Category Archives: film

A Christmas Day Homage to Peanuts

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I have decided to revive Russellpop from it’s early grave. I just got through reading an excellent biography of Charles Schultz entitled Schultz and Peanuts by David Michaelis. As I was growing up I identified with Charlie Brown and Linus. I understood the underlying loneliness and dark humor beneath what seemed at first to just be a family-friendly cartoon. Actually it was the first newspaper cartoon which reflected life as it is, with all of it’s disappointment and sad wistful longing for a world that never existed to begin with. Peanuts wasn’t always great, and as Schultz grew older his strip lost it’s edge, and became much more sentimental. But in the fifties and sixties he spoke for the baby boom generation, introducing a comic strip ‘anti-hero’. Today is Christmas and instead of writing about my usual crappy feelings on this holiday, I thought it appropriate to write a little about Peanuts, after all the best known Peanuts cartoon was actually the Christmas special which aired in 1965 and has since become a regular holiday event. Unfortunately most of the animated films of Peanuts which followed were dreadful, with the exception of the Halloween special which was excellent, and the second Christmas special which was almost as good as the first. But most of what followed is unwatchable. As I killed time on this holiday, browsing through old Peanuts cartoons (I am embarrassed to say that I have hardback copies of all of the Peanuts strips from the beginning (1950) through 1970.) As I read them I wished that many of the classic ones could be animated, brought to life with color, and voices, and movement. Then, as I browsed Youtube for Peanuts related material, I discovered that in 2008, 20 motion comics were made based on some of the best strips from 1964. They were made with the blessing of the Charles Schultz estate, and they are excellent. Even though they are not fully animated, you would never notice it. Peanuts is a very simple, basic comic and so the animation required is minimal anyway. But the color and the voices which sound identical to the voices used on the classic Peanuts animated films, are excellent. Very special care is taken to preserve the integrity of the original Schultz drawings. In some cases, the humor comes across even more strongly when animated.¬† I hope more of these will be made. I have noticed that they got mixed reviews, negative from those who would rather the old strips were not messed with, and positive from those who like how those classic strips were enhanced by this motion comic process. Not all comics lend themselves to this kind of treatment, but because Peanuts had a simple visual structure, it lends itself well to this format. I would encourage you to read the biography of Charles Schultz I mentioned, which contains some surprising information which flies in the face of what is traditionally thought about Schultz. For instance, even though he was quite religious in his younger years, teaching Sunday school and including religious themes at times in his strip, he came to dislike evangelical Christianity and any kind of mass commercialism of Christianity. He developed a kind of melancholy view of life, wistful, longing for a past that really only existed in his imagination. He never thought he amounted to very much, and thought, at the age of 75 that it was a total waste of time to have spent all his life drawing a comic strip. He was not particularly fond of children, and thought that children were anything but innocent, that actually they could be very cruel. He kept returning to the loneliness and hurt of his childhood right up to when he died. His comic strip meant a lot to me when I was a child. I never thought of myself as a child, rather I thought I was a small adult, and Peanuts captured my point of view exactly. Here are four short motion comics of some of my favorite strips from 1964.

Media Enchantment (Cosmic Radio broadcast 4-28-12)

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Don't believe any of what you see and only half of what you read

And so, boys and girls, let me tell you the story of a man named Jed, he was so poor he barely kept his family fed, but then one day…. He struck it rich! And so, once again we are enchanted by the media. It could happen! A miracle within our pathetic hard working existence! We could strike it rich! When I was a kid I recall watching the Beverly Hillbillies on our black and white television. More recently, in fact just a few days ago, I was reminded of how we are all affected by movies, television, and all other sorts of media. We are media saturated! I was with my coworkers in Muir Woods and in the midst of all of this breath-taking beauty, my coworkers were reminded of the movie ‘Star Wars’ which was partially filmed in Muir Woods. I recognized how so much of our lives are filled with the media. It has a much more powerful impact upon our lives than we recognize.

It used to be that storytelling was the means to enchant the masses. The drab lives of everyday people were enriched by the stories they heard. These myths held a special power, and in a sense, were far more real than the actual physical existence people experienced. Dreams are important. They allow us to create the kind of reality we desire. Popular media is instrumental in shaping our dreams.

No one understands this fundamental principle as well as the politician. The truth isn’t as important as what we think is true. Perception is tantamount. We bathe in the media each night, and are frightened and manipulated by the media. We are instructed in what is important and what is not. We are reminded that we live in a crazy mixed up, and violent world. You are instructed in what to buy to really gain the acceptance of these invisible people all around you, that judge your every move.

This is sick. It has gotten out of control. We are approaching a time of hyper-reality, enhanced reality, which so saturates us that we have no choice but to tune it all out. There will be a backlash to this enchantment. There has already been some backlash. What is disguised as entertainment nevertheless conditions us. We form opinions unbeknownst to our conscious minds. It effects our voting and our social interactions. We become overly concerned with branding, and sexuality, and lose sight of what really matters. This is a dark enchantment designed to distract us from the way we have been disenfranchised. We have lost our power to make a difference. Corporations make a difference in the twenty first century. And, as you know, they are people, aren’t they? It is incumbent upon us to resist this enchantment and be skeptical of all media. This program of total mind manipulation has not been as successful as they would have liked.

