August 29, 2019

The Good Works of God and Mankind

I sometimes like to imagine God filling in the colorless canvas of a new Earth with the products of His imagination. It must have been a labor of Love. Acts of pure creation always are. 

Picture a barren hillside, at once teeming with a billion blades of the greenest grass. Endless varieties of insects and animals, each producing their own distinctive song, springing from the mind and heart of the First Artist.

God's palette contained all the senses known to mankind, and many more besides. A human could draw a flower, but only God could delineate its aroma, the taste of its nectar, its graceful motion in the morning breeze. 
Georgia O’Keeffe, Red Canna, 1924 (Georgia O’Keeffe Museum)
I find that there is nothing inherent in the belief of God that conflicts in any way with science or any other form of rational thinking. Evolution might just be another of God's masterpieces, a temporal tableau. Why must one preclude the other? 

Organized religion is totally corrupted, of course, just as most institutions run by humans tend to be. Religious texts, though they contain much wisdom, are all dubious for the same reason. Every atrocity ever committed in the name of God was actually committed at the direction of a person or persons who claimed they had the authority to speak for God. 

I find that all I need to really know about God can be found in His artwork. The colors of a sunset, for example. It is just not possible that anyone who could fill a canvas with such a splendid and constantly changing aerial display could signify anything different than peace, joy and benevolence. In those qualities are all the lessons that mankind could ever need to know about the meaning of life.

God gave humanity a special power, one that He did not bestow upon the bumblebees or rabbits or any other living creatures. This power was the ability to transcend instinct and experience a full range of emotions with freedom of thought and expression. How else could we fully appreciate the wonders all around us? We have been taught to have faith in God, but it is self-evident that He had faith in us first.

Auguste Rodin's The Thinker was originally named The Poet
The legacy of mankind, as of this writing, seems to betray God's faith in our potential. Authoritarian leaders, seen and unseen, throughout the course of history, manipulate the destinies of all, a deadly mixture of ignorance and hubris condemning the people of the world to a terrible and wholly unnatural fate. 

But there is hope. And that hope lies, as it always has, in the imaginations of artists. For millennia, these brave individuals have stood outside of an oppressive system, often paying a heavy toll, to bring inspiration and enlightenment to the oppressed people of the world. They have starved, lived in exile and even walked the fine line between sanity and madness to present the gifts of their imaginations to the world.

Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night, 1889.

That's why the people I admire the most are artists. And that's how I perceive the difference between good art and bad art. Good art has some redeeming value. It is not done merely to placate one's ego or make money. Good art illuminates the human condition and heals the wounded spirit. Good art encourages us to dream and turn dreams into reality. 

One doesn't have to be a Picasso or Shakespeare to create works of lasting value. Any time a person sets out to create something, they are making a conscious decision to not destroy. Any act of creation is an act of redemption for the soul of mankind. That quilt your grandmother made for you? Yeah, she knew what she was doing.

This blog is about vintage popular (and sometimes, unpopular) art and culture. I don't dispute that there is great modern culture. I do think commerce has gotten too much in front of art in this cynical age. I believe we are overdue for a Renaissance, and I am trying to do my little bit to facilitate its arrival. 

Stay attuned...

August 23, 2019

Ulcer Culture

I'm in great shape for an uninsured man who has sought medical care all of three times in the last ten years. I'm usually hesitant to even take an ibuprofen for headache, relying instead on hot washcloths and Tibetan singing bowl videos. There's just something about the pharmaceutical industry I don't like. I think it's the greed and cruelty.

On two separate occasions, flu made me so dehydrated that I sought help at my friendly neighborhood emergency room. I don't know what kind of rehydrating solution they used, but, judging by the bill I got later, this magical concoction was made from unicorn tears. I'm a little surprised IV fluids haven't replaced the gold standard. The doctor popped his head into my room and said hello. That was another thousand.

About five years ago, I popped down to an Urgent Care to get some medicine to treat a stomach ulcer whose status had changed from "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" to "Maneater." The doctor sent me away with a prescription for some antibiotics and Prilosec, warning me that - goofy Dracula voice - someTIMES they come BACK!  Blah!

One year later, just like a Girl Scout selling cookies (or in this case, an ulcer), the little pest returned. This time, money was more scarce than usual, so I simply masked the pain with Prilosec. Prilosec is amazingly effective at letting you eat whatever you want without pain, even tomatoes, to which I'm allergic. So, it's very tempting to go beyond the recommended 14 day limit. Never one to pass up a hot slice of pizza, I took them for four years, up until about a month ago.

That's when I noticed that I was having heartburn even with the Prilosec. "This can't be good," I thought, swallowing a mouthful of lasagna laden with ketchup and salsa. I knew that the time had come to face the almost unthinkable prospect of - goofy Dracula voice- eating HEALTHY and making SENSible LIFEstyle CHOICES!  I owed it to myself, and I owed it to the people who really cared about me, all three of them.

The first thing I did was cut out soft drinks. Oh, what a cola nut I am. I'm a root beer drunk. A Mountain Dew disciple. A Coke addict. I believe my mother filled my baby bottles with Dr. Pepper, which would explain the rubber walls in my nursery. But I did it. No soda, no cry.

Next, I stopped taking Prilosec, replacing it with Zantac, which works differently. I stopped eating all dishes with tomatoes. Incidentally, that is 90% of all dishes. Instead, I have been eating sensible foods, like yogurt with blueberries and honey, washed down with aloe water. I am down to half a cup of coffee a day and, after quitting smoking ten times in the last month, I'm... almost certainly not smoking as much.

You might wonder why I haven't just returned to the doctor to get some more antibiotics. Well, besides being on a budget (and on top of that, broke!), apparently the little buggers that cause ulcer, h. pylori, become more resistant to antibiotics every time you use them. That means if I use antibiotics and the ulcer comes back, it's going to have brass knuckles and a Hitler tattoo.

After a week of up and down days, I feel pretty solid. My hope is that I have extricated the h. pylori from my stomach lining with a steady stream of cranberry juice, bone broth and Pepto Bismol. I am going to take one more round of Prilosec so stomach acid won't interfere with the healing process. In 14 days, my gut should be as good as new, or at least, certified refurbished.

Until then, I'll try to post as much as I can. I'd like to post here every day, preferably a few times an hour. I want to be around a long time, at least until the End of Days.

Stay attuned...

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!



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!