Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thirty years ago today, as I write this, I was at our wedding reception. It was quite a party with dramas that only a wedding reception could have. I won't go into them as to protect the guilty.

But there are some folks who should pay me hush money!

Today is our wedding anniversary and we've made it to the 30 year mark. Considering the state of the institution of marriage in this country, we've beat the odds so far.

When I met Mary she had no idea who Max Fleischer was. She had never milked any sort of animal or been much on a farm. She had no idea why someone would see value in, for example, the cinema of Ted V. Mikels.

I made the mistake of referring to her as a native of England (She's Scottish and raised in Glasgow). I had never heard of Billy Connolly. I didn't know haggis from bridies.

Over the years I learned from her and she from me. We moved into our home, got our first puppy and acquired a foster child all in the same month. We've seen friends come and go, seen business arrangements crumble and lost people close to us.

Such is life.

We're now grandparents to two wonderful girls. Our foster daughter – who is our daughter to us – is happily married. I have a nephew who seems to actually like my stuff – that's a relief to Mary. Our karma is being adjusted by Lucky the Wonder Bichon on a daily basis. We have six cats. And that's the limit. I'm putting my foot down.

Through it all she has put up with me. I'm sure it hasn't been easy.

We do have some rules. We've never gone to bed angry with each other – well, hardly ever. We always talk about big purchases or allocation of cash. We don't take each other for granted. We give each other some space.

I hope we make it to another 30. At least 20. We'd like to be invited to our granddaughters' weddings.

Monday, December 29, 2008


C. Bagley Beetle, the villain of the second Fleischer feature, "Mr. Bug Goes to Town."

About a week ago a writer from "the Villager" in NYC called me for an interview as he was writing a piece on Sammy Timberg, the composer of many of the tunes and scores heard in the classic Fleischer cartoons. It was a lay-out day, which meant as I was speaking with him, I was laying out pages for three of our four newspapers.

His story is here and please go take a look.

After he concluded his interview, he thanked me profusely but didn't reference me once in the story. Naturally. Note to the reporter: I've been in this business since 1975 and here's a good rule to follow – don't waste some one's time with an interview and then not reference the source in some way. It's rude.

Well, such is life. The reason for the story is the screening in NYC at the Film Forum is a 35mm print of Mr. Bug Goers to Town. I wish I could go as the film looks magnificent on the big screen.

Although the film has some flaws, I think it's a great animated feature that shows the evolution of the Fleischer style. Despite being in Florida, the hearts and minds of the Fleischer studios were definitely stuck in New York City and this feature shows it.

It carries on several key Fleischer elements: the urban setting, the use of pop music – several of the songs by Hoagy Carmichael were hits – the big versus little theme and a 3-D model. its use of rotoscoping to clearly identify the bug world from the human world is done much better than in "Gulliver's Travels."

Hoppity may be a bland hero, but the villains are a lot of fun as are the supporting characters.






There is one "fact" repeated in the story about Timberg referring to Mr. Bug's release and the sinking of the Fleischer Studios and that's the oft-quoted idea that Mr. Bug was released on Dec. 7, 1941, the day that Pearl Harbor was attacked.

First we have to understand how films were released at that time. The way a film is opened wide didn't exist then. The studios didn't make up thousands and thousands of prints and blanket the country at the same time. They were far more conservative with the number of prints and released a film in a far more gradual basis.

Films worked their way through cities and states. "Freaks," now considered a horror classic, for example, was released slowly throughout the country before it hit New York as MGM was fearful new York critics would hate the film. Their reviews could contribute to its premature box-office demise.

Take a look at this ad for Mr. Bug that appeared prior to the films release:



Look at the bottom where interested movie patrons were asked to inquire at their local theater about when the film was going to be playing.

Variety reviewed the film at a Dec. 4, 1941 trade screening and I have to wonder if the first public screenings came just three days later.

I wonder if there is a record of movie grosses at the time of the attack – did they drop across the board? I would imagine if there had been a trend it wouldn't have applied to just one movie.

I do know the New York Times didn't review the film until its Feb. 20, 1942 edition. Time magazine put in a review in its Feb. 23, 1942 issue.

A Christmas time release had definitely been originally planned as one Minneapolis department store its window display centered around the movie, Variety reported.

A February release couldn't capitalize on the school kids being out on Christmas break. Nor could a February release help sell the merchandise tie-ins as limited as they were.

Now whether or not Paramount sabotaged the film's release in order to tighten its hold on the Fleischer Studio and to fire Max and Dave was the reason for the delay in releasing the film – the NY Times and Time reviews would have come out to coincide with the film's general release – has often been the subject of speculation. It's interesting to note that Paramount brass would have been willing to lose its investment in the film just to make sure Max didn't stage some sort of financial recovery.

Remember there were no ancillary markets for motion pictures in 1941. You had a first run, a second run and then into the vault. If a truly successful film could warrant a re-release as RKO did with "King Kong" several times.

What saved Mr. Bug from oblivion was the sale Paramount made to the theatrical arm of NTA, the company that bought television rights to many of the Paramount shorts, including the Betty Boop cartoons. Paramount also sold rights to "Gulliver's Travels" to the company and both films were re-released to theaters.

Re-named "Hoppity Goes to Town," the film was in theaters in 1959. In the VHS era, NTA released the film on tape. The film, to my knowledge, has not received a legitimate DVD release. Amazon carries a version titled "Bugville."

If you're in the NYC area, catch a showing of this film.




© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, December 22, 2008

Just in time for the holidays is this screed from the folks who worship in the Church of Self. Read on:

By Leonard Peikoff

Christmas in America is an exuberant display of human ingenuity, capitalist productivity, and the enjoyment of life. Yet all of these are castigated as “materialistic”; the real meaning of the holiday, we are told, is assorted Nativity tales and altruist injunctions (e.g., love thy neighbor) that no one takes seriously. In fact, Christmas as we celebrate it today is a 19th-century American invention. The freedom and prosperity of post Civil War America created the happiest nation in history. The result was the desire to celebrate, to revel in the goods and pleasures of life on earth.

Christmas (which was not a federal holiday until 1870) became the leading American outlet for this feeling. Historically, people have always celebrated the winter solstice as the time when the days begin to lengthen, indicating the earth’s return to life. Ancient Romans feasted and reveled during the festival of Saturnalia. Early Christians condemned these Roman celebrations--they were waiting for the end of the world and had only scorn for earthly pleasures. By the fourth century the pagans were worshipping the god of the sun on December 25, and the Christians came to a decision: if you can’t stop ’em, join ’em. They claimed (contrary to known fact) that the date was Jesus’ birthday, and usurped the solstice holiday for their Church. Even after the Christians stole Christmas, they were ambivalent about it.

The holiday was inherently a pro-life festival of earthly renewal, but the Christians preached renunciation, sacrifice, and concern for the next world, not this one. As Cotton Mather, an 18th-century clergyman, put it: “Can you in your consciences think that our Holy Savior is honored by mirth? . . . Shall it be said that at the birth of our Savior . . . we take time . . . to do actions that have much more of hell than of heaven in them?” Then came the major developments of 19th-century capitalism: industrialization, urbanization, the triumph of science--all of it leading to easy transportation, efficient mail delivery, the widespread publishing of books and magazines, new inventions making life comfortable and exciting, and the rise of entrepreneurs who understood that the way to make a profit was to produce something good and sell it to a mass market. For the first time, the giving of gifts became a major feature of Christmas.

Early Christians denounced gift-giving as a Roman practice, and Puritans called it diabolical. But Americans were not to be deterred. Thanks to capitalism, there was enough wealth to make gifts possible, a great productive apparatus to advertise them and make them available cheaply, and a country so content that men wanted to reach out to their friends and express their enjoyment of life. The whole country took with glee to giving gifts on an unprecedented scale. Santa Claus is a thoroughly American invention.

There was a St. Nicholas long ago and a feeble holiday connected with him (on December 5). In 1822, an American named Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem about a visit from St. Nick. It was Moore (and a few other New Yorkers) who invented St. Nick’s physical appearance and personality, came up with the idea that Santa travels on Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, comes down the chimney, stuffs toys in the kids’ stockings, then goes back to the North Pole. Of course, the Puritans denounced Santa as the Anti-Christ, because he pushed Jesus to the background. Furthermore, Santa implicitly rejected the whole Christian ethics. He did not denounce the rich and demand that they give everything to the poor; on the contrary, he gave gifts to rich and poor children alike. Nor is Santa a champion of Christian mercy or unconditional love. On the contrary, he is for justice--Santa gives only to good children, not to bad ones.

All the best customs of Christmas, from carols to trees to spectacular decorations, have their root in pagan ideas and practices. These customs were greatly amplified by American culture, as the product of reason, science, business, worldliness, and egoism, i.e., the pursuit of happiness. America’s tragedy is that its intellectual leaders have typically tried to replace happiness with guilt by insisting that the spiritual meaning of Christmas is religion and self-sacrifice for Tiny Tim or his equivalent. But the spiritual must start with recognizing reality. Life requires reason, selfishness, capitalism; that is what Christmas should celebrate--and really, underneath all the pretense, that is what it does celebrate. It is time to take the Christ out of Christmas, and turn the holiday into a guiltlessly egoistic, pro-reason, this-worldly, commercial celebration.

Dr. Leonard Peikoff is the foremost authority on Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. The Ayn Rand Center is a division of the Ayn Rand Institute and promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.”


Now granted that few people in America have even heard of Ayn Rand, but they certainly have heard of "greed is good" and the trouble we find ourselves in today is a result of that "I've got mine, fuck you" attitude that has trickled down from the 1980s.

Although I defend his right to write this claptrap, I find it distressing that a celebration of selfishness is touted as a viable way to build a society.

© 2008 By Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I started recording a "video rant" this week for our newspaper's Web site as my boss wants more original content for the site. At first it was suggested that I simply read my written editorial column, but that is exactly the opposite of what I hope to accomplish, which is to bring a camera out into the communities to provide footage for my comments.

I'm hoping as well in this age of "viral video" that my non-TV looks and delivery will be accepted. People who've lived in the Springfield area for a while might remember when the owners/general managers of the NBC and ABC stations actually delivered nightly commentaries in an idiosyncratic style.

The idea of plugging a community this way has been replaced in the local TV news format by endlessly telling us faulty weather forecasts, presenting us with every bit of crime news they can find and recycling bits from national sources.

Well, I shouldn't be too harsh as many local stations are under budget restraints and they are going to be attracted to the low-hanging, provocative, fruit. The stations are often run by corporations with no feel for a local market and are staffed by people who are seeking temporary employment there until they can get to a larger market. There are exceptions to this characterization, but I'm afraid they are becoming more difficult to find.

So anyway, with a face built for radio here I am....and yes, I should have combed my hair.


I haven't posted DVD reviews for a while so here are some:

M Squad

I vaguely remember seeing "M Squad" when I was little -- the half-hour crime drama ran from 1957 through 1960 -- a time I was more concerned with cartoons and "Howdy Doody."

Now Timeless Media Group has brought out the entire 117 episodes in a 15 DVD set -- a pretty daring movie for a relatively obscure television show.

"M Squad" is a procedural police drama that spends more time showing the cops pounding the pavement and in the crime lab in order to solve a crime than firing their guns. The show is clearly a reaction to "Dragnet," Jack Webb's highly successful police show.

There are key differences here. One is that " M Squad" is centered in Chicago and exteriors were filmed there. Another is use of jazz for the score's show -- Count Basie wrote the theme music for the second season. The tone of the show is more film noir-ish and gritty than other police shows at the time.

And then there was the star, Lee Marvin. Marvin was coming into his own as actor and his portrayal of Lt. Frank Ballinger was far more interesting than Webb's straight-laced and straight faced Joe Friday.

Marvin plays his cop as both a committed public servant and someone who has seen it all. In the first episode, he is seen checking out a pretty girl while investigating a murder -- something most cop characters wouldn't have done at the time.

The half-hour shows move fast and I was surprised in this time of multiple "CSI" franchises to see just how much footage was devoted to forensic investigations.

Marvin's characterization probably will seem more modern and naturalistic to today's audience than those from other cop dramas of the same era. He walks an interesting line between appearing not to care and obviously caring very much.

For serious crime drama fans who don't mind dropping a chunk of change, this set from 51 years ago will provide some fresh material.



Harry Langdon: Three's a Crowd and The Chaser

Of all of the great silent comedians -- Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Harry Langdon -- it is Langdon who has had the hardest time establishing a new audience in the home video age.

Landon was a vaudeville star whose film persona was that of the "man-boy" a physically mature male who nonetheless has the emotional maturity of a seven-year-old. This type of character has certainly been a popular one in American film. Lou Costello, Huntz Hall, Jerry Lewis and Adam Sandler have all had their take on this shtick.

Langdon's character was often described as having the maturity of an infant. He seems almost incapable of dealing with the world. Made by the right hands, Langdon's films were highly popular, but Langdon himself directed the two films in this double feature and that was clearly a mistake.

Langdon's waif in "Three's a Crowd" is a mover's helper who finds a pregnant woman staggering about during the winter in the slum where he lives. He takes her in and cares for her only to see his heart broken when she reconciles with her husband.

In "The Chase," audiences are asked to accept Langdon as an errant husband chasing women and partying to his wife's disapproval. A judge makes Langdon stay at home for 30 days and take care of the house while wearing a dress. Many of the gags revolve around suicide.

I love silent films and am a huge fan of silent comedy, so I wanted to give Langdon another try, but I just couldn't understand why his character was so popular. I just want to shake him!

These two films from KINO on Video can boast of great scores by Lee Irwin and good-looking restored prints.



Mr. Bean: The Ultimate Collection

Okay, if you're a "Mr. Bean" fan this is your dream collection. The seven-disc collection has all of the television episodes originally aired on HBO, the animated series, and the two feature films.

That's a lot of beans.

If you're not familiar with Mr. Bean, you should know he is the first largely silent comic star developed since the advent of talking films. He can be an incredibly resourceful but also amazingly mischievous.

Rowan Atkinson was already a comedy star here and in his native Great Britain when he developed Mr. Bean with writers Richard Curtis and Robin Driscoll. In an informative documentary in the set, "The Story of Bean," Atkinson and his fellow writers describe how the character was developed, which partly came from Atkinson's youth.

The star described Bean as a nine-year-old boy who operates under the rules as long as they suit him.

I love the "Mr. Bean" series and I think the shorter productions are those in which the character is best suited. The animated cartoons are not my cup of tea and the first feature film "Bean: The Movie" was a mixed bag, I thought.

The extras here are a lot of fun with several Bean skits seen in the United States for the first time: "Torvill & Bean," in which Mr. Bean takes to the ice with the British skating star, was a hoot!

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Several weeks ago, I attended my 36th class reunion. No, the odd number didn't mean anything. The class reunion was part of a multi-class event covering the years 1970 to 1979 of Granby ( MA) Junior Senior High School.

I've attended every reunion we've had and have helped organize several of them. Aside from the first one, I've always found them to be very interesting and even fun.

I've told members of the staff and students I've taught that a reporter has to be, at his or her core, a gossip – a damn good gossip. Reporters want to hear dirt before anyone else and then tell other folks. I don't think more pious members of my profession would approve of this characterization, but screw 'em.

Perhaps that's why I enjoy going to the class reunions. It gives me plenty of opportunity to satisfy that "whatever happened to..." vibe that all reporters and gossips have.

What I also like is that going to a class reunion is the closest one can come to see a rift in time and space. Everyone who attends a reunion has changed in some way – either physically or emotionally or both. We know we've changed, but we see each other at least initially as we were in school.

That assessment usually wears off pretty quickly – it's hard to ignore grey hair, 50 extras pounds and other ravages of time. But for a few moments you're seen as you once were.

The fact that it does wear off in a matter of seconds is essential as I doubt that many of us actually want to be the person we were in high school.

Of course, in my case I was a geek – I published my own fanzine on horror films and comics – then and a geek now. Only my geek tendencies has helped pay my bills!

I'm always wary of the person who talks about high school as if that was the best time of his life. I'm equally concerned about people who say that college was the best time of their lives. Four years long ago being the pinnacle of an existence is sad.

The best moment of this reunion – as it has been for me at other reunions – is seeing someone whom I really want to see. I prepared for the reunion by looking through the year book and wondered almost aloud to myself about one guy who was a hippie iconoclast whom I liked even though I was sure he thought I was some sort of square, which of course I was.

I wondered if he was still alive.

When I saw him, He said with a big smile, "I bet you thought I was dead!" I confirmed that and we had a fun conversation.

I'm happy to report the members of the Class of '72 seemed like well-adjusted adults heading toward their AARP membership. Hey, just four more years to our 40th!



Sorry about the ikky color, but the print I scanned was not very well balanced.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, December 15, 2008

During the Christmas season, one of the things I look forward to the most is hearing from people through Christmas cards and letters.

And my thoughts frequently turn to the people who were part of our lives but who are no longer with us.

I'm re-organizing my Fleischer material for yet another attempt to find a publisher and came across the holiday cards sent to us by Myron and Rosalie Waldman which featured original artwork by Myron.

I've posted three of them to give you a taste of the Waldman charm. Although these cards were quickly done, they are fun and heart-felt and show what a wonderful artist Myron was.

Enjoy!



Sunday, December 14, 2008

My presentation at the Pine Point Library went very well as I had about 30 people crammed into the space and sold 14 books!

What was great is that members of the audience offered up information on the city's history that was new to me.

For those of you who missed it – the library folks would like me to do it again in a few months at a different library – here's part of what I did. I took images from my postcard history of Springfield and then paired then with contemporary views.

I also spoke of parts of the city's history that are now missing. For example, this famous marker erected in 1763 to denote the location of the road to Boston stood at the intersection of State and Federal Streets when I was a kid living in 16 Acres. Although it had been removed, it was not lost – nor did it turn up at the Brimfield Flea market for sale. Apparently one of the Masonic Lodges in town have it and I can only hope it will be part of the new Springfield History Museum that will be open in the fall of next year.




The corner of Sumner and Forest Park Avenues at the turn of the 20th century and today. I love that the house in the postcard is still standing.



Very close to our house is the other part of the U.S. Amory – commonly known as "The Water Shops." As a child growing up at 104 Navajo Rd. in 16 Acres, I never really knew the actual name of this body of water is Lake Massasoit. It was always Watershops Pond.

The building is filled with small businesses and the water stills flows through the complex although I'm know sure if it is generating power like many of the factory buildings are along the canals in Holyoke.






Here's the marker at Court Square denoting where Parsons or Washington Tavern once stood.


Here is a postcard of it but it is clearly not in Court Square. Local historian Jim Boone figured out the building had been moved to Water Street and then later demolished. In the 9130 and '40s the term "Washington slept here" as a historic designation became a joke as so many places were do described. It's a shame that Springfield's claim to having the "Father of the Country" rest here is long gone.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, December 09, 2008



Take a look at this vintage postcard and tell me what's wrong.


Shameless plug time: I will be appearing at the Pine Point Library on Boston Road in Springfield Thursday Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m. for a presentation called "Springfield Then and Now," as well as a signing for my book on Springfield history. I'll also bring a copy of two of my animation book as well just in case someone wants both of my highly Christmas-givable tomes.

Friday, December 05, 2008

I've been checking my work e-mail while on vacation – something I've never done before, but I get very paranoid about taking time off.

Years ago when I was an ad salesman at the Daily Hampshire Gazette I took my first vacation as an adult worker bee. I came back and found a guy sitting at my desk. He looked up at me and said, "You must be the guy who is going to train me."

My boss then whisked me into the conference room and informed me that my sales were down and I was fired. While on vacation they had hired this guy and I had a choice: I could walk out then or I could stay for two more weeks and get a severance package.

I stayed and I trained this guy as well as a salesmen who was being canned for lack for sales could. I saw him many years later at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast and we had a laugh about it.

The event marked me though and I get very nervous about taking time off. Of course I need to take time off, especially of late when my stress levels have been through the roof.

So I have been reading the e-mail just to be aware of some angry letter that would surprise me come Monday and I see the following from pollster John Zogby.

I like Zogby's attitude here. Despite now living in one of the worst periods in American history – a near depression coupled with a two-front war – Zogby has hope.

I do too. Do you?

Hey, maybe I won't find myself fired on Monday.

Here is his column:
The following column was previously published on Forbes.com.

I'm not naturally an optimist. And I'm saying that because my latest book, The Way We'll Be, is very optimistic. I guess having lived my entire life in upstate New York, where downturns have been so numerous, doesn't make you a natural-born optimist.

When I first thought of writing this book 10 years ago, I set out to write a completely different book, almost a dirge, focused on the tens of millions of Americans who had given up on the American Dream. That's because what I had been capturing since the late 1980s was the steady number of people I polled who were giving up eating meals for an entire day because of a lack of money to buy food; and also the growing phenomenon of Americans working at a job that pays less than their previous job.

From the early 1990s to the time I wrote the book, I saw that percentage climb from 14% to 20% by the late '90s, and to 27% in late 2007--and this is all prior to this recent official recession.

But instead, as I probed deeper, I found a renewed spirit, a survival instinct, a readjustment of life's expectations and a redefinition of the American dream. I have found for years now that more Americans say the American Dream has more to do with spiritual fulfillment and leading a genuine and honest life than with the attainment of material things.

To be sure, there are still about a third of us who do define our American Dream in material terms, like owning a home in the suburbs, going from rags to riches or having our dream job. But the simple fact is, in the last decade more than 40% of people consistently relate to the American Dream primarily in spiritual terms. I call them "Secular Spiritualists." We're already a religious nation, but this is something more.

What are the sources of this secular spiritualism? First, it's the 27% of Americans and growing who work for less, who have been downsized, outsourced, eliminated, thrown aside, who generally have been thrown lemons, but have learned to make lemonade. They are the new consumer and the new voter. With a shrinking dollar in their pocket, they are less apt to fall prey to pitches of fantasy and the abstract.

Don't try to sell them a truck just because it has an American flag, and don't try to pitch a product with a supermodel when consumers look like real women. These are people who trade down on a daily basis, and who populate the checkout lines at Wal-Mart, Costco, dollar stores and even Target. They want the best quality for the best buck.

The second source of this secular spiritualism can be found on the other end of the economic spectrum: the 9 to 10 million Americans who actually have made it and who are now saying, "I have too much, I don't need any more. In fact, I can do with a whole lot less."

There is an active and engaged simplification movement in this country that is very informal and is composed of people who say: "I don't really need the next iteration of the iPhone. The one I bought six months ago did not make me a better person. I don't need to put an addition onto my humongous home. I already have too much."

Baby boomers are the third source of secular spiritualism--I call us "Woodstockers." We are a group that peaked in our late teens and twenties. Too much was made of us--we feel we changed the world but now, later in life, we're in need of a second act.

Give or take a few years either way, add all of us together and we will be the first age cohort to have 1 million of us achieve age 100, which means that as we contemplate retirement many of us will have 25 to 35 more years of healthy living ahead of us.

This leads to a very important question--now what are we supposed to do? With that group of Americans just older than us, the group I call the "Privates," we will redefine old age. We will be working and heavily engaged in what historian Robert Fogel calls "volwork,"--meaning we want to teach, mentor, coach, travel and learn in pursuit of more fulfillment.

And the fourth source of this secular spiritualism is a confluence of technologies and events. More Americans are ready to make sacrifices to live in a world of limits, and more are ready to be aware that we are not the only people on this earth. I have noted this phenomenon over and over again, that Americans' greatest moments and victories have come when we've sacrificed together. Winning World War I and World War II are the most obvious, but we also need to be reminded that in the 1970s two different presidents, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, asked us to save energy, wear sweaters and turn down the thermostat--and we did.

The earliest work I did as a pollster in the 1980s revolved around local communities, recycling, restricting smoking and littering. In every case I was warned by local government officials that Americans were selfish. But in every case Americans told me that if there is leadership that requires change, a cause that has a higher purpose and the pain is shared by everyone, then they are ready to serve.

So today we all recycle, we don't litter our streets and highways, and if you want an idea of how little we smoke, travel to Europe. Americans just made history. We elected an African-American who defeated a woman and a septuagenarian. Great changes lie ahead, perhaps more to do with the transformation of the American Dream and character than we have experienced in the last decade.

John Zogby is president and CEO of Zogby International and the author of The Way We'll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

My wife and I have lived in the Maple High -Six Corners section of Springfield since April 1990. It is an inner city neighborhood with working class and working poor residents that has, frankly, clearly bothered some of our friends and relatives.

It hasn't bothered us, though.

The threat of crime has remained largely a threat. We feel pretty safe here. We've had a basketball hoop stolen off the garage and a plant off the porch, but other than that, nothing.

Our biggest worry is abandoned houses as they usually fall prey to vandalism and fire.

That's why when I groggily turned on the television the other morning I couldn't really connect to what I was seeing on the tube – the news that cops had cornered a guy on the roof of a nearby house took a while to sink in.

"That's just up the street," I eventually realized.

Here are the details from Sgt. John Delaney:

"At 6:50 A.M. the Springfield Police Fugitive Apprehension Unit (FAU) led by Officers Robert Bohl and John Leonard went after a fugitive from justice at 98 Florence Street. The unit was attempting to arrest a...
Barry Luther Rowe age 20 of 144 Catherine Street.
Mr. Rowe had outstanding warrants for ...
1) Armed Robbery
2) A&B Dangerous Weapon
3) Assault With a dangerous Weapon
4) Discharging a Firearm with 500 Ft. of a dwelling
5) Carrying a Firearm
6) Poss. of Ammo Without FID
The FAU obtained information that Mr. Rowe was staying at his girlfriend's house at 98 Florence Street third floor. The team of officers entered the dwelling and Rowe ran out the rear door and climbed up onto the roof. Mr. Rowe was observed having a firearm in his waistband of his pants. Mr. Rowe refused to come down and threatened the officers. He would not answer to commands and was verbally abusive to all the officers. Mr. Rowe put himself in great danger. Lt. Charest called for the TRU and the hostage negotiators in to assist in taking Mr. Rowe down safely. Until that team was able to arrive Detective Dennis Prior engaged him in a conversation and was able calm him down. Mr.Rowe did not have shoes and was jumping around the roof almost falling several times. The roof was three stories high and a steep pitch. It's amazing he did not fall according to officers on the scene. The officers talked him down and placed him into custody without injury to anyone. The officers on scene did an outstanding job in the recovery and arrest. Lt. Kevin Wood who was in charge at the scene went into the cellar and recovered a .380 automatic handgun that Rowe was observed to have dumped down the chimney.
Rowe has been charged with the above warrants along with...
7) Carrying a Firearm Without Permit
8) Resisting Arrest
9) Carrying Firearm in Commission of Felony
Mr. Rowe will be arraigned in Springfield District Court this morning."

Lucky the Wonder Bichon and I watched the last part of the drama as we took our morning walk. The Springfield Fire Department was on the scene with a ladder truck to examine the chimney to make sure a weapon hadn't been placed there. WWLP was the only news crew on the scene.

In our neighborhood, the things that drive us nuts are the quality of life issues. The blare and boom from car sound systems, the callous but apparently legal treatment of dogs – keeping them chained outside 24/7 with no exercise and little shelter – the collection of dead cars on property, litter – God, I'm tried of picking up trash in front of the house – and other issues brought on by absentee landlords and people who don't seem to care.

If we were to move it would be due to those reasons and not the idea that we weren't safe.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I'm keeping my fingers crossed this week.

In my newspaper column this week I wrote the following:

Now the bulk of religious Americans believe in only one God, but sometimes I think we divide our deity of choice into subsets.

Certainly as students we sent prayers to the subset in charge of final exams, SATs and prom date answers. As adults we cluster our requests around getting a warning from the cop who stopped us instead of a ticket; making sure that drink we had at lunch doesn't put us asleep at 3 p.m.; and hoping the IRS doesn't realize we're sending our taxes a day late.

Well, I send prayers to the part of the Almighty who is charge of garbage pickup in the city of Springfield. Granted, that must be a very small part of the Supreme Being's attention, but for my wife and I it is a very important part.

My wife is the world's great recycler. She actively looks for refuse to sort into one of the four bins we have on the back porch. She carefully washes the cans and jars so the two opossums who like to forage in our back yard aren't tempted to go through the cans. She checks the bottom of plastic containers to make sure it is the type of plastic that can be recycled.

But getting rid of this stuff hasn't always been easy. And that leads me to believe perhaps we aren't praying hard enough.

We have no problem with the priests of the other trash deities. The acolytes of the Being That Is The Big Green Can take our offerings regularly and on time. Their colleagues serving the Bulk Pickup God always take our dead sofas, broken tables and cat-clawed chairs as long as we make the right monetary donation to their cause.

It is Those Who Serve Recycling with whom we have problems.

For a while we couldn't get them to pick up our stuff, even though they were picking up the cans, bottles and paper from the few other neighbors who were recycling as well. I made an inquiry and was told we weren't separating the trash properly. I was puzzled how we were to separate items in a single container and decided it had to be a Divine Mystery.

Instead of pondering that riddle, we acquired containers for each class of recyclable and every other week we bring out our bounty of offerings.

Only this past time, we were passed over.

Our neighbors with their single boxes were collected and my wife and I wondered just who we had offended: the Recycling Deity or his servants.

We brought our offerings back from the curb after waiting two days for a special pick-up but it was useless. In order to hold the next two week's quantity I bought more containers, each in the proper blue color with the holy triangle on them.

So my question to the Springfield Church of the DPW is what have we done wrong? We sort. We have separate bins and yet our offering was rejected.

I pray for answers.


Now this time I've once again carefully separated the trash I can recycle into its own bin. In fact we bought a new bin to handle the four week's worth of items.

Now we wait.

For those of you who don't live in Springfield, you need to understand that you can be fined if you don't recycle. The DPW trash police slaps a sticker on your big green can proclaiming your violation. Mayor Domenic Sarno wants to the city to increase its paltry eight percent recycling rate. I'm all in favor of getting that participation up as it's good green policy and it can make the city some money.

However if I don't get my stuff picked up this week I will either have to buy more containers or throw the stuff into the trash. Well, at the very least I will be calling to the DPW and screaming at someone.

I'll keep you posted.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bought this movie in my favorite NYC Chinatown DVD store.




Will let you know how it is!
Well, the cooperative blogging effort of which I'm proudly a part received a nice piece in the Valley Advocate this week. Go read it and come back.

The goal of Pioneer Valley Central is to try to create a blogging center for local voices that will hopefully make us a little money in the future. Like any publishing effort all of us expect it to take time and to be the subject of constant adjustments.

I'm concerned the Web will devolve into yet another corporate controlled medium. Corporate ownership of television, radio and newspapers has literally sucked the life out of local news and commentary and frankly I can't imagine why the Web won't eventually become the same. Anyone who believes the inherent democratic nature of the Web won't be the subject of corruption and control isn't much of a student of media history – especially of the last 40 years.

In my mind the only way to help prevent that is to build sites that foster local issues. I do some of that here, but more is done over at Pioneer Valley Central.

If you're blogging in the Pioneer Valley and would like more info on how to become part of the group, drop me a line at mdobbs at crocker.com.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I haven't posted DVD reviews for a while, so allow me to do so:

M Squad

I vaguely remember seeing "M Squad" when I was little -- the half-hour crime drama ran from 1957 through 1960 -- a time I was more concerned with cartoons and "Howdy Doody."

Now Timeless Media Group has brought out the entire 117 episodes in a 15 DVD set -- a pretty daring movie for a relatively obscure television show.

"M Squad" is a procedural police drama that spends more time showing the cops pounding the pavement and in the crime lab in order to solve a crime than firing their guns. The show is clearly a reaction to "Dragnet," Jack Webb's highly successful police show.

There are key differences here. One is that " M Squad" is centered in Chicago and exteriors were filmed there. Another is use of jazz for the score's show -- Count Basie wrote the theme music for the second season. The tone of the show is more film noir-ish and gritty than other police shows at the time.

And then there was the star, Lee Marvin. Marvin was coming into his own as actor and his portrayal of Lt. Frank Ballinger was far more interesting than Webb's straight-laced and straight faced Joe Friday.

Marvin plays his cop as both a committed public servant and someone who has seen it all. In the first episode, he is seen checking out a pretty girl while investigating a murder -- something most cop characters wouldn't have done at the time.

The half-hour shows move fast and I was surprised in this time of multiple "CSI" franchises to see just how much footage was devoted to forensic investigations.

Marvin's characterization probably will seem more modern and naturalistic to today's audience than those from other cop dramas of the same era. He walks an interesting line between appearing not to care and obviously caring very much.

For serious crime drama fans who don't mind dropping a chunk of change, this set from 51 years ago will provide some fresh material.



Harry Langdon: Three's a Crowd and The Chaser

Of all of the great silent comedians -- Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Harry Langdon -- it is Langdon who has had the hardest time establishing a new audience in the home video age.

Landon was a vaudeville star whose film persona was that of the "man-boy" a physically mature male who nonetheless has the emotional maturity of a seven-year-old. This type of character has certainly been a popular one in American film. Lou Costello, Huntz Hall, Jerry Lewis and Adam Sandler have all had their take on this shtick.

Langdon's character was often described as having the maturity of an infant. He seems almost incapable of dealing with the world. Made by the right hands, Langdon's films were highly popular, but Langdon himself directed the two films in this double feature and that was clearly a mistake.

Langdon's waif in "Three's a Crowd" is a mover's helper who finds a pregnant woman staggering about during the winter in the slum where he lives. He takes her in and cares for her only to see his heart broken when she reconciles with her husband.

In "The Chase," audiences are asked to accept Langdon as an errant husband chasing women and partying to his wife's disapproval. A judge makes Langdon stay at home for 30 days and take care of the house while wearing a dress. Many of the gags revolve around suicide.

I love silent films and am a huge fan of silent comedy, so I wanted to give Langdon another try, but I just couldn't understand why his character was so popular. I just want to shake him!

These two films from KINO on Video can boast of great scores by Lee Irwin and good-looking restored prints.



Mr. Bean: The Ultimate Collection

Okay, if you're a "Mr. Bean" fan this is your dream collection. The seven-disc collection has all of the television episodes originally aired on HBO, the animated series, and the two feature films.

That's a lot of beans.

If you're not familiar with Mr. Bean, you should know he is the first largely silent comic star developed since the advent of talking films. He can be an incredibly resourceful but also amazingly mischievous.

Rowan Atkinson was already a comedy star here and in his native Great Britain when he developed Mr. Bean with writers Richard Curtis and Robin Driscoll. In an informative documentary in the set, "The Story of Bean," Atkinson and his fellow writers describe how the character was developed, which partly came from Atkinson's youth.

The star described Bean as a nine-year-old boy who operates under the rules as long as they suit him.

I love the "Mr. Bean" series and I think the shorter productions are those in which the character is best suited. The animated cartoons are not my cup of tea and the first feature film "Bean: The Movie" was a mixed bag, I thought.

The extras here are a lot of fun with several Bean skits seen in the United States for the first time: "Torvill & Bean," in which Mr. Bean takes to the ice with the British skating star, was a hoot!

Sunset Boulevard

Billy Wilder was one of those directors who hit home run after home run in his career. "The Lost Weekend," "Double Indemnity," "Stalag 17," "The Apartment" and "The Fortune Cookie" are just some of his great films. Now one of his best films, "Sunset Boulevard," is given the two-disc treatment in a new DVD edition.

I used to show the film regularly in my films classes at Western New England College, as it was not only a stunning example of film noir, but also a subtle but scalpel sharp commentary on the movie business in 1950.

Joe Gillis (William Holden) plays a down on his luck screenwriter who dodges repo men after his car by hiding it in the garage of a slightly run-down Hollywood mansion. Through a case of mistaken identity he is introduced to the house's resident, Norma Desmond, a silent screen star long retired from acting.

While Norma may be not be acting any longer, she longs for a return to the screen. Joe sees an opening when he learns she has a screenplay that needs some re-writing. Soon, Joe find himself playing a role that clearly he doesn't like Norma's reluctant boy toy but he is willing to do so to get some much needed money.

Gloria Swanson, a huge star in the silent days who had appeared successfully in sound pictures in the 1930s, played Norma. Swanson was nothing like her character, but the casting was so perfect that it influenced a generation of movie fans on how they viewed her.

This is a hard-edged cynical movie that seems as fresh to me today as the first time I saw it. It's sad, tender and very, very tough all at the same time.

The extras are well done and feature interviews with surviving cast member Nancy Olson.



Tropic Thunder

If the satire of "Sunset Boulevard" cuts like a scalpel, "Tropic Thunder's" approach to the movie industry is more like a sledgehammer it gets the job done, only things are a tad messier.

Director and co-star Ben Stiller's take on the film industry includes a bunch of ignorant self-absorbed actors and crude profit-driven execs who make bloated unrealistic pieces of cinematic trash.

The interesting thing is if the film had tanked at the box office, Stiller might be facing some ugly music from his peers. But you can spit in the face of folks as long as your film is on the black side of the account book.

"Tropic Thunder" tells the story of a group of spoiled stars (played by Robert Downey Jr., Stiller, Jack Black and Brandon T. Jackson) making a Vietnam War story in Vietnam. When the director can't control his cast (played by Steve Coogan), he takes the advice of the author of the book on which the film is based (Nick Nolte), a hard-as-nails vet, to bring the cast into the jungle and film them secretly as they try to really survive.

The problem is the cast isn't truly aware of what is waiting for them in the jungle and what isn't just part of a movie.

There are some funny bits on the film, although I didn't think it was as laugh-out-loud funny as I had expected it to be. I appreciated the satire, but didn't always laugh at it.

The film was controversial as it supposedly made fun of people with developmental problems. The reaction from various advocacy groups was unwarranted in my opinion as the film comments on how Hollywood shallowly uses metal retardation as fodder for stories.

The extras are pretty comprehensive in how they profile the making of the film, although I was surprised there was a blooper reel.

If you don't care for some rough and tumble satire, then stay away from "Tropic Thunder."



The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus Collector's Edition

Like many people who discovered "Monty Python's Flying Circus" during its first American television run in the early 1970s, I was amazed. As a high school kid I couldn't believe what I was seeing and although I didn't understand all of the jokes, the ones I did get were hilarious.

When I saw the group's first feature film, "And Now for Something Completely Different," a re-filming of their best television bits, I laughed so hard my face ached.

And years later the skits I've seen a hundred times still make me laugh.

For me, there's a short list of the most influential comics of the 20th century: Buster Keaton, W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, the Firesign Theater and Monty Python. These are my comedy gods.

And owning this new 21-disc Monty Python set is like going to church.

Not only are all of the television episodes here, but one of the feature films, "Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl," is here as well. Plus there are two amazing new documentaries about the Pythons, six "personal best" collections, the shows the boys did for German television and much more.

I particularly enjoyed seeing Terry Gilliam explain not only how he did his animated linking pieces, but also how he arrived at the imagery.

This 36-hour collection is something every Python fan should have.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, November 24, 2008

Well, out of the pan and into the fire! I've got three days – and the first has ended – to write stories for the next two editions as I'm taking some time off.

I'd like to share with you some of the stuff that clogs up my in-box:

THANK A PLUMBER ON THANKSGIVING
Holiday Weekend is Busiest of the Year For Plumbers
Cincinnati, OH- Reporters are welcome to join our plumbers on the job. Please call to make arrangements.

The Thanksgiving weekend is anything but a holiday for plumbing and drain cleaning professionals who often sacrifice family time for a bigger paycheck.

Thanksgiving feasts are responsible for so many kitchen sink and sewer clogs that the day after Thanksgiving is the single busiest day of the year for Roto-Rooter, the nation's largest provider of plumbing and drain cleaning services.

Most Americans take part in Thanksgiving celebrations with eleven or more people. Big holiday meals require a busy kitchen, meaning lots of grease and food go down the kitchen drain into the garbage disposal. Holiday guests require extra showers, wash cycles and toilet flushes. "Often, a house already has partially clogged drainpipes that aren't noticeable until holiday guests arrive and overwhelm the system," said Paul Abrams, a spokesman for Roto-Rooter.

Incoming calls to Roto-Rooter should jump just under 50% over an average Friday. The four-day Thanksgiving weekend represents a 21% increase above any other Thursday through Sunday period of the year. Added revenue will likely approach a million dollars for Friday alone. It is unclear whether the economic slowdown will impact emergency calls this year.

By following these recommendations, Thanksgiving hosts can avoid a visit from their plumber over the holiday weekend:

Never pour fats or cooking oils down drains. They solidify in pipes. Instead, wipe grease from pots with paper towels and throw in trash.

No stringy, fibrous waste in the garbage disposal (poultry skins, celery, fruit potato peels). Disposals can't sufficiently grind these items.

Make sure disposal is running when you put food into it. Don't wait until it's full to turn on.

Wait ten minutes between showers so slow drains have time to do their job.

Never flush cotton balls, swabs, hair or facial scrub pads down a toilet. They don't dissolve and they cause clogs.

If you need a plumber, call before the holidays to avoid delays and holiday service charges.

Roto-Rooter was established in 1935 and operates businesses in 115 company-owned territories and 500 independent franchise territories serving approximately 91 percent of the U.S. population and 55% of the Canadian population. http://www.RotoRooter.com


That's front page stuff!

I recently received an e-mail from some publicity guru advising people that this approach – sending out ads disguised as stories – was the way companies were going to beat out hard economic times. Advertising, the e-mail advised, wasn't enough and it cost money. This technique was far less costly.

And far less effective. If Roto-Roooter had taken out an ad they would have been assured of someone seeing their message. This approach is a definite crap shoot.

But I did learn that having company can out a strain on my plumbing. I'll just rent a Sani-Kan and put in on the back porch for the holidays!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I'm in the middle of a really tough week thanks to the Thanksgiving printing schedule for the paper and while I should dash off some pithy local political comment, I just don't have it in me.

But I can be a fanboy. so go here watch the video, http://video.scifi.com/player/?id=841281, and come back.

Don't worry I'll wait.

Okay, is it just me or does Frank Miller's concept of The Spirit have far less to do with Will Eisner than with "Sin City?" Hey I love the movie "Sin City," but I also love the beauty of Eisner's comic book creation – great art, great storylines.

So why screw with it? Because Eisner is dead and Miller has Hollywood buzz.

I don't know Frank Miller. I hear he is a nice guy and I think he's very talented. But it takes a healthy ego to take someone else's work and make it your own.

Frankly I wish someone had the balls to produce a 2-d cel animated version of the property preserving the look of the original art.
Ahhh, a fanboy can dream, can't he?

Monday, November 17, 2008



Advertising fascinates me...how the folks who made Chesterfields thought this low key rumination on the choice of ciggies and train safety compelled a reader to change brands is beyond me. The date of the ad is 1934.

"I want to be just like the engineer...I wonder what kind of beer he drinks?"

But then those Axe commercial sin which wimpy nerds get sex appeal by spraying a manly fragrance is just as inexplicable.

Side note: I was at my favorite watering hole and a young woman said I smelled good. I stopped putting on after-shave once I grew the beard and told her so. She smiled said that I "smelled clean." There's a concept.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Okay. First go here and listen to this five-minute report on WFCR radio

While I certainly embrace the idea of employing musicians and enabling audiences to connect with an artist's work through a live performance, I really do object to taking a film with an established score and junking it.

It's clear they selected the Superman shorts because they are in the public domain and because their reputation can still draw an audience, but I think it is pretentious to assume that you can create something better than what the original creators of a film did.

Writing new scores for silent pictures is a great idea as many films never had a score written for them and I hope this group would consider doing something like that in the future.

Am I being too zealous a keeper of the Fleischer flame here? Perhaps some might think, but frankly I don't care.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008



I've just learned of the death of an American pop culture original: Rudy Ray Moore.

The comedian, actor and producer died Oct. 19 and Mark Martin tipped me off. Thanks Mark.

From the Los Angeles Times


By Jocelyn Y. Stewart
October 21, 2008

Rudy Ray Moore, the self-proclaimed "Godfather of Rap" who influenced generations of rappers and comedians with his rhyming style, braggadocio and profanity-laced routines, has died. He was 81.

Moore, whose low-budget films were panned by critics in the 1970s but became cult classics decades later, died Sunday night in Toledo, Ohio, of complications from diabetes, his brother Gerald told the Associated Press.

Though he was little known to mainstream audiences, Moore had a significant effect on comedians and hip-hop artists.

"People think of black comedy and think of Eddie Murphy," rap artist Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew told the Miami Herald in 1997. "They don't realize [Moore] was the first, the biggest underground comedian of them all. I listened to him and patterned myself after him."

And in the liner notes to the 2006 release of the soundtrack to Moore's 1975 motion picture "Dolemite," hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg said:

"Without Rudy Ray Moore, there would be no Snoop Dogg, and that's for real."

When it came to his own sense of his accomplishments, Moore was never burdened by immodesty.

"These guys Steve Harvey and Cedric the Entertainer and Bernie Mac claim they're the Kings of Comedy," Moore told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2003. "They may be funny, but they ain't no kings. That title is reserved for Rudy Ray Moore and Redd Foxx."

The heyday of his fame was in the 1970s, with the release of "Dolemite" followed by "The Human Tornado," "Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil's Son-in-Law" and "Money Hustler."

The way Moore told it, his introduction to Dolemite came from an old wino named Rico, who frequented a record shop Moore managed in Los Angeles. Rico told foul-mouthed stories about Dolemite, a tough-talking, super-bad brother, whose exploits had customers at the record shop falling down with laughter.

One day Moore recorded Rico telling his stories. Later Moore assumed the role of Dolemite, a character who became the cornerstone of his decades-long career as a raunchy comedian, filmmaker and blues singer.

"What you call dirty words," he often said, "I call ghetto expression."

But long before "Dolemite" debuted on theater screens, Moore had found fame -- and fans -- through stand-up routines and a series of sexually explicit comedy albums.

Not only were the album contents raunchy, the album covers featured women and Moore nude and were too racy for display. So store clerks kept the albums under the counter. Without airplay or big-studio promotion, the so-called party records were underground hits.

"I put records in my car and traveled and walked across the U.S. I walked to the ghetto communities and told people to take the record home and let their friends hear it. And before I left the city, my record would be a hit. This is how it started for me," he told the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 2001.

Although contemporaries such as Foxx and Richard Pryor found success with a broader audience, Moore's stardom was bounded by the geography of race and class: He was a hit largely in economically disadvantaged African American communities.

According to his website, Moore was born in Fort Smith, Ark., on March 17, 1927.

In his youth Moore worked as a dancer and fortune teller and he entertained while serving in the U.S. Army. But his big break came with the recording of his Dolemite routine.

By the time Dolemite appeared on film, he was the ultimate ghetto hero: a bad dude, profane, skilled at kung-fu, dressed to kill and hell-bent on protecting the community from evil menaces. He was a pimp with a kung-fu-fighting clique of prostitutes and he was known for his sexual prowess.

For all the stereotypical images, Moore bristled at the term blaxploitation.

"When I was a boy and went to the movies, I watched Roy Rogers and Tim Holt and those singing cowboys killing Indians, but they never called those movies 'Indian exploitation' – and I never heard 'The Godfather' called 'I-talian exploitation,' " he told a reporter for the Cleveland Scene in 2002.

Late in life, Moore saw his work win fans far beyond his African American audience. There is a "Dolemite" website and chat room that boasts a cross-cultural collection of young fans. Such interest won him mainstream work in an advertisement for Altoid Mints and a commercial for Levi's jeans.

Though Moore built a career on talking dirty, he was very religious. He took pride in taking his mother to the National Baptist Convention each year and often spoke in church at various functions. He rationalized his role as a performer.

"I wasn't saying dirty words just to say them," he told the Miami Herald in 1997. "It was a form of art, sketches in which I developed ghetto characters who cursed. I don't want to be referred to as a dirty old man, rather a ghetto expressionist."


The first time I became aware of Moore's work was seeing a trailer for "The Human Tornado" and wondering just who the hell is this guy and where can I see this movie. I wasn't disappointed when I saw his films. They were entertaining in a Mystery Science Theater way and yet seemed as genuine as a Grandma Moses painting.

Wal-Mart currently has new DVD releases on several of his titles. Go out and buy "Petey Wheatstraw" and "The Human Tornado."

I had the pleasure of meeting Moore several times and each time he struck me as gentleman. He called me a "bad M.F." on my autographed photo. I loved it.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Betty Boop and Sarah Palin?! How did this tidbit escape me?

"CNN compares winking Sarah Palin to Betty Boop
David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Tuesday October 7, 2008

Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's exaggerated winks during her debate with Democrat Joe Biden last week have received a great deal of attention and inspired a considerable amount of comedy.

CNN's Jeanne Moos surveyed some of the reactions to Palin's winks, from Alec Baldwin's imitation on Real Time with Bill Maher to Tina Fey's impersonation of Palin on Saturday Night Live.

The Huffington Post created a music video out of Palin's repeated winks, Jay Leno joked about it, and Bill Maher got laughs just by reading out conservative Rich Lowry's description of how he "sat up a little straighter" in response to the wink.

Conservatives, in turn, have been retaliating by accusing Biden of botox use, comparing his smooth forehead at the debate with a crinkled photo from a few years ago.

CNN asked people on the street about Palin's winks, getting reactions ranging from "a nice fresh face" to "totally fake."

However, CNN may now have found the ultimate Palin comparison -- a 1932 cartoon titled "Betty Boop for President," in which Betty winks broadly while singing, "Some of you have money, while some are poor, you know. If you send me to Washington, I'll just divide the dough, oh!"

No doubt Palin, who insisted at the debate that paying taxes is "not patriotic," would consider Boop's plans for income redistribution -- along with her promises that "we will get things for nothing, movies, cabarets and jazz!" -- to mark her as a wild-eyed radical and probable associate of the Weather Underground.


Watch for yourself.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Hey, remember the future?







People used to be fascinated about how technology could affect their lives and what kind of lives to expect in a not too distant future. Remember how World Fairs used to be the place to see prototype cars and dioramas of cities that looked like they were out of "Metropolis?"

Jet packs – We were all going to commute to work by jet pack. And moving sidewalks. And highways that controlled the speed and safety of driving

And yet, I don't remember – correct me if I'm wrong – people in the 1930s through '60s predicting home computers, debit cards or cell phones – the three things that have undoubtedly changed life and society the most in the past 25 years.

Oh and Oxyclean as well. In fact about any product hawked by Billy Mays.

The magazines such these often depicted inventions that made impacts to our infrastructure and yet that seems the part of American society that has seen the least technological improvements. Other countries have bullet trains, elaborate subway and trolley systems. We make headlines with collapsing bridges.

Today people talk about how television and the Internet are going to be combined and whether or not we'll have an electronic device on which to read magazines and books. Compared to monorails and jet packs, our future just isn't as interesting.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Friday, November 07, 2008



I haven't posted any DVD reviews in a while, so here are some of my recent columns.

Each week the bulk of my movie-watching time is spent reviewing DVDs for this column. This past week I did something fairly rare for me I didn't watch a single thing that I was supposed to watch.

Instead I took the time to watch DVDs in the growing pile of films that I've purchased for my collection. So what does a reviewer watch when he doesn't have to slog through new releases? Read on.

The first DVD I grabbed was a two-disc set that contains the two films "The Tiger of Eschnapur" and "The Indian Tomb." I'm a big fan of the work of director Fritz Lang and have wanted to see these films for years. American audiences had only seen these 1959 productions in a highly edited drive-in movie version called "Journey to the Lost City." The small DVD company Fantoma (www.fantoma.com) has released them in their original form.

Lang was one of Germany's top directors, having made such films as "Metropolis" and "M," but didn't agree with the Nazi philosophy and came to the United States in the early 1930s where he became a citizen and made an impressive group of films for Hollywood studios including the film noir classics "The Woman in the Window" and "Scarlet Street." He also made one of my favorite journalism films, "While the City Sleeps."

In the late 1950s he returned to Germany to make a film of a script he had intended to film the 1920s an adventure film about an architect in India who falls in love with a temple dancer who is also sought after by the local maharajah.

The films are fabulous. Lang cleverly made sure there was no particularly modern technology shown, such as cars, which would set a firm date for the story. Instead you have a dream-like fantasy filmed on location in India with beautiful settings and in lush color. The films were Lang's last big productions. He would do only one more film also worth seeing, "The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse" before ill health forced him to retire.

Debra Paget played the temple dancer and was the lone American in the cast. Paget had appeared in many films in the 1950s, but didn't rise to the level of stardom that she deserved in my opinion. She is absolutely stunning in this role.

I recently purchased a group of films from Alpha Home Entertainment, which is sold on the company's Web site, www.oldies.com. Alpha specializes in older films that have fallen in the public domain. What that means is you do take a chance the print from which the DVD was mastered may not be of the highest quality. I have to say that I've been pleased for the Alpha releases I've purchased over the years.

Among the films I bought were "Tarzan and the Golden Lion," a 1927 silent Tarzan adventure starring actor and football player James Pierce. I interviewed Pierce back in 1970s about his career in film. He had costarred with the Marx Brothers in "Horse Feathers," was the King of Lion Men in the first "Flash Gordon" serial with Buster Crabbe and appeared in B-Westerns and other serials. He was also Edgar Rice Burroughs' son-in-law, having met his wife on the set of the Tarzan movie.

When I spoke to Pierce he said his Tarzan film was "lost," having been made by FBO, a studio that was dissolved at the beginning of the sound era. Few FBO films have survived. I don't know if Pierce lived to see his star turn recovered, but I'm glad I saw it.

Let's face it, all Tarzan films are just a little goofy and this one has plenty of incredulous moments, but I liked it.

I also bought an Alpha animation compilation called "Cartoon Rarities of the 1930s." Regular readers of this column might recall my interest in animation my book, "Escape! How Animation Went Mainstream in the 1990s" is available at all on-line booksellers and this 108-minute DVD is chock full of oddities from Warner Brothers, Ub Iwerks, the Van Beuren Studios and the Fleischer Brothers, among others. The prints vary in quality the black and white cartoons fare better but I relished the chance to see cartoons that I hadn't seen before.

Finally from Alpha, I bought a Tom Tyler double feature. Tyler was a B-Western star who had a fascinating career. Besides starring in low-budget Westerns, Tyler was among the very few of his peers who pursued an acting career out of his genre. He had prominent character roles in "Gone With the Wind," "Talk of the Town" and other "A" productions. He also starred in a number of serials, including the one that many fans believe is the single best serial ever made, "The Adventures of Captain Marvel."

It's difficult to explain my affection for B-Westerns as many of them feature repetitive plots with threadbare production values and hokey performances. Tyler, though, has proven always to be interesting to watch and "Trigger Tom" actually was fun with a plot and a setting that was a cut above the usual oater.

I still have a pretty big pile of unwatched DVDs including a group of Chinese productions I love Hong Kong cinema but next week my nose will be back at the cinematic grindstone.



I first discovered "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (MST3K) during a Thanksgiving marathon on Comedy Central in 1991. The movie the guys were taunting was the Roger Corman science fiction film "It Conquered the World," and all I could think was "This is the best print I've ever seen of this movie and these guys are ruining it."

How little I understood. It didn't take long for my wife and I to become big MST3K fans.

Created by stand-up comic Joel Hodgeson, MST3K had a great premise of poking fun of bad movies making some of the most unwatchable films actually enjoyable. Set on the "Satellite of Love," Hodgeson played a man marooned on the spacecraft by a pair of evil scientists who force him to watch bad movies as part of their experiments. Aided by two smart aleck robots he created from spare parts on the satellite, Hodgeson is able to wisecrack his way to mental health.

Shout Factory is now celebrating the 20th anniversary of the start of the show with a lavish boxed set that includes four MST3K programs, prints of the new cover art for the four films, a three part documentary on the history of the show, footage of the cast reunion at this year's San Diego Comic Con and a statue of Crow T. Robot.

What is amazing to me about MST3K is that even with cast changes for instance, Hodgeson left his own show and was replaced on camera by the program's head writer Michael J. Nelson the show remained consistently hilarious.

In the documentary, Nelson said the writers, who were all stand-up comics, had an affinity for the Monty Python style of humor of mixing both the silly and the cerebral. With hundreds of jokes in each show, the pop culture and literary references came so fast that repeat viewings were needed just to hear all of the gags. It's little wonder the program won a prestigious Peabody Award for its writing.

In many ways the MST3K shows were mini-film classes on what not to do. When I taught film classes at a local college I always showed a truly horrible film in order to provide a comparison for a good production. The MST3K cast frequently pointed out continuity mistakes, bad camera works, as well as bad performances and putrid plot points.

The four movies in this set are great examples of the kind of film dregs with which the cast and writers had to work. "Future War," which the cast points out is neither about the future or a war, involves dinosaurs trained to track escaped slaves. "Laser Blast" is about a troubled teen his mother is always leaving him to go to parties in Mexico who finds an alien ray gun and starts shooting everything. "The First Spaceship on Venus" is a deadly earnest science fiction film showing international cooperation. "Werewolf" may be the dumbest movie of its kind ever made and it is a very satisfying MST3K experience,

All of the films are making their DVD debut in this set.

The films are cheesy, the writing is sharp and this set made me wish the show was still on the air. MST3K is still in production, though, in a way. Hodgeson and a number of cast members are involved with Cinema Titanic (www.cinematictitanic.com) and are producing MST3K-like DVDs ridiculing bad movies.

Nelson and two other cast members are the brains behind Riff Trax (www.rifftrax.com), at which folks can download their commentaries onto their mp3 devices to play along and skewer the latest Hollywood blockbusters.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

In Western Massachusetts, the presidential race clearly out-shone the local and state races, but there was some interesting events that took place.

The fact that we now have furthered out liberal status by decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and have eliminated dog-racing on the basis it's cruel will certainly be additional material for the nations' conservative commentators.

I couldn't see how the advocates for eliminating the income tax thought such a measure would eliminate wasteful spending as the people in government who have the power would have made sure they would have been insulated from such change. If people want to see reform in this state, get a new Legislature and institute terms limits.

Republican Jeff Beatty ran a busy grassroots effort to unseat Sen. John Kerry.

Kerry prevailed in the election, although the attention his Democratic primary opponent Ed O’Reilly received indicated that Kerry is not criticism-proof.

An indication of Kerry’s standing was seen at a fundraiser he conducted at the Red Rose restaurant in Springfield earlier this year that didn’t draw the usual group of elected officials to pay their obligatory tribute. Normally every mayor in the area would attend such an event for Kerry –who seldom visits Western Massachusetts. That was not the case.

Beatty was perhaps the best Republican candidate the party has fielded for the Senate since the late multi-millionaire inventor Ray Shame back in the 1980s. His background in the military, CIA and business gave him a lot to talk about.

Ultimately though Kerry’s organization, campaign coffers and incumbency overwhelmed Beatty. One aspect of that race that may have made a difference was the lack of statewide debates between the two men. Beatty told me it was the jobs of the press and non-profit groups to arrange debates and not his responsibility, which might have been a mistake.

In local races, it wasn’t surprising that Brian Hoose, a man who despite his activity in Democratic Party politics for years, didn’t unseat incumbent Don Humason in Westfield as state rep. Westfield has long been a republican stronghold going back to the days of Steve Pierce and voters are loathe to replace state reps as long as they are personable and represent their districts.

Humason is one of the friendliest elected officials I’ve encountered and he literally wears a heart on his sleeve – his ever-present “I love Westfield” button.

I hope that Hoose stays active in politics though.

Nathan Bech, the West Springfield businessman and Army veteran, started his campaign for Congress against long-time incumbent John Olver in the summer and was aggressive in his near daily e-mails to the press pointing out the differences between his points of view and Olver’s.

Olver didn’t enter the fray until September, essentially ignoring Bech’s existence until he really had to acknowledge it.
Olver didn’t communicate too much with the press, especially after he suggested that Western Massachusetts would best be served by having one Congressional District – eliminating Congressman Richard Neal’s seat.

Olver’s campaign efforts were marked by television ads – one of which he recycled from the last election – and by radio ads that attacked John McCain rather than Bech.

The stream of e-mails from Bech dramatically diminished to this writer in October, just when conventional wisdom notes they should have increased.

It’s interesting to note that Sen. John McCain was widely criticized for being too old at age 72 for the presidency, while no one noted Olver is the same age nor were there questions of his competency.

It’s probably safe to say there will be no change in that seat until Olver decides to retire.

In the race to replace out-going State Rep. Mary Rogeness, there was a battle between Longmeadow Select Board members William Scibelli and Brian Ashe. The conventional wisdom was that Scibelli had the edge. He is Republican running for a position that has traditionally been Republican. He clearly out-spent Ashe and because he is a self-employed attorney, he had more time to campaign.

Ashe’s victory was truly an upset, especially considering he had failed to show up for a televised debate with Scibelli just days before the election. One might wonder if it was Scibelli’s record on the Select Board or if the Democratic wave felt in many elections across the country propelled Ashe over the finish line.

Other state legislative races locally were lackluster. State Rep. Ben Swan had dispatched his two opponents during the primary. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera once again handily put down George Vazquez, whose campaign this time was marred by a conviction for assault.

In many other races, state reps and senators didn’t face opposition making this observer wonder if people are satisfied with the performances of local officials or if the hurdles presented by incumbency are too overwhelming.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

What Zogby is saying this morning:

"UTICA, New York - Democrat Barack Obama has increased his lead to 11.4 points over Republican John McCain in the latest Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby daily tracking poll -- up from a 7.1 point advantage in yesterday's report. The final tally now stands at 54.1% for Obama compared to 42.7% for McCain.

"Pollster John Zogby: 'Obviously anything can happen on Election Day, but Americans want change and it seems very clear that the historic candidacy of Sen. Obama defines that change.'"

and

"UTICA, New York - Reuters/Zogby telephone surveys of eight battleground states show Democrat Barack Obama enters Election Day in a very favorable position to be elected President, having made inroads on formerly Republican turf, while GOP candidate John McCain plays defense. Here is the final wrap-up of battleground states in the race for the White House 2008.

"The surveys were conducted from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3, 2008. Sample sizes in each state ranged from 600-605, with a margin of error of +/-4.1%."

It was busy but there were no lines at my polling place in Springfield but I went before 8 a.m. if McCain proves the pollsters wrong, then it will be interesting to see if that industry survives as it will have lost considerable credibility.

I voted for Obama – no surprise there – even though he wasn't my candidate in the primaries. We can't afford a guy like McCain who has shown so little judgement as to select his vice presidential candidate without proper vetting.

Boy, I wonder who got fired over this?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Because of my nagging adherence to ethics and loyalty, I won't post my story on the revelations surrounding the document that could pave the way to take the former Mason Square Library back through eminent domain until Monday when it is published in the 16 Acres edition of The Reminder.

What I do want to say here is on the bombshell nature of the deal struck between the Urban League and the Attorney General's office to allow the sale of the renovated library to the Urban League in 2003.

Seldom have I covered a government meeting when a document is produced that literally stops a conversation and starts a new one. That is what happened on Thursday when City Councilor Patrick Markey presented the documents from the Attorney General's office. There was an unreal movie quality about the moment.

It was clear that Mayor Domenic Sarno had come to the meeting to defend his decision to seek funding from the Library Foundation to purchase another building for the library and that plan was derailed when the document showed the path to reclaim the building through the courts was possible.

The city needs to move forward quickly and re-establish the library in the building for which it was intended. The people of the four neighborhoods who use that library have gone long enough without a proper branch.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs