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Monday, September 29, 2014

ButtHeadland by Alan O.


"Maybe the trick is to visit ButtHeadLand and not live there?" - Gen.

An excellent concept which stemmed from a conversation about why certain people, specifically those on Twitter, appear to be so deeply loved yet when you really pay attention to what they say and do, they are actually fairly deplorable.

This isn't a conclusion I've come to lightly; in fact, it was a tad depressing to realise just how horrible some of these people are. I never exactly "liked" some of them but I did hold a level of respect for them.

What started this whole conversation, and promoted Gen to suggest I write this, was this tweet I sent:
And some of the responses I got. One or two people wondering if it was about them because they accept that, on occasion, they can be assholes. The thing is, these people in my experience are genuinely good people. They, like anyone, can lose their tempers and be less than nice to people. The difference is they know they can be jerks and they freely admit it, as opposed to the people who prompted my tweet.

They don't seem to realise how horrible they are, and best of luck calling them on it. Say a bad word about someone with 5,000 plus followers on twitter and an unofficial fan club who worships everything about them and boy will you regret it.

See, the thing is, some people are horrible and there's no changing that. And usually assholes get treated like assholes, and are promptly rejected by most people. But occasionally a deplorable person manages to pass themselves off as a half decent person, usually by exploiting some trait they possess that draws people to them but we won't get into that.

It's quite a strange thing to watch if I'm perfectly honest.

I've seen people verbally defend (well as verbally as possible on the internet) abusing people - accusing all men of thinking of women as nothing more than objects or claiming it's fine to tell random people to kill themselves - and yet they are still loved. Some people have even claimed that the people I've just described are their idols and that scares me. If you can justify those kinds of actions because a person has one or two, in my opinion, fairly superficially traits that appeal to you, then how far will you go to defend that person? It seems strange to me that people, especially those close to them, don't call these folks on their questionable behaviors.

I understand not wanting to upset friends but, honestly, is it really worth having a friendship with a person who performs many of the same actions that you wouldn't hesitate to slam strangers for? Especially when it's not isolated incidents with these people?

Maybe if we were more willing to be critical of the actions of those we claim as friends then we could actually make some real progress towards reducing just how many people act this way. Life is difficult enough without us making it worse for each other, or allowing our so called friends to make it suck even more for people.

Everyone of us has the capacity to be the absolute worst imaginable version of ourselves, especially when emotions run high. We are, after all, emotional beings and we can't change that. What we can change is how often we are that person. We can work to be good more often than we aren't.

Imagine just how amazing the world would be if more people made the effort to be less "asshole-y". If they, as a good friend of mine suggested, were to simply visit ButtHeadLand once in a while rather than actually living there?

You can reach Alan O. at his blog and Twitter.

Friday, September 26, 2014

I Married Joan: Joan Davis Rivals Lucille Ball



Madonna Josephine Davis (June 29, 1907 - May 22, 1961) was a widely popular comedienne “whose career spanned vaudeville, film, radio, and television”. She appeared in vaudeville with her husband Sil Wills and had a successful career in B-movies. She was in one of my favorite Abbott and Costello comedies, Hold That Ghost (unfortunately not in the Public Domain). Joan Davis also had a successful career in radio, appearing on five different radio series in the 1940s.

On October 15, 1951, CBS debuted a new comedy series called I Love Lucy. The show starred comedienne Lucille Ball and her real-life husband Desi Arnaz as house wife Lucy Ricardo and her singer / band leader husband Ricky Ricardo. I Love Lucy immediately became a hit show. It was “the most watched show in the United States in four of its six seasons”. Rival network NBC was quick to look for an I Love Lucy show of its own. On October 15, 1952, NBC premiered I Married Joan.

I Married Joan starred comedienne Joan Davis and Jim Backus as housewife Joan Stevens and her husband Judge Bradley Stevens. I Married Joan was aimed straight at the television viewers who watched I Love Lucy. Both shows “even employed the same director in each show’s first season, namely Marc Daniels”. Slapstick and physical comedy was at the core of both shows. “It was not uncommon to find whole chunks of Lucy plots lifted and re-purposed” for I Married Joan. Virtually every episode of I Married Joan had a plot which provided star Joan Davis with a “setup for at least one scene of over-the-top physical comedy”. Often those scenes of physical comedy were originally performed by Lucille Ball on her top rated show and were re-enacted by Joan Davis on her show. Joan Davis is even often lumped in with Lucille Ball, Carole Lombard, and Carol Burnett as one of comedy’s great female clowns.

I Love Lucy went on to enjoy six award studded seasons. Unfortunately, I Married Joan withered in its third season when it was forced to compete with ABC’s new top-rated powerhouse series: Disneyland. I Married Joan was canceled in March 1955.                                                          

I Married Joan actually enjoyed increased popularity and higher ratings during its original syndicated run but then Joan Davis died of a heart attack at age 53 on May 22, 1961. Many television stations removed I Married Joan from their line-ups. They considered that it was not in good taste to laugh at someone who had just died. Joan Davis’ family suffered additional tragedy just two years after her death. On October 24, 1963, in Palm Springs, California, a horrible house fire claimed the lives of Davis’ mother, her daughter (and occasional co-star), and her two grandchildren.

I Married Joan was a NBC television program but CBS Paramount Television eventually became the primary owners of the show’s copyright. The copyrights for some, but not all, of the I Married Joan episodes ultimately lapsed without being renewed. Those lapsed episodes have entered the Public Domain and are now available at the Internet Archive. At my last count, there were six episodes from Season 1 in the Public Domain, as well as six episodes from Season 2 and eight episodes from Season 3. All are available FREE in the Public Domain at the Internet Archive.
I’m reviewing three episodes from Season 1 for this article. WARNING! There WILL be spoilers!


First up is Season 1 Episode 11: “Dreams”. 
This episode premiered on December 24, 1952.

This was a common plot on shows of the time and just so happens to be one of the plots that I hate the most. The episode opens with Joan singing in a silly bit a rapture about her joy in being married to such a prominent judge as her husband:
  • “Thank you! Thank you for marrying me! You wonderful hunk of judge you!”


As if she was a nameless nobody because she was a woman and her life had no worth at all until her “sweet, darling, wonderful” husband deigned to marry her.

*Bah* Ptooey*

I hate this plot. I never noticed this insidious brainwashing when I was a kid and watched shows like I Married Joan but I can see it now and it drives me nuts. Of course this was all par for the course at the time. Women were to be housewives and men were to be the breadwinners. There’s too much of this nonsense still today but it was worse back in the 1950s.

The “Dreams” episode features three of Joan’s old friends. There is a fun repeating sequence when the friends greet each other repeatedly with:
  • “Let me take a look at you. You haven’t changed a bit!”
Gloria is a star female athlete. She is the first person ever to swim across the Bay of Biscayne as well as a tennis champion. Minnie is the creator and sole owner of the "Lady Minyette" cosmetics line. Dr. Marsha is the star of the US State Department and confers constantly with the President of the USA. Poor Joan. What is her great career accomplishment:
  • “I make great meat balls.”


Joan is now upset that she got married. She thinks she could have been “somebody” if she had stayed single. So she daydreams about her alternative life.

First she is Lady Joan of the “biggest single business in the entire world”: Lady Joan Cosmetics. The President of the USA calls to ask for financial help for the country:
  • “Oh, hiya, Pres. What? US Treasury is a little low and you’re worried about the budget? Two billion be enough? Glad to do it, glad to. Oh, uh, by the way, one little formality, uh, what are you putting up for collateral? Oh, I see, you’ll put up Texas. Well, I’m sorry. I’m already holding Texas for what the last boy borrowed.”


Then Joan daydreams she is Babe Joan. She’s been swimming for four days. She drinks hot soup through a long tube. Finally, Joan daydreams she is Dr. Joan helping the President of France handle an international situation. All of her daydreams are interrupted by a dream Brad who appears and whines because of the starch in his shirt or the salad dressing or his dinner. Poor helpless baby that he is.

Joan decides to invite the three girlfriends to her house so she can announce that she is “turning in my apron”. But the girls are surprising unhappy with the “drudgery” of their careers and lives. Joan wants to know why they are so unhappy:
  • Joan asks, “What is it that you girls really want?” The girls all chime in with, “A man to take care of me!!!”


Hooray for Joan! She is once again happy with her life:
  • “What am I crying about? I’ve got a man!”

*Bah* Ptooey*

There is very little physical comedy in this episode. Most of the funniness centers around Joan’s ridiculous and exaggerated daydreams. I found it interesting to notice that there is a tinny echo during all of the dreams as if the cast and crew had moved into some huge, glaringly empty soundstage for the dream sequences. As far as visual quality, this is also the blurriest of the three episodes.


The next episode is Season 1 Episode 13: “Bad Boy”. 
This is another common plot that regularly appeared on shows back in the day. Judge Bradley Stevens has just sent a criminal up the river. Now he’s faced with sending the man’s ten-year-old son, Tommy, to a “reform school”. Judge Stevens finally agrees to give the boy a chance by taking him home and taking care of him until the man’s sister arrives to take the boy.


Joan, of course, is pleased to have young Tommy. But Tommy is not pleased with his new temporary home. He doesn’t want to go to bed early and he definitely does not want a bedtime story:
  • “But nobody hits the hay this early! You’re squares!”
Joan reworks a familiar bedtime story into a vernacular that Tommy will understand:
  • “Once upon a time there was a beautiful doll by the name of Goldilocks and three bookies - Mannie, Moe, and Sam.”


But no matter what Joan does, or how nice she is, Tommy is an unrepentant delinquent:
  • While playing a game, Tommy and two friends tie Joan up then run off, steal a basket of tomatoes from the vegetable guy, climb up to the roof, and pelt passer’s by with tomatoes.
  • While waiting in line for a movie, Tommy steals another boy’s candy and money and even punches him but Joan gets all the blame.


Finally Joan decides to fight fire with fire. She convinces Tommy she is a half crazed murderer who is “sick of this kind of living” and plans to kill Brad off and collect his insurance and other property and money. Joan cackles crazily and pretends to poison Brad’s milk and Brad takes his own sweet time to die. But Tommy is surprisingly unhappy and starts to cry.

Viola! Brad sits up and Joan admits they were just teaching Tommy a lesson and Tommy is now happily reformed. 


This storyline is very similar to the storyline in the episode of the Ann Sothern television series Private Secretary that I reviewed a few months ago:


Ann Sothern as Susie reforms her little delinquent with snarky caring. Joan Davis as Joan Stevens reforms her delinquent by play acting and showing him he doesn’t really want a criminal life.

There’s more physical comedy in this episode, especially when Joan is tied up and gagged. “Bad Boy” also has better visual quality than “Dreams”.


Our final episode is Season 1 Episode 35: “Neighbors”. 
This is another episode with a plot I’ve seen in various other forms in various other sitcoms. Brad and Joan have suffered through six years with loud, partying neighbors. Brad and Joan are desperate for sleep but finally give up and have their own party by dancing sleepily around their bedroom:
  • “Here’s to our love. It would be inspired if we weren’t so tired.”


But the noisy neighbors are moving because they claim the neighborhood is too noisy. Poor Joan is desperate to find much quieter new neighbors and she recruits some friends to help. They discuss possibilities and there is a cute repeating sequence where Joan desperately repeats:
  • “Is he quiet? Is she quiet? Are they quiet?”


And the people are quiet - but they have dogs that bark all night every night. Joan and Brad are once again kept awake all night. Joan tries to nicely ask the neighbor lady to keep her dogs quiet but the woman huffily dismisses Joan’s request:
  • “These are show dogs with the finest breeding and bloodlines that go back hundreds and hundreds of years. Do you expect me to deny sensitive animals the right to self expression?”
Brad is exhausted the next day:
  • “I was so sleepy and groggy in court today I signed the wrong paper and sentenced myself to jail for six months.”


The police do nothing even when Joan tries holding the phone out the window so they can hear the dogs (of course the dogs won’t bark then). Finally, she asks a veterinarian for advice. Joan ends up literally crawling into the doghouse to sleep with the dogs so they will not be so nervous and keep barking. Of course, the next day, after Brad has enjoyed a nice, quiet night, he informs her that a police officer had spent the night outside their house, waiting to hear the dogs bark. But they never barked thanks to Joan and now the police will never believe them about the barking dogs.

There are several sequences of fun physical comedy involving Joan crawling around in bushes and the doghouse after the dogs. Also a funny bit when she pretends to be one of the dogs. Again, the visual quality of “Neighbors” is better than the earlier “Dreams”.


Of course the best thing about these I Married Joan episodes is that they, and many other episodes are FREE in the Public Domain at the Internet Archive.

To watch I Married Joan Season 1 Episode 11: “Dreams” please click this link.

To watch I Married Joan Season 1 Episode 13: “Bad Boy” please click this link. (Even though the URL says Episode 34, if you are counting the episodes “Bad Boy” is actually number 13)

To watch I Married Joan Season 1 Episode 35: “Neighbors” please click this link. (Even though the URL says Episode 79, if you are counting episodes “Neighbors” is actually number 35) 


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Zero


In a world that judges people by their number, Zero faces constant prejudice and persecution.

He walks a lonely path until a chance encounter changes his life forever: he meets a female zero.

Together they prove that through determination, courage, and love, nothing can be truly something.

Zero has screened in over 50 festivals and has won 15 awards including 'Best Animation' from LA Shorts Fest and the Rhode Island International Film Festival and has been nominated for an AFI Award in the 'Best Short Animation' category. Watch it below



Since its release on YouTube in May 25, 2011, Zero has been translated into over 40 languages by its many enthusiastic fans. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Piper in the Woods by Philip K. Dick


Human Garrison Y-3, based on an asteroid, has a problem. The men stationed there are convinced that they are turning into plants.

As asteroid garrisons go, Y-3 is the newest of the lot. Designed as a checkpoint for ships entering our solar system, the asteroid is described more like an earth-like planetoid with lakes, trees, a warm climate, an atmosphere and plenty of sunlight.

The story opens on Earth with 26-year old Corporal Westerburg in Doctor Harris's office. The Corporal is the first of these men to be convinced that he is a plant, and has been sent there by his Commanding Officer, Commander Cox to get to the bottom of this mystery. Corporal Westerburg has asked for a discharge.

In the office, the Doctor quizzes the Corporal as to why exactly he thinks he is becoming a plant. The Corporal is not cooperative, and offers no answers. It's not that he can't answer, it's that he won't answer. He's being secretive for some reason that the Doctor can't discern.

Realizing he's getting nowhere with the interrogation, the Doctor dismisses the Corporal and contacts his C.O. to see if he can offer some insight.

The C.O. describes that over the last while, Westerburg has been wandering away from work in rocket repair to sit outside in the sun for hours on end. When questioned by his co-workers, Westerburg said that work was unnatural, and that it's better for him to just sit and contemplate things, outside.

Dr. Harris drops by Westerburg's quarters later to follow up, but finds him asleep. Westerburg's roommate explains to the Doctor that once the sun goes down, Westerburg goes to sleep and can't be roused. The Doctor will have to wait until tomorrow.

Dr. Harris finds Westerburg the next day, sitting on the bank of a stream, almost trance-like, enjoying the beaming sun. Westerburg has no ambition to do anything except sit in the sun and contemplate things. The Doctor's conversation doesn't shed much light on Westerburg's perplexing delusion that he is a plant, so the Doctor asks Westerburg to stop by his office in the afternoon for some tests.

Dr. Harris thinks he has an explanation for Westerburg's delusion. Westerburg had to work hard to put himself through the lengthy and arduous training to become a Patrolman. He idealized his goals a little too much, and when that idealization shattered under the reality of being a Patrolman, Westerburg regressed.

Before he could get any further with his theory, Harris receives notification that an express rocket is on its way, carrying five more men from Garrison Y-3 who think they are plants as well. Before the week is out, there would be a total of twenty cases under the Doctor's treatment of the same delusion, with another three on their way from Y-3.

One of the newer cases is the Chief Biologist at the Garrison, and Dr. Harris is able to make some headway with him using what is called the Shock Box, a kind of electro-shock treatment. The Biologist reveals how he came to think that he was a plant - the Pipers taught him. That was all the information that Dr. Harris could obtain.

Who are these mysterious Pipers and how do Dr. Harris and Commander Cox get to the bottom of this mystery? Dr. Harris travels to Garrison Y-3 to find out. You can find out as well by:




Piper in the Woods was published in Imagination: Stories of Science and Fantasy February 1953 (pictured above) and research has uncovered no copyright renewal on the work. At 23 pages, it takes about 30-40 minutes to read. The Librivox recording is approximately 48 minutes. Some of Philip K. Dick's works have been adapted to sci-fi milestone movies, including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (also known as the movie Blade Runner), A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, and We Can Remember it For You Wholesale (in movie form as Total Recall).

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Monster by Georges Méliès


Whilst discussing and brainstorming various blog post ideas, the material on GenXMedia tends to get thrown in the loop a lot.

There is such a great variety of public domain material to choose from it is often quite difficult to pick which piece to do next.

Most of the regular blog readers are probably already aware of  the GenXMedia non-profit channel on YouTube.

For those of you who aren't aware or haven't had a chance to see what our official mascot channel GenXMedia Cinema Vintage has to offer, I highly suggest you take a wee peek at the excellent material.

There is a vast, interesting collection and mixture of public domain and creative commons materials such as full-length films, videos offering documentaries, short films, music, art, clips, trailers and newsreels. Silent films, classic black and white, in general the work of the people who helped create the world of imagery on screen that we have become accustomed to.

By the way thank you to all the team members who work extremely long and hard to maintain and provide these public domain images for all of us to enjoy.

One of those molders of the screen world is Georges Méliès, a man Gen talks about quite often and indeed she donated her collection of his works, the Segundo de Chomón collection and many other pieces to the public domain, so everyone can enjoy them.

Georges Méliès (1861-1936) was a French illusionist and filmmaker. He accidentally discovered a special effect in film-making, the so-called stop trick, also referred to as the Jeannie Cut or locking off. An object is filmed, then the camera is turned off so it can be removed and the filming resumes, so it seems as if the object has simply disappeared.

Méliès was also one of the first people to hand-paint his work, use multiple exposures, time-lapse photography and dissolves. His work had an air of magic like quality, because of the many special effects.

He was known among his contemporaries as the Cinemagician. If you watch the film I have included below you will see exactly what they mean by that.

What appeals to me the most is the way Méliès has fun with his productions. They are like a tongue in cheek episode of tomfoolery created with an eye to detail, a great sense of humour and an almost blasé acknowledgement of his own skill.
       
            

In Le Monstre (1903), an Egyptian prince has lost his princess to an untimely death. He  requests the help of a dervish in an attempt to look upon the exquisite features of his fairest love once more. We see the dervish schlepping this coffin like apparatus into the scene, from which he retrieves a skeleton.

The dervish prays to the moon and the Gods to make the skeleton awaken. The skeleton is a bit cheeky and seems to defy or disagree with the dervish. The dervish clothes the skeleton in virginal white beautiful garbs to summon the female spirit of the princess. Then he commands the skeleton, which is encased in white sheets, to copy his movements, much like a puppeteer controlling his puppet.

The ensuing dancing scene is nothing less than hilarious, kudos to the bouncy actor. The real skill however are the special effects portrayed during the ghostly dance scenes. The skeleton appears to merge into the ground and then reappear, it then stretches its neck like a giraffe in a quite inhuman like manner. Fascinating stuff when you think about the fact this was all created in 1903.

The dervish covers the lively skeleton with another sheet, opens it up and out pops said princess. The prince wants to hold her and yet the recently dead doesn't seem as keen on reuniting with her prince and she disappears once more under the sheet. Obviously this isn't the outcome the prince was hoping for and he chases the dervish, who has legged it like a bat out of hell.

Unfortunately many of Méliès films no longer exist, a large amount was completely destroyed by the French Army during WW1 and all the negatives by Méliès himself in 1923, despite that over 200 of his films have been restored and preserved for future entertainment and study.

For free downloads of the above mentioned film and other work by Georges Méliès:
Download to watch Le Monstre by Georges Méliès at the Internet Archive.
Download to watch The Georges Méliès Collection at the Internet Archive.
Download to watch Le Voyage Dans la Lun by Georges Méliès  at the Internet Archive.
To view The Georges Méliès Collection and more visit GenXMedia.