We are not stupid, and we have capabilities that we have only begun to explore. We are not just passive consumers any longer. We are interactive with our world, and we will not allow ourselves to be duped. Politicians are going to find it much more difficult to find a simple message to dull our senses and lull us into compliance with their agenda, which is driven by a lust for power and wealth. They are ironically the victims of their own enchantment. The power brokers are just as taken in by the lure of various forms of pornography, be it sexual or not, as any of us, perhaps more so.

Media is a powerful tool. It is not as harmless as it is often perceived to be. It shapes our opinions, our sense of reality. But to a lesser extent now than in the past. The internet is both helping to dispel this media enchantment and it is aiding in the enchantment itself. However, so long as we have people who are willing to step outside the media dictated norm, this dark spell cannot maintain it’s hold for long. I have hope for the future.

So much for a cosmic radio broadcast on the subject of popular media and it’s dark agenda.

Enid

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Enid my Eternal Muse

This post is in praise of Enid, a character from Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel Ghost World, which was made into a great cult film starring Thora Birch and Scarlett Johannson. Thora is brilliant in this film. I fell in love with her portrayal of Enid. Enid is me. I am Enid, She is my inner female, without a doubt. If I were a woman, I would be Enid. She is witty, sexy, and kind of otherworldly. You can’t hope to really get to know her, you can only marvel at her existence. Daniel Clowes’ version is a bit darker than the film version. Thora brings a sweetness to the character, hidden beneath her constant stream of sarcasm. This is the Enid I prefer. She wants everyone to think she doesn’t give a damn, but secretly she cares. A lot! Just like me.

Hey! Look! I'm Batgirl!

Enid spots this fetish item in a porn shop and cannot resist putting it on. She sees humor in the sordid, as do I. Hey, look I’m Batgirl! She doesn’t say that in the film, but she should have! Daniel Clowes created an enigma with the Enid character. You want to get inside her head and examine her brain. She is drawn to the rejected, the lonely, the crazy lost souls of Ghost World. Ghost World is clearly her world. She is vibrantly alive, surrounded by ghosts.

I was struck by the scene shown below, in which Enid and her friend talk to the crazy old guy that always sits at an abandoned bustop. They try to explain that the bus doesn’t stop there anymore, but he insists it does. At the end of the film, a bus does arrive at this bustop and Enid boards it. This bus is from ‘another place’, as David Lynch would put it, and now Enid is where she belongs, far far away from the dismal Ghost World the rest of us have to endure. She is dressed in red, which is rich in symbolic meaning which I won’t go into here.

I feel as though I know Enid, as though she is a real person. I can feel her presence, commenting acidly on our current cultural stupidity. She pretends to be shocked, but she never is. Nothing gets past Enid.

Bustop in Limbo

The movie doesn’t give us the pleasure of seeing Enid as a little girl, although Clowes’ did a few Ghost World comics with little Enid. I bought a great Little Enid action figure which I have to share with you, because it is unbearably cute.

Isn't she cute?

It was unfortunate that the film did not include the reason for the film’s name. The name Ghost World came from graffiti the girls saw scrawled on a garage door. I love that image. It could have been at the end of the opening credits or something. If only they could have had me there to advise them!

Finally, I will leave you with a great shot from the film. The genius of this film was in capturing how kids fresh out of high school really look and act. Enid is the essence of cool, but also a confused young woman too wise for her years.

Return of Lolita

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Recently, I have been writing an ongoing series called Stock Photo Girl Fantasy and today, I considered whether or not to include the fact that I am 58 years old and Stock Photo Girl looks to be in her mid to late twenties. It would give the story a strange twist, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there. It definitely reminded me of one of my favorite movies of all time, Lolita. Not the recent one, but the original Kubrick film. I even considered having her co-workers tease her and call her Little Lolita. In the Stock Photo Girl saga, I am definitely Humbert Humbert.

I agree with David Lynch that Kubrick’s Lolita is a perfect film. Everybody in it does a superb job! James Mason conveys perfectly just how hopelessly in love he is. It is a love that Lolita cannot understand, but she is nevertheless touched by it. But, of course, getting seriously involved with a man old enough to be her father is out of the question. It is natural and understandable that she would settle down with a man close to her age. Peter Sellers is also brilliant, and I can’t help thinking that he deserved his fate. But my heart goes out to poor Humbert Humbert.

Why are older men so attracted to young women? Well because, first of all, they don’t feel old inside. Their bodies played a dirty trick on them, growing old like that, and it is a difficult thing to accept sometimes. I can recall vividly my younger years and the experiences I had with younger women when I was young as well. It was this that I put to use in my Stock Photo Girl series. In my fantasies, I am young again! Also, when I gazed at the photos of Stock Photo Girl I felt young again. It was like a tonic. Older men lust after younger women because they lust after their own lost youth. It was a time when they felt vibrantly alive and didn’t worry about the future as much. A younger woman can bring back some of that. But it only lasts for a while, as was the case in Lolita. The younger woman gets bored with all of the obsessive attention, and after all, an older man may be intriguing, but they aren’t sexy. However, I wasn’t clear about the age of Russell in my Fantasy, and of course you never see a photo of him, so he could be older. It might be interesting to explore how a relationship between two people of such different ages would play out, after all it’s a fantasy. It would make the whole thing much more poignant, as it is in the film Lolita. The temptation to give my fantasy a happy ending is pretty strong, but I keep finding as I write that Stock Photo Girl keeps forcing me to keep it real. She may not allow me to be older, or if she does, I will have to pay the price, just as Humbert Humbert did. I will say this however, no one will die in my Fantasy, that is much too dramatic for a tongue-in-cheek series. Ah! Lolita, if only she understood how I felt! Life is so cruel!!

Viggo Rasp or is it Fritz Mortensen?

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Viggo Mortensen seduces Louise Brooks, Wait! That can't be right!

Does anyone remember Fritz Rasp? He is that sinister other-worldly figure that haunts Metropolis, the sci-fi classic from the 1920’s. He also seduced Louise Brooks in Diary of a Lost Girl. At least, that is what we think we know. Actually, it is perfectly obvious to us that Fritz is Viggo Mortensen. How can this be? I think we need to ask Viggo a few questions to clarify the matter. Time travel? It’s hard to say. Maybe Fritz Rasp is Viggo’s grandpa? I am a fan of both actors, but this particular post focuses more on Fritz Rasp. Fritz captured a certain casual sadism pervasive in Weimar Germany. He seems to be this grotesque exaggeration of Aryan manhood, personifying the menacing¬† storm troopers which filled the streets at that time. He is deliciously creepy. Viggo Mortensen? He could certainly project a vicious manliness, but creepy? Not really. unless you count his performance in History of Violence. I am referring to the part of the film after he loses the nice family guy facade. That was creepy, but in a different way from Fritz Rasp. Even when Viggo is being a total bastard, you tend to root for him, but nobody roots for Fritz Rasp, except possibly Josef Goebbels.

I have seen the future and it is Fritz Rasp!!!

 

What to make of this bizarre resemblance, ja? Ist is a topic of much interest here in the Metropolis. Viggo ist ubermensch for your time, your reich. Very strong, ja! You must be proud of him! Such a fine Aryan, and a good actor as well!

Yeah, well, thanks Fritz.

I think.

Let’s see what other doppelgangers I can find! But take a look! They aren’t identical, but there is a distinct resemblance between the two actors.

 

 

Lulu

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I sing the praises of Louise Brooks. She portrayed Lulu in Pandora’s Box and was Lulu in life. I am under her spell, ever since I saw her face on a button, and wondered who she was. Many years later I got the chance to watch Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl and was captivated by her compelling yet mysterious presence. She has influenced sexy, independent women from Shirley MacLaine to Margaret Cho. Louise Brooks defied the conventions of her time, going to Germany for meaningful roles. She had become disgusted with the entertainment industry in America, with it’s shallow roles for women. The author of Pandora’s Box, upon meeting Louise, was struck by her resemblance to the character, Lulu, and had to cast her. Louise Brooks didn’t give a damn. She could have been a major star in her time. But she didn’t want to play the Hollywood game, and faded into obscurity. She led a life of her choosing, with exciting, artistic, sexy friends and lovers, on the fringes far from the public eye. She became a feisty, colorful old lady with many stories to tell, provided she were so inclined. Some people claim Louise Brooks had worked as a call girl in New York for many years, but this is unsubstantiated. It sounds like the sort of work Lulu would have pursued, and Louise had many similarities to her character.

But all of that is secondary to her face. It speaks volumes, over the decades to our computer, with an intimacy unmatched since. She gazes upon the sexual sadism surrounding her with scorn, but also with understanding. Her light is unbearably bright within the sordid darkness of pre-Nazi Germany. Even though she has many lovers, she remains pure and seemingly innocent. The viewer longs to know her, to hear her voice, and to soothe her pain with a close embrace, running our fingers through her dark helmet of hair. But we also sense that we can never really know this woman. She is forever elusive, mutely beckoning to us from the screen.

Louise Brooks was perfect for the silent age. Whatever voice she possessed could not possibly match what we could imagine. She appeared in a few very obscure talkies in the early thirties, but I would discourage anyone from watching them. This is not the Louise Brooks you should remember, giving an adequate, but uninspired performance in an adequate, but uninspired film. It was just work, nothing more. Her magic is in the work of the twenties, especially the German films. I am sitting here trying to capture what it was about Louise Brooks. What have I left unsaid? She was real, heartbreakingly so. You felt you could have her as a friend. She was just herself onscreen as Louise has said, by way of explaining why she seemed so natural. She also feels absolutely modern, her acting is decades ahead of her time. This naturalness, and accessibility is shared by both Shirley MacLaine and Margaret Cho. I realize I wrote above that she was an enigma, and the viewer feels they could never really know her. That is the essence of Louise Brooks, both are true, she is a walking contradiction, a paradox, who beguiles us still.