Monday, April 29, 2013


I know what you're thinking: "So what's with the picture of the girl?"  Well, I'm getting to that. 

Years ago I had a not-very-serious traffic accident (not my fault!) involving a luxury car driven by a drop-dead gorgeous girl. She looked like the young Angelina fact, maybe she WAS the young Angelina Jolie, I don't know.

Anyway, we got to talking while we were exchanging insurance information and it turned out she belonged to some kind of New Age crystal religion (I love LA for attracting people like that) and in her religion someone like me is considered to be an, um, advanced man...the (Ahem!) next evolution, so to speak. Was it my buck teeth? Something I said? I don't know, but she felt she had to do something for me to make up for inconveniencing an advanced being like myself.  She said she would do anything, absolutely anything.

Well, it happened that I was due to stage a debate for my kid's third or fourth grade class on the subject of whether "Riki-Tiki-Tavi" (actually a different book with a similar name) was really a good book or not, and I needed someone to debate. I asked if she would do it and she enthusiastically agreed.  When I got home I sent her the book.

Finally the day of the debate rolled around and she was a little late. The kids were getting restless and just as we were about to start without her, her incredibly expensive car pulled up and she...well, she made her entrance into the classroom. I never saw anything like it.

First to come through the door was a meticulously groomed, snow white Afghan. This was no junkyard dog, rather it was a real nose-in-the-air aristocrat, executing a slow, deliberate...dare I say "regal" walk...the kind of animal you feel you feel compelled to bow down to.

Next through the door were the links of a dazzling silver dog chain and at the end of that chain was revealed....I kid you not....a stiletto-heeled Barbarian Princess right out of Frank Frazetta.

Yes, it was the same good-looking girl I shared the accident with but here she was dressed to the nines with long, snow white hair tied back in a pony tail, and big, silver hoops dangling from her ears. Everything she wore was snow white: snow white Capri pants, a tight snow white fuzzy sweater, and snow white high heels.

The kids' jaws dropped, especially the boys'.

The girls were flabbergasted.

I was afraid to look at the teacher. She was probably as speechless as the rest of us. 

Trying to overcome the shock, I outlined for the kids the form the debate would take. The format was that the kids should sit in their seats til they formulated an opinion then, when they decided what they believed, they should get up and stand on the side of the room closest to the speaker they agreed with.  If they changed their opinion in mid-debate they should walk over to the other side, and half way through we'd invite them  into the argument.

The Barbarian Princess went first, and she barely said five words in a throaty Marilyn Monroe voice before the entire class got up and walked to her side of the room. If it had been a boat we'd have capsized.

Her argument in favor of the book consisted of saying over and over that it was cute.  The whole class nodded in agreement, as if it was the most deeply profound thing they ever heard. When I spoke the kids rolled up their eyes in disdain.  When the princess made a joke the class laughed and laughed uproariously. When I made a joke there was only silence.

Eventually a nerdy girl with oversize glasses went over to my side but that's all I got.  The princess was declared the winner with a rousing cheer and I was given "Are-you-still-here?" glances.

Well, that's life.


American readers won't recognize the name Pierre Etaix. TOO BAD! The man was one of the greatest of all French filmmakers and exerted a big influence on American comedy people like Jerry Lewis and Ernie Kovacs.  But don't take my word for it: watch his Academy Award winning short "Happy Anniversary" (above), co-written (with Jean-Claude Carriere), directed and performed by Etaix. If you make film for a living, you'll find a lot to study here.

Unfortunately the YouTube copies of the two films I'm talking about suck and give a false impression of the pace and atmosphere in the story. Etaix's films suffer more than most from reduction and bad sound. Be sure to watch them as large as you can.

See what you think of this clip (above) from his 1965 feature called "Yo-Yo." The precision, the way lighting and staging enhance the humor, the way one gag morphs into another, the way sound effects are's a textbook of technique.

Once again, watch the film in the largest size possible.

Etaix (above) is still very much alive, and age hasn't hurt him a bit, not in the face anyway. In his retirement years Etaix (above) has one of the kindest faces I've seen.

Here's Etaix with his good friend, Jerry Lewis. There's some similarity in the best of their films. You have to wonder, who influenced who?  My guess is that Etaix influenced Jerry which, if it's true, doesn't diminish Jerry a bit. Even Shakespeare had influences.

