August 17, 2019

Woody Allen's First Real Movie Turns 50




I think most people agree that What's Up, Tiger Lily? doesn't really count as Woody Allen's proper directorial debut. It has Woody Allen stamped all over it, but it's basically an overdubbed Japanese spy movie, bought on the cheap by American International, who gave Allen the freedom to MST3K it, twenty years before MST3K.

This makes tomorrow the 50th anniversary of the release of the first film Woody Allen made from scratch, Take the Money and Run. I somehow suspect this occasion will come and go with little fanfare. Allen is currently persona non gratis in some circles, a result of serious, and seriously icky,  allegations that have dogged him for years.

If you, like me, can appreciate brilliant art made by flawed humans, then I highly recommend Take the Money and Run. I think it's one of the funniest of his earlier films, and that's saying something. If you like Bananas or Sleeper, I predict you'll like this one.

Like most of his early work, this film is told in a series of vignettes. If you don't find one gag funny, there's always the next one. It's framed in a documentary format. Allen believed the seriousness of documentaries created a fertile environment for comedy. He liked the concept enough to use it again in Zelig, which I like a little better.

There are a lot of memorable bits in this, the story of an inept criminal named Virgil Starkwell. Botched bank jobs, bungled prison breaks, even a guy in a gorilla costume, which is ALWAYS FUNNY. The romantic subplot is sometimes tedious, but Janet Margolin is endearing as the somewhat naive love interest, Louise.

I think the main reason Take the Money and Run gets overlooked is that the film has frequently been out of print. I wonder to what extent Allen himself may have had it suppressed, perhaps not being totally satisfied with the results.Thankfully, the good folks at Kino Lorber released it on DVD and Blu-ray in 2017. I put the links at the bottom of this post. You're welcome.



Take the Preview and Run!



        DVD


      Blu-ray


August 14, 2019

The Last Superman Story

For many years, I've been of the opinion that Crisis on Infinite Earths, the sprawling mini-series that sought to streamline the DC Universe, was a tragic mistake, a prime example of trying to fix something that is not broken. At the time, of course, I snapped up each issue as soon as it was available, right off the spinner rack at my local drugstore.

Marv Wolfman's story and George Perez's art were top shelf, but the premise itself was wrongheaded. I was not confused by the proliferation of multiple universes and their inhabitants, and I suspected that even new readers could catch on fairly quickly. I kinda figured the onus was on new readers, if they wanted to be regular DC readers, to do their homework and catch up on what had happened prior to their arrival. Wasn't that part of the fun anyway?

Eventually, the concept of multiple universes would come back. To be sure, DC has continued to publish great books by talented creators in the last three decades. But to me, some characters have never recouped the prestige of their pre-Crisis versions. Especially Superman.

To that end, let's have a look at Matt Draper's video essay on what I still consider the last story featuring the Superman I knew and loved so much. Even though it was billed as an imaginary story - aren't they all? - "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow," written by Alan Moore and pencilled by Curt Swan, gave Kal-El an emotionally-charged sendoff that I doubt could be bested.

Look, up in the sky...




August 13, 2019

More Puppetoons Coming!

George Pal's Puppetoons are a wonder, and the methods employed in filming them required great craftsmanship and patience. Arnold Leibovit recently sat down with Joe Dante to discuss Pal's cinematic oeuvre and plans to release a sequel to The Puppetoon Movie. Leibovit is crowdfunding to raise money for the project, so you can play a role in preserving animation history!






August 8, 2019

Zappa For Newbies





Frank Zappa was a prolific composer, and his discography is dense and diverse. If you haven't yet delved into this unique world, Treble contributor Wil Lewellyn has a few suggestions on where to begin your journey. Be careful not to eat the yellow snow!

Alfred Hitchcock In The Bay Area

    

Brian Hackney brings us this report on Alfred Hitchcock filming locations, specifically those in the Bay Area. Of special interest is his sit-down with Edna May Wonacott, who was just a young girl when she landed a role in Hitch's 1943 thriller, Shadow of a Doubt.

 

Available on Oct. 1, 2019, The House of Hitchcock Blu-ray collection features 15 iconic films from the acclaimed director's illustrious career including Psycho, The Birds, Rear Window, Vertigo and North by Northwest, plus a range of limited edition extras including blueprints of the infamous Psycho house, movie poster art cards for all the films, and a booklet about his work. It's sure to be the best Hitchcock collection ever produced!




July 25, 2019

Ain't Got No Home

(This is the final installment of a recap of goings-on in my life while I was on hiatus from this blog. Here is Part One and Part Two.)




Contrary to the title of this post, I do have a home. Since the beginning of June, Heather and I have been renting a studio that is actually a converted garage in a nice house in a quiet neighborhood in Salem, Oregon. The only trouble is, we have actually been in Salem since last September.

So where did we stay for the eight months before we found our apartment? When we got here, we divided our time between staying at motels and staying in our car. This is not an uncommon occurrence in present-day Salem. There is a housing crisis here, and it is not unusual to see tents set up under bridges or an unshaven fellow taking a nap beside the 7-11 dumpster.

Thankfully, we had a car. I probably could write a whole book about the experience of living in a car. For now, I will just note that it was not altogether unpleasant. The warm glow of being in a new place softened even the harshest effects of our circumstances. We were not bothered by anyone, and we rarely, if ever, felt unsafe.

After several frustrating weeks of job-hunting, it struck me that being a musician for twenty years is not necessarily the kind of thing that looks good on a resume. I think there are several reasons that finding a job here is difficult. At one group interview for a major supermarket, I counted about 150 other applicants, most of them a whole lot younger than yours truly.

One day, Heather and I got a bite to eat at Taco Bell. Salem is a pretty hilly place, and she didn't notice that the parking lot exit was a steep grade to the flat street below. As a result, the belt and pulley system under the hood was fatally compromised and, in a few weeks, we were sans auto. Thankfully, by this time, we had moved all of our stuff into a Motel 6.

I'm not sure why Motel 6 is called Motel 6. Were the previous five motels flops? I digress. To me, the "6" in Motel 6 will always represent the number of months Heather and I ended up staying in one after we moved to Oregon. They left the light on for us, all right. In fact, they had to replace the light several times.

It is here that I gratefully note the financial help we received from a dear friend of mine and from a group of interested Christians. It bought us several weeks in the hotel until we could get in a more stable situation financially. That stability came when I was again accepted into the ranks of the United States Postal Service. Don't get excited. It didn't last.

Believe me, there is a lot more to the Post Office story. It's another book, but I think Bukowski already wrote it. Nevertheless, the Oregon Unemployment people determined I was not fired for a particularly good cause. The extra money enabled us to stay at Motel 6 until we finally got into the nifty garage studio apartment in June.

And that's my story. I plan to blog regularly, and I hope that this blog will be a regular destination for those of you that are curious about music, comics, film, and whatever else is on my radar.

As always, stay attuned...

July 23, 2019

Oregon and Bust

(This is the second in a series of posts detailing the events that transpired while I was away from this blog. Here is Part One.)




Having resigned from the USPS, I was back to square one. What would I do for the rest of my life? Of course, performing music (my own, preferably) would always top my list, but I decided to put that lofty goal on the shelf for a while, if only to see if my tinnitus, a constant high-pitched ringing in my ears,  might subside (Spoiler alert: It didn't.).

There have been a few times in my life where I took a leap of faith and ended up in a better place. There was no doubt that Raleigh would never be the same for me without the piano bar where I had made so many memories. It occurred to me that if I was going to do something different, I may as well pick a new place to do it in.

My lovely wife Heather is a San Francisco native, and she often expressed fond memories of growing up there. I always knew she had a desire to head back west. I, myself, had often wished to follow the sage advice of Horace Greeley, who once said (I'm paraphrasing), "Your piano bar folded, get out of Raleigh."

After much discussion and research, we decided to move to Oregon. There were a lot of reasons we picked Oregon (Salem, to be precise), but that is a post for another day. Moving all the way across the country was a daring plan for two middle-aged homebodies with limited financial resources. Nevertheless, we sold and donated the vast majority of our material possessions, loaded up the old Mazda, and set out for our new home.

On our Oregon trail, neither of us contracted dysentery. In fact, the trip across America was mostly uneventful. We had a flat tire as we approached St. Louis. It was Labor Day and we were incredibly lucky to get into a Sears Auto Center right before it closed. The nice man there showed me that one of our other tires was also hanging by a thread, so we ended up replacing two.

I have to say that this country is truly beautiful. I highly recommend driving a car across it at least once in your life. One gets a feel for how big it is. Interestingly, one also gets a feel for how small it is. I also must warn potential Kerouacs that navigating through mountain country can be somewhat scary if you are driving a weighted-down twenty-year-old Mazda with an iffy battery and squeaky brakes, especially when the sun is hammering away at your weary old eyes and you are almost out of gas and/or oil. This probably goes without saying.

When we entered the city limits of Salem, Oregon about a week later, our plan was simple. Heather had transferred to a Starbucks here and I was going to find a job in a week or two. We would stay in a cheap hotel until we were able to get into an apartment. Then we could settle into our new life, exploring all the natural wonders of our new state. We would gaze at majestic waterfalls, pierced lovingly with double rainbows. We would eat our weight in fresh Dungeness crab in cozy diners by the seaside. Heather would garden and serve up her healthy harvest. Maybe I could finally record my music properly, when I wasn't busy writing my first novel...


Next: The Oregon Trial

July 22, 2019

Special Delivery

I am back, and I did miss you, whoever you may be.

I am not a magician. However, I do have one hell of a vanishing act. I can disappear so brilliantly that no one will ever question my disappearance or inquire as to my whereabouts. There will be no hand-wringing when my absence lasts a week or a month, or even several years. No search party will be formed. No sign will be tacked to any neighborhood telephone pole offering a reward for my recovery, a courtesy afforded to the mangiest of cats.

There are very few people in life that are interested in my continued existence in any meaningful way. I state this without malice or bitterness. I am the epitome of estrangement and the cause of this condition. Having the sensibilities of an artist only compounds the social ineptitude that is inherent in being on the Autism Spectrum somewhere between Emily Dickinson and Rain Man. I've always been more compelled to observe people rather than engage with them. Party of five? No, thank you.

Thus, it is an improbable fact that I spent fifteen of my finest years as an entertainer on a Raleigh stage in front of crowds of tipsy strangers, singing and playing piano. I know, because I was there, that I brought joy to many people. I encouraged strangers to forget about their troubles for a little while and sing loudly the happy rock'n'roll melodies of yesteryear. I never took for granted the applause or the compliments of grateful bar patrons. They were the ones, after all, who afforded me an opportunity to use my musical talent to live well and prosper.

The version of me onstage was a creation, a projection of who I aspired to be. It was hard to sustain. Offstage between sets, I would revert back to my true self, occupying a corner outside where I could view the show through the window and mostly avoid interaction while I rested. The job was not that difficult, but maintaining my stage persona was extremely draining. After any gig, I would often sleep ten to twelve hours to recharge my psychic battery. Still, it was completely worth it.

There were a number of internal and external factors that led to the demise of my beloved piano bar, none of which are relevant to this particular story. What matters is that my regular gig imploded and I found myself at a crossroads. I had no great yen to travel or sleep in any room that did not contain my lovely wife, Heather. Years of defying my Asperger's wiring on a nightly basis had left me pretty exhausted. Plus, I had a new challenge to face: hearing loss and a constant ringing in my ears, the dreaded tinnitus.

With bills mounting and my musical career in limbo, I decided to try something completely different. I became a mailman. You can't make this stuff up. I easily passed the entrance exam and graduated from Postal Academy just in time to be deluged by a ton of holiday packages. The stress was unbelievable, but somehow I made it through the Santa season, earning some pretty substantial pay. One check alone was $2500. I lost 25 pounds in two months!

Unfortunately, the demands of the USPS were slowly taking a toll on me. I could not socialize with my fellow carriers like a normal person might. The frenetic pace and lack of a set schedule greatly stressed me out. People like me need a lot of routine, but a new carrier is expected to do a number of things at a moment's notice. Express Mail, which is delivered by a set time, was the worst. I am not a "Beat the Clock" kind of guy. After nine months, I resigned, citing medical issues. Now what?

Next: Oregon and Bust