Thursday, May 31, 2012

More Eurovision

Hairpin entertains (?) us with songs that didn't make it to the finals this year.

I can't imagine why. Especially the popo guys.

Five Songs That Should Have Made It to the Eurovision Song Contest Finals

And here's our original link, if you missed it.

The depths of ventriloquism

Automatonophobes of the world, unite! You are not alone. Coulrophobia gets all the press these days, but let's face it: clowns aren't half as scary as ventriloquists' dummies. It's due to the old uncanny valley: the more something that isn't human approaches humanness, the weirder it gets. And what approaches humanness without actually getting there as well as a good old-fashioned dummy, especially one that's been through the mill of time and would be weird looking even if it weren't a dummy?

io9 starts the ball rolling with their Vintage ventriloquism portraits were incredibly unnerving, but then there's the link back to Flickr with more gems than the average person can bear: the one with the woman and the soldier will be keeping me up nights, I'll tell you that.

A little research into ventriloquism uncovers what you would expect, that it goes back to the ancient Greeks and had all sorts of ups and downs and connections with witches and whatnot up until the birth of popular culture, where it found its metier on the stage, and ventriloquists learned to drink water and throw their voices at the same time (except for Albert Brooks, whose dummy used to drink water while Brooks himself talked, but that's postmodernism for you). The greatest popularizer of modern ventriloquism was Edgar Bergen, who gained his popularity on the radio. Which is a poser. Think about it. A ventriloquist. On the radio. No wonder his lips moved so much when he finally made it to television.

Ventriloquism isn't seen much anymore, but automatonophobes can get their fix at places like Walt Disney World, where the automatons are animated and in many cases are even more uncanny. My vote for the one to avoid?

When the Mouse starts talking, I'm out of there.

Queen Victoria's diaries

The youngest child of Victoria was, of course, Princess Henry of Battenberg. Which immediately raises the question, where exactly is Battenberg? That's the great thing about looking this stuff up. You learn all sorts of things that you didn't need to know. Battenberg, in addition to being a sponge cake, is located somewhere in Germany. Once upon a time on the continent semi-autonomous states were all the rage, and European royalty was rather, uh, common, so to speak. You couldn't swing a cat without hitting the odd duke, but that was then, and nowadays they're all on the Euro and things ain't what they used to be.

Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, the aforementioned princess of Battenberg, was designated by her mother to always be by her side as her unofficial secretary, a chore to which she resigned herself apparently quite gracefully. Her Majesty intended for Beatrice to remain single unto the grave, but Bea managed to find the rather dashing Prince Henry of Battenberg, and convinced her mother to allow the marriage. Unfortunately Hank died young; Beatrice on the other hand carried on admirably, the last child of Victoria and Albert to pass away, in 1944. She also acted as the literary executor for her late mother. Most notably, she transcribed Victoria's diaries which, thanks to QEII (the woman, not the boat), we can now read online.

Let me put it this way: once you start diving into this material, you will surprise yourself with how long you will stay there. I guess you can't be Queen of England for, well, ever and not leave behind a thing or two of interest. Nice sketches. Interesting writing. Check this site out; if you have any interest in history, you'll really enjoy it.

Is there anyone who didn't see this coming?

Hiya Honey,

Jon Cruz, although not a millionaire, manages to live like one: Just look at his Foursquare check-ins. He is also not a politician, although he has supported many people who are politicians who would be better off working at Walmarts, and outside the little niche he has carved for himself and filled with many others, much in the same way he has filled his apartment with George Lucas memorabilia that even George Lucas cringes over, he is not famous at all; yet, he is one of the one of the most important men in New York City. Okay, maybe not New York City exactly. He is one of the one of the most important men in the Bronx, which is part of New York City, much in the same way that the Black Hole is part of Calcutta. He is the coach of the Bronx Science HS The Bronx High School of Science (get the damned name right, will you?) Debate Team.

Every day he gives up whatever time he isn’t lounging around at Japonica to help his students form their own opinions (or other people’s opinions, if they occur to him first), grow as citizens (except for the ones who are foreigners) and as people (except for the ones who aren’t people). He runs the largest debate team in the country, spending countless hours entering NFL points and explaining to bus drivers that Boston is west of the Hudson River, raising funds for it so that everybody at our diverse public school is able to compete across the nation so that he can spend even more hours entering NFL points. He memorizes everybody’s first name after he meets them and sometimes even before he meets them or, if possible, instead of meeting them, and will remember them for the rest of his life or at least until he has to register them for a local tournament, in which case he calls them Unnamed Novice Ninety-Two or whatever. Come to think of it, what he calls them is The Bronx High School of Science Unnamed Novice Ninety-Two or whatever. Perish the thought that you just call the place Bronx Science.

What makes him so memorable? I can’t remember.

Oh, yeah. Right. He is a fabulous, unapologetic, Jewish gay man—What??? Wait a minute!!! O'C is gay??? You learn something new every day. He a model for so many students who came out to him first for help. The staff of Japonica, the conductors of the D train both a.m. and p.m., the flight crew on his last flight on JetBlue and the entire Slovenian National Marching Polka Band have also come out to him. His style is inspired with equal parts of George Takei…and…uh…Walter Mondale, and Liberace (You know, sometimes just saying George Takei is enough, whatever the context.) He can tell you the best place for sushi in Soho even though he’s never been there because perish the thought that he ever eat anywhere but Japonica, pizza in Midtown (as if—he hasn’t been to Midtown since they closed the play “Starlight Express”), and gumbo in Georgia (in his view, any place that takes Emory keys as negotiable currency). But most of all, no person could ever do what he does—not even him—at least not with the same enthusiasm and care which he does it.

The Bronx Science HS Debate Team The Bronx High School of Science (they can’t even get the damned name right in the signature: he’ll be on them for that, mark my words)

Tommy Emmanuel

Or, the best guitarist you've probably never heard of. He was born on May 31, 1955.

Emmanuel is Australian, but in one video I watched (and let me tell you, it was absolute torture to pick the videos for this post—life can be awfully nice sometimes) he claimed to now live in the US. I've only seen him live once, because he doesn't come around often, but in concert he is dynamite.

It wasn't until I was doing the research for this post that I discovered he has a brother, who also plays guitar! Talk about your sibling rivalries!

Not much video out there on Tommy playing with his hero. They have recorded together, though.

My favorite of his pieces tend to be the lightest. What a touch!

Happy birthday, Tommy. And please come back to the neighborhood. I need another concert.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A song adventure - Dream a Little Dream of Me

I see something and begin to track down versions of a song, and before I know it, I'm lost.

I started with this article on The Mamas and the Papas, which was pretty interesting, because I've always liked the group, mostly because I'm a big fan of close harmony. But let's face it. This group was all about one thing, Cass Elliot's voice. The others are fine, but she was a treasure. Even Tommy Smothers hamming it up can't ruin it.

The Ms & Ps recorded the song, but it wasn't new. It was written in 1931 and first performed by Ozzie Nelson's band.

Pretty rinky dink, but cute in its way. So let's take the greatest duet team ever paired and hear what they did with it.

Lots of other people have at this sucker, with varying results. Diana Krall jazzes and smokes it up, for instance, but as much as I like her, I wasn't taken with the video I found of her doing it live. On the other hand, since this is 2012, and the ukulele has for all practical purposes replaced all other instruments as the ax of choice, I did feel it best to close with Sophie Madeleine, one of my new favorite people, to add to all these other favorite people. (She has a bunch of videos worth exploring, and watching enough of them will sooner or later convince you to start buying her music.)


Getting the book invented properly

Douglas Adams, of Hitchhiker's Guide fame, recorded this little piece in 1983. The Literary Platform made a competition out of it, just in time for Towel Day last week. Entrants were asked to make an animation to accompany the audio (which they could play around with). I've posted the winner here, and it's pretty cute. What's nice is that they've posted all the other entries as well, so you get to see a sort of visual theme and variation on the piece. Everyone's got a unique approach. What would you do?


Believe the obvious

I learned three things last week. That there is only one restaurant specializing in fried anchovies in Brooklyn. That people who work in cubicles bemoan their loss of privacy. And a movie based on the game Battleship is unlikely to break box office records.

I was shocked, shocked to hear it. All of it.

This video has been making the rounds, but if you haven't seen it, well. it does Battleship one better. (Maybe they'll sell anchovies at the concession stand.)


Heavy breathing

The best breathing in film? 2001: A Space Odyssey. Second best: Darth Vader. They're more connected than you think.

The thing about sound in a movie is that, if it's any good, for the most part, you don't notice it. It's just right. But in some movies, the sound is so integral—not the music, but the literal sound of what is happening—that it becomes part and parcel of what we most remember about the movie. Hence the breathing in 2001, for instance. There are times on the screen when that is literally the only sound. Sound man Ben Burtt refers to that when he discusses his own work on Star Wars in Ben Burtt on Star Wars, Forbidden Planet and the Sound of Sci-Fi. Kubrick's most influential of science fiction films, which made "Thus Spake Zarathustra" into a top ten hit and Elvis Presley's intro music, has an awful lot of silence in it.

When it came time for Burtt to create the sounds of Star Wars, it wasn't about silence, it was about making it real. On seeing the original film when it was released, one of the first things everyone noticed was how lived-in it looked. This wasn't some ooo-OOO-ooo science fictiony universe, this was the real universe. Ditto the sound. Although Burtt does get the credit for the two most science fictiony ooo-OOO-ooo sounds ever, the lightsaber and R2D2.

The interwebs have been all over themselves these last few days celebrating the release of Star Wars 35 years ago, with everything from song sets to plot-only videos to stamp collections. True fans of the film, and of SF films in general, should check in with this interview with Burtt in Wired for some solid reading.

Oh, and here's a little solid listening:


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Walk on the Wild Side

For no reason whatsoever, three live versions of Lou Reed, 1973, 1986 and 1997. Reed is the coolest guy in the room, the year notwithstanding (except maybe for that sax player in '97, which is the best version musically, while the '73 version is best iconically).


How to write a book that will last forever

One thing that readers can't ignore is the bestseller list, even if they patently avoid reading anything on it. After all, it seems to take up about half the New York Times Book Review these days. How can you miss it?

The first thing we learn about popularity is that it is no particular indicator of quality. (Anyone who doubts this can learn a quick lesson by consulting the Billboard 100 and trying to find the good music.) Nevertheless, the bestseller list looms as a weekly reminder that new books are always being written, mostly by the same people over and over again, and that someone is buying them in prodigious numbers, and, probably, we are not among them.

Then again, there is a game to be played by those in a Grinwoutian position of working in the publishing trade. Since we are in charge of a series of popular novels, often drawn from the bestseller lists, and because we read an inordinate amount of popular fiction, there is always the challenge of tallying how many bestseller notches one can actually carve into the one's Kindle. There are times when I've read virtually all of the books on the list, and as often, times when I've read virtually none. Usually this is a factor of series-dom, where all the books on the list are the 27th in some series of aliens versus Jane Austen or some such that wouldn't normally fall into my purview. Still, when I see I've read a whole bunch, if not the whole bunch, I find myself gloating a bit. I feel like I have my finger on the proverbial pulse. (I also feel like my brain is melting into nothingness, but we're not here to talk about the negative side effects of keeping up.)

Another game to play, in addition to "How Many Have I Read?" is "Where are They Now?" You do this by going back to a bestseller list some many years ago, and looking at the books and their authors, and asking yourself not if you've read any of them, but if any of them are even around anymore. How many bestsellers of the past have been tossed on the dustheaps of momentary popularity? Two million people read it the day it came out, and another ten million were champing at the bit waiting for the paperback, and today you can't even find it at Amazon.

Fame is fleeting.

But not all the books on the bestseller list are mere potboilers, that you'd expect to fade away with the passing of time. Some of them, in their day, were touted as literary art. Some were by people who won the Nobel prize. Some of them were even by (shudder) Ayn Rand. So the question arises, why do some books last and others not? Assuming an inherent quality—so much for Ayn Rand—what is it about that quality that lasts, or doesn't? Why is literary fame so unpredictable is a good essay on the subject from the New Yorker Page-Turner blog. If you're interested in this subject, check it out.


There are some classic film stunts, like Buster Keaton's house fall in Steamboat Bill, Jr, that never get old. The idea that someone is really doing something, something that seems extremely dangerous, is what makes the great action scenes work. Come to think of it, a lot of it really is extremely dangerous, and it is not unknown for stunt people to get injured, and more than a few have even gotten killed when something went wrong, especially in the early days. Nowadays there are still plenty of stunts, but as often as not there's also CGI. Not that I want anybody to get killed or anything, but it just isn't the same.

The granddaddy of the stuntmen is probably Yakima Canutt. His greatest gag was the the old "fall off the lead horse and go under the stagecoach," but he was not averse to jumping off the top of the coach and working his way up to riding the lead horse in the first place. He's also the guy who directed the Ben-Hur chariot race.

In honor of summer, when there seems to be the most stunts in the movies, here's A Stuntman's Guide to the Most Exciting Stunts in Film History.
I'm especially taken by Jackie Chan in the department store. I got bruised just watching it.

Eurovision 2012

Those of you who were in Baku recently are up on their Eurovision winners. Go Sweden! Except that winner Loreen (pronounced Lore - E - en) looks about as Swedish as Kermit the Frog. I saw some video where Swedish fans were over the moon because of their victory. Judge for yourself. The song sounds like every other song on pop radio, but she does dance a version of the Curly Shuffle that's sort of interesting.

I would describe Eurovision, but it's one of those things that you can easily figure out for yourself if you just watch a couple of entries. The Russian Grannies came in second, despite the fact that they've now incorporated an oven into their act, so they can bake and sing at the same time. Understandably, their contract insists that they be put up in digs with indoor plumbing (and I'm not making that up).

The competition has a big gay following, and the NY Times reported that Iran was on the alert for mobs of invading LGBTers from neighboring Azerbaijan. When the Iranians are not worried about their nuclear program, apparently they get their knickers in a twist over their total lack of homosexuals. And this despite that fact that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the most gay looking head of state on the planet.

Anyhow, here's your what they call a preview video, from Romania. I offer it because it has the best footage of a band not playing its instruments, plus nice shots of traffic down the main road of Bucharest. There's one video of this group that opens with a bunch of people photographing ATVs splashing around on a road presumably outside of Bucharest. (I don't know my Bucharest all that well.) Driving seems to be big with the Romanians.

Here's a look at the competition from the newsy side. If you were questioning my assertion about the gay following for the event, they do mention former winner Dana International, a transsexual who took the prize in 1998, much to the dismay of many of her fellow Israelis, who were back in Jerusalem wondering how she got to be the official entry. (Ahmadinejad probably still gets a kick out of that one.)

You could spend the rest of your life watching Eurovision videos, provided you've got YouTube fired up. When you're done, your assignment is to write a 1000 word essay comparing everything you've seen to what we formerly used to think of as music.

No easy task, that.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

First of all, because I just read it, an article on answer syndrome. If this isn't a debate affliction, I don't know what is Answer syndrome is the affliction of the hyper-educated, the detail-oriented, the obsessive, and the internet-saturated. It plagues people whose highly technical and specialized knowledge means that they often spend their days explaining things to people who have no idea what they are talking about.

Over the weekend I heard various peeps out of the folks at CatNats. My favorite was the (it can't be true) assertion that they were charging people to use the judges' lounge. This is a revolutionary idea that I"m certain will soon be seen throughout the country. You can buy a full weekend pass, or a morning bagel pass, or a one-hour late-Saturday chip-crumbs-only pass (for half price)—I've been waiting for this for years.

Mostly I heard horror stories of people getting there and returning, although a couple of peeps from reliable sources that the event is what it always was, once the starting gun was fired (at about 4:00 am on Saturday, if memory serves). I couldn't get any info on our lone lorn Sailor entry until this morning, and I'm not quite sure how the diocese did as a whole, but I'm sure I'll find out eventually.

So how did I spend my weekend? Among other things, MIB3, the Japan Society art deco exhibit, walking by Japonica and checking in just to annoy Cruz, and when I did, getting a welcome message from himself as the mayor. Gimme a break. Being the mayor of a restaurant means, in a word, that you need to find somewhere else to eat. Not that it isn't good, because it is, but after a while one longs for spaghetti and meatballs or something, anything, that the people in the kitchen got up enough energy to actually cook.

Other than that, not much to say. Grinwout's will pick up again tomorrow, and there you are. Excelsior!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Riding off into the weekend

To celebrate the long weekend, and a break for Grinwout's, we'll ride the New Texas Giant at Six Flags over Texas. It has two claims to fame, the steepest drop (79 degrees) of any wooden coaster, and the steepest bank (95 degrees). It's the bank that intrigues me; there's something scientifically impossible about it to my physics-deprived mind. I guess if you go fast enough, you don't fall out, so there's nothing to worry about. Sounds like a plan.

We much prefer wooden coasters over steel here at Grinwout's HQ. Look how long this ride is! And shaky.

Happy Memorial Day. And don't try this at home: it's almost impossible to film on a roller coaster without killing yourself. Worse, the video will suck, meaning that you'll both die and leave behind a crappy video as your legacy. You deserve better than that.


Nightmare on Main Street

I have to admit that I've always found the old Disney character costumes extremely creepy.

Granted, the characters went through various phases on the screen, and the earliest Mickey Mouse looks a lot more mousey than the present one. But from the very beginning, when Disney began merchandising, the Mickey that wasn't on the screen looked pretty much like a Dantesque rat rather than a Disneyesque hero. Something about the translation from screen to three dimensions, I guess. Donald Duck, in his earliest screen incarnations, was a lot more weaselly than he became over time, but still, the merchandise was always even more weaselly. Weasel seems to be the coin of the realm in real-life character design.

Disney costumed characters go back to the 30s, long before the parks were invented. Disneyland opened in 1955, and by then, the screen characters were all the round, classic, big-eyed folks we immediately think of. But walking around the park, it was weasels, weasels, weasels. Nowadays, the latest characters are on the verge of adding yet another dimension, with articulated faces and full speaking voices, which if you ask me starts edging close to the uncanny valley, which is a whole different kind of weaselly.

io9 has a great gallery of some of these old costumes at Vintage Disneyland character costumes were the fabric of nightmares, with some links to other pages of similarly bizarre images. The whole Nightmare on Main Street aspect will definitely haunt you for a while, and make you think twice about your next trip to the creepiest happiest place on earth.

Lego art

This video gets serious about a subject that we constantly toss around lightly. Every time you turn around on the interwebs, there's some new, often amazing, occasionally ridiculous new Lego creation. We are obviously obsessed with these little blocks and their versatility. In this short, three artists who are very much artists absent Legos, talk about Legos as art. And they show some amazing creations.

They keep raising the bar on us!


Yes, Goofy is a dog

Dippy Dawg apparently wore glasses back in the day, that day being May 25, 1932, which marked his first appearance. Aside from his laugh, which remain unchanged, he went through a number of on-screen variations before becoming Goofy in 1934.

The Goof's greatest claim to fame has to be his instructional vehicles. But he was also the typical suburban husband (named George Geef), and later had a son, Max. The identity of Max's mother would appear to be a closely held Disney secret. Nowadays the Goof is one of what are referred to as the Fab Five, the chief Disney ambassadors seen throughout the Disney empire.

Given that the Olympics are coming soon, it seems fitting as a birthday tribute to allow the Goof to bring us up to speed on them.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Today's science video

We will now demonstrate and explain the Meissner effect:

And now for the explanation:


Okay, we looked this up, and we really tried to understand it. It has something to do with superconductors starting to superconduct, but come to think of it, we really don't understand superconductors either, aside from a basic belief that they're more super than normalconductors. As a rule, people coming to Grinwout's for science training are going to go away about as trained as when they arrived.

Cool stuff, though. [Via Web Urbanist.]

Museum viewing

As a museum goer, I wouldn't necessarily say that I have a set pattern of approach. Much depends on the museum itself. Is it big or small? New to me or an old standby? Is there something I particularly want to see or am I just browsing through? These factors all must be taken into consideration. Still, I think I do have some repeated characteristics.

First, I try to figure out how a gallery is designed. Should I start on the left or right side? Since someone gave some thought to hanging those pictures (for argument's sake we'll assume we're looking at paintings, but a museum is a museum is a museum), I want to follow that thought. Probably things will be arranged chronologically. That makes sense, and I'll want to follow that chronology. Then there's the reading of the overall gallery tag, if any, the big set of text that our gallery has written to explain this particular room. I don't want to guess what the room is about. And I want whatever information is being given out beforehand. I could easily see someone wanting it the other way around. Look first to get a sense of the work, then read the explanation.

Next comes the hard part. Look at the damned picture. At the individual picture level, look at the thing first before reading the tag. I find that I can easily walk up to a picture and read the tag to find out what the picture is about, then I glance at the picture and go on to the next tag, and repeat the process, hardly spending any time at all considering the art. My problem is, I tend to be word-oriented. Although I came to the museum to see the pictures, not to read the tags, I could easily spend 90% of my time reading and only 10% looking. Obviously this is something to avoid, and I make a conscious effort to do so.

I've got a two-hour span of art attention. Doesn't matter what the art is, two hours later and I'm in the gift shop. Some museums are two-hour museums. Others are two-year museums that I approach two hours at a time. I have on occasion taken a lunch break after my two hours and been able to go back for more, stretching beyond my two hours, but as time goes by my brain fills up and I'm not really looking anymore. I'm not even reading the tags!

The last step is to discuss. I will compare notes with my wife on what we saw, especially if it was something new to us. Actually, sometimes this is the penultimate step, because I'll go on to do some back reading and maybe even write something up after the fact. The thing is, I consider art to be of paramount importance, so I don't just drop in on it once in a while and that's the end of it. But still, I have my two-hour limit. If I were being paid to look at art, in other words, at best I would be a part-timer.

There are numerous studies on how exhibitors should most effectively ply their trade. Anyone who goes to museums over a space of time will see fashions in how things are presented. We are in a period now where interactivity is considered very valuable, and where exhibits and sometimes entire museums are, as some would put it, Disneyfied. The idea that works can stand alone in their presentation to the general public has long gone. Compare the old galleries of the 19th century (like in Morse's famous painting above) to present galleries. In the old galleries, painting was piled on painting and the eye went where the eye went. Now the eye probably goes where the curator wants it to go.

What a Physics Student Can Teach Us About How Visitors Walk Through a Museum is an article from the Smithsonian that covers some of this. Apparently no one has scientifically looked at how people approach museums, and while this article isn't definitive by any means, it is thoughtful.

Elmo and Ricky Gervais

[Via Boing Boing]


I will admit that my sad little lunch that I brought to the office today was a chicken salad sandwich over which I spent literally no time on aesthetics. Chopped up the ingredients, mixed them together and slapped them between two slices of bread. Wrap it in plastic and toss it into a brown bag. End of story.

Bento is the Japanese equivalent of the brown bag. A little rice, a little protein, a little veggie, all in a little box. Simple enough. But then we get into character bento, where just making the food edible isn't enough. It has to look like something. This is sort of Martha Stewart gone insane in a sushi factory, if you ask me, but it makes for entertaining looking food. If, that is, you want your food to be entertaining looking.

Check out Bountiful Bento! 25 Not-So Traditional Lunches for more like the picture here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Child's Introduction to Jazz

They don't make kids records like this anymore, do they?

[Via Open Culture.]

Comic book movies

When you think about it, the success of the recent batch of comic book movies is sort of unexpected, given how poorly this sort of movie usually turned out in the past. One would expect the match of comics to movies would be a natural, given the cinematic nature of comics in the first place. Cross-cutting, close-up, long-shot, you name it, they're common to both, although originally these all came from the movies. To make the static drawn page move, comics artists picked up the language of film. Of course, they could do some things movies couldn't do, at least believably, at least until CGI came along. I think good classic comics appealed the way good classic movies did, to some need for creative fantastical narrative within the little kid inside all of us. Different media, working the same brain muscles.

Nowadays there's nothing a comic can do that a movie can't do. As a result, we get movies like Battleship, an improbable concoction of CGI and commerce that audiences indicate with authority that they're simple not buying it. (One has to hope that numerous heads roll in the producers' offices for this one. What were they thinking? I can't get past the fact that somebody took a game we used to play with pencils and paper and made a plastic game out of it, much less making a movie out of that plastic game. I mean, seriously now.) On the other hand, we get comics that have completely moved away from the slam-bang cinematic into the literary, like Are You My Mother? Movies and comics, the latter spawned out of the former, have moved in whatever direction they wanted. Comics don't need the lexicon of movies anymore, and movies don't need the mythology of comics. Good is good and bad is bad, and that's all you need to know.

But when movies have directed adapted superhero comics, they've taken on a particular burden. These movies need to be slam-bang, which makes them expensive, and to earn back their costs, they have to appeal both to fans of the original comics and the general public. This is no easy feat, but lately Hollywood has been pulling it off, with the latest batch of Marvel films being almost completely successful at it. Shoshana Kessock comes up with what look to me like good reasons for this in Graphic Alchemy: The Evolution of the Comic Book Movie. If, like me, you've been enjoying these films, this article does a good job of explaining why they've been successful, and why some others haven't. (I used the Ghost Rider poster ironically, needless to say. I do sort of want to see that movie, I have to admit, but then again, I'm a fan of Nic Cage going over the top. Isn't everyone?)

Rosemary Clooney

The early career of Rosemary Clooney was fine. The late career was brilliant. Born May 23, 1928, she did movies, TV and concerts, had ups and downs (as discussed in the interview below), but mostly she sang. And somehow, the older she got, the better she got. The voice mellowed so well. Watch this:

There's a whole bunch of small-group records with Scott Hamilton. You should buy them immediately.

Of course, with a big band, her roots, she also shines. She worked with big bands practically up to her passing in 2002.

She seems so down in this interview, but her comeback was miraculous.

And, yes, George is her nephew.

I love Rosemary Clooney's voice so much. This is what singing standards is all about. Every word is felt, every note is right, and she can swing them or croon them. Thanks, Rosie.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I just watch it for the commercials

Substitute some big broadcast for "it" in the headline above. That's about the only times I ever watch commercials on television. Still, some of them are rather creative, and there is a set of awards, the Clios, to acknowledge the best. Here's 2012's big winner:

I originally saw this on Slate, where the point was made that, cute pigs in a machine versus cute pigs in the open air, they're still making burritos out of them...

For the full sense of the awards, of which there are many, check out the Clio website. It's like watching the Superbowl without all that pesky football to distract you from the main business.

A song is born

"Sympathy for the Devil," to be precise.

This is apparently the Jean-Luc Godard film of the same name (AKA "One Plus One") stripped of all the political stuff. I haven't seen this since it was originally released in 1968. What's missing is the step between the dull organ approach and the funky beat approach, but still, it's amazing to watch. For all practical purposes, they go in with an idea or two, including the lyrics, and beat it up until it comes out right. Keith on bass? Readers of his Life know that this was one of the rockiest times for the group, with Jones on the way out.

This is classic. I couldn't stop watching it.

[Via Biblioklept]

How are things on Rapa Nui?

Apparently, all those famous statues are actually guys standing in holes. Who says you don't learn something new every day?

Check out the slide show: Easter Island statues have full bodies and contain ancient petroglyphs.

Laurence Olivier

Every Brit with a speaking part gets to be Sir somebody or other sooner or later, but Lords like Baron Olivier are few and far between. There are a few touch points in the career of Lord Larry, and if you care anything about acting you should see them. He seethes with wonderful melodramatic male beauty in Wuthering Heights. He's got that great white hair as what many say is the best Hamlet of the century. He looks like the forgotten Ramone brother in Richard III where, like any actor, he has his moments when he is too...too, but rather deliciously so. And then there's this. Don't watch it if you want to relax in your easy chair, because by the end of this little touch of Harry in the night, I promise you you're going to want to storm Agincourt.

Olivier was born on this date in 1907, played every part there was to play, won every award there was to win, and thanks to the beauty of film, will be available to history for evaluation and enjoyment as long as anyone cares about the art of acting.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Quick take - Lego gender

I've written about this in the past, in regard to Lego's latest attempt to bring in girls. Now Boing Boing points to a new site with some descriptive facts.

How One Drove Across the Country

Imagine a turquoise 1956 Chevy Bel Air hardtop with the proud new owners up front, their adorable son in the back, heading from the suburbs of New York across the country to Salt Lake City (and thence to Las Vegas and Anaheim). The trip, if you don't kill yourself but it you do get up every morning at the crack of dawn (I can remember my parents pulling me out of the motel cot before the sun had risen—yes, dear reader, I was that adorable son), takes about five days. So you load up the back seat with just about every portable entertainment that you can dig up to keep the adorable son entertained, and you're successful for at least a few hours on the first day, but let me tell you, even now my eyes tear over with boredom just reminiscing about it. The prairie, which in 1955 stretched roughly from Hoboken to Hollywood and Vine, was one damned nothing after another. Occasionally you would catch sight of Laura Ingalls Wilder collecting cow pies to cook the family dinner, but that was about it. The most memorable part of the trip was getting stung by a bee, since we drove with the windows open (no air conditioning back then) and the wildlife was free to visit at will. As you drove along you prayed for something interesting to look at, which is why roadside attractions sprung up in the first place. It wasn't that you really wanted to visit the Living Dinosaur Museum or the Home of the Giant Corn Cob or Great Big Hole in the Ground, because you knew that it wasn't worth a stop and it would just slow you down, but at least you got to look at the signs telling you "Only 50 Miles to the Great Big Hole in the Ground," or "Only 20 Miles to the Great Big Hole in the Ground," or "Turn back! You missed the Great Big Hole in the Ground."

And then there were the Burma-Shave signs.

Jimmie said a naughty word
Jimmie's mother overheard
Soapsuds? No!
He preferred

Some of the signs were actually about Burma-Shave (a brushless shaving cream).

All these years
Your skin has dried
Why not moisten
Up your hide

Some were advisory in a general sense.

You can beat
A mile a minute
But there ain't
No future in it

What kind is this?

The midnight ride
Of Paul for beer
Led to a warmer

As the adorable son in the back seat, it took me a while to realize that the Burma-Shave part wasn't supposed to rhyme. I couldn't figure out why it was there at all, but then again, I was a kid. The signs were taken down (except for some recreations) in 1963 when the company was bought by Philip Morris, whose lawyers advised them to discontinue. Those same lawyers didn't advise them to discontinue selling cigarettes?

Get all the signs and a little backstory at The Motion-Graphic Ads Of Burma-Shave: 1927-1963.

[Via Salon]

A Brooklyn Adventure

We spent a long weekend in Brooklyn. Quite entertaining.

Needless to say, kicked off with dinner with Kate, followed by walking along the park under the B Bridge. We were staying not far from there. It was one of those nights when everyone was out (the whole weekend was like that), strolling along, enjoying being alive. Very nice start.

Hit the B Museum on Friday, which has a serious permanent collection of good stuff (late Sargents, lotsa Rodin, a perfect S.B. Morse, etc.), and a special exhibit on Keith Haring. This was interesting, because although I can identify Haring a mile away, for the most part I knew nothing about him. Now I know a lot. The guy was sort of crazy, definitely art-obsessive, and very much of a piece. That’s why you can identify him a mile away. Liking him or not, that’s another question, if liking means, would I want his work hanging in the dining room. He would have preferred I hang it in the subway, because he was strongly into public art, found and created. Needless to say, seeing an exhibit like this sparks a discussion about the purpose of art, and the self-containment of non-representative art, where a work of art is about itself. Shades of Caveman! Right up my alley.

After that, we walked all over (Brooklyn) creation until I thought my legs would fall off. We were in the nice area above Prospect Park, so it was all very lah-di-dah, but still interesting.

The next day we headed first to a flea market (best part was the collection of the original Star Wars rip-off toys, like the Star World light sabre), then over to the Green-Wood Cemetery, where everyone who isn’t alive is buried. The place is about as big as Rhode Island, and we walked through it for a couple of hours barely scratching the surface. Horace Greeley was facing east. Leonard Bernstein is a bench. L.C. Tiffany was just a block, obviously not designed by him. Lots of people of lesser fame had mausoleums bigger than our house. One had a wooden door that was crumbling, which obviously was too weak to keep whatever was inside from breaking out, but the wife suggested that that wasn’t really why the crypts have doors. L.M. Gottschalk’s grave, since I just blogged him on Grinwout’s, got a lot of running commentary from me (plus, I’m basically a fan anyhow). We got lost more times than not, especially trying to find the path to Fred Ebb down by one of the lakes. He was definitely facing Broadway; much better planning than Greeley.

That night we walked over the BB to Chinatown, and back, so as you can imagine, the legs were getting a real workout. And we did keep building up an appetite for the next meal.

Sunday, on the way home, we went over to the Museum of the Moving Image. Absolutely worth going to end of the earth (AKA Astoria). My favorite part was the series of clips devoted to script writers, famous line after famous line that you wanted not only to say along with them, but to continue for them.

And then, home. It was like a college debate weekend, without the college debate. A great way to spend the time.

A pair of Bonds

I've been reading the James Bond novels lately, having been curious after seeing Casino Royale, which the critics claimed was much like the book. It was, but at that point Fleming's writing was sort of clunky. He got better though, and soon enough the Bond stories became what they should be, the perfect thing to pass the time on an airplane or equivalent. Considering what the movies became, by comparison they're not particularly complicated; you get the feeling that if someone had mentioned the idea of subplots to the author, he would have passed out from exhaustion just thinking about it. For instance, in From Russia With Love, half the book is the Russians talking about setting up a trap for Bond, then Bond sort of stumbles into the trap because the Brits are curious what kind of trap it is, and then an assassin almost kills him and it's sheer luck that Bond gets away, and there you are (until he gets killed at the end, that is). A straight line, completely. Come to think of it though, the movie was roughly the same. It wasn't until Goldfinger that the stunts and effects started outweighing the plots. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I wanted to see how they'd outdo themselves this time as much as the next fan. That's what the Bond movies were all about.

In the early films, the part of Bond fitted Sean Connery to perfection, or vice versa. But as would be expected, he got tired of the role and bowed out, to be replaced by the unfortunate George Lazenby. It's not easy replacing the perfect actor for the part, and, well, as time has demonstrated, George Lazenby was no Sean Connery. Still, there are Bond film fans who claim that On Her Majesty's Secret Service is one of the best of the lot, Lazenby or no Lazenby. This interview [via Dangerous Minds], overflowing with grainy black-and-white clips that make you think that the movie must be good to look this bad, is of great value for any Bond film fan, as a very hippy looking (and cleft-chinless) Lazenby explains what happened.

Flash forward. The next movie in the series, starring Daniel Craig, will be the Bondly titled Skyfall. This is just a teaser clip [via Esquire], unlike the extended take above, but you've got to admit, they put their money where the money ought to go. This will not be what you would call a catch-as-catch-can low-budgeter.

Over time some things change, some things remain the same. And if you don't like this particular Bond, just wait a while. A new one will be coming down the pike sooner or later. But I have to say, if that teaser is any indication, this one's got the stuff.

Going backwards in photography

Digital cameras are wonderful, don't get me wrong. I like having a nice way to take pictures in my pocket at all times (especially since that picture-taking device also makes phone calls and plays games), and with my SLR, I like knowing that I can take pictures all day and all night and never think once about running out of film, or even worse, paying to develop all that film. But still, I remember back to my first days of photography, when I had my own little darkroom, and I developed my Tri-X film in a plastic container and then hung up the negatives to dry, and then made contact sheets and finally prints, and the whole place smelled like chemicals and the end result was something I had created from start to finish.

Now imagine that with tintypes, where as with digital there's no film, but instead of having the picture in electrons, you have in on a plate. These pictures are great, and watching the process is intriguing.

[Via Coudal] [And the Cool Hunting site isn't too shabby, either.]

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Normally we don't publish on Sundays, but for Israel Kamakawiwo╩╗ole, we'll make an exception. Born May 20, 1969, he died way too young on June 26, 1997. Iz was a great supporter of Hawaiian rights and independence, and, of course, had one of the most wonderful singing voices of all time. When I went to find videos, it was very satisfying to see that he was getting hits of, for instance, 68 million for just one of them.

Well deserved. I wish there were more Kamakawiwo╩╗ole music, but I am thankful for what we do have.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Bug Man

If you can't break into movies (or painting) any other way, try entomology.

[Via Underwire]

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A portable Rube Goldberg machine

[Via Web Urbanist]


Fantasmic is a live show that first played at Disneyland before cloning out to other Disney parks. There was no theater. You stood across from Tom Sawyer island and watched this amazing thing unfold, with all sorts of pyrotechnics and images projected on screens of mist and boatloads of Disney characters and, of course, a fire-breathing dragon. The story is something about Mickey Mouse having a dream and the power of good winning out over the power of evil, and what better representative of the power of evil than Malificent, the witch in Sleeping Beauty who transforms herself into said dragon?

Kevin Kidney was an imagineer who worked on the original Fantasmic and the creation of the original dragon (which ultimately ended up being a dragon head on a stick, lately replaced by a full-blooded [?] audioanimatron). One of the things he did back in the day was create a home-brew stop-motion of the potential show-stopper, using an original model that had been designed for the show. If you're a Fantasmic fan or Disney historian, you have to see this. It's Designing a Fantasmic Dragon. And it's fascinating.


Creepy and/or clever. You decide.

I've kept in the suggested videos if you want to travel further down this line. This is amazing stuff.

[Via Coudal]

In which questions are asked and remain unanswered

Wuz happ’nin’, sez you. Nuttin’, sez me.

I’m going to take a couple of days off from writing and blogging and whatnot, which is a literal translation of nothing happening, I guess. I don’t see much news on the debate front, needless to say. Some people will go to the various Nats in the next few weeks, but if you’re not among them, well, there you are. Sailorville officially asked me if I was returning next year, and once again I was forced to disappoint the debate community at large by answering yes. I will go away some day. I promise. But not just yet.

If you’re wondering, the DJ is getting downright weird, in ways I can’t pinpoint. I’d explain if I could, but, well, I can’t.

Those folks who have claimed to be my friends and therefore connected with me on Facebook (many of whom I sort of recognize) know that I’ve started hawking Grinwout’s on my fb page. Anyone who followed the Grinwout’s page knows that I’ve stopped hawking it there. The thing is, I’ve gotten a lot more views, and since I’m not doing it for my health (sort of ), it makes sense to go where the action is. Of course, this means that I won’t be posting much else on fb, but I never really have anyhow, so it won’t matter much. I’ve considered emulating O’C and hooking up to Foursquare and posting every time I pass gas, but decided against it. I don’t do anything all that interesting, and when I do, I’ll pass it along in detail here. Excruciatingly painful detail, as the VCA well knows.

Speaking of which, I was talking with someone yesterday about young and old editors (again a propos of the DJ), and one of the things I realized was that the one big difference is not that the younger ones can articulate an explanation of their connection to social media, but simply that it is in their personal universes in a way not true of old farts. I mean, it’s not as if I don’t have accounts everywhere for everything, but I seldom bother. With Twitter, for instance, every time I look at it it’s as if I’m starting from scratch: you’re either in it, or you’re not. It’s easier to be a casual Facebook user, but that makes you mostly a lurker, reading what other people are up to which, if you have enough friends, can pass a bunch of time interestingly enough. But some people, mostly younger, use Facebook as the air they breathe, or at least the interwebs air they breathe (and the mobile air, as well). I’ve seen no explanation of why this is so, or at least no convincing explanation other than it is what it is. Watching corporations try to find their place in this is interesting. For instance, last night someone (Warner Bros?) streamed the movie Casablanca on Facebook. In the universe of Why Bother, this has to rank pretty high, although presumably somehow or other it probably means the fb is looking toward going into the streaming business along with every other business they’ve invaded. Did anyone watch this? Was it really a movie-watching experience? Is the world now divided into people who watch movies and people who live-blog movies?

As I say, I’m not in the game here. I’d like to understand it more, though.


I've lately become quite a follower of the site Retronaut. It's collections of old materials about random things that bring you up short because, without a lot of explanation, you can see exactly how things were, and more often than not, how people expected them to be.

For instance, Tips for Single Women, 1938 includes such important dicta as "Don't sit in awkward positions" and "Don't be familiar with the headwaiter talking about the fun you had with someone else another time." Absolutely. These are definitely things I personally look for single women not to do, at least not regularly. The Invisible Mother is just... weird. Back in the 19th century, before iPhones had a built-in flash, you had to sit still for the photographer. If you wanted a baby picture, mother would cover herself up in a rug or something to hold the baby still. I guess a picture of mother and child would have been just too normal or something.

One recent post I liked was on Pepsi Ads, 1950s. It all looks like Mad Men dressed to the nines, except they're all grasping their bottles of Pepsi. You have to think that, at least in some of these cases, a nice glass of champagne might be more appropriate, or a martini or a Manhattan or whatever people drank back then when they were wearing evening gowns, but no, it's a bottle of Pepsi, as often as not without even a glass to drink it from. Some of them are less formal, though, as you scroll through, and they still look like creatures from Mars. The 1950s? How'd they ever make it to the 1960s? And no wonder everybody started wearing jeans and letting their hair grow: they just couldn't keep up all the work to look so damned formal all the time. But then again, there's probably similarly bizarre Pepsi ads for the 1960s somewhere.

This is a fun site, worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


There's something charming about Steve Wozniak. He's so aggressively interested in technology and engineering, and seems as proud about solving the problem of cheap color on the Apple II as he does about starting the process that put a computer in virtually every home in the world. (That's Woz and his wife Janet on the left.) He's interviewed here by Australian reporter Chris Uhlmann (ABC is the Australian Broadcasting Corporation), who asks him pretty much every question you would ask him if you had the chance. Honestly, I wish there was more depth, but as a starter conversation, it's a winner.

[Via Apple Insider]

Anne Boleyn

I love these articles that tell you all about someone who you previously knew some little thing about, and now you feel like you really do know the story. Like Henry VIII's second wife. We know she was number two, and that she was beheaded, because we know the names of Henry's wives in order, thus:


Those are the names, right?

Anyhow, why exactly did Henry marry Anne in the first place, did he really have to invent a new religion, and then why did he kill her? Honestly, I had only the vaguest idea. Having read Hilary Mantel's Anne Boleyn: witch, bitch, temptress, feminist, now I know.

I love the internet.

Biff will not be answering your questions directly

Comedian Tom Wilson, who will always be remembered by fans as the Back to the Future trilogy's Biff Tannen (and also Griff Tannen and Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen) has all the answers to your questions about the classic movies. In fact, he's written them on a card, so that he doesn't have to answer them live. Again. Included among them are such gems as, "There are many tiny plot points hidden in the movie, but I don't know what they are."

Here's the link to the card from Letters of Note's Twitter feed.

And here's a recent video. Funny guy!

[Via THR]

Eat your heart out, Elton (and every other over the top performer)

Liberace, born on this date in 1919, got there first. He invented it, polished it, and kept improving it. You knew if you were going to see Liberace, you'd see the outfits, you'd see the entrances, you'd see, in a word, a show. That's what Liberace was all about.

His piano playing wasn't a wow with the critics, but audiences loved him.

Vegas wasn't really the birthplace of the over-the-top performance. You'd have to go back to the old Ziegfeld days for that. But it was Liberace in Vegas that made it personal. Compare the Hendrix concert we posted a couple of days ago. Once upon a time serious rock was a reaction to all the Vegas-like hoopla. Nowadays most rock is nothing but Vegas-like hoopla. I will duck down under the desk for a minute after typing this, but who the hell goes to see Lady Gaga for the music?

If you dig into the Liberace persona, you'll find a real personal connection with his fans. Who doesn't wish that the Liberace Museum had stayed open? I'd visit it in a minute. When you go to Vegas nowadays you feel sort of empty knowing that it's not there anymore.

Happy Birthday, Lee. You made the world a more fun place.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Stan the Man

For whatever reason, the batch of Marvel movies made since Spider-Man have been, for the most part, pretty good. Not just successful, but basically good stuff. Sure, a few of them have been throwaways, and a few just didn't make it (Eric Bana's—and Ang Lee's!—Hulk was enough to keep me away from Edward Norton's Incredible Hulk, and I think Edward Norton walks on water, except there's no way Hulk is walking on any water, so you know I was totally Hulked out by the first flop), but most of them have been good, entertaining pop movies, the kind that insist you grab some popcorn and sit in a movie theater and go whole hog with them. The Avengers, something of a culmination of a whole bunch that came before, with the bonus of Joss Whedon at the helm (I'm still waiting for season 2 of Firefly), is one of the best of the bunch. For once even the Hulk works, although they do keep him under wraps most of the time. Smart idea. Smart movie, with Whedon the icing on the cake. How many billions is this thing going to make, anyhow? And how right was Disney to buy out this franchise?

Of course, the movies are a phenomenon that couldn't exist without the comics that established these characters. And those comics came out originally over a very short period, a sort of Golden Age when we went from zero to Hulk, Spidey, Fantastic 4, Thor, Iron Man and, every philosopher's favorite, the Silver Surfer, in sixty seconds. (Silver Surfer: Now there's a character who's gotten short shrift in the movies, if you ask me. The Fantastic 4 pictures are the least of the franchise, for some reason. Too bad. The Surfer deserved better.) And all of this had the thumbprints of good old Stan Lee.

What, exactly, did Lee do in creating these characters and these stories? Well, there's the rub. None of those comics exist without a little thing called the artists, most especially Jack Kirby. There's no question that over the years Marvel pushed its artists in their promotion, but when all was said and done, the artists were hired guns, literally work for hire as it's called. Which means that, whatever his contributions, Lee is still getting the credit. Everyone else? Find their names in the movie credits. It's reached a point where certain members of the comic community are boycotting the Marvel films. But as Alex Pappademas says in his article The Inquisition of Mr. Marvel, the world at large has taken these films to heart; they don't need the comics community anymore.

I liked Pappademas's article a lot. It gives the history, and it goes mano a mano with Lee today. It's one of the best I've read (Grantland has to be among the best sites out there), and given that we are now in an Avengers feeding frenzy, now is the time to read it.

'Nuff said.

Whatever happened to chess?

I remember the Fischer-Spassky games in the early '70s. This was the championship, American versus Russian, and the games were broadcast live on PBS as they happened. There was this local New York chess player, Shelby Lyman, who stood in front of a big chess board on the wall, and after every move, he'd comment and show alternate moves and whatnot. Which may sound like the most boring thing in the universe, but somehow, if you knew even just the tiniest bit about chess, it was fascinating. Chess, for a little while, was front page news. Chess books sold like crazy (and I bought a few and, as an editor, worked on a few), chess clubs saw their memberships grow, and in general, chess was cool, and everybody was doing it.

Not so much anymore.

There's two things going on, I think. First, there's the game itself, which has an awful lot of new competition from video games. There is just so much game time in the day, and today's kids simply have more to choose from. Not that many won't choose chess, but the competition is stiff. And second, there's the institutional aspects of the game, which seem to be in disarray. If you want to attract new players on the local level, you need star players on the national and international level, and at the moment, those stars aren't there.

But they may be coming. How America Forgot About Chess explains how we got to this state of inertia, and how a few young players on the scene today may be potential breakthroughs.

Chess will, unquestionably, survive its competition and its organizational disarray. Its roots go back 1500 years, and the game as we know it today is centuries old. And you don't have to upgrade whenever a new console is released. But will it ever be as popular as it was when it was a Fischer-Spassky analog to the Cold War? Probably not.