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.

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.

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.”


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!”
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.

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
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

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