Saturday, August 31, 2013

"Educated Fish" - Max and Dave Fleischer (1937)


This is a “Stereoptical” cartoon, which was the name of a process meant to give greater clarity to the cartoons of the era. Max and Dave Fleischer had been toying with this process for a few years, and they produced some wonderful cartoons with the process. This is one of those.

Basically the plot revolves around Tommy Cod, who decides to play hooky from the A.B. Sea School, after being thrown in the closet for misbehavior. While out on his own he meets a pretty little worm whom he invites to play “hooky” with him. She readily agrees, but there’s a hook to it, as she takes the term literally. Tommy, predictably, soon finds himself “hooked” and in a struggle for his very life.

Using all the tricks he can think of to elude capture, he soon finds himself in the boat with the fisherman who caught him. But, slippery as he is, he manages to get away, flopping back into the ocean where he makes a beeline for the A.B. Sea School. Once there, he vows to never be a problem again. And even to  this very day, I have never heard a bad word about him.
___________________________________________

Seamus Heaney 

"Digging" by Seamus Heaney 1939–2013

Between my finger and my thumb  
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound  
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:  
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds  
Bends low, comes up twenty years away  
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills  
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft  
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.  
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

                                                                                 

Friday, August 30, 2013

"Fleetwood Mac" by Dr. Brown (1968)


When I was about 14 this song was one of my favorites. I didn't really think it was about the soda, but I did like to hear it on a summer’s day while knocking back a bottle of Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda. If you've never had one, well, you’re missing out on one of life's treats. It's Kosher, too. By the way, the inverted title is not a mistake, it's a joke.

Cream Soda is somewhat akin to a cola with a shot of vanilla in it. It was a staple of my misspent youth, though I’m sure that, even without it, my teeth would have gone to crap anyway. I was a regular at the “candy store”, and even had a job working at Ruben Arkin’s Luncheonette on Avenue U for a couple of years when I was about 15. Tons of sugar went past my lips.

I was never really a big soda drinker, but somehow, Dr. Brown got to me at an early age with his Cream Soda. Eventually I became a lifelong iced tea drinker; brew it myself; plain water never passes my lips unless I am in the shower. Everything has changed over the years; but cream soda is still basically cream soda. However, you’d be hard pressed to recognize Fleetwood Mac for what they once were.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Front Porch Spider and Her Kid

I was coming in from getting the mail when I noticed that Sue had left up a portion of last year’s Halloween decorations; which ticked me off on two counts. First of all; I like Halloween, but don’t go in much for all the decorations. Secondly; I was mad at myself for not having noticed sooner than 10 months, making us look like the hillbillies of the block. Hell, why not leave the Christmas lights up this year? Then it moved.

Looking at the thing more closely revealed a real spider web; perfect in construction; with a long thick and curly strand running through it from top to bottom. And, to my surprise, in the center there was a baby spider; or spiderette as I suppose you’d call it; and it was hanging out with Mom and doing what baby spiders do best, which is very unclear to me.

At any rate, this discovery poses an ethical question for me; what do I do about this behemoth of an eight legged, land locked octopus and her kid? One quick swipe with a broom and they’d be gone, but what for? They don’t pose any danger to me, and I don’t have a fear of them unless it’s in a plane which suddenly becomes filled with them crawling out of every crevice. They made a movie like that; I didn't see it.

Well, I suppose for now I’ll just keep my eye on the situation. Who knows, she may just decide to hang around until Halloween when she’ll be in style. It's one less window to decorate...

Now, here's the Rolling Stones  performing "The Spider and the Fly" in the studio. Best version ever.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Meet The Press - MLK - 1965


When I was a kid I hated Sunday morning television. It was all politics on every station. At the age of 11, although I knew that I was living through some historical times, I was more interested in old movies than the political debates on the important issues of the day. Don’t take me wrong, even at that tender age I had definite points of view on everything from school integration to the War in Vietnam, I just wanted Sundays to be carefree and didn’t see the purpose of these shows.

Well, I’m older now, and perhaps a bit wiser; it’s hard to say. But I have a love of history, and You Tube is a veritable mother lode of information on just about any subject you can imagine, so I have been scrolling through some of the old Sunday morning shows which I didn’t appreciate at the time. It is amazing at what I am finding in my search.

Take this episode of Meet the Press from March 28, 1965, with Martin Luther King, Jr. appearing within a week of the infamous Selma March and the bloodbath on the bridge during the march to the State Capitol in Montgomery. It is of particular interest because of the recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court. That law was passed in response to all of the abuses taking place in the South; and elsewhere; when it came to the Right to Vote.

Listen carefully to the words and apply them to the situation as it stands today. Although we have an African-American President, racism is not dead in America. Far from it; it’s on the upswing. The Supreme Courts recent decision concerning the Voting Rights Act only makes it clearer.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"The Sweeney" with Ray Winstone and Damian Lewis (2012)

It’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys in this action packed thriller, which takes place in modern day London. Detective Inspector Jack Regan, played by Ray Winstone, along with a handpicked squad of fellow detectives, are an elite team known as the “Flying Squad”, answerable only to themselves as they clean up the London Underworld.

Despite the criticism of a liberal press, as well as his own superior; played by Damian Lewis; for his methods, Detective Regan does bring home the bacon. With a slew of cases already solved, he is now on the trail of a master criminal and a major bank robbery, all of which are set to happen soon. The biggest obstacle in the way of the “Flying Squad” just may be the very people they are trying to protect.

Directed with a mean punch; by a man ironically named Nick Love; this film moves at a frenetic pace as it delves into the dual questions of what is right or wrong; and when is wrong right? Written tightly and realistically by John Hodge, the screenplay by Mr. Love is carefully crafted to keep you tuned into the twists and turns of this film.

Apparently, this film is based upon a show of the same name from the 1970’s British television show of the same name. Now that I have been properly introduced to the characters, I will have to look out for the original shows. Looks like I’ll be heading to You Tube.

Monday, August 26, 2013

"1913" by Charles Emmerson (2013)

Author Charles Emmerson has done a really superb job at showing us how much the world has/hasn’t changed in the past 100 years. More importantly, by breaking the book up into chapters concerning all of the major cities of the era, he has also created a mini-history of the events which helped to create the conflicts of the 20th century, as well as laying out the foundations for the things which trouble us geo-politically today.

With a careful eye to history, Mr. Emmerson takes the reader back 100 years to the most influential cities of the time, and the cities, for the most part, have remained the same. And so have the problems and crisis’ faced by the world today. In 1913 the Middle East was a broil in what was then termed an “Arab Spring”. Sound familiar? As the Islamic Empire began to crumble; setting the stage for the First World War, the people began to rise up against the Islamic Ottoman Empire. The repercussions of that period are still with us today. Of interesting note is that The Palestinians and Ottomans were fighting with the Europeans, in spite of the lack of a Jewish state at the time. This raises questions about the legitimacy of the claims today that if Israel were gone there would be peace in the Middle East. It’s likely not the case; as proven by history.

Russia was in an upheaval as well, with the various religious groups fighting amongst themselves, all vying for control of what would become the Soviet Union in 1917. With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989, many of the Baltic Nations have returned to independence, which has led to terrorism and internal strife between the various sects which existed back in; you guessed it; 1913.

The political/economic instability of the South American nations was, and still is, an issue. London and Paris were competing to be the capitol of the world as far as fashion; and they still are today. Paris remains the center of art which it always has been, and the United States continues “empire building”, with wars in 3 different countries as of this writing. So much has changed, yet so much has remained the same.

China has undergone a tremendous metamorphism over the past 100 years; starting the century as a feudal society, ruled by warlords. By 1913 Chiang Kai-shek would be fighting for democracy against the Communists. That struggle continued for almost 50 years, until Mao took over in the late 1940’s. Although his regime was a failure, in retrospect it accomplished one very important thing; it rid China of the foreign powers which were exploiting her in every conceivable way. His emergence marked the entry of China onto the world’s stage as a force that needed to be reckoned with. Today she is an economic powerhouse.

When the Great War came in 1914 it was widely believed that this would be the “war to end all wars.” In reality, it was only the beginning of mass armed conflict in the 20th Century, culminating in the first Atomic Bomb being dropped on Hiroshima in August of 1945. Though that action ended the war, it began an uneasy “Cold War” which would last another 45 years and cost trillions of dollars in defense.

Today we have come to a point where the conflicts are carefully orchestrated in order to avoid a wide scale conflict along the lines of both World Wars. But still, the world remains an uneasy balance of power and greed, versus community and the virtues of helping those who may be in need of assistance.

Whatever your political leanings may be, this book will educate and inform you of how similar we are to the world of 100 years ago, begging the question, “What have we learned, if anything, from the experiences of the past 100 years?” This is a very well written, and organized book.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

"I'll Never Find Another You" - The Seekers Live (1968)


The Seekers were one of those groups from the early 1960’s who were acceptable to the younger and older viewers on Sunday night TV shows, such as Ed Sullivan, or the more edgy Smother’s Brothers Comedy Hour. The truth of that statement is in this video from a July, 1968 performance at the BBC in London. They had been singing the song for about 5 or 6 years already, since before the Vietnam War had really begun in earnest, dividing a generation.

The Seekers were able to bridge that divide with their beautiful harmonies and a non-threatening selection of material, which usually included songs about love, family and flowers. Who, on either side of the day’s political issues could argue with that? This was the group that parents loved, saying such things as “Why don’t those other groups sing like that?” We kids would roll our eyes, thinking, “They just don’t get it, do they?” But, still, there was something unifying about these songs. They could be sung in the car with the family. That doesn’t happen much anymore. I mean, my folks never could remember the words to “In a Gadda Da Vida Baby.”

Though most folks think of The Seekers, and this record, as American folk music, both really Australian in origin, having formed there in 1962. The song itself is an adaptation of that genre. Even the original recording of the record was done at Abbey Road studios in London, in November 1964, at just about the same time the Beatles had finished working on “Beatles for Sale”,  which had been recorded there and was scheduled for release only weeks later. “I’ll Never Find Another You”; composed by Tom Springfield; became The Seekers first #1 hit in the United Kingdom and America.

Though the original group disbanded in the late 1960’s, the New Seekers were formed in 1969, and they continue to unite generations with this wonderful song.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

"Somewhere In Dreamland" - Max Fleischer (1936)


I love this cartoon. But be careful, it just might make you cry. The story concerns 2 poor children who live with their mother. There is no father in evidence. The children’s lives are chiefly concerned with gathering the necessities of life; wood for fire, and anything edible. Their mother does all she can do to provide for them, but with limited resources, there is not much that she can do.

As the children go gathering firewood one day, they are mesmerized by all of the things in the shop windows of the town in which they live. But, they realize that none of these beautiful, and delicious, things are meant for them. They were for other, more fortunate folks. Remember, this cartoon was created during the middle of the Great Depression, so there were likely many kids who saw this cartoon and identified with the plight of the two children.

That night they go home and give their Mother the firewood they have gathered and she serves them a very sparse meal. They allude to all of the things they have seen that day, which only breaks their Mother’s heart, as she cannot afford to feed them well, let alone provide them with such luxuries. The children reassure her of their love and then turn in for the night, singing the song “I’ll See You Tonight in Dreamland.”

Their dreams are filled with every sight and smell which they have coveted for so long. They play in their dream with all of the toys they don’t have, and eat of the foods that they can only wish for. And then it’s morning.

Waking up and looking at their tattered clothes, they realize that it was all a dream; until they look out from their bedroom and see everything that was in their dreams assembled in the usually sparse living room. It seems that all of the town’s merchants have been watching these two children as they toiled daily to help provide for them-selves and their mother. And, as the children slept, these same merchants were preparing a veritable Christmas for them. This is a beautifully crafted and wonderfully conceived cartoon from the Fleischers. The message is pretty clear; every day is Christmas if you just help it along. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

"Gangster Squad" with Nick Nolte and Sean Penn (2013)

Los Angeles of the late 1940’s and 1950’s was a time of rampant corruption among the police department, as they battled the local gangsters, who in turn, battled the gangsters from out of town trying to horn in on what was then known in Loss Angeles as the “combination.” Mickey Cohen inherited the position of leading the pack after his predecessor met an untimely passing.

Long the subject of movies and books; some non-fiction, some fiction; the story of Mickey Cohen, and the Police department he fought, have both became legends which will outlive time itself. Movies such as “L.A. Confidential”, and “Mulholland Drive” both set the bar high for examples of the better films about Los Angeles during this period. And this film lives up to those in respect to facts and settings. The set designs, as well as the costumes, are all perfect, giving a feel of authenticity to the whole film.

Sean Penn and Nick Nolte are both believable in their respective roles as the gangster who knows  no rules, and the Chief of Police who is of the same mind, only on the opposite side of the law as the notorious gangster. As hey battle wits, and exchange gunfire, there is a begrudging respect built out of their mortal combat, but still, there can be only one winner in this winner take all drama based on true events. Directed by Ruben Fleischer from a script by Will Beal, this film will have you riveted to your seat from beginning to end.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Hey Joe" - The History of a Song


This is a group you probably never heard of doing a song you probably never remember not hearing. The Leaves were one of the hundreds of "one hit wonder" type of bands; although they never had a hit. But they did secure a place in the history of rock and roll when they released this song in 1966. It didn't get much airplay at the time. That's because it wasn't famous yet.

The Leaves picked the song assuming that it had been written by the copyrighted author of record, Dino Valenti. But in reality, Mr. Valenti, who had been in prison serving time for a drug sentence, lifted the words and music from a performance by the real author, Tim Rose, at San Quentin on January 1, 1965. It was about a year later that Mr. Rose was finally informed of this; just before he was about to record his own solo album, which would include his own version of the song.

His friend, Hillel Resner, asked his father, who was an attorney in San Francisco, what could be done about it. Mr. Resner’s father found that Mr. Valenti actually secured a contract with Third Story Music of Los Angeles. They went into immediate negotiations, and though they did recover all the loss up until that date, there are still recordings out there that are credited to Mr. Valenti, or even sometimes a third party. The song was registered for copyright in 1962 by Mr. Rose, although Scottish poet Len Partridge in Edinburgh in the late 1950’s. Some folks even insist that Mr. Rose signed the song over to him in order to help him out, but there is no real evidence of this. Some folks also attribute the song to William "Bobby" Roberts, but again, there is no hard evidence to support this claim.

Until 1964, Mr. Rose had been working with different bands, most notably with The Big Three, a folk group which included Mama Cass Elliott and a guy named James “Jimmie” Hendricks. They had a following in New York’s Greenwich Village before Mr. Rose moved on to the west coast in 1964, where he performed with a group called The Driftwood Singers, based out of San Francisco. This was the move that landed him in front of Dino Valenti in the first place. Talk about coming full circle!.


These are The Leaves, plugging away at the song on some long forgotten TV show in 1966. 


This is Tim Rose from a TV appearance in 1966 doing the song he would put on his first album "Through Rose Colored Glasses" in 1967. That was the version which Keith Richards claims to have "lent" to Linda Keith, a friend, who then took it over to her friend's house and played it for Jimi Hendrix.


And here is Jimi Hendrix in all his glory, doing "Hey Joe" live sometime in 1968, about a year after first hearing the Tim Rose version of the song from Keith Richards friend. It became his first solo recording, and launched his career.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Trishas - "Give It Away"


I first became aware of this group through a quirk of the wireless internet. Somehow my I-Pod picks up a neighbor’s signal and when I go on to look at You Tube I am already “in”. So, thinking I’m me, I hit “My Favorites” to listen and look at some of my favorite videos. Surprise! The Trishas came up. Now I’m wondering who the #%*@ was screwing with my I-Pod, but I hit play to see what The Trishas are; I mean it could be something cool and sexy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Well, not only did I get the cool and sexy part, I also got some great music to play in the car.

The Trishas are a musical group comprised of 4 women, all of whom play guitar, mandolin, violin and percussion. In addition, they also write and sing. What more could you ask for?  And to prove the level of talent inherent to this group, I subjected them to my usual “comparison” test. That is, I compared a studio video performance of the same song with a live version. If the live version is better than, or even equal to, the studio version, then I know I’m on to something. Check out these two versions of “Give It Away” and decide for yourself.

Now, I am probably the last person on the planet to hear of these talented women, but that still doesn’t explain why I don’t hear them on the radio, or in movie scores. According to their web site at ;


“When Jamie Wilson, Liz Foster, Kelley Mickwee and Savannah Welch first shared a stage in January 2009, their intention was simply to perform a couple of songs as part of a tribute to Savannah’s father, singer-songwriter Kevin Welch. They had no plans to pursue a joint musical future — they didn’t even have a name, and wound up calling themselves The Trishas on a whim (it popped into their heads because they were covering a Welch-authored Trisha Yearwood hit).”

Well, that’s all I have to say about this fantastic group of performers. Check out their website and schedule. If you don’t see them coming to your area, contact them and tell them Robert at Rooftop sent you.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

""El Cartel" with Jose Luis Franco (2009)

When a young and naïve journalist approaches a major Mexican drug lord for a story about drug trafficking, he gets much more than he bargained for in this tense, well-constructed film about what happens on our Southern border. José Luis Franco plays drug lord Angel Santana, and Freddy Douglas plays Jules Land, the journalist.

Angel had been a priest, but the lure of the money to be made, along with the indifference of the authorities, have turned him into one of Mexico’s most notorious drug lords. He has, along the way to his success, developed a set of rules which he now teaches to Jules.

Soon, Jules realizes that he is in way too deep for his own health, but knows too much about the operations of Angel’s cartel to quit with his life. Complicating matters are the advances of Angel’s wife, a beautiful woman whose father was murdered by Angel when his father-in-law threatened to turn him in for trafficking in narcotics.

What makes this movie work so well is the way it is put together. The film starts with what the viewer perceives to be the ending, and then the director uses flashbacks to each of the points which have led to the predicament Jules finds himself in; tied up aboard a fishing boat and waiting to die.

Along with the clever direction the film also moves back and forth between Spanish and English dialogue, giving an edgy real life feel to the film. If you do not use the close captioning, you can feel left out of some of the conversations, leaving you feeling just as uneasy and unsure as Jules would have felt in the same situation. The story is filmed flawlessly; with the heat of the desert by day, as well as the coolness of the night air on the fishing boat, both coming to life; adding to a sense of realism in this film.

Mexico is not the biggest producer of drugs, but the largest distributor of both the cocaine and marijuana which come up from South America. This film is a timely, and also fairly accurate, look at the drug cartels which rule our neighbor to the south; as well an insight into what makes all of this possible to begin with.

Monday, August 19, 2013

"Topsy" by Michael Daly (2013)

Growing up in Brooklyn I have always been aware of the story of Topsy, the elephant who was cruelly killed at Coney Island long before I was born. But, until now, I never knew the full story, nor of the people involved in it. Thanks to Mr. Daly I now know the facts of the matter, which are not at all pretty. And when you do hear the whole story, your estimation of some very famous people may be lowered by a notch or two.

The author begins with the birth of an elephant in the wilds of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, on the southern tip of India. He chronicles the life of an ordinary elephant calf, including the hunt and capture by traders, who then transport the animals to Europe for sale. The first elephant arrived in Europe with Emperor Claudius in 43 A.D. After that it would be over 1,000 more years until another elephant was presented to European royalty in 1255, this time as a gift from Louis IX to Henry III. Even Pope Leo X eventually got one, given to him by King Manuel of Portugal in 1514. He is buried on the grounds of the Vatican.

Eventually, in 1796 the newly freed English colonies in America acquired their own elephant. This one was named simply The Elephant, since it was the only one on the continent. But, this didn't last for long. By 1804 a second elephant was bought over to America and purchased by a farmer named Bailey who lived North of Manhattan in Westchester. He paid $1,000 for the elephant, and then sold a “share” of him to a man who took him on a tour of the colonies. To avoid people seeing the elephant for free they traveled at night.

The admission price was 50 cents to see the elephant named Old Bet, who was named after Mr. Bailey’s daughter Betsy, but this price was too steep for the time and was soon reduced to 25 cents; still a lot of coin for the time. So, in order to stop people from seeing her for free, they erected canvas around the area, allowing enough room for the paying customers to observe this unusually docile creature. In just a few more years a top would be added as protection against the weather, thus creating the “bigtop” as we commonly refer to the circus now.

Of particular fascination in the lead up to the main story of Topsy is the history of the traveling troupes of acrobats; as well as the groups of exotic animals which were called “menageries”; and who both traveled the country exhibiting their unique, but separate forms of entertainment. It was only after both of these elements were put together in one show that the modern equivalent of a “circus” came into being.

When Barnum met Bailey, a national entertainment was perfected. The circus, which required cunning and genius to organize; which Bailey possessed; also took a man of rare talent, and the ability to promote something; which is exactly what Barnum possessed. Together, the two of them founded a company which would dominate the circus world for more than a century; and probably still does, though neither man's family owns it any longer.

Along with the story of Topsy and these two men there is another tale, one which involves Tesla, Edison and Westinghouse; as well as an excitable public; always eager to see something new and horrific. The rivalry between Edison and Westinghouse; coupled with Edison’s loss of control over his own company; all contributed to the demise of Topsy in a race to prove the practicality of using electric current as a means of punishment for criminals; or to be more direct; the electric chair.

Topsy was the first elephant to meet a violent end in America, after she had killed; or wounded; several individuals who were tormenting her. The part of this book which will astonish you the most is the fact that cruelty towards animals was so common place at the time. Though Topsy was the first to be successfully executed for pure spectacle does not discount that others had tried to do this before. There were other elephants previous to Topsy; such as Jumbo; who thrilled audiences for years, only to have his bones displayed by P.T.Barnum for 25 cents a look in New York.

The book is sprawling in its range, encompassing even the founding of Luna Park in Brooklyn’s Coney Island, as well as the sadistic trainer who abused Topsy until her fateful day. When that day arrived, the only help that she received was from the SPCA, which forbade the owners from charging to see Topsy killed. The crowd was limited to about 800 select people, all of whom were either reporters, or residents of Coney Island. Below is the film which Edison took of the execution. Don't watch if you are easily upset. The date of the film is January, 2, 1903.

A startling look at the underside of human nature, this book reads like a film, and haunts the reader afterward with questions about who we all are, and why? There are no more public executions of animals anymore; either for profit, or even to prove a point. But the fact that there once was, and laws had to be passed to outlaw the practice in the first place, is what really disappoints me the most.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

"Charlie Chan in London" with Warner Oland and Ray Milland (1934)


Cold and rainy Sunday afternoons when I was a kid didn't pose much of a problem for me. I was, and still am, an avid reader, and when all else failed there was always something old on television, usually Channel 9, WOR-TV. I don’t know what they show bow, but back then they were a treasure trove of old movies almost all the time. Many were old enough to have gone out of copyright, and so they could be shown for free, which was a real plus for the audience, as it gave the station a wider variety of stuff to choose from.

In this film, Charlie Chan, played by the decidedly western Warner Oland, gets involved at the last minute to help solve the murder for which an innocent man is about to be put to death. His last appeal has been denied, but his girlfriend, who believes adamantly in his innocence, manages to get Mr. Chan to look into the matter. Kind of like a “Matlock” episode, only with an Oriental Andy Griffith.

There’s a lot of charm to these old Charlie Chan films, and also a remarkable similarity to many of the simpler television mystery shows such as “Matlock” and many others. And another thing I like about a lot of these films and shows is that no one; except the bad guy; ever pays the bill. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

"The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met" - Walt Disney (1946)



One of the greatest things about the old cartoons was that they opened up different avenues of entertainment for millions of kids. As a matter of fact, most kids of my generation were probably first exposed to the classics through cartoons such as this one by Disney from 1946.

The plot is fairly simple; a sailor has brought home stories of a singing whale named Willie, which nobody believes. Professors are called in to study the mammal, and all agree that he has swallowed a man. But when he begins to harmonize with himself in several voices, they are all stumped.

A seagull is dispatched to ascertain the validity of the story, and when it is revealed to be the truth, the Captain sets out to capture Willie. He has dreams of making the whale a star, as well of his own grandeur. In his mind Willie will travel the world, singing opera on stage, and making the Captain rich.

But, in his quest for fame and fortune he kills the whale, ending his own dreams. But Willie goes on to sing forever in the depths of the sea. There are something’s in nature that can never be captured, or caged.

Beautifully directed by Directed by Clyde Geronimi and Hamilton Luske, this cartoon has Nelson Eddy performing all of the singing. This is a wonderful introduction, for children of all ages, to the world of Opera.

Friday, August 16, 2013

"The Bletchley Circle - Cracking a Killer's Code" with Rachael Stirling and Sophie Rundle (2012)

This is a very smartly written and well filmed mystery concerning 4 women, all former code breakers in World War Two England, who find themselves embroiled in a real life mystery in their own town. The year is 1952, and these 4 women have left the war far behind them, concentrating on family and the ordinary portions of life in post-war England. That is, until the day that a killer enters their world.

Having worked so closely together in the war at the code-breaking center known as Bletchley Park, these women are now re-united, and more than ready to see if they can discern any pattern to the killings. With the safety of their fellow citizens once again on the line, these 4 women are eager to solve the case as quickly as they can.

Anna Maxwell Martin, Rachael Stirling, Julie Graham, and Sophie Grundle all turn in superior forces in this PBS drama reminiscent of the British wartime series “Foyles War” which was huge hit in Britain and has lately been garnering a lot of attention here in America. If you enjoyed those shows, then this movie is certainly going to whet your appetite for more adventures from these 4 very talented actresses and their writer, Guy Burt.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Happy Birthday Again Uncle "I"

Today would have been my Uncle Irving's 124th birthday; maybe. It might be only his 120th birthday. We'll never know for sure. All of the Henkins’ were rather secretive about most such things, and so we don't know a whole lot about them. The following has been presented here before, but just in case you haven't read, or heard about my Uncle, I have reprinted his story today; beginning with how his parents; my great grandparents Max and Rebecca; came to America, and how that move eventually affected me through my relationship with their son, Irving; this magical man whom I knew as Uncle "I". To leave out the story of his parents would be to leave his own story incomplete.

The Henkins never were sticklers for the truth- there was no doubt about that. If it was ten men they’d seen, they told it as a hundred; a 20 car freight train was 200 cars long; a five dollar win at the track was fifty. You know the type - colorful and fun to be around. Here’s their story, and that of my Uncle Irving, at least so far as we can piece it together.

Well, it all started with this horse….

The story had been around for years and then died out for a while- and since I may be the only one left to tell it, here goes;

Max “Pops” Henkin (we think that’s the last name- no proof) had a livery stable in the “old" country. It was a very vague place, somewhere near Kiev in the Ukraine region. Some small shetl; which; no doubt has long been gone. But it would’ve been nice to know the name. It was there that “Pops”; everyone called him that; met and married Rebecca, and it was there that he operated his livery stable.

One day a man came in with a wonderful looking horse, well bred, fed and easily led. This was a mighty steed - 14 hands high, and with a spirited manor. “Pops” could not afford him and he so he turned the man away. But this man was persistent, and made Max an offer he could not refuse, and so he became the owner of this prize animal. Accordingly, and expecting a great profit, he put the horse up for sale, advertising it everywhere within a day’s journey of his shetl outside Kiev.

All hell broke loose soon after when he was charged with being in possession of a horse belonging to the Czar. He was released pending a trial in which he would have surely been convicted, and so he took his family out of Russia, through Italy and then to Spain and on to probably Canada, although no records seem to exist to support that. But they don’t show up as entering America either, but nevertheless, they were here.

“Pops” had 3 children in America with Rebecca. They were Nathan, Issac and Dora. Issac was my Grand Uncle through my mom. He and “Pops” had lived with my Mom's family through the World War II years while she was growing up in Brooklyn, NY. He was like a Grandfather to me and no words can express the love I had, and still have, for this man.

Issac was later known as Irving - due to the tall tales he told we sometimes called him Uncle “Lie”- but he was always Uncle “I” as far as I was concerned.

He was born, alternately, depending upon whom you asked, in Vineland New Jersey, Philadelphia, or New York City. Everyone agrees that it was on Aug 15th- but the year varies- 1893, 1895 or 1898 - take your pick. He was old enough to collect Social Security when I was 5 but worked until a year before he died in 1975. And he was too young to serve in World War I- registering in August of 1918, just 3 months before the Armistice. He probably was trying to avoid detection as an illegal for fear of being sent back to the "old" country. His father had crossed the ocean to escape Europe and Irving had no desire to retrace “Pops” steps – he didn’t want to go back - as a deportee or a soldier.

He apparently worked for the American Railway Express Co and later went into the Garment Industry as a buyer of furs. He used to bring me samples and to this day I can tell real from fake chinchilla, mink, sable, rabbit and even lamb. We had raccoon tails by the armload and attached them to the handlebars of our bikes and the backs of our hats, and even flew one from the antenna of the old Plymouth.

When I was younger, he would take me, and later, when I was older, I would meet him at the furriers where he worked on 7th Ave in the Garment District. The cutters, the tailors and sewing operators all treated me royally and I was fascinated by this aspect of my Uncles life.

Although he was already 60 when I was born, for 20 years he took me every Sunday to the beach in the summer, movies in the winter, and ice cream sodas and walks on Friday nights. He always regaled me with the stories of all the people he had met in his business as a furrier and how everyone knew him all over the city.

The Friday night walks were the most special times I spent with Uncle “I”. In spite of his age he never failed to make that 1 hour trip each way to watch the news, eat dinner and "talk" a walk with me. By "talk" a walk- I mean that we would talk and walk. We would go to the candy store on Kings Hwy and 15th Street and he would buy me an ice cream soda and afterwards give me a Standing Liberty or Benjamin Franklin half dollar. And when "magic time" was done I would walk him around the corner to the Quentin Road entrance of the BMT for his 1 hour train ride back to Manhattan. They said he had no where to go, but I know better- he came to see me.

He took me to baseball games at the Polo Grounds, Shea Stadium, Yankee Stadium, to the circus at the Old Madison Square Garden, and to Radio City Music Hall for the Christmas Show. He was Jewish to the core, but the blue lit Nativity scene, complete with real Camels on stage - made him weep from the majesty of it. He knew every doorman, every usher, and every cabbie. We would go to the Stage Delicatessen on 7th Avenue and he knew all the comedians, actors and characters there, including the owner, Max.

We would miss parts of first acts trying to get to our seats as he stopped to acknowledge greeting after greeting, mostly from the people that worked in the places we visited, but sometimes people in the audience would call out to him, as if they desired his recognition, as well as to just say hello. He was a shy and gentle man, yet he seemed well liked and commanded some degree of affection and respect wherever we went.

He would go to Las Vegas every year to feed the slots and bring home the old solid silver Morgan Dollars from the 1880’s and the Peace Dollars from the early 1930’s. He never won, but he’d save those last 2 dollars for my brother and me.

Occasionally, he would stay over, especially if a game had gone into extra innings or overtime, depending on the season. He would sleep in my bed and I would take a folding cot in between my bed and my brothers. I would cover it with blankets and sheets and get underneath, pretending that this was my submarine. When I emerged I was always confronted by the sight of his teeth in a glass on my desk.

I still recall how, at least once every summer at Rockaway Beach, he would duck into a bar for a beer to catch the game and a peek at the baseball score. He didn’t smoke or drink but he would order a beer and bum a cigarette. He’d smoke it without inhaling, enjoying a moment of male camaraderie. It always seemed so mysterious to me, this bachelor world he lived in- hotels and restaurants. It was glamorous on the one hand, and lonely on the other.

If I characterize this part of Irving’s’ life as mysterious, it is probably because I never once went up to his hotel room. I suppose he considered it improper or ill advised to take a child up to his room with him. But he gave the most important gift of all to me; his time.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Fall of the Rising Sun

Ask most people and they will cite September 2nd as VJ Day, which stands for “Victory Over Japan” in the parlance of the Second World War. Earlier in the year the United States had celebrated the end of hostilities in Europe with VE Day. Technically VJ Day is a separate occasion entirely from Japan’s formal surrender in Tokyo Bay in September aboard the USS Missouri, or the Mighty Mo’ as her crew affectionately called her.

As chronicled in “My Hitch in Hell” by Lester I. Tenney the war actually ended about a day after the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, some 35 miles from the coal mine where he was enslaved as a prisoner of war. Within days these men were roaming freely about in Japan, accepting the informal surrender of all the Japanese they encountered. The two governments had agreed to a cessation of all hostilities while the arrangements were being made for a formal “instrument”, or document of surrender, to be drawn up.That was the document signed aboard the Missouri on September 2, 1945 and shown below.

The Rising Sun flag was the equivalent of the Confederate Battle Flag in that it was not, nor ever was, the official flag of the nation it served. The Japanese flag is the same now as it was before, during and after the war. Only the Rising Sun flag, which denoted imperialism, was outlawed after the Japanese surrender. The only difference is that the South did not get to continue flying its nation’s “Stars and Bars” after the war simply because that nation had ceased to exist.

Japan went on to prosper under the direction of an American occupation, which lasted about 15 years. And, she has been a staunch ally ever since. Here in America, on the other hand, divisions still exist over the outcome of our own Civil War, now almost 150 years past.

The Rising Sun flag fell after the war with Japan was over; while here in the United States, the Confederate Battle Flag can still be seen on everything from cigarette lighters and tee-shirts, to bumper stickers and even tattoos, proving that; although the war here may have ended, unlike the war with Japan; our own battle still rages within.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Popeye Meets Bluebeard - Chivalry Is Not Dead

I ran into an old sailing buddy of mine the other day in Kannapolis, N.C. We were old friends and the years melted away as we reminisced. But then I introduced him to my wife Sue…

That’s when he attempted to steal her away from me. At first I could only look down in shame.

But then, remembering him to be the scoundrel which he always was, I had an idea.

Sneaking up on his port quarter, I was able to gain the advantage and soon attacked, with nothing but my wits and fists to obtain my goal.
  
It was a short and heated battle, with your correspondent maintaining the advantage throughout the engagement.
  
And that’s the story of how I fought and won a fight for my wife’s love at the museum the other day. It worked out well.

We made a brand new friend, who has given up his barbarous ways and now knows his proper place in the world. In the end, my wife’s beauty tamed the beast.

Monday, August 12, 2013

"David Played a Harp" by Ralph W. Johnson (2000)

I live less than 20 minutes from the Main Street where this book takes place. I read it for the first time in 2000 when it was released. Mr. Johnson wrote the book in the 1970’s, and let the manuscript lay around for over 20 years before he decided, at the urging of friends and family, to publish it at the age of 96. And what a book it is.

It is the story of the old Jim Crow south and how the author, Ralph Johnson, managed to deal with the inequities of those times. Over the course of 40 years, in the midst of racial segregation, he was able; with great difficulty; to open, operate and maintain the area’s largest barber shop. It is also the story of how the misguided elite students and professors of Davidson College, helped to tear it all down with idealism at a time when the country was rife with racial division in the days before, and just after, the assassination of Martin Luther King.

Ralph Johnson was a victim of the Jim Crow era, but in a much different way than one usually thinks. He was not beaten, nor lynched. He was, instead, the unique victim of hostility from his own people; who saw his efforts at bettering himself as an affront to their own lack of initiative; and, at the same time, also the victim of the young white students and faculty at Davidson College, who looked to alleviate the racial discrimination in the town as a way to assuage their own guilt at having benefited from it.

Indeed, even as they were protesting the segregation in Mr. Johnson’s barber shop, they themselves were the employers of Negro laundry workers, janitors, and cooks on their own campus. These employees had no rights, no benefits and were paid substandard wages for the time. When they grew too old, or too sick, to work anymore, they were simply dismissed and could be seen wandering in rags, sometimes living with relatives who took them in, or else in camps in the local woods, living like tramps. There were no student protests about these unfortunate victims of Jim Crow from the students of Davidson College.

The book begins with Mr. Johnson’s childhood and his scant memories of his father. He recounts his own efforts to obtain an education, which was not possible in Davidson for a person of color at the time. By hard study through correspondence courses taken over many years, Mr. Johnson was able to earn a high school diploma, a college degree and even studied law. As a matter of fact, in 1937, just before the law regarding taking the Bar exam in North Carolina changed, he had been taking law courses in preparation to take the Bar. He was even offered a position with a locally prominent white attorney, but it was economically impossible for him to abandon the barber shop in order to do so.

Eventually he was able to move his shop to Main Street without causing too much backlash. Later, when moving his shop to its final location, he was able to buy a building at the Corner of Main and Depot Streets, which was unheard of at the time. There were several incidents of vandalism and even an attempt at arson on his home as a result of this, but Mr. Johnson, plagued by illness and anxiety, shouldered on and eventually had the best barbershop in the region, drawing customers from every nearby town. By state law he was not permitted to cut the hair of Negroes in his own shop, and even had to have his own hair cut there at night, with the shades drawn.

I moved to this area of North Carolina in 1998, two years before this book was released. I had become familiar with the Town of Davidson by that time. It is a beautiful college town, fully integrated and with a lively economy in spite of the superhighway which runs parallel to it by about 1 mile and has sucked the life out of most of the small towns it breezes through. A lot has changed in the years since Mr. Johnson wrote his story.

The building where Mr. Johnson ran his business is a bank now, which has changed hands over 3 times since we moved here. The author’s description of the town allows you to walk down Main Street and identify every building and what businesses used to occupy them. The steeple of the Church across the street from the old barber shop still stands on the grounds of Davidson College, and at certain times of the year, at certain hours of the afternoon, the sun casts the shadow of that cross over Mr. Johnson’s old barber shop, in the building he once owned. I think he would find some comfort in that.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

"Society's Child" - Janis Ian (1967)


When Janis Ian recorded this astonishingly mature song in 1967 she was barely 17 years old. This performance is from the Smother’s Brothers Comedy Hour, which was always pushing the envelope in relation to political and social issues. It’s the main reason they were taken off the air in the politically charged late 1960’s.

I have been searching forever to find a copy of the first recording of this record, which was done without the electric organ, or any other instrument for that matter. I haven’t seen it since I took the accompanying book out of the library several years ago, which contained a disc featuring Ms. Ian singing the song with only her acoustic guitar. If you think she looks and sounds young here, you should here the other version. It’s even more plaintive and powerful when you consider that she had to be about 16 when she wrote it.

Sunday nights in America underwent a radical change during the second half of the 1960’s. The slick variety shows were making way for more edgy forms of entertainment. It seemed, suddenly, that America was not satisfied with Ed Sullivan’s talking mouse or a troupe of acrobats any longer. The audience wanted entertainment which reflected the changes that were taking place in their own cities, towns, and even in their homes.

In this semi-live performance you will notice a few vocal differences from the recorded version. Although portions of the music were pre-recorded, Ms. Ian is singing live, with the help of some unnecessary reverb at certain points. These were the days when the cameramen focused on the faces of the musicians, rather than their hands, which is what I was always looking to see. I didn’t care how the performer looked, just as long as I could see their hands and try to make the same chords.

As for the recording itself; it was banned in some cities, mainly by Chicago’s WLS, a 50,000 watt station, making it one of the larger stations on the air at the time. In spite of, or maybe because of, this ban, the record went on to reach #14 on the Billboard charts and hung there for several weeks during the “Summer of Love”. And of course, it has become a classic in its own right for the brave stand Ms. Ian took by writing and performing it. She actually received death threats and hate mail for this recording.

Ironically, as Sunday night’s evolved from the benign shows of the 50’s and 60’s, many bemoaned the fact that America was losing her spirituality by veering away from traditional entertainment. I have to disagree on that point. Songs like “Society’s Child” were actually a step toward a higher consciousness, addressing the important social inequities of the time. In this respect, I submit that performances like this were much more spiritually oriented than a talking mouse.
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Eydie  Gorme - 1966


The fabulous Eydie Gormet has passed away, taking part of an era with her. Whether performing solo, or with her husband Steve Lawrence, she lit up the stage during the 1960's, She broke into the big time while with Kay Kyser's Musical College, and the rest is history.  This performance, from You Tube, was filmed in 1966.  Ms. Gorme was 84. RIP Eydie.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

"Snow White" with Betty Boop (1933)


One of the most remarkable things in this cartoon is the performance by Cab Calloway of “St. James Infirmary Blues.” The story is about Betty; who finds herself having to deal with her evil step-mom, the Queen. The Queen spends her time gazing into a looking glass, assuring herself that she is the most beautiful woman around. That is, until Betty shows up.

When the Queen’s magic mirror, along with all of the servants, declare that Betty is the “fairest in the land”, the Queen is horrified and orders Betty put to death. But the royal subjects all have other plans for Betty, and they fake her execution and burial, much to the delight of the Queen. But where has Betty really gone?

With the help of the Queen’s knights, and even the tree to which she is bound in a snowstorm, Betty is frozen into a block of ice and placed in a coffin constructed by the Seven Dwarfs. But the Queen grows wise to the deception and goes after the culprits, which now include her mirror, which has turned against her. KoKo and Bimbo accompany her on her journey to find Betty, and destroy her for good, to the tune of “St. James Infirmary”, swung by Cab Calloway and his famous orchestra. (That's a pun, not a typo.)

A very imaginative cartoon like this, with a fantastic performance of the old blues standard by one of the greatest jazz musicians of his time, make this one worth watching; or even listening to; a real treat.

Friday, August 9, 2013

D.G. Martin Apologizes for Telling the Truth

I don’t know how popular this guy is outside of North Carolina, and until today I had not heard of him at all. I’m not a big fan of the 24/7 news cycle and it appears that Mr. Martin works in that field, so he has never crossed my radar screen until now.

It seems that Mr. Martin hosts a TV show called “Bookwatch”, on which he interviews authors in depth, and apparently to much acclaim. I’ll have to start watching him, as we seem to share a love of books; and literature in general. So, what’s the deal with Mr. Martin apologizing to the North Carolina Grand Old Party, which is currently having a grand old time rolling the state back about 100 years socially and economically?

Apparently, Mr. Martin, quoted Joseph Goebbels from a recently released book called “In the Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larsont, in which Goebbels says “Now our party is in charge and they are free again. When a man has been in jail for 12 years and is suddenly freed, in his joy he may do something irrational, perhaps even brutal.” After reciting the quote Mr. Martin added these words of his own; “In our state, too?” And now you would think that the sky has fallen as the republicans demand a retraction, an apology, and even Mr. Martin’s removal from the TV show he hosts, which is funded in part by the state.

Okay, let’s examine two things here; first, what he said. The quote is applicable, in my opinion, to the actions of the recently installed GOP Governorship of the state of North Carolina, in which I live. After not having a Republican in power for 100 years, it would seem to many; and if you have been aware of the “Moral Monday” demonstrations recently, in which teachers and Nuns have been arrested; that the GOP in North Carolina is acting exactly as Herr Goebbels describes.

As soon as the Republicans took over last January they began a flood of bills all aimed at either rolling back the social progress of the last 50 years, or passed legislation which will have a crippling effect upon the middle classes. Along with these measures, they have found time to declare war on women’s health choices, attempting to gut access to abortions. And, in their spare time they have even tried to establish an official State Religion. Some; as Goebbels did; might describe these actions as being “irrational, perhaps even brutal.” That’s my opinion.

Secondly; these self-anointed monitors of the airwaves are quick to point out that Mr. Martin overstepped his mandate by delving into politics when he made the comparison, thus venturing an opinion with which they do not agree. Good point, save for one thing. If you allow that thinking to prevail, and Mr. Martin is removed from his post, then the NCGOP has now made their opinion; for that is what it is; the prevalent one, thus depriving the people who might agree with Mr. Martin in the first place, of their own rights. This creates a vicious circle, in which no one is ever satisfied.

J. Edgar Hoover; not one of my favorite people to quote from; once inadvertently said something very astute. In his book “Masters of Deceit” from 1958 (Henry Holt) Hoover states that once everyone has their rights to the fullest extent, then everyone’s rights will be diminished in proportion. And he was right. It was probably an accident of thinking on his part, but he was right. Think about it; if I am so concerned with offending you, then I must carefully choose my words. That’s what keeps America from ever having a real “conversation” about race. Too many words we can’t use to discuss the problem we have.

Well, the same holds true here with D.G. Martin and the NCGOP. With both sides unwilling to listen, or even tolerate the other's point of view, if they both exercise their rights to the max, then the silence will become, as they say, deafening.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Salvador Dali on "What's My Line" - 1957


No one would ever associate Salvador Dali with television, but between the late 1950's and the mid 1960's he was a frequent, and amusing, guest on several of the leading shows of the time. Above is his appearance on the show "What's My Line" from 1957. He had also recently done "What's My Line." It is amazing how comfortable he appears in front of the camera, as opposed to a small gallery showing.

The interview on the Merv Griffin Show, below, was done on December 30, 1965. Merv is actually the one who seems out of place, appearing not to know what to ask of the great artist. But Dali's wit and humor combine to save the day.  Sharp eyes will notice that Andy Warhol is also on the show, sitting on the couch next to Arthur Treacher. You have to wonder what they could possibly have spoken about during the commercials!

You Tube is a veritable playground for me. Through it I have been able to garner the sights and sounds of all the shows and performers I enjoyed as a kid. I must confess to having missed both of these broadcasts, but the mere fact that Salvador Dali was ever on television to begin with has been a real revelation to me. I don't know why; after all, this is the man who gave us a new and interesting way of looking at art. It's not too much of a leap to suppose that he thought of television as another form of expressing his art; and of course, plugging his book.