Sunday, November 27, 2011


There is a wealth of previously hard to see Flesicher shorts on youtube. Enjoy with the knowledge there are some politically incorrect gags and depictions sprinkled among these shorts.

I had seen another version of this short that had clearly been censored. Myron Waldman told me there had been trouble with this Screen Song.

The Mills Brothers were fantastic and this is one of my favorite Screen Songs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Two recent events have propelled the subject for this blog post, although I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time.

I recently interviewed and wrote about my friend Jen Schwartz who recently released a new album. Jen and I had a discussion about the business side of being an independent musician today and the challenge of actually getting building an audience. Go here to learn more about Jen's new music.

I also recently spoke at the Center for Cartoon Studies about the history and motivation behind adapting comic books and strips to another medium. After the class, several students approached me and for another half hour we spoke about the difficulties in getting new comics to potential markets.

In the comic book fields this is nothing new. When I worked at Kevin Eastman’s publishing company, Tundra, in the early 1990s doing marketing and public relations, I quickly realized that in the comics industry the big question was whether or not you were trying to appeal to the reader to buy the book or to the shop to stock the book.

Back then though there were several distributors serving the direct sales market – comic book shops and subscriptions services – and all of them were willing, in the light of the out of left field success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to consider independent product.

Now there is essentially one distributor undergoing financial problems and unwilling to accept independent titles.

Comics and music share some marketing characteristics. Within these two pop culture genres, it was certainly possible for an independent to gain exposure and shelf space, but that chance has dwindled.

Consider that there used to be enough independent retailers in both categories who could be approached to take a chance. Consider there used to be enough music radio stations that were programmed locally that a band could approach directly with a record.

Consider as well there used to be magazines that served a common points for fans of a particular type of pop culture and the stories and the reviews they ran could help elevate an artist.

The glaring irony is that while digital technology has made the creation of comics, music and film music much more easier, the Web has not ensured easy access to an audience.

The Web is narrowcasting to an extreme. While a creator can launch a site, tie it into Facebook and Twitter one still has to find it. If you do not have a lot of name recognition, how do you get people to it?

I think we have to think as much old school as new school.

For new comics creators, there is no replacement at this point for actually working conventions, handing out some sort of freebie with your Web and social media info and hawking your wares. Make sure that every other independent has copies of your books and info. Form collaborations to lower the costs of tables and trade table space.

What the independent comics scene needs at this point is a monthly comics reader, not unlike the Utne Reader, only for new comics. Screw comic book shop distribution for this publication. It needs to be in bookstores and magazines shops to reach the readers who would like this material but would never take the time to find it for themselves in a comic book shop.

Select ten or so new comics people and run their stuff over the course of a year. Don’t run a serial unless it is completely finished. Keep it back and white and print the thing as a tabloid newspaper to save costs.

Like any magazine, though, it would have to make its money on advertising, which means the comics reflect a “Big Bang” lifestyle – the whole nerd/geek chic thing with ads for shoes, t-shirts, energy drinks, etc.

What my musician friend Jen is doing is using the Web and social media in a wise and aggressive manner, but she, too, is old school. She is forming a band and will get gigs to help sell CDs and spread the word on her music.

This, by the way, is exactly how rockers back in the ‘50s and ‘60s sold records and built their careers.

The Web is a wonderful way to distribute content, but only if people know the content is there to start.

If was advising someone today, I would stress the importance of having a web site, a Facebook account and a Twitter feed. But I would also tell them they have to have a business card, an elevator pitch and be willing to sell their content; work a table at a convention, seek publicity about themselves in newspapers and stage events that could attract the eye of an audience and television coverage.

Hey, you know I am for hire.

I think people are beginning to grasp that as “virtual” as people believe they are, the market conditions today compel people to realize that nothing can truly replace old-fashioned one-on-one personal contact.

© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, November 07, 2011

DVD reviews!

The Troll Hunter

While the way that writer/director André Øvredal tells his story — in the found-footage format similar to “The Last Broadcast” and “The Blair Witch Project” — is not new, the story he tells is new.

A group of university students in Norway is trying to do a video production on the spate of recent illegal killings of bears. The government-approved hunters point the young video crew in the direction of a mysterious loner named Hans (Otto Jespersen) who lives in a very funky looking — and smelling — trailer.

They follow him up into the woods and witness for themselves what this guy really kills: trolls.

It seems that trolls as big as four-story houses are real and the Norwegian government has managed to set up a preserve for them. When these monsters break out of their area, Hans the troll hunter is called in to kill them or drive them back where they belong.

This is a deep dark secret and Hans’ boss is responsible for creating cover stories for the media to explain the damage done by the trolls.

At first, Hans tries to get rid of the students, but then he decides to let them tag along to the horror of his boss.

“The Troll Hunter” manages to be funny at times and then can quickly shift to frightening. A great example of this style is when the group is trapped in an abandoned mine that is the home of a group of trolls. They must endure being holed up — literally — with their way blocked by a flatulent sleeping troll. The humor turns to horror when one of the students panics and the trolls attack.

I love originality in movies and “The Troll Hunter” is one of the most interesting new films I’ve seen in a long time.

The version that is now available is dubbed, although I watched a subtitled DVD because I enjoy hearing the real voices of the actors.

A ton of television

I find it fascinating the way people watch television programs these days: on their computer through a number of different websites, recorded from their cable systems, streamed through Netflix, on demand from their cable systems and on DVD.

Is anyone actually watching television in the old school manner?

There are now dozens and dozens of series making their way onto DVD and I’ve written about quite of number of them so far. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve received a small pile of them.

So, let’s do a lightening round of comments.

I realize that sex sells, but I couldn’t imagine that “Holly’s World, The Complete Seasons One and Two” and “Kendra, Seasons Two and Three” would really make it to the tops of the sales charts.

The initial appeal of these two women was due to their status as Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends — whatever that really means — but now we get to see how they fare outside the walls of the mansion.

Take them away from the geezer in the pajamas and they are a lot less interesting. Ho hum.

My problem is I find both of them boring. Holly Madison is starring in a Las Vegas burlesque show – OK, she has to work, big deal! Kendra Baskett is married and a mother, as are many people.

The History Channel does have two of my favorite reality shows: “Pawn Stars” and “American Pickers” and each show is out in a new season compilation.

What I like about each program is that I enjoy rummaging around tag sales and flea markets myself, looking for some odd artifact and here are folks who do this for a living. I learn a lot from the shows and even tolerate the drama between the various participants that is supposed to add some entertainment value. I could easily do without Chumlee, the “comic relief” of “Pawn Stars.”

“Top Shot Reloaded” is essentially a kind of sports show for The History Channel. Here we have a group of world-class marksmen — and women — who are challenged each week as they try to work their way to a $100,000 prize. If target shooting is an interest, this show is well worth watching.

Now a real television show to savor on DVD is Denis Leary’s magnum opus of “Rescue Me,” with the sixth season now available.

I like Leary’s work a lot and thought the series he created that preceded this one, “The Job,” was brilliant. “The Job” only lasted one season, though, and Leary has had far better luck with his hard-edged comic approach with “Rescue Me.”

In “The Job,” Leary was a troubled cop and here he is a New York City firefighter who is battling considerable person demons.

Because of the many characters and intersecting storylines, I’d recommend seeing previous seasons first just to catch up, but “Rescue Me” is superior television.

The Honeymooners Lost Episodes 1951 to 1957

When comedian Jackie Gleason performed the first “Honeymooners” sketch in 1951 as part of a weekly show “The Cavalcade of Stars,” I’m sure few people would have predicted the kind of the success Ralph and Alice Kramden would enjoy 60 years later.

Yet in 2011, it’s clear to see the comic genius of Gleason, his cast and writers. Today when so many sitcoms rely on gimmicks or staid formulas, “The Honeymooners” have remained fresh with characters that are believable and funny.

For the younger people reading this column, Gleason has been a moderately successful comic on stage and in a handful of movies, who found his true medium — television. He created many characters on his long-running show, but his most enduring was Ralph Kramden, a bus driver who lives with his wife Alice (Audrey Meadows) in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn.

Ralph is desperately insecure and constantly jumps to conclusions. He is always seeking ways to hit it big and yearns to be a big shot. Alice has got the common sense in the family and is more than Ralph’s equal when he goes on one of his frequent tirades.

Ralph’s best friend, Ed Norton (Art Carney), lives with his wife Trixie (Joyce Randolph) in the same building. Norton is a comic original — a combination of child-like innocence and wise savvy.

I was shocked at just how well developed the characters were in the very first skit. Gleason and his first Alice (Pert Kelton) had their roles down cold and were immediately believable as they fought over whether or not Ralph was going down to the deli to pick up a loaf of bread.

This is character driven comedy at its finest, and this DVD collection brings together on 15 discs all of “The Honeymooners” skits known to exist, with the exception of the 39 half-hour episodes Gleason produced as a stand-alone show in 1955 television season.

At the time Gleason produced his first skit, sitcoms were more likely to feature a knowing wife and a clueless husband. The difference is that in “The Honeymooners,” the husband was prone to rage and the wife dished it out as well as he did. People may have fought like that in real life, but characters on television did not.

By the end of the first episode, though, it was clear these two people truly loved each other, despite their failings.

This humanity made Ralph and Alice seem very real to audiences, then as well as now.

This collection also features an informative booklet on the history of the show and a great collection of extras, including two parodies of “The Honeymooners,” one starring Jack Benny in the Gleason role and the other featuring Peter Lorre as Ralph.

If you have a “Honeymooner” fan in your family, this should be high up on your holiday gift list.

The Captains

William Shatner started out as a serious actor on the stage in his native Canada. He became well known to American audiences in the 1950s and ‘60s with frequent guest-starring roles on television, movie appearances and starring roles on Broadway.

Then he accepted the role of Captain Kirk on the original “Star Trek” and his life changed.

For more than 40 years — during which Shatner has seen additional success in show business as well as being the object of adoration for millions of “Star Trek” fans — the actor has apparently nursed an unresolved issue over being identified as Kirk. Apparently he can’t reconcile the “serious” nature of his early career and the promise it had with his post-“Star Trek” life.

To try to deal with this nagging conflict, the actor interviewed every other actor who has appeared as the star — and commanding officers — of a “Star Trek” series or movie to see how playing the part changed them. Shatner spoke with Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bacula, Avery Brooks, Chris Pine and Sir Patrick Stewart.

That’s the subject of “The Captains,” the new documentary written and directed by Shatner. This production seemed to be an extension of the interview shows Shatner has done in the last several years.

As a fan, I found the interviews, with the exception of the one with Brooks, pretty interesting. Mulgrew is very candid in first admitting she really had no idea who Shatner was when she starred in her “Star Trek” series and said her children have never forgiven her for accepting the job, as the brutal work schedule kept her away for years of their childhood.

Stewart spoke earnestly about making the transition between being a renowned Shakespearean actor to a starship captain, while Bacula spoke about how much Shatner had been an influence on him.

Brooks doesn’t address any of the issues brought forth in the other interviews and instead spouts off some strained philosophical blather while seated at a piano. I wondered if he was pulling Shatner’s leg. Of course, I’ve long wondered if Shatner’s wacky self-indulgent and ironic public personality is a well-played parody itself.

At the end, Shatner came to grips with his alter ego – no surprise. In the hands of a lesser egomaniac or eccentric, this film would come across as a huge vanity project. With Shatner at the helm, though, it’s oddly endearing at times.

Die-hard “Star Trek” fans will need to see “The Captains.”


I never saw “The Pianist,” mainly because I no longer watch films by director Roman Polanski as I have a moral dilemma about supporting the work of a pedophile. So, I missed the performance that earned Adrien Brody an Oscar for best male performance.

Since then, I have watched a number of his films, and aside from the remake of “King Kong” in which he was terribly miscast, he has impressed me.

What is also significant is his willingness to do work such as the vastly entertaining “Predators” and the envelope pushing “Splice” that other Academy Award winners would avoid.

Certainly, this new film on DVD falls into that category. It’s a low budget thriller that is essentially a one-man show for Brody.

Brody plays an unnamed man who wakes up finding himself in the front seat of a car that has crashed into a deep-forested ravine. He is injured. He has a gun. There is another passenger in the car who is dead.

He has no memory of what has happened.

Brody’s character must first extricate himself from the wreck and he discovers he has a severely injured leg. He also discovers a backpack filled with money in the car’s trunk.

He still doesn’t know what happened, but there is enough charge left in the car’s battery to hear a radio broadcast and a news report about a bank robbery. A name he eventually recognizes as his own is mentioned.

This film teases the audience in the best way. We don’t know the story and since the character has suffered from a concussion, we don’t know what is real and what is imagined.

This film is a first feature-length effort for director Michael Greenspan and he does well setting up the confusion and terror felt by the man. Christopher Dodd’s screenplay kept me involved and guessing.

And Brody turns in a great performance as a person trying to survive and to recall what event put him in this situation.

For a solid and different thriller, try “Wrecked.”

The Trip

I love British comedy and what little I’ve seen of Brit comic superstar Steve Coogan he is capable of being pretty funny.

This film has a premise that undermines the limited laughs it presents and will be a challenge for American audiences. Context in humor is everything.

Coogan plays a version of himself — an aging comic superstar beset with numerous insecurities — who is asked by a British magazine to tour the north of England and eat in upscale restaurants for an article.

Coogan wants to take his American girlfriend on the trip, but she is back in the United States. Instead he chooses friend and fellow comedian Rob Brydon. Brydon is happily married and is satisfied with his career.

Coogan can’t stand that Brydon is happy and views Brydon as a sidekick rather than star — a view Brydon doesn’t share. The two men alternate between arguing with one another, competing with impersonations and improvising bits as they drive from one eatery to another. Some of these scenes are funny and some fell flat because they referenced British entertainment figures I didn’t know.

The film plays with the professional and personal reputations of both performers. Brydon’s version of himself is quite likable, while Coogan is the epitome of a vain superstar. The fact they are playing versions of themselves is a bit precious.

I had to research Coogan on the Internet to understand the parody of himself he was presenting.

Director Michael Winter-bottom presented the film as a fictional narrative despite the fact the subject is supposed to be more of a semi-fake documentary. The playing with formats added greater confusion for me.

The few laughs the film generated — my wife noted I laughed five times — didn’t justify the time it took to watch it.

© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Thursday, November 03, 2011

RIP Richard Gordon

Haunted Strangler

This is a difficult piece to write as the journalist in me is trying arrange the facts in a logical sequence, but the memories are spilling out of my head in a haphazard way. On one hand I want to write an entertaining piece about my friend Richard Gordon. On the other, I want to cry.

Other than my father, there have been two men I’ve known who’ve made a profound and positive impression on me: the late animator and artist Myron Waldman and movie producer Richard Gordon, who passed away at the age of 85 on Nov.1.

Richard – or Dick to his friends – was the almost last of the independent producers of low-budget horror and science fiction films who rose to prominence in the 1950s. His only contemporary who is still alive is Roger Corman. Like Corman, Dick never really retired and maintained an office from which he made deals to keep his films and the ones he represented on television and on home video.

Although he refused to upgrade to a computer – he steadfastly stuck to his electric typewriter, telephone and fax machine for his business – he sold licenses to put several of his films on the AMC website.

First Man into Space

I met Dick at a Cinefest in Syracuse NY in either 1984 or ’85. A friend of mine at the time had been corresponding with his older brother Alex – also a film producer – who was also at the three-day film festival and he convinced a group of us that we should make the four-hour drive to Syracuse to meet Alex.

We did that and met Alex and Dick, who were amazingly gracious gentlemen. One of our group, an ardent Bela Lugosi fan, knew that Alex and Dick befriended Lugosi and that Alex had written a Lugosi vehicle for Ed Wood, “Bride of the Monster.” The fan asked Alex who was a better actor: Lugosi or Boris Karloff, and I saw the first instance of Alex’s skillful diplomacy as he somehow dodged giving a potentially disappointing answer.

I interviewed Alex for a radio show I was hosting at the time and made arrangement to meet Dick in his office in New York City for an interview. Again, he was the epitome of an English gentleman and we became friends.

Dick and Alex were movie fans down to their DNA. As kids in their native England they were the heads, respectively of the country’s Buster Crabbe fan club and Gene Autry fan club. Alex eventually worked for Autry in several capacities. Dick had an over-sized portrait of Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless from Crabbe’s Flash Gordon serials that Dick received as a boy. It was personally inscribed to him.

World War II interrupted their plans – both were in the British military – and the brothers came to the United States in 1947 to pursue a career in film. Dick once told me that his father urged him to go if that it was what he wanted to do.

Dick and Alex were among the first filmmakers who were movie fans. They were probably the first fan boys who made that leap to be successful participants.

Island of Terror

They both sought to make movies with people they admired and subjects that interested them as fans. Alex was the first producer to cast his films with his own favorite actors – something long before Quinton Tarantino ever did.

Dick and Alex both had a razor sharp memory when it came movies. Dick could recount not only details about a film he saw as a kid, but could tell you where he saw it. His taste in movies was quite broad. Fluent in German, Dick was very knowledgeable in German cinema from the silent period through the present. On the other hand, if you had a B-western to give him, he would welcome that with a smile.

I would always visit Dick every time I was in New York and he was there. He was a very active traveler for many years and he liked to go on tours of foreign counties, always some place new, but if he was in-town, we would get together for lunch or dinner.

The annual Cinefest, though, was the chance to spend greater time with him and to watch movies together. He could be quite critical of the varied offerings at the festival, which specialized in American and British films from the silent era through 1950. I never saw him walk out of a film, but he could certainly roast something he didn’t like.

Over an often-mediocre meal at the hotel dining room at the festival, Alex and Dick would tell stories about their films. I wish I had recorded them. For instance, both men were fairly critical of the movie “Ed Wood,” as Alex had been an intimate of the notorious director and Dick knew Lugosi very well. They strenuously objected to the scene in which Lugosi called Karloff a “cocksucker.” They said Lugosi would have never used such language.

Dick was never a name-dropper, but as he spoke he would continually surprise me. I never knew he had tried to set up a film deal for legendary director Fritz Lang. He told me how Lang had introduced himself to Dick’s secretary as “Dr. Mabuse,” the super-villain he had created for several memorable films.

Fiend Without a Face

I was also a little shocked that William Burroughs had offered Dick the screen rights to his notoriously un-filmable novel “Naked Lunch.” Dick met the author through theater owner and director Antony Balch with whom Dick made two movies, “Horror Hospital” and “Bizarre.”

One of the best dinners was the one time my wife Mary came to Cinefest. We dined with Dick and two of his directors, Norman J. Warren who helmed “Inseminoid” and Radley Metzger who made “The Cat and The Canary.” They all showered Mary with attention and performed a bit of roast on each other.

I once asked Dick why he had never attempted to license merchandise for any of his films. There had been some novelizations of his movies in paperback, but I thought he was missing the boat with the horror craze of the 1980s and ‘90s. He looked at me and said, “Why don’t you do it?”

I had fun and a little success. I still have the life-sized “Fiend Without a Face” brain monster that one guy made each of us as a prototype.

The Cat and the Canary

Dick’s last venture as a filmmaker was his acquisition of a short – a ghost story from 1953 called “Return to Glennascaul” – featuring Orson Welles. Dick filmed a new introduction for the film with director Peter Bogdanovich and managed to get it out on video.

He really wanted to see a new version of “Fiend,” which was best remembered film and several people wrote script and took out options. The “fiend” did appear, however, in the film “Loony Tunes: Back in Action,” thanks to director Joe Dante.

At one point there was a hint that a publisher might be interested in a novel based on the film. Steve Bissette and I came up with an outline for a sort of a sequel and Dick was appalled. We had one scene in which the brain monsters were gathered in the woods around a campfire with the one human they had taken a collective liking to!

So, we tried again. I worked on the second draft and tried to solve some problems set up in the film that modern audiences just wouldn’t accept. I remember very proudly that Dick was extremely pleased with it. The intended publisher was no longer interested apparently in such projects and the book quickly faded away. In a way, I didn’t care. The one audience I truly cared about pleasing was happy with what I had done.

Tower of Evil

Why was Dick’s career so long? I think that one thing that contributed to it was an economy of scale. Richard never expressed an interest in having a studio or producing multiple movies at a time. Each film received a lot of attention from him.

Dick’s career extended years beyond his being an active producer because he had the foresight to ask for the return of the rights of his films once the initial theatrical release was completed.

I would call or visit Dick and he would tell me how he had sold films to a German DVD distributor or how he managed to get his movies onto French television. His sole complaint in later years was that younger show business executives had no idea who Boris Karloff was, much less the stars of his other films.

Corridors of Blood

The appeal of Dick’s films could be seen in their almost constant availability on home video. When one license was up, he successfully sought another. The esteemed Criterion Collection was among the licensees and the company released a boxed set of three of Dick’s films and one produced by his brother Alex.

I had asked Dick several times to write a book about him and Alex. He always turned me down partly because he was really a very private person and partly, as he told me, he didn’t want to produce a book that would have stories that were hurtful to people.

Months prior to his death, Richard collaborated on a book on his career with Tom Weaver, who was not only a friend but had interviewed him many times. I’m glad was able to get him to speak about his career and I need to buy the book myself. The last time I saw him, Dick had told me not to do so as he would have a copy for me. Go here for more info.


I saw Dick in June this year. He had been in the hospital with heart problems and he was a little frail. I was concerned, but glad to see him. He wanted to have dinner with me and asked if it was acceptable if I would come with another friend of his. Naturally, I said yes.

We took a cab to Greenwich Village to a French restaurant that was opposite from the French restaurant that was our destination, Dick explained it was his habit – and he was a creature of habit – to go to the first establishment to have a drink at the bar. He loved Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry and he said the place was one of the few bars in the city that still served it.

I drank a bourbon, and we then had a great meal at the restaurant where Dick had been dining once a month or so since the late 1950s.

We took a cab back to mid-town and walked Dick to his apartment.

This weekend I would like to reserve some time on the couch and watch some of his movies. And perhaps have a little sherry in his memory.

Thanks Dick.

© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs