs, Princess, had to be euthanized yesterday with a potentially fatal condition. I did not want her to live and suffer, even though I felt she still had a lot of life and spunk left in her. My wife and I adopted Princess shortly after we got married. My yellow lab, Macho, remains with the household, which now stands at one man, one dog.
  • Go Mets. Glavine pitched a great game last night and the Mets are poised to take the last game Saturday in Chavez Ravine, as the Yankees head for Tiger Town... good luck. My 40 years as a Mets fan have paid off very nicely in two world championships, but that 2000 loss to the Yankees still stings. Let's erase that stigma!
  • Things We'd Like To See Department: Rudolph Giuliani at a Mets game.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Hooray For The "Here And Now"!

Back in July, I decried Hasbro's decisions to give the 70-year old Monopoly property trading game a makeover by changing all the place names and eventually doing away with paper money.

Well, on a whim, I decided to purchase the Monopoly Here And Now edition. (You can, too, by clicking on the link, and we get a few cents every time you do.) The prospects of more money and enhanced places (and updated graphics) seemed like it was worth checking out, so my girlfriend and I went ahead and started a game, using variants of the standard rules that seem to be used in a lot of places (such as a "Free Parking" jackpot).

This version takes you to a world original Monopoly creator Charles Darrow could never have imagined. We liked the new gameboard with photo depictions of places from Jacobs Field (the new version of Mediterranean Avenue) all the way to Times Square (this version's Boardwalk). Ever wanted to buy Disney World, or the Las Vegas Strip? Now you can. The original, as you recall, just had place names (all streets in Atlantic City, New Jersey), and spartan graphics. The paper money (no credit card system just yet in the U.S. version) has been freshened up, with denominations bumped up by $10,000, but with the same colors we're all used to (the $10,000 bill is white, while the big kahuna, now the $5,000,000 bill, is still that enticing gold color that cries out "Give me five $1,000,000 bills in trade"). Railroads have given way to airports - O'Hare, JFK, LAX, and Hartsfield. The Electric Company and Waterworks have been supplanted by the more moden "Cell Phone Provider" and "Internet Service Provider". There are new game pieces including McDonald's French Fries, a Motorola cell phone, and a New Balance running shoe. (There's still a dog.)

What my girlfriend and I got the biggest kick out of were the new Community Chest and Chance cards. You now go to Jail (do not pass "Go", do not collect $2,000,000) for identity theft or insider trading. The Get Out Of Jail Free card now reads, "You've been acquitted!" Even though the Atlantic City place names are no more, one of the good cards (I don't remember if it was Chance or Community Chest) says, "You've won a big jackpot at the Atlantic City casinos!"

It was a nice update of the game, still holding enough of the traditions of the original (including the classic rules still in place about buying property and going to jail when you roll doubles three times in a row). And, I beat my girlfriend quite nicely when she landed on my three-house Pioneer Square, Seattle - formerly New York Avenue - one time too many.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Marketing 101, Infomercial Style

Which "do this from home" babe would you rather call up?

I thought so.

The commercial on the top has been running for several months. The commercial on the bottom has been shipped to some stations/channels who find the lady's cleavage (on display virtually throughout the commercial) somewhat distracting.

Next week, we get into the mise-en-scene of Mick and Mimi...or not.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

"Everybody Loves A Clown, So Why Don't You?"

This weekend is for getting silly in Seaside Heights. Although the formal festivities have been going on for a few days now, the 25th annual Clownfest kicks into high gear on the Boardwalk in Seaside today and tomorrow. I will be participating as musician in today's 2 p.m. concert with the Funny Factory Clown Band on the Franklin Avenue stage, and in tomorrow's parade on the Boardwalk as a member of the Hobo Band. Plenty of fun for all ages the next couple of days.

I've worked the Clownfest for about six or seven years now, but no Clownfest was more poignant than the one that took place in September of 2001, mere days after the September 11 terror attacks. As the world was slowly awaking from the malaise immediately after the towers fell, the clowns were there to remind us that we had a lot left to live for in a great country. It was a wonderful day that year and one of the most rewarding days I ever spent as a musician.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Now It's Your Turn, Mets

Last night, a no-hitter was thrown in the majors for the first time since Randy Johnson a couple seasons ago.

Unfortunately, that no-hitter was not the first one for the Mets, but the fourth one for the Florida Marlins.

It's injustice that a franchise that's only been around for 14 seasons now has four no-hitters while the Mets, in 45 years, still haven't tossed one.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Where's Your Conscience, NBC?

I didn't watch more than a few minutes of the Emmy Awards last night. But the hue and cry over a skit involving a plane crash, unfortunately on the same day as a plane crash that claimed many lives in Kentucky, makes me wonder if anyone at NBC knows how to think.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Friz Followup

Reading over the other blog posts generated by Friz Freleng's centennial yesterday (some say he's older, but I'm sticking by that 1906 birth date), I direct you to this insightful post about the 1956 cartoon "Three Little Bops", written from the standpoint of jazz history.

I never really gave any thought to the music in that cartoon being anything other than bop, but it really isn't Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie style bop. As performed by Shorty Rogers and his band, it's more small-group West Coast uptempo blues. Stalling or Franklyn would have just massacred the music style (just imagine Franklyn slating the recording session... "PRODUCTION NUMBER FOURTEEN TWENTY-NINE!"), and the fresh approach to the soundtrack (using Stan Freberg instead of Mel Blanc to sing the song) really helped make it a unique cartoon.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Happy 100th Birthday, Friz Freleng

On August 21, 1906, Isadore Freleng was born. In an era when the greats of animation are slowly slipping into obscurity, the name and works of Friz Freleng endure. As one of the very few men whose tenure with Warner Bros. Animation spanned from the beginning to the end of the studio (except for a brief respite at M-G-M), Freleng adapted to the style of the day, whether it was dancing and singing rubber-hose characters designed to be as much like Mickey Mouse as the law allowed, or the sophisticated character comedy of later years. Of course, after WB closed down, Freleng formed his own studio and his own stable of characters, and even kept ties to the WB characters, producing a brace of "gee-we-should-never-have-closed-the-studio" theatricals in the mid-1960's, and then producing works for a revival of the characters in the 1980's. Freleng remained the studio's elder statesman well into the 1990's, when ill health eventually curtailed his activities, until his death attributed to natural causes on May 26, 1995.

We join the blogoverse in celebrating the man in his works, and our contribution is an in-depth look at what Freleng termed one of the most "dangerous" cartoons he ever made.

Released in the Looney Tunes series on April 30, 1949, it is important to first put this cartoon in proper historical perspective. Across the hall, Chuck Jones had been plotting the first Road Runner cartoon, "Fast and Furry-ous" concurrent with the production of this picture. The reason Freleng termed this picture "dangerous" (in an interview with Greg Ford) was that the cartoon essentially had one gag: Yosemite Sam wants to see a high diving act, so instead of the advertised talent, he shoves his sixguns at Bugs Bunny and tries to make him go off the deep end. However there is some turnabout and Sam winds up taking the dive. This is much like the structure of the Road Runner pictures: you know the Road Runner's never going to get caught and the Coyote is going to be somehow impaled, immolated, or destroyed in some fashion. However, in Freleng's picture, Bugs is a much more active participant in Sam's dives; things just happen to the Coyote because they do.

It does take Freleng some footage to get to the meat of the situation: a traveling carnival, with Bugs as carny barker, advertising Fearless Freep, the high diving sensation. Yosemite Sam takes more tickets than he needs (paying in cash, unbelievably) and takes a seat inside. The background painting of Paul Julian deserves mention for always appropriately setting the scene.

Through some quirk, Fearless Freep is delayed getting into town and so Bugs must reluctantly announce the cancellation, which ires Sam. He aims to see some high diving, so it's up to the platform for Bugs.

Bugs craftily pivots the diving board and feigns a dive, having changed into turn-of-the-century swimwear. But it's Sam who's off the deep end has he makes his first descent, with Bugs taking a seat in the audience to watch the action.

Bugs' trickery is now aided by liberal application of our old friend, Cartoon Physics, in the two gags that follow. First, Bugs manages to catapult Sam off the platform end of the diving board, but Bugs can't let poor old Sam dive into an empty tank. He throws down a bucket of water, which manages to pass Sam on the way down and settle into the tub. In spite of Bugs' best efforts to provide a safe landing, Sam misses the mark...

Then Bugs, hanging upside down on the underside of the diving board, manages to successfully convince Sam that he's actually upside down, and he takes the plunge once more...

From this point in the picture, now that Freleng has established the basic premise - that Bugs is never going to take the dive - he can be a little faster and wilder with the gags. There's the "I dare you to step over this line" bit, which I believe was taken from Bob Clampett's "Buckaroo Bugs", an "Open The Door, Richard" bit, and a fake "they went thataway" bit with Bugs in Indian dress.

Eventually, all Freleng needs to do from this point on is show that whatever Bugs does, Sam will dive and ascend the ladder once more for more medicine. This gag shows Freleng's sense of timing, his major asset as an animation director, as Freleng repeats the gag faster each time (with the same musical cues) until there's a delay in Sam's fall...

...because Bugs is now tied to the diving board, with Sam sawing it off. But with Cartoon Physics dictating the order of the universe here, Sam's entire platform falls. Bugs ends the cartoon with the classic line, "I know dat dis defies the law of gravity...but, I never studied law!" That's All, Folks!

All of Freleng's animators (including swing animator Pete Burness, a recent addition to the crew) rise to the occasion here and submit great action scenes. This is rightly one of Freleng's greatest moments in the Sam-Bugs battles, with Sam being a relatively recent discovery (having first appeared in 1944's "Hare Trigger"). More were to come (cartoons like "Mutiny On The Bunny", "Big House Bunny", "Sahara Hare" and "Bunker Hill Bunny"), but this boiled everything down to essentials.

Go to the "Hell On Frisco Bay" blog for more links to Friz fans on this, his 100th birthday.