Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Stuff that gets into my mail box...

I thought this had to be a joke, but apparently it isn't:

April 22 update: And now I'm to censor the thing at the request of the guy WHO SENT TO ME, A MEMBER OF THE WORKING PRESS!

I'm a UMass Amherst Grad, current medical student at XXXXX and am originally from XXXXX. I recently designed a new product in which you and your readers may be interested. While working in a hospital, I noticed many of my patients were embarrassed about the soiled condition of their all-white underwear. To fix this problem, I created a pair that would hide all stains and eliminate the embarrassment. It's simple- a pair of underwear that's yellow in the front and brown in the back! You never even have to wash them!

Although not practical in the real world, I realized these would make an excellent gag gift. NO-WASH UNDERWEAR has since grown from a simple idea to its own company located in Massachusetts. Our original boxers and other NO-WASH gifts are now available on our website and on store shelves around the nation! As a medical student, I have also been in contact with local charities and children's hospitals to raise funds through our "Buy A Pair And Show You Care" campaign.

Please let me know if you would be willing to help spread the word and highlight NO-WASH UNDERWEAR in the Reminder. I would also be more than happy to send you a free pair of NO-WASH Boxers. Just let me know the size and address and I'll send them your way. Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


You know we have to do a story on this!
Changes, changes, changes...attend just one Podcamp and see what happen!

Okay, I've set up a Western Mass. Newsgroup that I will be point press releases on pretty much when I get them myself. The idea here is to provide readers of my blog with more content that, hopefully, will be of interest and benefit to them, especially if they are bloggers themselves and not getting these notices.

I've also joined Twitter and will be sending those little messages out via my cell phone during the day on what is happening...they will be headlines of stories of I'm following.

I promise on a stack of Bibles I will not be using Twitter to tell people what Lucky the Wonder Bichon is doing. Or Ginger the Wonder Cat.

My idea is to pump up content here so readers will come back.

Tell me what you think!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Podcamp Unconference

I attended the Podcamp Unconference that was conducted at Open Square in Holyoke on Saturday and I'm very glad did. I've been mystified about social media such as Twitter and Facebook – yeah I know it's not new, but it is to me – and the Unconference helped me wrap my head around some uses for these applications that I think would advance several schemes of mine.

My pal Bill Dusty was there along with writerjax a splendid writer/pr person whose work I've long admired. And I met Tish Grier whose blog "The Constant Observer" is now something I'll read every day.

What liked so much was the exchange of information that came fairly organically and democratically from the participants. My many years as a journalist was actually seen as an asset by some in discussions about hyper-local news coverage and citizen journalism.

I guess that made up for my profound ignorance on other issues!

I did have one on-going beef with a guy that started the moment I arrived. He identified himself as a former Agawam resident who now lives in the Worcester area and was criticizing Holyoke. He said that while driving to Open Square he questioned whether or he should attend it based on his quick assessment of the city.

I defended Holyoke and noted that so much is happening organically in the town among young people seeking an inexpensive place to start a business or creative endeavor. I pointed out the great things happening at Open Square.

But I'm a Western Massachusetts patriot. I want to operate seeing the glass half-full rather than half-empty. A little positive thinking assists in dealing with inevitable storms of life.

I don't think he understood for a moment that most of the people at the Unconference were doing the same kind of thing that is happening in Holyoke and Open Square. Just like the owners of Open Square are re-developing what an urban center should be in the 21st century, the Podcampers are re-thinking how content is distributed and how people communicate.

He didn't buy my arguments. Hey, it's a free country. My advice is not to leave Worcester.

© Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, March 23, 2009

This year's trip to Cinefest

Once again I trekked to the near frozen northwest and Syracuse NY to attend Cinefest 29 this past weekend. Cinefest is a delightfully grassroots hardcore assembling of film fans, archivists, historians and collectors who get to see forgotten films, uncut or reconstructed versions of movies and archival curiosities.

It's not a snooty crowd at all. People actually care about film and are as happy to see a German silent art film as they are a George O'Brien B Western. This ain't Sundance where too many of the audience members seem to focus on everything but the films .

Cinefest specializes in American and British film from the silent era to the late 1940s, although a more recent film occasionally sneaks by.

