Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ground-breaking Cult Television Shows of the 1960s (The Prisoner, The Avengers, Ernie Kovacs)

The 1960s was a time of questioning the status quo and exploring new forms of creative expression. Three shows from this era stand out for their innovative visual effects, controversial main characters, and absurdist plots; “The Prisoner,” “The Avengers,’ and “The Ernie Kovacs Show.” They continue to influence film and television to this day.

“I am not a Number, I am a Free Man” ~~The Prisoner



The legendary BBC mini-series, “The Prisoner” (1967) stars Patrick McGoohan (1928 – 2009) as Number Six, a kidnapped ex-spy who is relocated to a beautiful yet mysterious village where the inhabitants are known not by their names, but by their assigned numbers. McGoohan (King Edward I in “Braveheart” 1995) was the brilliantly creative mind behind the show; having written, produced, and directed it.

The intro to the show sets the stage superbly, thus making each of the seventeen episodes non-linear. To the sound of thunder, Number Six storms into his Bose’s office with a letter of resignation. A menacingly large black car follows him home, looking as if it will eat his small Lotus sports car with him in it. He hurriedly packs his suitcase, only to be gassed through a keyhole. Disoriented, he wakes up and stumbles to a window to find he is in an apartment in the Village.

Number 6 asks: “Where am I?”/ Number 2: “In the Village.”/ “What do you want?”/ “We want information.”/ “Whose side are you on?”/ “That would be telling. We want information.”/ “You won’t get it!”/ “By hook or by crook, we will!”/ “Who are you?”/ “The new Number 2.” / “Who is Number 1?” / “You are Number 6.” / “I am not a Number, I am a Free Man!” / Number 2 laughs heartily (fade)

What is the reason why Number 6 resigned in such a fury? What is the nature of the information which Number 2 is obsessed with obtaining? Where is this Village? The answer is: there is no answer. That is the exquisiteness of the show; it is purposefully left open to the interpretation of its viewers. This is no mindless sit-com with canned laughter tracks signaling viewers where to giggle; it is a thinking persons program full of symbolism, social criticism, and double entendres.

McGoohan’s vision of a Kafkaesque society where untold numbers of people are blackmailed to report on the activity of others is hauntingly familiar to that of the Stasi (Secret Police) apparatus in East Germany which indoctrinated one quarter of the population to spy on their friends, family, and neighbours. The show is timeless and produces striking images which permanently etch themselves into the minds of viewers.

Like putting together a 200 piece puzzle of M.C. Escher’s staircase, the plot unfolds to reveal its splendid complexity. The colourful clothing of the townspeople is in stark contrast to their drab personalities and strict adherence to rules of conformity enforced by the establishment. Upon deeper inspection, the wardrobe, towels, and umbrellas of the townsfolk are in primary colours; blue, red, green, yellow, the same shades recur with no variation. Number Six has a distinctly different outfit: gray pants, dark blue turtleneck, and black dress jacket with white trim. Nobody looks like him, and nobody dares act like him. He is the embodiment of non-conformity: he questions the rules of the authorities, and tries to escape every chance he gets.

The location of the exterior shots is a visual odyssey in its own right. The village is cluster of breath-taking classically inspired buildings surrounded on three sides by mountains and a beach by the sea on the forth. The location was carefully kept secret during production, finally revealed in the closing credits of the last episode, “Fall Out.” Portmeirion, a small resort town in North Wales, has an enchanting quality about it. A vanity project by Welsh architect, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, it was deigned and constructed between 1925 and 1975 in the style of a southern Italian town. Lovely sunny days, lush gardens, and palm trees make this town idyllic, but it is a gilded cage for Number 6.

The art Director, Jack Shampan, created the atmospheric Bond-like feel to the mechanical devices and interiors of Number Two’s chamber and dome control room. Rover is huge remote control white bouncing balloon which incapacities insubordinates and escapes. When it moves through the village, people become motionless; a surreal sight.

“The Prisoner” is experimental in theme, characters, and setting. Like the work of Lewis Carroll, it combines symbolism, strange characters, and unusual scenarios to weave together a story which represents different things for different people. McGoohan was offered the role of Bond before Roger Moore, but he reclined. He chose instead to take the spy genre to heretofore unexplored psychological and sociological territory and for that we are grateful.





“Mrs. Peel - We’re Needed”

“The Avengers” is an outstanding BBC spy-fi (spy fiction with elements of science fiction) adventure series starring Patrick Macnee (1922 – present) as the impeccably stylish secret agent John Steed, and Dame Diana Rigg (1938 – present) as the fearless and independent-minded Emma Peel. The show ran from 1961 – 1969 and was filmed in black and white until 1967, when colour was introduced to marvelous effect. Rigg played Peel from 1965 – 1968, after Honor Blackman, who played Catherine Gale, left the show.

Peel is the epitome of femininity; intelligent, elegant, and beautiful, all while fighting off enemy spies so she can complete a friendly game of chess with Steed. Her classic Lotus Elan sports car and leather cat suits embody the ideal of an emancipated modern woman. How I would love to have that car in my garage and those clothes in my closet. Forget diamonds, I want those girls toys!

Steed is the quintessential British upper-class gentleman-spy: he wears a smart suit (designed by Pierre Cardin), carries a concealed sword in his umbrella, and has a custom metal bowler hat (for fighting, of course). Suave, sophisticated, full of gadgets and witty one-liners, Steed is televisions version of James Bond, minus the regular visits to the STD clinic. Steed and Peel never kiss but occasionally flirt. They complement each other perfectly as they fight international espionage plots and still have time left over to pop open a vintage bottle of champagne at the end of each episode.

The playful Mod clothing and extraordinary set design establish the unique visual character of the series. Framed photographs of eyes on walls, round-shaped brightly coloured furniture, and big-buttoned A-line jackets blend with walking bass lines and beatnik drums to create a collage of the swinging 60s. Peels dynamic and bold-coloured Mod garb was designed by Alun Hughes.

The titles of the episodes are as whimsical as the show, spoofing titles of films and television shows. For example: “The Girl from AUNTIE” spoofs of spy-fi show, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “Mission Highly Improbable” lampoons secret agent show “Mission Impossible,” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station” parody’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” 1966 film comedy with Buster Keaton in his last film appearance).



“The Joker” (season 5 episode 15, 1967)

In which Steed trumps an ace –

And Emma plays a lone card



Pendergast, a criminal whom Peel had sent to jail, has devised a scheme to lure her to an isolated mansion in the countryside. She arrives at the Victorian-Gothic style manor expecting to spend the weekend playing bridge, but instead finds Ola, a menacing young woman who tells her that the host has been delayed and will arrive later. The mansion is reminiscent of those found in Hammer horror films (a la Vincent Price) with its wood paneling, antique furniture, and candelabras. The eight-foot tall playing cards throughout the dinning room and one as a revolving door on top of the staircase break the horror film spell and become absurdist. After Ola leaves to “care for a sick friend,” Peel can tell she isn’t alone in the house when the card door keeps revolving.

Far be it for Peel to be intimidated. A stranger appears at the door asking to use the phone instead he takes his knife out and asks, “How would you like me to tuck you in (to bed)?” She twists his arm and says, “How would you like me to break your arm?” as she kicks him out the door.

The attention to detail in the application of colour in this episode is dazzling. Peels Chinese red silk pajamas make her shoulder-length auburn hair radiate. The tablecloth and the wall paper in the dinning room are the same shade of red as hearts on the cards and the roses Pentergast leaves around the house for Peel to find. Ola wears a sweater which is the identical blue to that of the candles and the clothing on the cards.

The gramophone record which Pentergast plays repeatedly in order to taunt Peel is a German song called, “Mein Liebling, Mein Rose.” The producers could have gone through the trouble to find someone who could sing it with proper German grammar and without the fake accent. The correct title should have been, “Mein Liebing, Meine Rose.” There were a few parts in the song which had flawed grammar.

“The Avengers” has classic wit and charisma which makes it addictive. The chemistry between Steed and Peel clicks perfectly.



The Absurdist World of Ernie Kovacs



Ernie Kovacs was a clever pioneer of camera techniques in the toddler days of television. He was the first to use a tilting set, produced the first sketch comedy show on television, and he broke down the forth wall when he filmed skits inside the studio control room, amongst other innovations. He also hosted the first nationally syndicated morning show called, “Three to Get Ready.” The networks didn’t think it would last because they thought that no one would watch TV so early.

Kovacs was a spontaneous comedian with a charmingly twisted sense of humour. He is best remembered for his “Nairobi Trio” in which three actors in monkey suits move like wind-up toys to the tune of Robert Maxwell’s “Solfeggio.” They take turns hitting each other and making goofy faces. He created many memorable characters such as Percy Dovetonsils, a boozy and flamboyant gay poet. Yes, the first gay character on network TV and this was in the late 50s/early 60s!

Dovetonsils reads poems to the audience as he drinks his martini. One skit had him reciting a poem he wrote to the bookworm living in his library, entitled,

Ode to a Bookworm



“Oh hail to thee thou streamlined fellow, / You go through my books like /

A fork goes through Jell-O. /When I open a book and / Look back at the binding, /

Little crumbs from your lunch / Always I'm finding.”


After a few more stanzas it concludes…

“Today is your birthday, may you live good and long, / So the night will be filled with your nibbling song. / Now you can eat my presents from the back to the front /

For today I've enrolled you in the "Book of the Month.”

Which may have been inspired by Charlie Chaplin's "Ode to a Worm" act in "Limelight" (1952)


Kovacs used his fingers and found objects around the set to create a trippy black & white kaleidoscope set to classical music. An early Microsoft Media Player. He was psychedelic before the rest of us know the word. Sadly, Kovacs died in a car accident in January 1962. He was only 42. He would have loved the 60s with the coming of colour television, lava lamps, and new directions in filmmaking. To imagine him in the 60s is to see an artist experimenting in his element. Perhaps there is a parallel universe out there where he made it home safe that rainy night in Los Angeles. That universe would watch the various hilarious incarnations of “The Ernie Kovacs Show” throughout the 60s. One day, in that otherworld, he would explode onto the screen in astounding colour. As for us here, we can just mourn the loss of a creative master who vanished before he reached his full potential.







Commonalities





“The Prisoner,” “The Avengers,” and “The Ernie Kovacs Show” had a profound impact on television in a myriad of ways. Each show had unique characters which weren’t depicted on television before.

“The Avengers” gave us the emancipated Emma Peel. That opened the floodgates for independent and courageous female characters to follow. She is the Amelia Earhardt of television. Peel pioneered the role of strong female characters. In the mid-sixties, it was unprecedented to have a woman who could fight (and win) her own battles. Female roles were weak and mousy; they often were victims who would get kidnapped by just grabbing their wrists and walking away. We didn’t get another tough and robust female role like that until 1977 with Princess Leia from “Star Wars.” After Leia, it took at least another decade for resilient females to become visible. The proliferation of these women, such as Trinity from “The Matrix” (1999), can be traced back to the immaculate Emma Peel.



“The Prisoner” presented a rebellious individual who single-mindedly fights the system which oppresses him. This isn’t James Dean without a cause. Number Six is dehumanized and stripped of his identity. This makes revolutionary television, literally.

Ernie Kovacs revealed the first flaming gay character. Dovetonsils inspired later characters such as the “Men on Film” skit from “In Living Color.” Shadows of Kovacs are seen in “Saturday Night Live” with “Daily Affirmations with Steward Smally.” Kovacs’theater of the absurd humour and visual pranks wiggled their way into the drag acts and nonsensical news segments in “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Kovac’s skit “Hungarian Chef” has been reworked by Jim Henson in “The Muppets” with “The Swedish Chef,” minus the alcoholism.

As constant sources of inspiration, these classics never grow old.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
STRANGE INTERLUDE: My Dream, Time-Travel inspired band, "Hypnagogic Telegram" is going VIRAL on Youtube. Timelord Rock. Trock. I play a timeghost (zeitgeist) that inhabits the wardrobe closet in the TARDIS. I come out in costumes from various eras to dance & sing. If Doctor Who would have a band, it might sound like this.
<---- View YOUTUBE VIDEO here.
On FACEBOOK @ HYPNAGOGIC TELEGRAM

Check out my Time Travel, Dream, surreal artwork, performance art, costuming & photography on the other blog pages!

What Distinguishes a Good Critic? How does He or She Review the Arts?

A good critic has a passion for the subject matter and has a healthy curiosity to which enables them to continue learning about their chosen field. Passion brings enthusiasm and knowledge brings deeper understanding. Good critique interprets the work which is being critiqued. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “The critic occupies the same relation to the work of art that he criticizes as the artist does to the visible world of colour, or the unseen world of passion and of thought” (“The Critic as Artist”).
Every artist must be his or her own critic; supervising their work to ensure that they don’t bite off the style of other artists. Artists are not artists unless they are original. It’s one thing to rework a piece in your own way; it’s something else for your work to become indistinguishable from that of another. Plagiarism takes many forms besides the written variety. So too must the critic develop his or her own flavour without copying that of their peers.
            It is central for a skillful critic to be aware of who the audience is for the work they review. The quality and style of a given band or book is determined, to some extent, by what kind of individuals attend the concert or buy the book. Most teenagers wouldn’t care for classical music and most drunken frat-boys won’t understand Shakespeare. John Berger discusses this topic at length in his book, Ways of Seeing (Penguin Books, 1990). He speaks of the “spectator-owner,” a wealthy male who commissioned an artist to create a painting which exhibits the prosperity and possessions of that individual. Prosperity and possessions take the form of vast tracts of land, an elegant manor, the luxurious décor within the home, or a portrait of his wife; since women have been seen as possessions since antiquity. Berger says that if a painting has a nude woman and her lover, “the spectator-owner will in fantasy oust the other man, or else identify with him.”
Paintings were used as a form of bragging by the affluent. There is no denying that it was obnoxious and pretentious to hang paintings of your assets on your wall, and that it was dehumanizing for a woman to be the “property” of your husband. The only redeeming factor is that the art was of high quality and masterfully rendered. Now-a-days any idiot with some extra cash could brag by hogging up the road with his extra-wide, super-dumb Hummer. To paraphrase the Beatles, “Money Can’t Buy You Style.”
            A respectable critic would tell the truth about their opinion. That is easier said than done in a society with multi-million dollar corporations owning huge segments of the film, book, and music industries. The Hollywood junket industry tries to buy positive reviews from critics by paying for their hotel rooms and tossing gift bags at them. All that for some lame formulaic film? It takes a critic with some strong self-respect and unshakable convictions to stand up and speak out against these companies which stripe talented actors and filmmakers of their uniqueness and torment the intelligent portions of the film-going public with over-blown budgets and tired mediocre plots.
            Another attribute a good critic should have is an open mind. If he or she goes to a concert or gallery anticipating it to be a bad experience that might just come to pass. It is important to be receptive to the innovative and different. “After all, every writer wants to have s many unusual experiences as possible,” Lester Bangs proclaimed in Let it Blurt by Jim DeRogatis (Broadway Books, New York, 2000). Lester may have been referring to a disturbing party thrown by the Hell’s Angels, but heck, not everyone has the misfortune of being invited to such events. Disturbing events aside, it’s always exhilarating to experience the scope of human creativity through various art-forms.  Colourful and charismatic people, experimental sights and sounds, wonderful stage sets; all enable the writer to come into contact with the diversity of the creative community. Unique experiences are the spice of life.
            An open mind should also be applied to the subject matter at hand. Religious fanatics give the Harry Potter books a bad review based on the fact that the evangelical community in America views the books as promoting witchcraft. That is pure bias. They dislike the subject before they read the book, if they even bother to read the book at all. The best advice is to leave your bias at the door.
            Janet Fitch’s 10 rules for writers recommends that writers “pick a better verb. Most people use twenty verbs to describe from a run in their stocking to the explosion of an atomic bomb. Sew yourself a custom suit.” Finding new verbs helps the writer expand their vocabulary and also helps the reader feel what they are reading. A critic with a broad and vivid vocabulary can express himself or herself more efficiently.
            A critic’s work is not easy, and if your goal in life is to have everybody like you, than perhaps you ought to consider running a flower shop instead. But it offers exposure to art in its many forms and the eccentric characters that create it. The wide array of creative work is out there waiting to be revealed. So go forth and write!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

THE PRISONER w/ Patrick McGoohan (Ground-breaking Cult Television Shows of the 1960s pt 1)

The 1960s was a time of questioning the status quo and exploring new forms of creative expression. Three shows from this era stand out for their innovative visual effects, controversial main characters, and absurdist plots; “The Prisoner,” “The Avengers,’ and “The Ernie Kovacs Show.” They continue to influence film and television to this day.



“I am not a Number, I am a Free Man”


The legendary British mini-series, “The Prisoner” (1967) stars Patrick McGoohan (1928 – 2009) as Number Six, a kidnapped ex-spy who is relocated to a beautiful yet mysterious village where the inhabitants are known not by their names, but by their assigned numbers. McGoohan (King Edward I in “Braveheart” 1995) was the brilliantly creative mind behind the show; having written, produced, and directed it.

The intro to the show sets the stage superbly, thus making each of the seventeen episodes non-linear. To the sound of thunder, Number Six storms into his Bose’s office with a letter of resignation. A menacingly large black car follows him home, looking as if it will eat his small Lotus sports car with him in it. He hurriedly packs his suitcase, only to be gassed through a keyhole. Disoriented, he wakes up and stumbles to a window to find he is in an apartment in the Village.

Number 6 asks: “Where am I?”/ Number 2: “In the Village.”/ “What do you want?”/ “We want information.”/ “Whose side are you on?”/ “That would be telling. We want information.”/ “You won’t get it!”/ “By hook or by crook, we will!”/ “Who are you?”/ “The new Number 2.” / “Who is Number 1?” / “You are Number 6.” / “I am not a Number, I am a Free Man!” / Number 2 laughs heartily (fade)


What is the reason why Number 6 resigned in such a fury? What is the nature of the information which Number 2 is obsessed with obtaining? Where is this Village? The answer is: there is no answer. That is the exquisiteness of the show; it is purposefully left open to the interpretation of its viewers. This is no mindless sit-com with canned laughter tracks signaling viewers where to giggle; it is a thinking persons program full of symbolism, social criticism, and double entendres.

McGoohan’s vision of a Kafkaesque society where untold numbers of people are blackmailed to report on the activity of others is hauntingly familiar to that of the Stasi (Secret Police) apparatus in East Germany which indoctrinated one quarter of the population to spy on their friends, family, and neighbours. The show is timeless and produces striking images which permanently etch themselves into the minds of viewers.

Like putting together a 200 piece puzzle of M.C. Escher’s staircase, the plot unfolds to reveal its splendid complexity. The colourful clothing of the townspeople is in stark contrast to their drab personalities and strict adherence to rules of conformity enforced by the establishment. Upon deeper inspection, the wardrobe, towels, and umbrellas of the townsfolk are in primary colours; blue, red, green, yellow, the same shades recur with no variation. Number Six has a distinctly different outfit: gray pants, dark blue turtleneck, and black dress jacket with white trim. Nobody looks like him, and nobody dares act like him. He is the embodiment of non-conformity: he questions the rules of the authorities, and tries to escape every chance he gets.

The location of the exterior shots is a visual odyssey in its own right. The village is cluster of breath-taking classically inspired buildings surrounded on three sides by mountains and a beach by the sea on the forth. The location was carefully kept secret during production, finally revealed in the closing credits of the last episode, “Fall Out.” Portmeirion, a small resort town in North Wales, has an enchanting quality about it. A vanity project by Welsh architect, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, it was deigned and constructed between 1925 and 1975 in the style of a southern Italian town. Lovely sunny days, lush gardens, and palm trees make this town idyllic, but it is a gilded cage for Number 6.

The art Director, Jack Shampan, created the atmospheric Bond-like feel to the mechanical devices and interiors of Number 2s chamber and dome control room. Rover is huge remote control white bouncing balloon which incapacitates in-subordinates and escapes. When it moves through the village, people become motionless; a surreal sight.

“The Prisoner” is experimental in theme, characters, and setting. Like the work of Lewis Carroll, it combines symbolism, strange characters, and unusual scenarios to weave together a story which represents different things for different people. McGoohan was offered the role of Bond before Roger Moore, but he reclined on the grounds that he wished his character to use his mind instead of a gun (just like Doctor Who). He chose instead to take the spy genre to heretofore unexplored psychological and sociological territory and for that we are forever grateful.

“The Prisoner” presented us with an absurdist existence in a mysterious village. The villagers are absurdist in their dress, anti-individual stance, and blind devotion to an invisible authority. Number Six is a stranger in a strange place, but in a deeper philosophical sense. The show played with bizarre camera angles and unusual visuals to convey such effects as disorientation, psychedelic drugs, confusion, and dream-states. The main character is novel to television: a militant non-conformist who openly questions societal rules and refuses to “fit in.
The time has come to stand up as individuals against social injustices. The 99% movement, Occupy Wall St, and global protests embody the spirit of McGoohans legacy, which is both profound and timely. Doctor Who, Number 6, V (V for Vendetta) and now we proclaim that you can't kill an idea.

"I am not a number, I am a free man" speech from The Prisoner...Relevant more now than ever!

Wonderful homage to Patrick McGoohan (part 1 of 3)


“Mrs. Peel - We’re Needed”



“The Avengers” is an outstanding BBC spy-fi (spy fiction with elements of science fiction) adventure series starring Patrick Macnee (1922 – present) as the impeccably stylish secret agent John Steed, and Dame Diana Rigg (1938 – present) as the fearless and independent-minded Emma Peel. The show ran from 1961 – 1969 and was filmed in black and white until 1967, when colour was introduced to marvelous effect. Rigg played Peel from 1965 – 1968, after Honor Blackman, who played Catherine Gale, left the show.

Peel is the epitome of femininity; intelligent, elegant, and beautiful, all while fighting off enemy spies so she can complete a friendly game of chess with Steed. Her classic Lotus Elan sports car and leather cat suits embody the ideal of an emancipated modern woman.

Steed is the quintessential British upper-class gentleman-spy: he wears a smart suit (designed by Pierre Cardin), carries a concealed sword in his umbrella, and has a custom metal bowler hat (for fighting, of course). Suave, sophisticated, full of gadgets and witty one-liners, Steed is televisions version of James Bond, minus the regular visits to the STD clinic. Steed and Peel never kiss but occasionally flirt. They complement each other perfectly as they fight international espionage plots and still have time left over to pop open a vintage bottle of champagne at the end of each episode.

The playful Mod clothing and extraordinary set design establish the unique visual character of the series. Framed photographs of eyes on walls, round-shaped brightly coloured furniture, and big-buttoned A-line jackets blend with walking bass lines and beatnik drums to create a collage of the swinging 60s. Peels dynamic and bold-coloured Mod garb was designed by Alun Hughes.

The titles of the episodes are as whimsical as the show, spoofing titles of films and television shows. For example: “The Girl from AUNTIE” spoofs of spy-fi show, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “Mission Highly Improbable” lampoons secret agent show “Mission Impossible,” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station” parody’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” 1966 film comedy with Buster Keaton in his last film appearance).



“The Joker” (season 5 episode 15, 1967)

In which Steed trumps an ace –

And Emma plays a lone card



Pendergast, a criminal whom Peel had sent to jail, has devised a scheme to lure her to an isolated mansion in the countryside. She arrives at the Victorian-Gothic style manor expecting to spend the weekend playing bridge, but instead finds Ola, a menacing young woman who tells her that the host has been delayed and will arrive later. The mansion is reminiscent of those found in Hammer horror films (a la Vincent Price) with its wood paneling, antique furniture, and candelabras. The eight-foot tall playing cards throughout the dinning room and one as a revolving door on top of the staircase break the horror film spell and become absurdist. After Ola leaves to “care for a sick friend,” Peel can tell she isn’t alone in the house when the card door keeps revolving.

Far be it for Peel to be intimidated. A stranger appears at the door asking to use the phone instead he takes his knife out and asks, “How would you like me to tuck you in (to bed)?” She twists his arm and says, “How would you like me to break your arm?” as she kicks him out the door.

The attention to detail in the application of colour in this episode is dazzling. Peels Chinese red silk pajamas make her shoulder-length auburn hair radiate. The tablecloth and the wall paper in the dinning room are the same shade of red as hearts on the cards and the roses Pentergast leaves around the house for Peel to find. Ola wears a sweater which is the identical blue to that of the candles and the clothing on the cards.

The gramophone record which Pentergast plays repeatedly in order to taunt Peel is a German song called, “Mein Liebling, Mein Rose.” The producers could have gone through the trouble to find someone who could sing it with proper German grammar and without the fake accent. The correct title should have been, “Mein Liebing, Meine Rose.” There were a few parts in the song which had flawed grammar.

“The Avengers” has classic wit and charisma which makes it addictive. The chemistry between Steed and Peel clicks perfectly. Peel pioneered the role of strong female characters. In the mid-sixties, it was unprecedented to have a woman who could fight (and win) her own battles. Female roles were weak and mousy; they often were victims who would get kidnapped by just grabbing their wrists and walking away. We didn’t get another tough and robust female role like that until 1977 with Princess Leia from “Star Wars.” After Leia, it took at least another decade for resilient females to become visible. The proliferation of these women, such as Trinity from “The Matrix” (1999), can be traced back to the immaculate Emma Peel.



The Absurdist World of Ernie Kovacs





















What Emerges from Three Peas in a Pod



These are three influential shows from the sixties, each different, yet similar. Their similarity lies in what they utilized and contributed to the future of film and television.

“The Avengers” gives us Emma Peel, who rebels against the accepted norm of female behaviour. She thinks for herself and does for herself; she is her own person. The Art Direction is one-of-a-kind: vibrantly coloured sets, absurd props with absurd plots (like Peel being tied to the mini railroad track as the train approaches) seem cartoon-like (in a good way)..

The shows use of lighting, camera effects and odd props generates a feeling that this can’t be real. Is it all a dream?
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STRANGE INTERLUDE: My Dream, Time-Travel inspired band, "Hypnagogic Telegram" is going VIRAL on Youtube. Timelord Rock. Trock. I play a timeghost (zeitgeist) that inhabits the wardrobe closet in the TARDIS. I come out in costumes from various eras to dance & sing. If Doctor Who would have a band, it might sound like this.
<---- View YOUTUBE VIDEO here.
On FACEBOOK @ HYPNAGOGIC TELEGRAM

Check out my Time Travel, Dream, surreal artwork, performance art, costuming & photography on the other blog pages!


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Weird and Wonderful Shows of Early Television

It’s hard to select three great shows from first decades of TV. There is certainly a wide selection: “The Burns and Allen Show,” “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Doctor Who,” “The Saint” and “Twilight Zone.” Experimental shows such as “The Prisoner,” “The Avengers,” and “The Ernie Kovacs Show” are outstanding examples of experimentation and creative vision. Their influences are seen in books, films, and tv shows to this day (to be discussed further in body of essay).


“The Prisoner” is a spy fiction cult show which ran for 17 episodes from 1967 – 1968. Its mysterious setting, a small town in Wales with lovely yet unusual architecture, and the Kafkaesque struggle of the main character, Number 6, provides the setting for a psychological thriller with surreal and countercultural themes.

“The Avengers” (1961 – 1969) presents us with two secret agents, Emma Peel, and John Steed, a boiler wearing gentleman who’s always ready for a fight (as long as it’s dignified). The show is visually striking with superbly colourful art direction. The British tongue-in-cheek humour makes the chemistry between Peel and Steed sparkle. There is a comic-book quality to the plots. Strange villains and a sprinkle of silliness create a unique tv experience.

“The Ernie Kovacs Show” (1952 – 1956) features the eccentric ad-lib comedy and innovative video effects of Kovacs (1919 – 1962). His characters and visual gags influenced Monty Python, David Letterman, and various comedians on “Saturday Night Live.” “The Ernie Kovacs Collection,” a six DVD box-set of his various TV shows has just been released April 19.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Animaniacs: Mashup of Warner Brothers and Marx Brothers

Animaniacs is a Warner Brothers animated series which ran for five seasons from 1993 – 1998. MAJOR NEWS: Classic episodes of Animaniacs is now being shown on The Hub Mon - Thurs 7pm EST, 4pm PST! Executive producer Steven Spielberg and senior producer/writer Tom Ruegger present us with a mad-cap comedy in classic Looney Toons style with running gags, visual puns, side-splitting lyrics, spoofs of films and TV shows, and parodies of celebrities, politicians, and historical figures. Homages to classic films and cameos of celebrities, especially from the Golden Age of Hollywood, are to be found around every bend. The main characters are the Warner brothers, Yakko and Wakko, and their sister, Dot. They have cat-like tails, black fur; wear white gloves, have white feet and white faces. One of the recurrent gags is that none of the other characters can figure out what species they are. They in turn revel at keeping everyone guessing.


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Strange Interlude: SURREALIST NEWS: HYPNAGOGIC TELEGRAM (my band) is GOING VIRAL w/ Chaplin dance. New album out soon. New videos, incl How to Remember Dreams (surrealist tips) & songs soon on YOUTUBE. Here is us doing CHAPLIN DANCE to backdrop of George Melies 1902 film Trip to the Moon (as seen in Hugo film)


Lewis Carroll, Dr Who, Dream, & Fortean inpired tunes. Multi-lingual. Silent film inspired dances. Trock. Lietuvaite soka kaip Chaplin.
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The first episode opens with the back-story in black & white with Yakko’s, Wakko’s and Dot’s red noses being the only colour in the sequence. It starts with a four-way split screen of the Phantom of the Opera, Harold Lloyd hanging from a clock, Buster Keaton chashed by a train, and Charlie Chaplin eating his shoe. “Newsreel of the Stars, dateline: Hollywood, 1930,” the announcer proclaims. He informs us how the Warner Brothers Animation Studio created the siblings not knowing what they got themselves into. Yakko, Wakko and Dot caused havoc on the set and their films made no sense making the studio execs cringe. As a consequence, their films were locked away in the studio vault and the siblings were locked away in the studio water tower “never to be released.” They broke out of their confinement, and that’s the way the adventures begin.

Supporting characters include Pinky, a thin dim-witted lab mouse with an Australian accent, and Brain, the megalomaniacal evil genius whose plans to “take over the world” are foiled by Pinky’s blundering. Slappy Squirrel is grumpy and cheeky old former cartoon star “from the god old days” with hilarious one-liners. In “Woodstock Slappy” (Season 1, episode 281), Slappy and her nephew, Skippy, go to the country for some relaxation only to wake up and find that their tree is in the middle of the audience to Woodstock. They jump up on an amp and do a witty homage to Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First.” Slappy asks Skippy, “What’s the name of the group playing on stage?”

Skippy: “Who,”

Slappy: “They name of the group on stage.”

Skippy:“Who”

Slappy: “Who is on stage?”

Skippy: “Yes”

Slappy: “So the name of the band is Yes?”

Skippy: “No, Yes isn’t even at this concert. Who is on stage.”

Slappy: “What are you asking me for?”

This continues for about another minute until Slappy is completely confused.


“Meatballs or Consequences” (Season 1, episode 19) is a bizarre and comical parody of Igmar Bergman’s films. Wakko enters meatball eating contest in Sweden. When he eats one too many, the Grim Reaper appears and tells Wakko, in a Swedish accent, that he is “living impaired” and places a “kuputt” sticker on his forehead. Yakko and Dot protest and insist that they can not be parted because “we’re like civil war chess pieces from the Franklin Mint.” The Reaper agrees to play a game of checkers with Yakko and Dot with Wakko as the prize. In a monotone voice Yakko says, “All is strange and vague.” Dot responds, “Are we dead?” “Or is this Ohio?” Yakko cuts in. The Reaper pops “kaputt” stickers on Yakko and Dot with plans to take them to the netherworld. He soon changes his mind when they harass and annoy him. The Reaper releases them and retorts, “I proclaim you alive…until I return. Which won’t be for a very long time,” and runs away. Brilliant!

“King Yakko” (Season 1, episode 10) is an uproarious homage to the Marx Brother’s “Duck Soup.” Yakko inherits the throne to Anvilania and endures the boring national anthem sung by the wonderfully named Perry Coma. He starts an argument with the neighbouring country’s leader by mocking his costume. He replies, “This is the uniform of a great man!” In true Marx Brothers fashion, Yakko says “Does he know you’re wearing it?” The siblings break into song with a few bars of “So It’s War” and the mayhem begins. The Marx Brothers live on in cartoon form in this episode and thus are exposed to a younger generation.

“Animaniacs” is clever, sharp, and insanely humourous. The educational episodes, such songs as “Yakko Universe” (Season 1, episode 50) and “US Presidents,” along with various references to Einstein, Beethoven, and The Beatles, et al, makes this show enlightening, wildly silly and imaginative. Long live “Animaniacs!”
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STRANGE INTERLUDE: My Dream, Time-Travel inspired band, "Hypnagogic Telegram" is going VIRAL on Youtube. Timelord Rock. Trock. I play a timeghost (zeitgeist) that inhabits the wardrobe closet in the TARDIS. I come out in costumes from various eras to dance & sing. If Doctor Who would have a band, it might sound like this.
<---- View YOUTUBE VIDEO here.
On FACEBOOK @ HYPNAGOGIC TELEGRAM

Check out my Time Travel, Dream, surreal artwork, performance art, costuming & photography on the other blog pages!



Monday, April 11, 2011

Albert Robida's 1883 Illustrations Predicted the Internet, Skype,and Youtube! Review of his art in Le Vingtième Siècle (The Twentieth Century)

          Albert Robida; Grandfather of Science Fiction Illustration
Born in 1848, Albert Robida, a French illustrator, etcher, lithographer, caricaturist, and early science fiction author, contemporary of Jules Verne, envisioned a world which was interconnected via an astonishingly prophetic device called a Téléphonoscope. It has a small phonographesque speaker/microphone and is oval in most illustrations, rectangular in the Sahara Battle image. It transmits live performances and news broadcasts from around the world, brings the classroom to the student (distance learning), connects with loved ones live (Skype), and distance voyeurism. He is best known for his trilogy of futuristic novels; in the first book, Le Vingtième Siècle (The Twentieth Century, 1883), his readers were introduced to the Téléphonoscope. 
Skype predicted in 1883 by Albert Robida, grandfather of scifi illustration
1883 Vision of the future: (1) Watch live news from around the world
(2) observe performance on screen at home (Youtube prophesy)



Courses via Telephonoscope
(Distance learning/online classes prophesy)


The sequels of Le Vingtième Siècle, are Guerre au Vingtième Siècle (War in the Twentieth Century, 1887), and La Vie Électronique (Electronic Life, 1890). All three of these books he illustrated himself. He stands apart from Verne because Robida imagined how everyday life would be with inventions of the future, whereas Verne wrote mainly about mad scientists and their inventions.
            The Twentieth Century (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2004) is illustrated in a classically beautiful pen and ink style, common in the 1800s. Robida expertly  cross-hatches and shades with an eye for perspective and proportion which compensates for the lack of colour. The English cover presents a rotating house on top of a framework metal structure. The book transports us to Paris in 1952: dirigibles, flying taxis, and personal aircraft fill the sky. The dirigibles resemble flying fish, creating a dream-like quality to the scene.
            The French cover (p VIII in English edition) portrays characters and events from the book. One of the main characters in the book, Hélène, is seen dressed as a lawyer on the lower right-hand side. Above her, we see Notre Dame with a restaurant and dirigible depot attached. On the lower left side, we have two people conversing on what Robida called a Téléphonoscope, what we call the internet today. The central figure is that of a Femme Moderne, she is an emancipated woman of the new century. Her dress is short, revealing her pants and tights underneath, yet much of her wardrobe still has very classic Victorian elements to it (corseted waist, elegant top hat, long umbrella, lace and bowtie decorations, long gloves, etc). Robida elegantly portrays the flowing of fabric with a keen eye for individual style of dress for each character. She, in combination with the two figures at her feet, comprises a triangular composition, similar to paintings from the Renaissance.

            Robida’s art is highly stylized: curves, ovals and hour-glass shaped women populate his illustrations. His female characters are realistically rendered whereas many of the males look like caricatures; rounded noses, eccentric mustaches and beards.
Witnessing a battle in the Sahara   p 182
Enjoying theatre in the home



Possible Indiscretions   p 65
  Robida was a product of his time, and envisioned the future through the eyes of a man of his era. Although his art portrays the future, it is still highly stylized in the Victorian taste. There are many elegant curves and intricate ironwork that are reminiscent of the design used on the Eiffel Tower, which was completed in 1889. The fashion design is a variation on a Victorian theme. These illustrations were produced when France was well into the Industrial Age and demonstrate the possible the progression of Industrialization. Although his interpretation of the future in this book appears optimistic, his next book, La Guerre au Vingtième Siècle (War in the Twentieth Century), portrays the future of war, with new weapons of destruction: airship weapons, submarine warfare, tanks, and women soldiers.


Paris  p 8
 
Trilingual Theater  p 103
Paris presents us with a saturation of advertisements: billboards, signs, and dirigibles flood our view selling everything from clothes and banks to apartments and newspapers. This is comparable to Piccadilly Circus or Times Square today. Although Trilingual Theater represents a live performance of one play shown simultaneously on three levels, each in a differnet language, it conjures up modern-day DVD technology, where the language changes at a touch of a button.
Robida’s illustrations depict few nature scenes and are primarily of urban settings and the individuals who live there, although, some of his panoramic views of the urban landscape show plumes of smoke and soot coming from the stalks of factories and chimneys (Robida, p. 69). He was well aware of the polluting aspect of Industrialization. Paris by Night stands out amoung his illustrations as one of a handful of watercolours in this book. It depicts a couple in a private flying machine crusing over the city on a lovely night. They share the sky with larger dirigibles shining headlights evocative of fisheyes.

            Franco-English Tube is Robida's concept for our current Chunnel. Mrs. de Saint-Panachard attacked has two women dueling. Both illustrations use diagonal lines to create a dramatic effect. Robida's female characters are emancipated: many are lawyers, doctors, and politicians.
            Robida is the father of science fiction illustration, having inspired science fiction artists and writers who followed him. Many of his visions of the future came to pass. His books and art are well known in France and have influenced many comic book (Bande-desinee) writers and artists such as Herge's Professor Calculus from Tintin from Belgium and, more recently, Brian Talbot's Grandville graphic novel from England. Robida's vision is amazing and unforgettable.
Paris by Night     p 84
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ALBER ROBIDA NEWS: HYPNAGOGIC TELEGRAM, my band, performed a CHAPLIN dance in ROBERT ROBIDA dress w/ 1902 George Melies film Trip to the Moon aka Voyage dans la Lune as backdrop (as seen in Johnny Depp produced Hugo film). More costume time travel Doctor Who inspired vaudeville songs to be posted. Youtube channel DAINASURREALISM

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Review of Momo by Michael Ende (Doubleday, 1985)

“Never Forget to Stop and Smell the Flowers”  by Chicago Surrealist Group member, and Lithuanian performance artist, DainaSurrealism
Although categorized as a children’s book, Momo (also known as The Gray Gentlemen or The Men in Gray), may appeal to a wide spectrum of adults with its thought-provoking social criticism . Michael Ende (1929 – 1995) published Momo in German in 1973 (translated into English in 1985). Ende is best known for his book Neverending Story (German version, Die Unendliche Geschichte, 1979: English translation, 1983).

            (Con't) Ende’s writing style was influenced by his father, the famous surrealist painter, Edgar Ende. The surrealist ideals of rebellion against conformity and fighting society’s numbing of the spirit of imagination is evident throughout his work, but nowhere more so than in Momo. The main characters in Ende’s books are misfits who resolve to be themselves despite external pressures. The protagonist, a young girl called Momo, is the epitome of non-conformity: she wears old clothes, has raggedy, unkempt hair, and lives in a small room under the ruins of an ancient amphitheater; she is a run-away from an orphanage and refuses to wear shoes. Since the amphitheater is on the outskirts of an unnamed city, the story could take place anywhere in southern Europe and anytime, giving it a fairytale quality.
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Strange Interlude: MOMO NEWS: HYPNAGOGIC TELEGRAM (my cabaret band) in rehearsal with our MOMO song "Walking Backwards Thru Time" (below).
GOING VIRAL w/ Chaplin dance. (below)
The CHAPLIN DANCE has backdrop of George Melies 1902 film Trip to the Moon (as seen in Hugo film), Zazie song "Dans la Lune."

Lewis Carroll, Dr Who, Dream, & Fortean inpired tunes. Multi-lingual. Silent film inspired dances. Trock. Lietuvaite soka kaip Chaplin.
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            Momo and her friends lead a leisurely existence until the appearance of the ghostly Men in Gray, who coerce the populace into “saving their time” in the “Timesaving Bank,”  then disappear without a trace, leaving the individuals unaware of their existence and convinced that timesaving was their own idea. Soon Momo’s friends grow irritable, rush about compulsively saying, “I have no time,”  and obsess over money, in the process sacrificing their joie de vivre (joy of living). In this book, Ende illustrates the importance of a life of quality over a life of quantity.
Billboards appear declaring,
“THE FUTURE BELONGS TO TIMESAVERS”
 “MAKE MORE OF YOUR LIFE, SAVE TIME”                                 
            The book takes a radical turn when Momo organizes a demonstration of children neglected by their “time-saving” parents (quite revolutionary for a “children’s book” to teach kids how to organize a protest, no wonder this book isn’t widely available in America!). The Barbie-like dolls and expensive toys which the Grays try to bribe the children with reveal the distracting and superficial nature of materialism. A tortoise named Cassiopeia helps Momo escape the Grays by traveling to a mysterious part of town where time runs backwards in order to meet the Professor Secundus Minutus Hora, who helps fight the Grays.
            Ende impressively constructs rich symbolism in his characters: Momo’s extraordinary skills at being a good listener represent the importance of introspection and connecting with others; Guido, the local story-teller, who spins engrossing tales inspired by his muse (Momo), encapsulates the power of imagination; the Grays, who all look identical  (with gray skin, gray suits and such unemotional voices that they even  “sound gray” ), symbolize the stifling conformity and manipulative nature of capitalism; Cassiopeia, named after a bold human queen who dared to challenge the Gods in Greek mythology, embodies independence and defiance; Professor Hora, residing in Never House and wearing omni-vision glasses, personifies the inexplicable vagueness of time.
      
Fan art (left) and Ende's illustration for German cover (right)
Ende has Nowhere House swimming in surrealism. Cassiopeia, who can see thirty minutes into the future, slowly leads Momo in order to quickly escape the Grays, while the Grays dash about only to find that they are standing still. This is a brilliantly creative re-working of the scene from Through the Looking-Glass in which Alice and the Red Queen run as fast as they can just to stay in place. When Momo asks Professor Hora what the Grays are, he replies, “Strictly speaking, they’re nothing. They exist only because people give them the opportunity to do so.”


Ende’s skill as a social commentator is akin to Rod Serling’s in Twilight Zone since Ende skillfully uses fantasy and the bizarre as a means of thinly-veiled social criticism. Ende’s illustrations for Momo show inanimate objects and the back of Cassiopeia, purposely leaving the characters up to the imagination. Momo is a classic which reads swiftly despite its provocative insightfulness. Ende was a visionary; recognizing forty years ago which direction society was taking with consumerism and hidden interest groups, thus making Momo ring truer than ever in our modern society.
                            film  (top)                                                 cartoon (below)
           In the 1980s, big budget movie versions of Neverending Story (dir. by Wolfgang Petersen, 1984) and Momo (dir. Johannes Schaaf, 1986, John Huston playing Professor Hora) were produced in Europe. Perhaps not surprisingly, Europeans generally respond more favorably to social criticism and political activism than Americans, thus making Ende’s books well-known through-out Europe while obscure in the States. Although the films lack the depth and details of the books, they are worth viewing for their creativity and visual lavishness.  
                                                              Michael Ende and friend
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MOMO NEWS: HYPNAGOGIC TELEGRAM (my band) is writing a MOMO song. I will dress as MOMO for performance art with band with scenes from MOMO film as backdrop and post on YOUTUBE. Here is us doing CHAPLIN DANCE to backdrop of George Melies 1902 film Trip to the Moon (as seen in Hugo film) on YOUTUBE.


STRANGE INTERLUDE: My Dream, Time-Travel inspired band, "Hypnagogic Telegram" is going VIRAL on Youtube. Timelord Rock. Trock. I play a timeghost (zeitgeist) that inhabits the wardrobe closet in the TARDIS. I come out in costumes from various eras to dance & sing. If Doctor Who would have a band, it might sound like this.
<---- View YOUTUBE VIDEO here.
On FACEBOOK @ HYPNAGOGIC TELEGRAM

Check out my Time Travel, Dream, surreal artwork, performance art, costuming & photography on the other blog pages!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Review of “The City of Lost Children” (aka “La Cité des Enfants Perdus” dir Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, 1995)

            Jeunet and Caro, the same directing duo behind the post-apocalyptic black comedy “Delicatessen” (1991), present us with another masterful rendition of a dystopian society in “The City of Lost Children”. Jeunet is best known in America for his direction of "Alien: Insurrection" (1997),  "Amelie" (2001), and "A Very Long Engagement" (2004). This is a visually gripping work of science fiction steampunk (speculative fiction from a by-gone time - usually Victoran era). Dream-like and whimsical, this film takes place in a mysterious port city and stars Ron Pearlman as a dim-witted yet good-hearted strongman, One, who joins forces with a young girl, Miette (Judith Vittet), and her fellow street urchins in a quest to find his adopted little brother, Denree (Joseph Lucien). Denree has been kidnapped by one-eyed cyborgs known as “Cyclopses” who plan to sell him to a small group of comical clones (all played by Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon) who work for a madman, Krank (German word for “sick”, played by Daniel Emilfork). Krank can’t dream, so he uses a mechanical machine to steal the dreams of young children. The Cyclopses are a fanatical and repressed monastic order who willingly submit to having one eye removed and replaced by a mechanical contraption as part of their initiation rite. 

             The characters in this film are unique and bizarre: evil ex-sideshow Siamese twins called “Octopus” use a classroom as headquarters for street urchin child-thieves; Marcello (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), an opium-addicted former sideshow boss of the Octopus has trained assassin fleas with attached poison vials; and Uncle Irvin is a migraine-ridden brain floating in an aquarium and utilizes an optical lens and two gramophone-like steampunk speakers to communicate.

            The film's subdued colors in combination with the costume designs by Jean-Paul Gautier evoke the  depression era of the 1930s, yet the technology is futuristic, creating a distinct vagueness in regard to whether this takes place in the past or in the future. The multiple dream sequences are visually stunning, non-the-least-of-which is the scene where Miette confronts Krank and they engage in a dance during which Miette transforms from an 8 year old to an old woman in less than a minute. The soundtrack consists of both mesmerizing sideshow organ-grinding tunes as well as comical songs, such as the one about Santa Clause and one about short gnomes (sung with a dance number by one of the clones).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmcaRC2mSkY 

            Jeunet and Caro brilliantly use a Rube Goldbergesque series of chain-reactions in every film of theirs and “City of Lost Children” is no exception. Here we see how Miette’s teardrop hits a spider web, waking a parrot, who chirps, making a dog bark, waking a hobo who throws a liquor bottle, etc until we have a car accident, a power outage, and a ship crashing into the dock. Another memorable scene is when Krank has one of the clones recite a charmingly fanciful nonsense poem to him in order to help him fall asleep. The clone sits next to Krank and speaks…

“The sea is blue like the sky/And the sky is blue like the South Seas/I don’t know if I’m swimming in the sky

/Or flying in the sea/The hammerhead shark plays xylophone with the catfish bones/The walrus plays Jew’s 

harp with the sperm whale’s suspenders/Igloos turn into Mushrooms”

The fact that this film has no love-story is most admirable. The plot progresses naturally without the tacked-on love-stories which snag plot movement in more formulaic films. This is an exceptional film with a dazzling array of uniquely twisted characters and spellbinding visual effects. Remarkably superb scenes weave their way throughout the film and Marianne Faithful’s track “Who Will Take My Dreams Away?” played during the closing credits wraps the film up beautifully.

            Jean-Pierre Jeunet has a new comedy/drama "Micmacs" (2009) which is about a man who got shot in the head and joins a rag-tag group of outcasts in order to bring down the weapons manufacturer which produced the bullet.

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STRANGE INTERLUDE: My Dream, Time-Travel inspired band, "Hypnagogic Telegram" is going VIRAL on Youtube. Timelord Rock. Trock. I play a timeghost (zeitgeist) that inhabits the wardrobe closet in the TARDIS. I come out in costumes from various eras to dance & sing. If Doctor Who would have a band, it might sound like this.

<---- View YOUTUBE VIDEO here.
On FACEBOOK @ HYPNAGOGIC TELEGRAM

Check out my Time Travel, Dream, surreal artwork, performance art, costuming & photography on the other blog pages!


Monday, February 21, 2011

Review of "Copyright Criminals" (Directed by Benjamin Franzen and Kembrew McLeod, 2009)

Filmmakers Benjamin Franzen and Kembrew McLeod explore the debate over sampling in the music industry with their 54 minute documentary, Copyright Criminals. Various individuals are interviewed presenting a spectrum of viewpoints: sound engineers, DJs, record industry lawyers, media professors, samplers, as well as those getting sampled. The wide range of opinions makes for a stimulating analysis of the topic. The lawyers say that sampling is using other people’s work without their permission and without paying royalties (“Thou shall not steal”); the samplers say they are paying homage to the original artists. Igor Stravinsky is quoted as saying, “A good composer does not imitate, he steals.” The most fascinating perspective of all those interviewed is that of Clyde Stubblefield (James Brown’s drummer from 1965 – 1970, the most sampled drummer in hip-hop), who says that he doesn’t care about the money (royalties), he just wants to get credited on the albums.
 Copyright Criminals discusses the history of music sampling, starting with the Beatles’ use of found tapes and sound loops in “Revolution 9”, “Tomorrow Never Knows”, and “I am the Walrus”, to Public Enemy, and Prince. The Beatles certainly weren’t the first to sample; the documentary could have named specific artists sampling further back in recording history (for example Jazz, Hollywood musicals, Blues, etc).
The collage-like use of split-screen to compare the original music on one side to that of the sampled piece on the other is a metaphor for how sampling is itself a form of collage. It helps to illustrate how samples are used and how they have been altered. It is a valuable aid for the viewer to come to their own conclusion as to where they stand on the issue. The editing is straight-forward without any choppy or distracting cuts.
Many compelling points are made, not the least of which is that if a musician was to go through the legal channels and use a sample in their work, the producer would make a cut of the royalties, but the actual musician who played the original may not.
The advent of a new art-form always brings up the debate “is this art, or is it just the work of lazy people who can’t be bothered to create something new?” Shock G of Digital Underground makes a valid point when he says, “It’s easier to snap a picture with a camera than it is to paint a picture. What the photographer is to the painter, is what the modern producer, DJ, or computer musician is to the instrumentalist.” We are asked to consider “what is art?” Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans and Pop Art are brought up as examples of how art has historically re-invented the old in order to present something in a new light. Steve Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise” sold more as a sample. George Clinton says Snoop Dog’s sample of “Atomic Dog” revitalizing Clinton’s record sales after people who heard the sample wanted to hear the original.
Copyright Criminals is a thought-provoking work which presents multiple facets of this heated debate. Grainy vintage footage of the Notorious B.I.G rapping as a teenager on the streets of Brooklyn evokes scenes of street rappers in “Wild Style” (Directed by Charlie Ahearn, 1983). The filmmakers present the discussion in a clear and in depth manner. The viewer is encouraged to come to their own conclusions on the issue.

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DainaSurrealism Member of Chicago Surrealist Group, and Lewis Carroll Society of North America (LCSNA). "Hypnagogic Telegram" vocalist, performer. Surrealist music/vaudeville act. Going VIRAL on Youtube w/ Chaplin dance. Speak Russian, German, French, Lithuanian, & English, learning Spanish, Italian, and Latin. Working on 3 books currently: Illuminated Manuscript Dream Book (with surreal images and collages), Alice in Wonderland Illustrated Expanded Universe, and autobiography.

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