Thursday, June 29, 2006

Here's a model sheet from the Superman cartoon Terror on the Midway

Directed by Dan Gordon, Terror on the Midway boasts of some great non-typical cartoon editing and camera angles. The Superman cartoons were directed and laid out much more like live-action films than "typical" cartoons. I've always loved the sequence in which Superman and the ape are shown in tight cropped close-ups. It's such a radical scene for 1940s animation.

The model sheet is interesting as it shows the studio filmed a live gorilla for some rotoscope work. To the best of my knowledge they did not ever rotoscope Superman. The great animation is just that.

Fleischer animator and director Myron Waldman told me the Superman cartoons represented a challenge and a lot of work to the Fleischer crew. He noted how the characters, especially Superman, had to be animated to give the impression of weight and power.

More Fleischer Superman tomorrow.

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. My words alone here.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

With the opening of the new Superman film, I thought it would be appropriate to post a number of items over the next few days from the first Superman cartoons: the Fleischer shorts from the early 1940s.

Here's a cel from the first Superman short that was published in an article about Superman creators Siegel and Shuster in the June 21 1941 edition of the Saturday Evening Post.

The article is quite interesting as it paints the two Cleveland guys as as babes in the woods when it comes to business; foreshadowing their years of struggle to come. I'm going to try to scan and post it.

More tomorrow!

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. Now who could object to this post? Well, I'm to blame!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Wisdom from Springer’s mouth to your eyes

There are not many definitive statements in life these days, but part of the conventional wisdom that floats in or collective subconscious is the idea that one wouldn’t expect profound statements from Jerry Springer.

Springer was one of the speakers at last week’s gathering of the radio talk show industry in New York City sponsored by Springfield-based Talkers Magazine.

Now I’m no hypocrite. I’ve watched plenty of Springer’s infamous television show and yes, I know it’s a very, very guilty pleasure.

The interesting thing about the former Ohio politician and television news anchor is that he has always been up front about the trash level of the program that bears his name.

He made one reference to the “ridiculously privileged life [he’s led] thanks to my stupid television show.”

It’s has been rumored that Springer has political ambitions and his current talk show on Air America (not heard in this area at this time) is an effort to rehabilitate his image so people would actually vote for him.

Now I think there are probably a whole bunch of people right now who would elect Springer to public office, but he believes he needs to be an issue-oriented media personality instead of someone who is introducing people who are their own grandpa.

I have heard his radio show and he is painfully sincere on it.

After admitting with a broad smile that he “has been everything people don’t respect,” Springer spoke about the difference between news and entertainment.

He said that the news is honest but doesn’t tell the truth, while entertainment is dishonest, but does tell the truth.

He explained that the news that is reported is the interpretation of a group of people and should not be considered the single absolute Truth.

“None of us know the truth,” Springer said. He added that news people should always be honest but should never pretend that they have “the truth.”

Entertainment is fictional, Springer, explained, but it can reveal some truth. When a work of entertainment is at its best, it can present true statements about the human condition.

Springer is right. Any one journalist who thinks he or she has a headlock on truth can be disappointed. That’s because truth is too many times a slippery entity that resists definition.

That is not to say we don’t show different sides to a story so that a reader can determine the truth for themselves, because we do that every day.

I’ve learned, though, that no matter how careful you are in constructing a story, some one is going to disagree with you and see the facts in a different light.

Go into a coffee shop and start talking politics. What is truth to you is not to others. Pick up several different publications with news colored by ideology and you’ll see the same thing.

And journalists who perch on a pedestal will more than likely get shoved off.

One more piece of advice from Springer: journalists need to take their work seriously, but not themselves.

That advice could be applied to a whole bunch of other folks as well.

©2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. My words alone; don't blame anyone else.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Popeye on DVD at last!?
(seem here is the late, great Jack Mercer, the man who was Popeye's voice for almost 50 years)

The announcement that Warner Brothers has signed a deal with King Features to bring the Fleischer Popeyes to DVD is one that I've been waiting for years to read.

And I'm elated that there are clearly many Fleischer/Popeye fans who welcome the release as the many posts on the animation newsgroup would show.

I've detailed my association with researching the Fleischer Studios on this blog. I am renewing my efforts to put my research in print.

Because of the friendships I've made over the years while doing the research, I have to say that the Fleischer cartoons in general, but particularly the Popeye shorts are much more than my favorite things to watch. The cartoons have played an important role in my life and clearly the lives of many other fans.

One of the best evenings of my life was spent interviewing Jack Mercer in his New York City home. He was a gracious, modest guy and it was a treat to meet him.

Let's hope that the success of this release will spur Paramount to release the Betty Boops on DVD, as well as Universal to produce a best of Walter Lantz collection. And hey, there should be a Terrytoons collection as well.

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. My words alone, so blame me.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Why is the hot dog neglected?

The sultan of sausage is loved by American young and old and yet aside form Nathan's there are no national hot dog chains (and Nathan's is not sea-to-sea).

Yes, and some KFC/A&W Root Beer combos do sell dogs, but it's a sideline.

The thought occurred to me last week when in NYC.

Now locally we do have two hot dog restaurants...White Hut and Nick's Nest. And Chicopee Provisions makes an excellent dog eaten far and wide.

But what is it about the lowly dog that keeps it from climbing the height the hamburger has risen?

Or is it the dog's fate to be the champion of the independent while the burger toils in the corporate vineyard? Is the hot dog the symbol of the entrepreneur?

Your opinions, please?

And White Hut beats Nick's by a mile.

Proudly ©2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs who will suffer the slings and arrows of criticism all by himself.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A pirate double feature and a camp classic are in this week's DVD column.

Mommie Dearest: Hollywood Royalty Edition

The studios what release DVDs these days understand the value of packaging. We've seen a plethora of "special editions" and "director's cuts" of films as well as multiple releases of the same movie. Just how many versions of Napoleon Dynamite or the Evil Dead trilogy or Peter Jackson's King Kong do we need?

The release of Mommie Dearest in its "Hollywood Royalty edition" is a triumph of packing over content. Mommie Dearest is the film version of the 1978 best-selling book by Christina Crawford about her life and relationship with her mother, the superstar actress Joan Crawford.

High controversial when published - there were both defenders and opponents of Christina's side of the story - the book was a huge success and encouraged other children of celebrities to write about their miserable lives. As you know now, it's almost a genre onto itself.

The film was shot in 1981 and galvanized its audiences. It could either be seen as a tragedy or a story of survival or simply as over-blown camp. Since its release the film has achieved cult status. Most of us know what the phrase "No more wire hangers!" mean.

So this DVD capitalizes on the film's campiness with a commentary by director and writer John Waters and a feature on the enduring popularity of the film. Just like Joan herself, the DVD has a second face. While some of the extras celebrate the film as kitsch, the other extras feature producer and writer Frank Yablans and co-stars Diana Scarwid speaking about how good the film is and how serious it is.

Apparently star Faye Dunaway won't talk about the film, which is a bit of a mystery to Yablans.

I have to say that I'm not a fan of the film. In his commentary Waters describes the production as a bit of a horror film, and I think he's right. Dunaway's Crawford is an unstable bomb capable of going off any time for any reason - she's not an ideal parent by any stretch of the imagination. What we have is a feature-length film depicting years of child abuse, which isn't my definition for light entertainment.

However watching the film with the Waters commentary is the only way to get through it.

If you enjoyed the film before, you'll love it now. If you're like me, making fun of it is the only way to endure it.

Fortunes of Captain Blood/Captain Pirate

There are certain genres of films that were once staples, but have fallen out of favor. One of those is westerns, which were once ubiquitous, and another is the swashbuckler.

During the 1930s though the 1950s, movie goers could bet on seeing at least couple of films each year that involved guys in tights, duels, ships battling one another at sea, references to "doubloons" and "pieces of eight," dungeons, and casts full of rangy, dirty looking pirates.

Douglas Fairbanks, Junior, made a few of these films. Errol Flynn probably starred in the best ones. Louis Hayward, perhaps, made the most.

Hayward was a versatile actor who never made it to the top rung of the Hollywood ladder, but appeared in dozens of movies and television series from 1932 to 1978. Among his films were films such as The Son of Monte Cristo, The Man in the Iron Mask and this double feature in which he played pirate Captain Peter Blood.

Fortunes of Captain Blood from 1950 is a competently made, enjoyable film which Blood must free some of his men from slavery and woe the lovely Isabelita (Patricia Medina). The fast-moving story is told in expertly handled black and white.

The 1952 sequel to that film is the Technicolor Captain Pirate in which Hayward and Medina reprise their roles.

These are films from a simpler time when people simply closed their eyes and bloodlessly dropped to the ground when shot and no one questioned just why those hard-working pirates wore the exact same outfits over the course of the movie. Just learn to accept them!

If you're in the mood to sail the Spanish Main and say "Arrrrrr!" a lot, this double bill will shiver your timbers.

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs, Standard disclaimer applies.

Monday, June 12, 2006

For a second year, I had the pleasure of covering the New Media Seminar presented by Talkers Magazine. Having spent five very enjoyable years doing talk radio in the Springfield, MA, market, the seminar is an event that fires my imagination with plans to return to the medium. Alas there are no stations in this area that would even consider dropping some free show off the satellite to pay me to do a local show

But I can dream...

NEW YORK CITY - Is music on the radio an endangered species? That was just one of the issues discussed at the ninth annual New Media Seminar conducted in New York City over the weekend.

Sponsored by Springfield-based Talkers Magazine, the "bible" of the growing talk radio industry, the two-day event drew hundreds of radio hosts, programming executives and stations owners as well as some of the biggest names in the field.

Nationally syndicated hosts such as Alan Combes, Dr. Joy Browne, Jerry Doyle, Michael Medved, Jerry Springer, Mike Gallagher, Jim Bohannon, and Neal Boortz participated in the event.

The effects of ever-changing consumer electronic products and how to cope with them were also a dominant theme at the event.

Sean Hannity, the number two rated talk show host in the country, opened the conference with the prediction that talk radio "was positioned to save the AM and FM bands" of radio.

He said that talk radio was the only radio format with an upward tract.

He claimed that music radio was dying because consumers want to listen to the music they want to hear when they wanted to hear it. More and more consumers no longer want to listen to the musical selections made by program executives, Hannity maintained. Thanks to iPods, they can carry the music they love with them and listen to it any time.

Many music stations tend to play similar musical formats and lack the individuality of talk show hosts.

There is a greater exclusivity, he emphasized with the talk format. Looking at a stage filled with national and regional hosts, he said, "There is only one Jim Bohannon, only one Mike Gallagher."

Hannity told the audience that the 2008 election would be the "single biggest predictable news ratings boom in history" whether or not New York Senator Hillary Clinton runs for president.

"And she will not win," he said with a smile.

Hannity's co-star on their popular FOX television show, Alan Combes - a top-rated radio talk host as well - began his time at the podium with the statement, "And yes she will win."

Walter Sabo, an industry consultant, discussed the next technical challenge for radio. Sabo displayed a photo of big band leader Lawrence Welk taken in the mid-1950s. Welk was seen putting a record on a record player installed in his car. Sabo said that from 1955-57, Chrysler developed a record player that allowed consumers to turn their radios off and still listen to music.

And, he noted, the records would not skip due to bumps in the road.

Some people predicted the new record players would kill radio. They didn't catch on - Sabo said the players could only use specially designed records available only from the automaker. The special players became another in a long line of technological innovations that were suppose to fatally wound the medium.

He said that sound motion pictures, the eight-track player and CB radio all were supposed to phase out traditional broadcast radio. They didn't because radio adapted to the new technologies.

Sabo said the newest challenge to traditional radio would come from cell phones. He explained that cell phones offer consumers a growing array of entertainment options and that the radio industry should be working on producing programming specifically designed for the hand-held devices.

Podcasts - recordings of talk shows in a down-loadable MP3 format from web sites - and streaming radio shows on web sites were two of the technological advances that were discussed at this year's seminar. This year, Paul Duckworth, the program director at WMAL in Washington D.C. upped the technology ante by sharing that his reporters don't just attend news events with a microphone and recorder, but also with a digital movie camera.

Duckworth said his station posts digital video to accompany audio reports on their web site and gives their audience video they don't get from competing television stations.

Freedom of speech was also discussed by a number of panel members who debated just how far is too far and how to handle a bad situation created when a host makes an inappropriate remark on air.

The king of inappropriate speech was honored with this year's "Freedom of Speech Award" given by Talkers Magazine. Talkers publisher Michael Harrison said that freedom of speech was the "most misunderstood concept in our country," but is "the foundation of our country."

Harrison announced that self-proclaimed "King of All Media" Howard Stern was this year's recipient.
"Stern deserves this more than anyone in our industry," Harrison said.

Among Stern's accomplishments was pioneering the concept of talk on FM syndication in the morning and expanding "the envelope of artistic speech that could be performed on government regulated radio."

Stern did not attend the event, but one of his radio show's cast members, George Takei, accepted the award on Stern's behalf.

Takei described Stern as "an American of principal and courage."

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. Smoke'em if you've got 'em. You know the drill: this is my stuff and I'm responsible.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Just what the world needs...a new blog!

I've started another blog to discuss the issues that confront me and other "small town" journalists in the ever-changing world of mass media.

It's interesting to work in a medium, such as weekly newspapers, which media analysts like to to compare to the walking dead. The death of newspapers is discussed frequently and yet in New England supposedly 91 % of adults say they read some sort of newspaper.

It's a big fat mixed message and I wanted to create a blog on which media professionals and concerned consumers could discuss the issues that affect them.

For instance, I would love to know how many people really believe the myth of the "liberal" press? What the hell does "liberal," "centralist," and "conservative" mean these days and how do those terms relate to what one reads in a newspaper?

If you're interested, the link to the new blog, That's Thirty, is here on my links list.