By its eclectic nature the programming can challenge your cinematic prejudices. There have been many times when I steadfastly refused to see a certain movie because of the subject or star only to be convinced I should see it and then found that was indeed the case.

This year's highlights included a "Screen Snapshot" short from the early 1950s that was a tribute to many of the screen cowboys of the previous 20 years. An episode of the early television show "Life with Buster Keaton" was also alto of fun.

"Wheel of Life" (1929) a romance set in colonial India was creaky and laughable, while "The Circle" (1925), a romantic dramady based on the play by Somerset Maugham, was surprisingly good.

The show screened some of Joan Crawford's home movies, which proved to be a revelation to me. I never thought Crawford was any great beauty, but these in scenes, many in color, she is striking wearing little or no make-up and looking relaxed. There was one shock in the reel, though – shots of Crawford bare-assed and sunbathing of the roof of her home.

The biggest treat was the American premiere of the 1958 film "the Secret Man" produced by my friend Richard Gordon. Richard is a Cinefest devotee and he introduced the film, which, for a number of reasons never received distribution here. The taut little spy film was written by Brian Clements ("The Avengers") and was directed by Ronald Kinnoch.

Shot in four weeks in London using many outdoor locations, this film is a perfect example of the most successful approach to low-budget film making: you tailor a script to your budget rather than try to stretch a budget to fulfill a script. Kinnoch directed the film with an eye to gritty realism and star Marshall Thompson delivers a very realistic under-played performance.

It's a typical Cinefest movie in that I wanted to find it on DVD so my wife could see it.

That was also the case with "The Perfect Specimen," a great 1938 romantic comedy directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Errol Flynn and Joan Blondell – two performers who I would watch in almost anything. This film doesn't turn up on television due to story rights and the print came out of Flynn's person collection.

"White Gold" (1927) was the last feature I saw and boy what a fascinating movie. The plot involves a beautiful cabaret performer who falls in love with the son of a sheep rancher and makes a valiant effort to fit in but is thwarted by her father-in-law who is jealous of his son's love for her. The Dutch actress Jetta Goudal gives an excellent performance.

Over the next several days I'll post some of the items I found in the dealers' rooms.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Just got this release. I'm planning to go as I really do want to understand the social side of the Net that has so far confounded me.

HOLYOKE – By now, we’ve all heard of iPods and podcasts. But what’s a PodCamp?

PodCamp is one example of an ‘unconference,’ or unorganized conference, at which participants choose the topics they’d like to discuss. It’s geared toward new media enthusiasts and professionals of all types, including bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers, social networkers, as well as the people who read, watch, and listen to them.

This month, PodCamp will come to Western Massachusetts for the first time. On March 28 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., members of the marketing, business, design, technology, and music industries will gather on the second floor of the mixed-use, retrofitted mill building Open Square in Holyoke for an unconference that aims to promote education, innovation, and collaboration between technology and media professionals.

Morriss Partee, owner of EverythingCU.com in Holyoke and a coordinator of the event, said Western Mass. has a very active new and social media community, and as such is primed and ready for a successful PodCamp.

“We have a thriving community here of some truly amazing people,” he said. “This is a chance for Western Massachusetts bloggers, business people, artists, and academics to get together and make connections, and for everyone to learn how social media can enhance their business, cause, or organization.”

Additionally, co-coordinator Tish Grier, chief community officer of Placeblogger.com, said that the PodCamp concept is also well-suited to the region due to the myriad issues, especially economic concerns, that face the area and the entire country.

“It's easy to think that issues going on in the ‘big city’ don't have much of an impact on Western Massachusetts, but those issues, like the loss of the daily newspaper, impact us as well,” she said.

There is no agenda at an unconference, and the list of potential topics is virtually endless. However, sessions often include a “social media 101” and an overview of current and emerging new media tools. Attendees are encouraged to bring laptops, power strips, and cameras, and can come and go as their schedules allow.

The cost of the program is $20, attendance is limited to the first 60 people to register at http://podcampwesternmass.eventbrite.com

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What cops in a city the size of Springfield have to go through – reports from SPD Sgt. John Delaney.

"A woman scorned – On 3/15/09 at 6:35 P.M. Officers Brian Beliveau and David Robillard arrested the following suspect:
Doriana McCormick age 22 of 17 Highland Avenue,
West Springfield...charges....
a) Breaking and Entering Motor Vehicle With Int. to Commit a Felony
b) Malicious Damage to a Motor Vehicle

"Prior to the arrest Ms. McCormick went to 632 Dickinson Street where her ex-boyfriend lives and smashed his rear window out completely on his 1997 Maxima. She then went to town on his front windshield with a liquor bottle. She then proceeded to tear apart his dashboard and took out his stereo and DVD player. Ms. McCormick then stole a backpack containing an X-Box game.

"The new girlfriend of Ms. McCormick's 'ex' witnessed the hysterical female commit the crime and run down the street and get into a waiting Chevy Impala and speed away. The police were called and the responding officers spotted the scorned woman on Trafton Road. the officers stopped the female and recovered the stolen items in her car. She was placed under arrest.
photos of car and Ms. McCormick enclosed.

"Officer Juan Hernandez was stopped at a light in full uniform and on duty in a marked police car. The officers was at the corner of Main and Saratoga Street at 2:33 A.M. when he observed a subject traveling down Main Street and picking up speed. the officers watched as he approached and the driver, who was now traveling faster, turned the wheel of the car so the vehicle he was driving was aimed right at Officer Hernandez. The officer stated in his report that 'the driver made direct eye contact with me while smiling and gripping the steering wheel with both hands.' The driver tried to ram the police car on purpose and Officer Hernandez had to put the cruiser in reverse to get out of the way.

"The driver of the Chevy then raced away towards West Columbus Avenue and jumped on RTE 91. the officer called the description of the car out over the police radio and the State Police on RTE. 91 heard the description and observed the Chevy traveling too fast and smash into a guardrail on the highway. The driver attempted to still drive down the highway. At one point the driver exited the car and looked like he was going to run. The officers ordered him to lay on the ground and instead of complying he jumped back into the drivers seat and attempted to drive away. (...this guy just kept making bad decision after bad decision). He was arrested.

"Nector Perez age 28 of 28 Cameron Street Springfield...charges....
a) Assault With a dangerous Weapon (M.V. on Officer Hernandez)
b) Failure to Stop for Police
c) Reckless Operation of M.V.
d) Suspended License
e) Resisting Arrest

"It unclear to investigating officers why Perez was acting in such an irrational manner.

"There was a so called 'Home Invasion' at 653 State Street in Apartment 4-C. The resident of that apartment claims that a somewhat "known" female knocked on his door to gain entrance. Once the door was opened two masked Hispanic males barged into his apartment demanding money. The 55 year-old victim then claims that he was tied up with an electrical cord and his wallet was stolen with $200.00 cash. The victim states that the robbers were looking for 'more money.' During the incident the victim states that he was cut with a knife. there was a small laceration on his wrist. The female was described an Hispanic, short about 5'02" with medium build, twenties, blonde hair and is known as 'Mari' or 'Maria.' Detective Jeffery Martucci is investigating. The dwelling located at State and Terrance Street is considered a high crime area."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

This clip is from the restored version of Gulliver's Travels from E1 Entertainment now on DVD.

Gulliver's Travels can finally be seen in a version on home video close to its original theatrical look

With the success of “Snow White” in 1937, many Hollywood studios were pondering animated features, but only one producer created such a film – Max Fleischer.

The innovative animation producer who brought Betty Boop and Popeye to the screen was under pressure from his distributor Paramount to make a film in time to be released at Christmas of 1939.

The studio did so and “Gulliver’s Travels” was such a hit that MGM brass mused that perhaps the live action “Wizard of Oz” should have been a cartoon!

The film was sold in the 1950s to a television distributor, which did re-release the movie to theaters, but along the way the film’s copyright was not renewed and it fell into the public domain.

With the advent of home video, dozens of different versions of “Gulliver’s Travels” have been in the marketplace, most often muddy and splicy second generation prints.

Now E1 Entertainment (formerly Koch Entertainment) has released a new “restored” version of the film on a new DVD. The film has clean and crisp image and the color matches – to the best of my memory – to the 35mm Technicolor prints I’ve seen.

As readers of the blog undoubtedly realize I’m very prejudiced when comes to the works of Max Fleischer and his talented studio and I do like “Gulliver’s Travels” a great deal, although it is a film with many flaws.

A simplified and sanitized version of Jonathan Swift’s classic, the film centers on Gulliver settling the differences between two kings who can not agree which national song should be played at the wedding of their children. The musical score is bright and bouncy in the tradition of 1930s musicals and there are some great moments of animation.

The difficulties with the film are the characterizations. The prince and princess who are to be married are simply vehicles for the performances of the national songs. The princess, animated by Grim Natwick who had a reputation for knowing how to put across female characters, is remarkably bland, The prince has only one line of dialogue, which is marred by an inappropriate almost hap-hazard voice.

Gulliver, himself, is a very passive reactive character, only taking action in response to what is going on. He seems in a contact state of bemusement and used the phrase “My, my” way too much.

The nominal star of the show is the obnoxious town crier Gabby who fares much better here than in the series of shorts that followed the feature with him as lead. Much of the humor is supplied y the three spies who are charged with killing the giant.

Perhaps the scene which stops the film dead in its tracks is the one in which Gabby and Gulliver are walking together. Gabby is recounting a tall tale in rhyme with Gulliver responding with “my, my.” The sequence does not to advance the plot or the characters.

The Fleischer staff established the design style of having the little people done as cartoons, while Gulliver is rotoscoped. It was an interesting decision as it separates Gulliver’s world– “the real world” – from that of Lilliput.

While it’s not the studio’s best work – the 20 minute Popeye specials are more entertaining and their second feature “Mr. Bug Goes to Town” is better realized – it’s certainly is charming and has entertainment appeal today. There are scenes of wonderful animation and invention and I’ve always enjoyed the sequences in which Gulliver is captured as well as the one in which he is cleaned up by the townspeople. These scenes continue the Fleischer theme of mechanics that pops up in some many of the studio’s cartoons.

Another great sequence is the outdoor banquet illuminated by firelight with Gulliver’s hand” dancing with the Lilliputians.

There is one troublesome thing though about this new release and that is the film has been formatted for wide screen television event though the original film was not shot in a wide screen format. Although the image is letter-boxed, it technically should be window-boxed – with band of black defining the original screen image. I’m now sure if there is missing image area as I really need to compare it to the original print. It does look much better than any other DVD or VHS tape I’ve seen.

For copyright purposes, there have been extra sound effects added to the film – that way a “new” version has been created. I find these additions to be unnecessary, but at least they are not intrusive.

The film has three extras – two of the subsequent seven-minute shorts featuring the character Gabby from the feature and a segment from a “Popular Science” short that is a mini-documentary about the studio. The two cartoons have been window-boxed but are shown without their credits – a lousy thing for a “restoration” to do – and there is no explanation for the documentary footage.

These complaints aside, this presentation of “Gulliver’s Travels” is the closest I’ve seen on home video to the intent of its creators.

The making of “Gulliver’s Travels”

Max Fleischer had experimented with longer form animation with great success in 1936 with a two-reel special Popeye cartoon for the Christmas season. “Popeye Meets Sinbad the Sailor” had gorgeous color, effective use of the Fleischer 3-D sets and a marvelous script. Exhibitors and audiences loved it, and the studio was preparing another two-reeler for Christmas of 1937. Disney, though, had an 83-minute feature, and Fleischer, his staff and the rest of the film industry wanted to see if audiences would accept a long cartoon.

“Snow White” was released nationally in February of 1938 and its success prompted and announcement from Paramount Pictures. Paramount, Fleischer's distributor, said that Max would be producing a feature for them. They would be fronting some of the production money for Max and also would help Max build a brand-new studio near Miami, Florida. Fleischer had settled a strike in October, and had decided to move his operations from New York to Florida. The Fleischers had vacationed in Florida and the warm climates, generous local tax incentives and lack of union activity appealed to him.

So the studio’s plate was quite full. Max had to produce his studio’s first feature-length cartoon, move the operation from New York to Florida into a new studio he was helping to design and maintain the studio's commitment of short subjects. Disney worked on “Snow White” for five years. Paramount had given Max a release date of Christmas 1939.

During the same period, “Variety” reported that Universal and Walter Lantz would be making his feature debut with an adaptation of “Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp.” This feature apparently never made its past pre-production.

In June, Max signed a contract with Paramount to produce “Gulliver’s Travels.” Like Disney, the Fleischer brothers had chosen a “pre-sold” property that had a certain amount of name recognition. How Jonathan Swift's sometimes bleakly satiric novel would be adapted into a family feature was another problem.

According to a discussion guide prepared for high school teachers by the Educational and Recreations Guides in January 1940, there were several different scripts, several of which had Popeye playing Gulliver. Dave Fleischer had wanted a light Gilbert and Sullivan-style operetta, while Max wanted something closer to Swift – “a truly sociological pictures, retaining the full weight of Swift’s satirical theme with modern implications.”

The final script was publicized as a compromise. The cartoon would have a surplus of music and would have the war between Lilliput and Blefuscu not over which end to open of a hard-boiled egg, but rather their national anthems. If Max's intentions were to actually convey some of Swift's satiric rage, this script was scarcely a compromise. There is little of Swift in the Fleischer's “Gulliver’s Travels.”

Fleischer hired the song-writing team of Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin who had won the Best Song Oscar in 1938 for “Thanks for the Memory” to write the songs for the feature. According to the study guide, Rainger and Robin suggested the musical theme for the war.

Even resident tunesmith Sammy Timburg, whose usual chores were composing and scoring the studio's shorts, got to write a song for the film – perhaps the movie’s biggest hit “It’s a Hap Hap Happy Day.”

Acclaimed composer Victor Young was hired to write the musical score. Young was nominated for 22 Academy Awards during his career, which was cut short by his early death at age 56 in 1956.

The studio then did something that raised a few eyebrows in the film industry. Animation voice actors seldom got credit for their contributions to cartoons and were often fairly anonymous radio actors. The Fleischers signed up two of the nation's most popular radio singing stars, Lanny Ross and Jessica Dragonette to perform the songs sung by the Prince and Princess in the movie. This was the first time any “name” personality had been recruited to do voice work in cartoons.

Ross recalled to me his experience working on GT. He had known Fleischer since they lived in the same building and had accepted the job like any other.

“I was told the Prince was very small, and I thought I should do something the make my voice sound small. So, I stood on my knees in the recording studio,” he said with a laugh. He really didn't receive any direction on how to perform and his contact with the production was minimal. The publicity value, though, of having established performed involved with movie was considerable.

Pinto Colvig, who had done considerable work at the Disney Studio, including creating the voice of Goofy, was recruited to do the voice of Gabby the town crier who discovers Gulliver on the beach. Jack Mercer performed the voice of King Little of Lilliput while Miami radio personality Sam Parker of WIOD did the voice of Gulliver and performed the rotoscoped actions as well.

Although Ross and Dragonette received screen credit, none of the other vocal performers did.

By March of 1939, GT had been laid out, and the studio began hiring additional animators to help with the workload. A half-million drawings were required to produce GT, besides the work necessary to produce the studio's short subjects. Studio veteran Myron Waldman remembers the Fleischers were in a mad rush to hire people, some of who were not qualified as animators. This influx of talent, primarily from the California animation studios, created tension in the studio.

“Many of the people who came from the (west) coast thought they were better than us,” Waldman explained. The studio was still divided because of the strike, and the new additions to the staff didn't help.

There were about 250 original Fleischer employees who made the trip to Miami. That staff grew to about 600 in order to make the production of the feature and the shorts possible.

John Walworth was one of those new additions. Walworth was working at MGM when he was hired away to work on GT. He worked with studio vet Joe Oriolo, who felt insulted that he had to animate some of the many crowd scenes in GT.

“Joe sub-contracted some of these scenes to me to do under the table,” said Walworth with a laugh. “So I did them along with my other work.”

The quality of the animation varies greatly. Some of it was seemed rushed, while other scenes are very good. Waldman attributed this uneven quality to the number of new animators plus the near-impossible schedule. Some of the new animators were amazed the studio didn't do extensive pencil tests as did Disney and there was only one Movieola to view rushes. Critics of the studio have seen the lack of pencil tests as an example of the Fleischer Studio “crudeness.” Certainly Max may not have thought pencil tests were necessary (although one GT pencil test was in the collection of a former Fleischer animator), but perhaps the schedule dictated by Paramount just didn't allow it.

While the movie was being animated, Max was working with Paramount's Harry Royster on the merchandising of GT. Waldman explained that he had gone to Max once and asked why the studio didn't merchandise Betty Boop more.

“He said to me, ‘This is an animated cartoon studio, not a toy factory.’ He didn't want to get into it then,” Waldman said.

Perhaps Fleischer had seen the enormous success of the Disney merchandising and had decided he too wanted to jump on that bandwagon. The Betty Boop material had been minimal and Fleischer had no merchandising rights to Popeye. With the move to Miami impending, Mae Questel decided to stay in Mew York, which helped to kill the Boop series. With Betty Boop gone, Fleischer pinned his merchandising hopes to GT. Paramount's new licensing department arranged for 65 different GT products including dolls, coloring books, a Big Little book and pajamas among others.

With the splash the newly established television industry was making in cities such as New York, Fleischer and Paramount took the unusual step of offering for sale the television and radio rights to the picture. Clearly they were confident GT would be as much as a success as “Snow White.” In huge ad in the June 14, 1939 edition of “Variety,” Paramount trumpeted “The Biggest News of the Screen Year! A Full-Length Feature Cartoon Completely Filmed in Color!” With most movies in black and white and with only one other color feature-length cartoon existing, GT was indeed special.

By August, both the new studio in Florida and the feature were reaching completion. The film’s budget had gone over the expected $900,000 mark and was to reach approximately $1.5 million. The Miami press welcomed the new studio as Florida had often attempted to become the "Hollywood of the East," and the studio was the subject of a number of stories on Oct. 9, 1939.

The recruitment of animators brought two former Fleischer animators back to the studio. Both Grim Natwick and Shamus Culhane had done considerable work at the Disney Studio, and now accepted Max's offer to work on GT. Culhane was given crowd scenes to animate upon his arrival.

“Mob shots. I came in right at the end of the picture and they had a whole mess of them waiting for the very end of the job. I got things like the whole crowd is waving at Gulliver as he leaves...Jesus Christ!... after being a specialist working on ‘Snow White’ I get stuck with this junk to do. But because of my background by that time I could do it very well, but it was a pain in the ass. I hadn't done that kind of thing since a started at Walt's,” Culhane remembered.

Natwick recalled the casual atmosphere of the studio. He was given Dave Fleischer's office to use while directing his 1,000 feet of GT. Natwick offered his assessment of the differences between Fleischer and Disney.

“Max did something so very different. They were two different people. Disney was a Yankee, coming from several generations of Americans. I believe Fleischer was probably the first generation...And they (the Fleischers) were American in every sense of the word. Disney had this in-bred thing that he didn't have to think about doing something, but the Fleischers did. They accepted exactly as it was in the society in which they lived. And they grew up in the Jazz Age, and their cartoons are jazz cartoons.

“Disney had an aristocratic studio. Actually at Fleischer's I never had a room of my own. There were one or two or three big rooms with one desk sitting behind another. But at Disney, we had private rooms, and they had a little buffet service. If you wanted a drink of pop or something or an apple to eat, you could phone the girl downstairs and it would be brought up, by errand boy,” Natwick said.

In the Dec. 6, 1939 edition of “Variety,” Max announced this studio would produce another feature, as he was quite confident of the success of GT. A Spanish-language version was prepared for Latin and South American markets and 41 prints would be available for Christmas Day release with another 50 ready for New Year’s Day.

Paramount planned a massive advertising campaign designed to have a penetration of 60 million people. Full color ads were scheduled for “The Saturday Evening Post,” “Life” and “Good Housekeeping,” a first for productions from the Fleischer Studios.

“Good Housekeeping” did a lavish spread on the film in its Feb. 1940 edition, providing a first person – but fanciful– look at the creation of the film’s story. Supposedly a re-creation of the story sessions that led to the script and characterizations, the story is interesting in that it depicts Max interacting with Bill Turner on plot details. There is no mention of Dave Fleischer, the credited director of the feature, in the story.

The film had truly put a strain on the Fleischer staff. Not only did the staff have to move from its home in New York City to a new facility in Miami, but the contracted schedule of short subjects also had to be maintained.

Cartoons and features in the studio’s “Flipper” magazine in its December 1939 edition referenced the workload. Seymour Reit, the creator of Casper the Friendly Ghost, wrote the following poem for the “Flipper:”
“A Song of Impatience
“The feature’s finished,
The feature’s done
Work is over and worry’s begun
Come bite your nails,
Come tear your hair,
Come harry the gods in hysterical prayer.

“We mumble morosely,
All joy we despise
As we watch the growth of rings ‘neath our eyes
And we wait for the day that
The critic unravels
The wondrous merits of ‘Gulliver’s Travels.

“Hark! Winchell and Fidler
and Nugent and all!
When ‘Gulliver’ opens,
Heed promptly the call.
We know it’s a ‘wow
And we’re sure it will click,
But hurry, we beg you, and tell us that quick!”

The Miami premiere of GT was Dec. 18, 1939. Paramount officials, Florida politicians, members of the Miami social elite and entertainment figures met at the Sheridan and Colony theaters for the screening. A special police unit held back a crowd straining behind rope barricades hoping for a glimpse of the rich and famous, according to a contemporary newspaper account. Overhead, a balloon floated carrying a banner for the film.

One publicity feature was an appearance by Gulliver himself. No, not Sam Parker, but a nearly seven-foot –tall unidentified man decked out in a Gulliver costume.

The next day, The Miami Herald reported on a congratulatory luncheon attended by Lanny Ross, Jessica Dragonette, Paramount executives and local officials. Max said, “Eighteen months ago when the decision was made to produce ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ as a feature, we faced some very real problem. For example, more than two years is required to produce an animated cartoon feature in color and sound, provided one has a large enough staff sufficiently experienced and coordinated to do the work.

“When we started this picture we lacked space, manpower and the machinery for feature work. We only had one and half years instead of two years in which to build, move, organize, equip and complete the picture by Christmas 1939.”

Although Max added some humorous remarks, his message was clear: GT had been an almost impossible task.

While the public made GT one of the top moneymaking films of the year, the critics were less than impressed. Frank Nugent of The New York Times dismissed the film as a “fairy tale for children, “ calling “Snow White “a fairy tale for adults. Although entertaining, GT was not up to the Disney standard, he added.

“Variety” was more positive. “An excellent job of animation, audience interest and all-around showmanship,” it reported.

The film could have surpassed the box office it did if there hadn’t been a war in Europe, where it was argued Swift’s book was even better known.

The Gabby character was deemed popular enough to be the star of his own series of eight cartoons in the 1940 to 41 season. Although there are some laughs in the shorts, Gabby was too grating a character to be a long-lasting star.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

The following is one of the two Gabby shorts on the new DVD, although this is not from the DVD.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sorry about the delay in posting, but I’ve been ill.

Mark “Dogboy,” his lovely wife Kathy and their nephew Mark joined Mary and I for a screening of “Watchmen” on Saturday afternoon and the result was Mary and Kathy hating the film – Mary declaring it the worst film he has ever seen – with nephew Mark also expressing his loathing.

Dogboy gave it a qualified thumbs up and for me it joined the ranks of films I’ve glad to have seen but never want to see again.

Here’s the problem with the film: it is a very close adaptation which means, as my buddy Steve Bissette pointed out in a post-game wrap-up between us, means it has all of the comic book’s weaknesses as well as its strengths.

The principal strength of the book was Moore’s amping up the superhero with feet of clay that Stan Lee and company had done so well with at Marvel for the 20 years that preceded Moore’s comic. I’m sure when “Watchmen” debuted, people snickered about Nite Owl being a slightly disguised Batman. After “The Dark Knight,” though, revisionist views of the character ended this titillation.

The problem is that while comic book fans can appreciate what Moore did, movie fans have already seen plenty of films with flawed heroes. The question is whether or not “Watchmen” can appeal to an audience outside the core fanboys. My guess is no. The film first fails in setting up characters with which most audience members can identify. When the twisted abuse case Rorschach is the most likable guy in the bunch, you know you have a problem.

The movies also fails in satisfying questions about who these characters are, why they are superheroes, what are their powers – other than wearing a costumed and beating the crap out of people or shooting them. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias was super.

Are these nit-picking concerns –perhaps, but this is a superhero movie and people are expecting certain narrative elements, such as a description of the characters.

The gore in the film was completely unjustified. To me “Watchman” is both a violent story in action, but even more violent story in emotion. There was no need for director Zack Snyder to show gore scenes.

The famed giant alien squid is missing at the end for a conclusion that is more logical, but still ultimately depressing. Ozymandias must destroy the village to save it, which to me isn’t a sign of hope and new beginnings, but a power grab. Am I supposed to feel some relief the world is now at peace?

Although the film is beautifully realized, it is a museum piece at delivery and an example of a director and screenwriter who failed to see the shortcomings of “the world’s greatest graphic novel.”

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Friday, March 06, 2009

Did you get your television converter box yet? I suppose admitting that you had to shell out $60 or so is some sort of admission that you re a Luddite holding onto antiquated technology.

Don't worry. I'm not judgmental.

I mean, come on: rabbit ears in the digital age? Do you remember constantly adjusting those things when you were a kid based on the station? How holding the antenna always made the picture better so you would try to con your little brother into doing that while you watched your favorite show? How about the creative use of aluminum foil wrapped between the ears to improve the antenna?

Did your dad ever get up on the roof to adjust the big attenna and you or your mom had to watch the set to shout instructions out of the window?

And don't get me started about having no remote control in those days and actually having to get up and turn a dial to switch channels " the horror, the horror!

Remember TV Guide and other listings of shows? In the pre-cable era, you actually planned what you watched by looking at the listings. You then got off your ass and changed the channel at the right time. There was no "clicker" and no scanning endlessly searching for something to watch.

Well, everything has changed with cable, satellite and TIVO devices.

I made the switch to satellite a number of years ago and have had no issues with it other than I neglected to get a new dish installed so I could get the local channels.

I was watching movies on Oscar Sunday and realized I would have to pry myself out of my La-Z-Boy to go to a Radio Shack and buy a converter box so we could watch the Oscars later that night.

I knew I was going to have to buy one box for a little television in the bedroom that isn t attached to the satellite system, so I didn t feel too guilty about my procrastination.

I made the purchase, hitched the thing up and entered the brave new age of free broadcasting.

It was fascinating to see this new technology completely messed up by the wind. The Oscar show's picture broke up and lost sound constantly because there was a steady wind outside. I should note we never have problems with the satellite signal unless there's damn near a hurricane going on.

Some local stations had an image that filled our set, while others had a window-boxed image and still others had a letter-boxed one. Naturally for the best image I needed to buy a new television set. I realized later I could play with the picture by pressing the "zoom" button on the remote control.

Overall I wasn t impressed and wondered if I needed to wrap some aluminum foil around my rabbit ears. I bet someone will be selling a new and improved digital antenna. Probably Billy Mays will be the pitchman.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Thursday, March 05, 2009

So it's been a week plus a day since I last posted and my only excuse is the demands of the paying job and fatigue, but I have to overcome those elements to push on...

So here's to pushing on...

Chris Collins posted my hour of radio on the WHMP Web site and here it is approximately. You have to scroll down and you'll see it. Honest. And then you can listen, if you like.

I'm going to try to post the broadcast later this week here on this blog.

I'm going to see "Watchmen" this weekend and I've finally read what many people have described as "the greatest graphic novel of all time."


It's a fine piece of work in many ways. I like the concept of basing superheroes in a "real" world. I like the grit. I like the additional texts that give the story and its characters greater depth. Dave Gibbon's art is acceptable although there is a cramped feeling as if Gibbons had to force into the format of the comic books a whole lot more content than he should have.

The subplot of "The Black Freighter" though seemed wholly unnecessary and arty with an capital A. It distracts from the story.

And that ending: The world is shocked into peace by the appearance of a man-made manufactured space octopus that manages to kill millions of people in New York City? I read that section correctly, right?

This was parody, correct? A reference to all of those Stan Lee- Jack Kirby monster comics, right? No, Moore, now described as being " one of the most powerful minds" on the planet, was so desperate for an ending that he cobbled together that device?

It must have been an off day for the super genius. Sorry, but when a book is sold as "the greatest" and its writer allows himself to be described as having "one of the most powerful minds" known to man at the present than I expect a little better ending to an epic piece than a giant alien murderous octopus – a device that not only gives the world peace but justifies the existence of of the banned superheroes in the future. After all they might be able to keep other giant space mollusks from attacking earth.

I'm only going to the film because Moore is making a dime off of it – his choice. I wouldn't want to support a guy who treats his co-creators in the way that he has done to more than one.

I'll post a review on Sunday – like five million other blogging fan boys.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs