Friday, August 26, 2016

µ-Blog – Bette Davis vs Brangelina

µ-Blog – Too long to tweet, too short to call a real post

The following showed up in my Facebook feed recently. It was quoted from a famous Hollywood feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford:

REPORTER: Miss Davis, is it true that Joan Crawford would sleep with the producer in order to get a good part? 
BETTE DAVIS: My dear! Joan Crawford would sleep with the producer to get a good part -- in her HAIR!

Oh my God, that is so much better anything from any modern celebrity feud.

Bette Davis: A gazillion
Brangelina: Nil

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Remember the Alamo???

Yesterday, I was out and saw the most odd bit of graffiti I think I have ever seen in my life. It was written on the side of a building that houses a thrift shop. Why would anyone write a graffiti message that was the battle cry harkening from an event that happened 180 years ago, Remember the Alamo. It just didn't make any sense. Maybe if I was in Texas, there would be some modern but now defunct thing named the Alamo that needs to be remembered. But I'm here in San Diego, and we don't exactly embrace things, Texan. I can only think of two explanations for this anomaly.

Possibility 1 is that somewhere in Texas in the 1830s, a Texican with the rage from the Battle of the Alamo still hot in his blood managed to step into some space-time displacement portal. He was transported both through time and geographically through space to San Diego in 2016. Confused and disoriented, he still feels the need to spread to the word about the infamous event at the Alamo. He would have money, coins very likely, which could be sold as antiques or for the value of silver or gold they are made from and converted to modern currency. Using this modern currency, he could buy a Sharpie and inscribe the message that is burning in his heart. 

Possibility 2 is that a modern person, a supporter of a certain billionaire presidential candidate, has been listening the hateful rhetoric of this candidate. This person has come to think that the problems in this country are not caused by the very rich manipulating the system to give them advantages ordinary people could never dream of. This person has come to think that our current woes are caused by Latino immigrants coming across our Southern border and is using, Remember the Alamo, as a way of protesting this.

I like to think that Possibility 1 is the reason for the graffiti. I'll admit that time travel seems highly unlikely. But someone adopting a nearly two-century-old catch phase as a way of shifting the blame from the very rich to the lowest rung of our society seems equally bizarre to me. I hope that Texican manages to find his way back to where he came from.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Well, That Explains Reno

Note this post does contain spoilers on the 1934 Pre-Code film, This Man is Mine. It's a great film, well worth watching. While I do give away plot details, I don't think it would ruin your enjoyment. It's more how things unfold that make it good rather than what actually happens.

As a classic movie person, I'm well aware of the significance of Reno, Nevada, in old movies. In short, Reno means divorce.  Much of what I know about divorce in the first half of the 20th Century comes from old movies, specifically, The Women. Most of the major characters in The Women go to Reno to get their divorces, and divorce is a major theme in the film.

I honestly don't know what the Hays Office (Motion Picture Production Code) had to say on divorce. Clearly, it was openly mentioned as in The Women. His Girl Friday also refers to Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant being divorced, with Rosalind Russell speaking of spending six weeks in Reno. All I know is that when I'm watching an old movie, if Reno is mentioned, I know that means divorce.

I remember one time watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a non-classic movie friend. At one point, he asked me, "Wait, a second, I thought she was married." I had to explain that she also said she had just got back from Reno (code for divorce). Well, I always assumed that divorce was illegal in most states (it may have been in some states), but obviously not in Nevada. 

This morning, I was watching a Pre-Code film, This Man is Mine, and learned something new about divorce in the 1930s. In the film, Ralph Bellamy is married to Irene Dunne. Bellamy has an affair with an old flame (Constance Cummings) and asks Irene Dunne for a divorce. Irene Dunne says, she will give him the divorce, but only if they wait six months (figuring that Constance Cummings will move on to someone else in that time). 

Toward the end of the movie, Irene Dune changes her mind and decides to get the divorce. But instead of going to Reno, she files for divorce in New York. It is clear from the ensuing dialog that New York divorce is quite a different animal than a Reno divorce. A New York divorce meant a trial and witnesses and proof of infidelity, specifically dragging Constance Cummings character's name through the mud as the other woman. 

I assume that most normal people at the time couldn't afford a Reno divorce. Then again, the newspapers wouldn't care when Joe the plumber got a divorce. However, they would care for a wealthy society person, and the details would be quite a scandal for public figures. Hence, the Reno divorce, not a legal necessity, but a way of ending a marriage without all of the sordid details being made public. This is a nuance that I had never known before. 

Apparently, this was a nuance that my wife was unaware too. "Well, that explains Reno," she said as we were watching it unfold. That explains Reno, indeed.

Monday, August 22, 2016

µ-Blog – TCM/Ball State Slapstick Course

µ-Blog – Too long to tweet, too short to call a real post

Last night, I was watching TCM, and a promo came on for a new course in slapstick, Painfully Funny: Exploring Slapstick in the Movies. I'm assuming this will be similar to the Into the Darkness: Exploring Film Noir course last Summer. Now, my first thought was Film Noir is a meaty subject. What could you really do with slapstick? Then again, the Exploring Film Noir course was awesome. I have every confidence that they can pull off something great with slapstick. 

With that in mind, that just leaves one question. When I finish, do I put it on my resume? I am out of work right now. I can just see how it would play out.

Interviewer:  I see you have completed a course in Exploring Slapstick in the Movies.

Me:  Why, yes I have. Do you have a cream pie handy?

For more details on the Painfully Funny: Exploring Slapstick in the Movies course, see

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Lady Eve and Sleight of Hand

Last night, Film Geeks San Diego took over the Museum of Photographic Art in Balboa Park for a screening on the Preston Sturges Screwball Comedy, The Lady Eve. On hand to introduce the film and provide context to the card cheating in the movie was sleight-of-hand artist, Jami Ian Swiss. Now, I tend to not be real big on magic. I can't imagine going to a magic show, but Jami was great. I entered the lobby, and he was doing card tricks for the 25 or 30 people already there. 

Since I had just come in, he ask me to think of a card and tell him what it is. He then made it appear on the top of the deck. Of course, there is a trick. He pulls the card from somewhere and puts on top of the deck. But he did have his sleeves rolled up to mid forearm. Also he has no idea which of the 52 cards I'm going to pick and has to get access to it and somehow place it on the top of the deck, all without any of the 30 or so people standing all around him seeing how he did it. All of this makes it a pretty damn good trick.

He then turned to my 16-year-old daughter Jasmine and did an equally good trick for her. Her reaction was priceless. That alone was worth the price of admission. She didn't know what to say, which if you've ever met Jasmine, is a rare thing indeed. Since he got such a great reaction out of her, he proceeded to do two more tricks on her getting equally good reactions there as well. We then went into the theater.

The Lady Eve is a great film, one of Preston Sturges' best and one of the best Screwball Comedies you'll find as well. I never really thought about it being a con film, mostly because it works so well as a comedy. In his introduction, Swiss spoke of how well and accurately the con elements are handled. Sturges who wrote as well as directed the film really did know a little something about cheating at cards. Jami Ian Swiss pointed out that the con in con man comes from the word confidence. Confidence men work by getting their marks to believe in them, and the story they are selling, a huge part of the film.

*** Spoiler Alert *** Minor spoilers to the plot are contained in the following paragraph.

In the film, Barbara Stanwyck (Eve) and her father, Charles Coburn are confidence men who set their sights on Henry Fonda (Hopsie), an ultrarich beer baron/Ophidiologist (snake expert), who cares more for snakes than the beverage that made the family fortune. Eve does the unthinkable. She falls for her mark and decides to protect Hopsie from her father. When Hopsie learns the truth about Eve and her father, he is hurt and breaks off their engagement, despite the fact that they really do love each other. Eve decides to get revenge on Hopsie for spurning her, but ultimately cons into realizing that he really does love her.

*** End of Spoiler Alert ***

How could I not think of this as a con movie? The answer is simple. It works so well as a Screwball Comedy that you don't really think about the fact that the entire movie, Charles Coburn and Barbara Stanwyck are actively trying to take Henry Fonda to the cleaners. 

The Lady Eve is one of those great old movies where the cast is great from top to bottom. Henry Fonda is perfect as the likable innocent dupe. Charles Coburn is also brilliant as the card-cheating father of Barbara Stanwyck. Of course, Stanwyck is wonderful as well and has great chemistry with both Fonda and Coburn. Rounding out the cast is William Demarest as Fonda's crusty, but well-meaning man servant. Finally, in a small role is Eugene Pallette, playing Fonda's father. It's the type of role that Pallette played over and over again, but could do so well that you never tire of it.

The Lady Eve has everything you'd want from such a film, good story, great performances, and humor that ranges from subtle to extremely broad, but all handled perfectly. The Film Geeks are hoping to do a series of con films next year and if The Lady Eve is any indication, it will be great. More info on the Film Geeks can be found on their facebook page. In addition, here's a sample of Jamy Ian Swiss' act from the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson:

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Comic-Con Ukulele

In the past couple of years, I have got artists to draw sketches on hats at Comic-Con International. This year I switched gears and went for a ukulele. The idea was that I wanted to get all hula girls and tikis. The ukulele is a tenor-size Kamoa, a decent quality instrument, but it was chosen mostly because it had a finish you could draw on.

I had two spots where the strings go, so I took off the strings for Preview Night and put on a new set after they were done. First up was Rick Geary. Back in the day, when Comic-Con International was called the San Diego Comic-Con, before the eyeball logo, the Comic-Con logo was a cartoon Toucan, designed and rendered by Rick Geary.  I got him to do the Toucan in a hula skirt. He'd never done this before and had to sketch it out on paper first.

Rick Geary

Stan Yan is a Denver cartoonist who does among other things, zombie caricatures, Zombicatures. Stan does wonderful stuff, so I wanted to give him one of the first spots. My thought was that the ukulele had a diamond shape at the top of the neck. I asked Stan to incorporate the diamond into the eyebrows and use the machine heads for the pupils. I love what he did with it.

Stan Yan

Dave Garcia was up next. He did the Panda hula dancer. Now to be honest, I was a little bit worried at this point. I love the piece, but I didn't want this to turn into a hula drag show.

Dave Garcia
(Didn't get picture)

By the way, I was really bad about getting pictures of the artists this year, hence the icons where pictures are missing.

Mike Bennett is a guy who's been coming to Comic-Con for the last 15 or 20 years. He does these really cool hand-drawn blacklight posters. I figured he could definitely pull off either a hula girl or a tiki. He opted for a tiki, and I love it.

Mike Bennett
(Didn't get picture)

Sergio Aragonés is one of the nicest guys in the comic industry, as well as being able to draw insanely fast. He didn't have much of a line, so I went to him. I told him that I was trying to get all Tikis and Hula Girls, trying to emphasize the Girls part as much as possible and said I was trying to avoid having it turn into a drag show. What I didn't take into account was that when you go to Sergio at a convention, he is going to draw his barbarian character, Groo, so naturally, what I got was Groo as a hula girl. I think I just made my drag problem worse. Then again, it's Sergio, so how can I complain.

Sergio Aragonés
(Didn't get picture, stole this online)

At this point, I was really worried about the drag thing, so I found Chuck Wojtkeiwicz in Artists' Alley, who had done really cool things on my hats the last two years. I said, I really need a Hula Girl. He did not disappoint.

Chuck Wojtkiewicz

Next we have Paul Dale. This is the only one I'm disappointed in. This is no reflection on the artwork itself, but I think he used art pens that weren't stable on the surface. It looked great when he first got it done, but the line work got all muddy. I kept it in the bag, as much as possible, but by Sunday, the line work wasn't what it should be, a shame because it did look great when he first finished it.

Paul Dale

Ken Meyer, Jr., is better known for his painted work than line art. I told him of course that I was looking for tikis and hula girls. He said he could do it but he would need about an hour. He asked what my politics were, and I said, Liberal. It was about 20 minutes later that I started to worry. Please don't let it be Hillary as a Hula Girl. Well, it wasn't, and I'm psyched.

Ken Meyer, Jr.

My job at Comic-Con is producing the convention newsletter. One of my photographers is good friends with Billy Tucci, and he told Billy what I was doing. I found his booth, and before I could say anything, Billy told me I had a great outfit. I was wearing a kilt and a fez with a Martini glass with wings embroidered on it. He said he loved the fez and asked if he could try it on. I said sure. He put it on, and I said it looked great. Now, his wife was right there, and she's like, No. I told him I got it from a place call Fez-o-Rama. They had all kinds of designs, Tikis, Flying Monkeys, and that sort of thing. "Oh, I love Flying Monkeys. That would be perfect for me." His wife: No. I told him that they had like 50 different designs at any given time. His wife: No. 

Anyway, he was happy to do a Hula Girl for a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project, but would need me to leave it with him for the rest of the day. I had a fair amount of work to do, so I said, sure, and threw in a $20 donation. When I got it back, I was so psyched, I kicked in another $20.

My writer on the newsletter suggested I go to a local San Diego artist (George Davis), who does a comic called Tiki Lotus. He did a spectacular Tiki that works perfect with Billy's Hula Girl. I ganged the George's and Billy's pieces together, because they go so well with each other.

George Davis
(Didn't get Billy's picture)

George Davis (Tiki, left)
Billy Tucci (Hula Girl, right)

Next, we have Genevieve FT. She does these really cool, old school pinup cartoons. Her hula dancer came out killer.

Genevieve FT

The Comic-Con CTO Mark suggested I talk to Liana Hee for a Hula Girl, and wow, it came out so cool.

Liana Hee

Jacob Chabot had done Krazy Kat on my hat two years ago, and he specializes in cartooney comics. The Spongebob is simple, but I love it.

Jacob Chabot

Robert Roach is an L.A. artist and did a really great Clevon Little on my movie-themed hat last year. Everytime I talked to him, he was swamped with commissions. Finally, Sunday afternoon I caught him right as he was finishing one and not quite ready to jump into the next one. Again, not the most detailed, but Batman as a tiki, you gotta love that. 

Robert Roach
(Didn't get picture)

At this point, it was Sunday afternoon, and I had spots for six or so more sketches. There was no way I was getting that done. I resolved myself to not worrying about it, but I did catch Keith Knight, a cartoonist, I've been following for like 20 years. He said he could do a sheep in a grass skirt. I love Keef and was happy to have him take the last little spot on the front.

Keith Knight (Keef)
(Didn't get picture, stole this online)

I'm probably going to a couple more conventions this year. Hopefully, I can finish it up then. If not, I will have to wait until Wonder Con in the Spring.