BTW: Many thanks to Steve Worth for introducing me to these films! If you live in LA and would like to see good prints of these this weekend then contact The Creative League via Steve's site:

Thursday, April 25, 2013


Here are a few of the videos I've been watching this week.The first two appear on this site for the first time, the final four or five are repeats that richly reward a second viewing.

First (above) is the dog pee gag from Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's "Hound of the Baskervilles." Mike turned me on to this. He said the film is terrible but contains one sequence that's fall-on-the-floor funny...and he was right. See what you think.

Here's Richard Burton (above) as the libidinous poet in Terry Southern's film, "Candy." I'm not really a fan of that film but the windblown scarf sequence is not to be missed.

Above, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore parody TV puppet shows.

Here (above) Peter Sellers mocks Lawrence Olivier.

Fry and Laurie (above). Geez, I miss that show.

Here's (above) Monty Python in Romanian.

I'll end with a quick sketch about two Shakespearean actors ordering a meal in a restaurant. It's only a minute long, but it might take a couple of minutes to cue it up...sorry about that. The part of the video I'm calling attention to starts at 6:30 and ends at 7:33.

Monday, April 22, 2013


As you know, Georges Melies was the father of film special effects. He was also a very great filmmaker. He's in my Pantheon of personal heroes, meaning that any important move I make must in my imagination be layed out before him for his comment and approval. Martin Scorcese's "Hugo" was about Melies and some of the images here are from that film. I thought I'd discuss a few of those images here. 

Melies was a terrific artist and his "Trip to the Moon" was full of iconic images.  How did he ever come up with the unforgettable image of a row of pretty sailors (above), all holding each other at the waist, and loading a giant canon? 

The composition seems crowded. You could argue that the rooftops and girl soldiers at attention were unnecessary. You could argue that the complex composition was uncinematic and too influenced by print media. You could argue that, but you'd be wrong. Melies had a knack for that sort of thing and a knack trumps everything. 

The girls wave triumphantly after the capsule's loaded. Melies had live theater experience and knew you had to give the audience a release, a chance to cheer, after a powerful visual image.

Melies was a stage artist with lots of experience in the beautiful cluttered look of Victorian era set design. It's very mannered, but I infinitely prefer this to modernist minimalism.

In real life, stage sets like this (above) would have required awkward blackouts to cover the scene changes. On film Melies had only to cut to a whole new set-up, ready-made.  He must have found that liberating.

So far as I know Melies' artistic skills were self taught. That's amazing!  I saw a good print of this film on Steve's giant home theater screen and the effect was overpowering.

Melies wasn't the only director to paint the frames of his films, but he was the only one who did it right. 

The dyes used for film paint were unrealistic and seemed out of place in ordinary dramas. That kind of theatrical color, with its puffs of crimson smoke, worked best on Melies' kind of fantasy stories.  

Melies possessed enormous charm. Here (above) he has his astronauts sleep like children on the lunar surface and dream of outer space. Imagine that...there they are on the dangerous, rugged surface of the moon and they dream of funny Greek Gods.

It's fun to imagine what the NASA lunar astronauts of our own era dreamed when they were falling asleep on the Moon. In the midst of all that sophisticated equipment I'll bet they fell asleep thinking of girls they kissed in cars when they were in school. Melies would have seen the humor in that. Humans are such puny and silly things yet somehow we're also suffused with greatness.

Of course Melies' stars (above) don't hold themselves up. They had to be held up by beautiful girls.

Melies owned a live action theater devoted to magic, and I imagine the sets from his films did double duty as stage backdrops. Geez, wouldn't you have loved to see what the stage shows were like?

Melies was a magician who made movies. There were no rules in those days, filmmakers just did what looked like fun. Now rules dominate. Did you ever see Syd Field's film books? Fields tells you exactly where every beat of the film should fall, and how long it should last [actually, I admire Fields for sticking his neck out like that]. How different things are now!

If I understand right Melies was the chief designer of the sets used in his films. That's amazing. He was university educated in the liberal arts, was a successful business man, an artist, a professional magician, an engineer, an inventer, a theater owner, a filmmaker (some 400 shorts) and a film pioneer. Was there anything this man couldn't do?

For his film Scorcese lovingly recreated the energy in the old Melies studio (above).

Steve says Melies' sets were made of painted cardboard.

Eventually tastes changed and Melies was reduced to near poverty. Many of his films were burned by creditors for the silver content. He only escaped utter destitution because his friends got together enough money to buy him a toy kiosk at a railroad station (above). I wish I could have seen what toys he chose to sell.

This is the fate of so many creative people. In order to achieve what they do they have to focus their whole passion and intellect on one thing, then when that one thing is superceded they're reduced to an empty shell. Boy, life can be tough!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


"Hi! Uncle Eddie here! I just left Trader Joe's. I thought I'd stop for coffee on the way home and chat about the food I just got. I can only talk for a few minutes, though. I have frozen food in the car.

"What the heck!?"

"Oh, that's an endless loop of Kate Upton. She's the new spokesman for Carl Jr's. They're trying to change their image."

"Anyway...the food! The big news is a Trader Joe's frozen TV dinner called Chicken Tikka Masala. Don't dismiss it just because it's a TV dinner. It's just as good as the Tikka Masalas you'd get at an Indian restaurant, and beats the Masalas you buy in jars by a mile. Eat it with Trader Joe's Whole Wheat Naan. Their naan isn't exactly authentic, but it's still pretty good. "

"The only problem is, the Masala's portions are a bit on the skimpy side. It's kinda pricey considering how little you get."

"I thought about making it myself, using the contents list on the box as a guide, but that might not work. In India they use fresh spices and let them simmer all day long. When they cook a meal, they're primarily cooking the spices...the rest is just an afterthought. You might need a knack to do that."

"Next on the agenda is another indian dish, "Punjab Choley." Man, that's good! I've had it every few weeks for a year now and I've never gotten tired of it. Not only that, it's only two bucks a box. What a deal!"

"I was about to say that it's just as good as restaurant choley, but I think it IS restaurant choley. I'll bet restaurants have mountains of those boxes in the back. They just open up the pre-cooked packets like I do and microwave them."

'"Hmmm, is there anything else? Maybe I better throw in a negative review so I don't look like I'm on the take from Trader Joe's."

"Well, the TJ kimchi was only so-so. A Korean friend got mad at me for even daring to buy the store-bought kind. Boy, Koreans take their kimchi VERY seriously. They think it has mystical properties. I wouldn't be surprised if they try to raise the dead with it."

"Okay, I'm outta here."

"Wow, an interesting ad!"

Monday, April 15, 2013


It's a tiny, tiny, tiny connection to be sure, but it's still a connection. I'm just amazed that an Anglo cartoonist living in America in 2013 (me) would have any personal connection at all, no matter how insignificant.

The story starts with a book of a German comic strip I bought at a book fair more than twenty years ago: "Aber Klarchen!" by M. Bertina. Most Americans won't know the name. It's a charming first edition compilation of a German newspaper comic from the 30s and early 40s about a mischievous little girl who's always playing tricks on adults. The drawings remind me of what German, Belgian and Dutch artists were doing in the 20s and 30s and I can even see the influence of one of my favorite 19th Century cartoonists, the gifted Wilhelm Busch.

Anyway, I bought the book for the cartoons, then promptly lost it when I got it home. Now, after rummaging through my garage, I found it again, only this time I paid more attention to the inscriptions inside, and to the old, yellow newspaper clippings (above) wedged between the pages.

According to an old, typewritten card by the book dealer, the book was taken from Heinrich Himmler's personal library. It had been a gift to Himmler's daughter Gudrun from her aunt. Sure enough, the inscriptions (above) bear that out. Gudrun's birth date is available on the net so, doing the math, I discovered that Gudrun received the book in 1941 on her 12th birthday.

According to the net sources Gudrun (above) is still alive, and in her old age is still "pin sharp." Since she was only a cartoon loving kid during the war I figured she probably shared the sorrow and regret of so many Germans from that era, and probably had completely disavowed her genocidal father. I actually thought of contacting her and selling her the book.

Well, that was my initial thought. As I read farther I discovered that, far from having regret, Gudrun is an unrepentant supporter of neonazis, actively raises defence funds for suspected war criminals, and has nothing but admiration for her dad. Yikes!

The affection for her dad isn't totally implausible. On the net I found several pictures of Himmler with his daughter and I have to admit that they're uncommonly moving. There's a gentleness and affection there. How odd that Himmler the loving father could be so merciless to other loving fathers and other daughters. How could the adult Gudrun fail to see the contradiction?

Anyway,  I'll keep the book for the time being while I figure out how to sell it.