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“Black Sheep” by Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs

21/04/2015

an oldie but a goodie
little noted at the time but
well worth listening to today

sam_the_sham_and_the_pharaohs_promo__80259.1407171463.1280.1280

Black sheep lays around drinking wine all day
Readin’ poetry and layin’ in the grass
Ask him for a drink, he’ll give you a glass

White sheep drinks one glass of beer a year
Ask him for a shot, he says it’s all he’s got
Not down from the cellar
Can’t help nobody

Black sheep, black sheep
Have you any wool?
Three bags full

For his friends he ain’t got in the world
Black sheep, he’s got an old ragged coat of black
Tell him you’re cold, he’ll take it off his back

White sheep he’s got thirty coats or more
Saved up from the last year and the year before
Been savin’ them up for a rainy day
And it rained yesterday, ain’t got none left

Black sheep, black sheep
Have you any wool?
Yeah, three bags full

White sheep he died a wealthy man
Had five gold watches, six gold rings on his hand
Had a million dollar funeral but it’s a shame
Nobody came

Ain’t not fair
Alone, dead

Black sheep left the world in a rough pine box
Everybody came ’round
Laughing, telling jokes
The old women cried ’cause the bad man he’d been
But when they passed the casket
And everyone looked in
Seemed like he grinned
Like he know somethin’

Black sheep, black sheep
Have you any wool?
Three bags full

Just layin’ over there dead
Still grinnin’ like he was holdin’ out on everybody

Black Sheep lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
written by Bob McDill

 

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Roger Slifer [1954 - 2015]

30/03/2015

Roger Slifer was killed by a hit & run driver on June 23, 2012.

He died today.

Roger was a born & bred Hoosier, an Indiana lad ala John Wickliff Shawnessey from the novel Raintree County.  He was a quiet, self-efacing, hardworking writer / editor / creator.  While not as outsized a character as many of his friends and co-workers — imagine Harry Dean Stanton mellowed out with two fingers’ worth of smooth Kentucky bourbon and you’ll have a good idea of his personality — he was well loved and highly respected.

Roger-Slifer-e-Lobo-586x305Roger & his creation, Lobo
He also wrote My Little Pony 
Deal with it

Roger assumed a cornerstone position in any creative team he worked with.  He was one of the “go to” guys in both comics and TV animation, somebody who was not only trustworthy and reliable, but a pleasure to work with.

We are all shocked and saddened by this news; shocked because his death came quite suddenly and unexpectedly after slow but steady progress in recovery after the accident crime that left him comatose and brain damaged, saddened because our last hope of seeing him regain even a moderate portion of his once razor sharp mind is now gone.

I feel like a character in an Agatha Christies novel.  One by one all the people I know are getting bumped off and I have no idea when it will be my turn…

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4 (or Perhaps 54) Odd Movies I Saw Recently

28/03/2015

For reasons too complex to go into[1], I usually watch a movie or two late night thru the early morning hours. Recently I saw four films that rank among the oddest I’ve seen.

Charlie Victor Romeo is a series of six staged vignettes, using the same group of actors and the same minimalist airplane cockpit set, that recreate the final moments of six doomed flights via dramatizations of the black box transcripts.

This is definitely one of the oddest movies I’ve ever seen;
not strangest, not weirdest, not most outrageous, just…odd.

There’s virtually nothing to be gleaned from this other than a voyeuristic look into how the last few moments of six seemingly random flights went down.

Literally.

Some of the air crews appear to be more professional and less hysterical than others, but there is virtually no characterization (other than one pilot who goes back to chat up with the stewardesses). There are schematic drawings of the aircraft, but nothing else: No documentary footage, no computer simulations, nothing except the exact same dinky little set.

CVR1w_BobBerger-520x428The same high production values found
in Plan Nine From Outer Space…

From a forensic POV, I suppose it has its merits: Flight crews can analyze what others did wrong.[2]  I can see how this might have some dramatic punch in a small intimate theater, but as a movie? Odd.

Not bad, just…odd.

Holy Motors is the first feature by director Leos Carax in over a dozen years, a film seemingly evocative of Louis Malle’s Black Moon, Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle, and Paul Bartel’s The Secret Cinema, yet at the same time not strictly derivative of any of them.

The film is a series of vignettes in which an actor (played by Denis Lavant) is driven in a long white stretch limo to various locales where, after changing costume and make-up in the limo-cum-dressing room, he acts out a variety of disturbing / violent / insane improvised scenes, occasionally in public but often in deserted buildings or tunnels. In the course of these scenes, it is learned he is an actor performing a wide variety of roles for an organization that uses tiny hidden cameras to record his performances — but then that scene is revealed to be another role he is playing!

Holy-Motors-612x300Say what you will, Denis Lavant
knows how to make an entrance…

It’s a well mounted film, and while some of the vignettes are violent and bloody with copious male nudity, others are funny.[3]

In the end the stretch limo has a conversation with other stretch limos who carry other actors performing other scenes; the cars realize their own days are coming to an end and soon the digital world will remove the need for them to actually carry actors about.

Thought provoking and never boring.
There are far worse ways to spend two hours.

The ABCs Of Death & The ABCs Of Death 2 are two anthology films in which 26 teams of film makers[4] produce short films / vignettes that each illustrate some point or aspect of death based on a particular word.

NOT a double bill for everyone.[5] Unrated — and for damn good reasons — the vignettes run from sophomoric excursions into gore and torture to genuinely insightful and chilling meditations on death and fate to outrageously funny odd ball examinations of the macabre (animator Bill Plympton, the only recognizable name in the two films, contributes a funny example of extreme kissing).

ABCs 8053_5Simultaneously the safest, cutest, and
most disturbing image from the two films.

The good segments are very good, the gross segments are very gross, the Japanese segments are so fncking Japanese you won’t believe it, but the worst & weakest are still solid C+ material and the best are A+.

The shortness of the mini-films forces a stripped down narrative and character construction; you get straight to the point ASAP and then move on to the next story. As I find myself becoming more and more easily bored by long form stories (including feature films, mini-series, and even hour long episodics), The ABCs Of Death were welcome excursions in efficient streamlined story telling and for that I give them all high marks.

Would that somebody use the same format for other types of stories: Comedies, love, etc.

As the film makers were working independently of one another there is a certain overlap of ideas and themes, but nothing that detracts from the final films. In the first film I was particularly impressed with “Dogfight”, “Hydro-Electric Diffusion” (see above), “Klutz”, and “Pressure” (arguably the most disturbing of all the short films even without explicit gore and violence); while in the second my favorites were “Capital Punishment”, “Questionnaire”, “Roulette”, “Split”, “Vacation”, and “Wish”.

But remember, if I think a movie is pushing the
boundaries, it’s really pushing the boundaries!

.

.

.

[1] Okay, here’s the deal: We inherited Jeffrey Cat from my late aunt. He is set in his ways, and those ways require somebody to be in the living room with him late at night or else he starts meowing and raising a ruckus. No, he cannot come into my office and lay quietly while I work; no, he cannot let Soon-ok sleep and simply join her at the foot of the bed; he has to have somebody downstairs with him or else he makes enough racket to awaken Soon-ok and then I catch hell. From the moment Soon-ok turns in to the wee hours of the morning, I have to go downstairs and cat sit. Jeffrey Cat, we luvz ya and we’ll take good care of you for the rest of your days, but we will shed few tears when you finally shuffle off this mortal coil…

[2]  Or what they did  right; the last vignette recounts the truly heroic efforts of United Flight 232 to bring their craft down as safely as possible, thus managing to save the lives of over half the people on board.

[3] Whether in spite of or because of their outrageousness is a question best answered by each individual viewer.

[4] The movies promote the directors primarily, but these films required writers and actors and tech crews and animators and special effects teams to make their impact, so let’s hear it for the teams!

[5] In January of this year, Ohio substitute teacher Sheila Kearns was convicted of four felony counts of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles after she showed the first ABCs Of Death to five different Spanish language classes (the film has Spanish language segments). She had been charged with five counts, but the jury was inclined to think she didn’t know what was in the movie when she showed it to the first class, but that she should have then realized it was inappropriate and not shown it to the remaining classes. Personally, I think the average high school student would probably enjoy both films, though I am sure plenty of teens would rather avoid it as is their right. It was a bonehead move on Ms Kearns part, and while her punishment is excessive, she had to expect some sort of blow back.

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American Cinematheque TRANSFORMERS / G.I. JOE Panels

9/03/2015

GI_Joe_The_Movie

This is my first chance to comment at length on last night’s great showing of Transformers: The Movie and G.I. Joe: The Movie at the Egyptian in Hollywood for the American Cinematheque.

First off, I want to say what an honor and a thrill it was to be invited to participate. It was great seeing so many of the old crew again, including Don Jurwich, Larry F. Houston, Neil Ross, Hank Garrett (wish you had time to tell that hilarious story from your pro wrestler days about the “wild man” you had to face once), Michael Bell, Bill Ratner, Wally Burr, and my old friend (and one of the few I’ve got left) Flint Dille.

And it was especially great to finally see G.I. Joe: The Movie the way it was intended to be shown, and in as great and as historic a venue as the Egyptian (my personal fave of the old classic Hollywood theaters).  Soon-ok will tell you it was both a proud and a humbling moment for me.

And another proud and humbling aspect were all the fans who showed up and expressed great enthusiasm for what we had done 30 some years when we were toiling away at Sunbow. Truth be told, at the time we wondered how well we would be remembered for our efforts, and I’m happy to see that we made a big impression with a lot of people that continues to this day.

My thanx to Duvien Ho, Michael Floyd, and all the other folks at both American Cinematheque and Dammaged Goods for putting this show together, and a special thanx to fans and friends like Ralph Miley, Geoff Strout, Holly Knevelbaard, Josh Burns, Diana Davis, and so many others who came out and made it so wonderful.

Here is video & audio of the panels:

pre-show panel video

intermission panel video

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TRANSFORMERS & G.I. JOE At American Cinematheque!

21/02/2015

GI_Joe_The_Movie

For those Joe and Transformer fans out there, the American Cinematheque is hosting a double feature at the Hollywood Egyptian on March 7, 2015.  Both films will be shown and sandwiched in between ‘em will be writer/story editor Flint Dille, voice actor Neil Ross, director Don Jurwich, story board director Larry Houston, writer Don Glut, and yrs trly to talk about the films and the other series produced by Sunbow in the mid-80s.

Anything we can’t remember, we’ll make up…

The fun starts at 7:30, tickets are $11 (but only $7 if you’re an American Cinematheque member, so why doncha join?), and the Egyptian (my personal favorite of the classic Hollywood movie palaces) is located at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard, between Las Palmas and McCadden, just east of Highland Avenue in Hollywood.

Don’t make us come looking for you!

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Who Can Defeat Killah Priest & The Mighty Wu-Tang Clan?

20/02/2015

Josh Hadley, that’s who.

Josh interviewed me earlier this year for his podcast, but a funny thing happened when he uploaded it.

He used an audio sample from Visionaries, one of the series I wrote for oh so many moons ago, as part of his intro to the interview.

Seems Killah Priest, a Wu-Tang Clan affiliate, has also sampled the same segment from Visionaries for one of his recordings, and his label has ‘bots crawling the ‘webs, looking for anybody who may have ripped them off.

Basically, they told SoundCloud to take down Josh’s Radiodrome podcast for copyright infringement!

Ha!  It’s going to take more than mere ‘bots to stop Josh or shut me up!

Vic Prezio - magnus brobot brawl

Listen to me blather on here.

Magnus, Robot Fighter brawl by Vic Prezio

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The Case Of The Clumsy Art Th– …uh… Appropriator

11/02/2015

So artist Scott Teplin spent the better part of a decade developing a distinctive font.

scott-teplin-jamian-juliano-villani-gavin-brown-3

And love it or hate it or like it or dislike it or just say “meh” to it, you can’t deny it’s a unique expression of an idea and as such is entitled to copyright protection.

jamian-juliano-villani-scott-teplin-gavin-brown-3

Some font developers just love doing that stuff and make their fonts available for free online.  Other sell their fonts for a charge, or develop them for exclusive use by a single client.

Fonts are cool, and I love playing with them,
but when I’ve used them professionally
I’ve either made sure they were free
for commercial use or paid for them.

Enter one Jamian Julian-Villani, another NYC based artist.  Ms Villani saw Teplin’s font, liked it, Instagrammed it without attribution, then in the sincerest form of flattery stole appropriated it for use in her painting, Animal Proverb.

jamian-juliano-villani-scott-teplin-gavin-brown

When Teplin pointed out the theft appropriation, Villani[1] doubled-down:

“Everything is a reference,” Juliano-Villani told artnet News in a phone interview. “Everything is sourced.” Artist copyright seems like a thing of the past.

“It’s a fucking John Lennon lyric,” she said several times. When we pointed out that Teplin, for his part, is claiming ownership of his lettering, not the lyric, Juliano-Villani repeated, “But it’s a fucking John Lennon lyric.”[2]

Basically, Ms Villani is ripping off a live New Yorker in order to rip off a dead New Yorker for her personal profit, and without paying royalties to either.

Ignoring the question of whether she was involved in Christian publishing, I was puzzled by something else in her painting.  To paraphrase Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction:

“You know what’s on my mind right now? It AIN’T the coffee in my kitchen, it’s the [pink elephant] [blue sphinx] in my garage.”

VF ttm03

Yes, the nimble fingered Ms Villani has =ahem= appropriated yet another artist’s work, in this case an illustration by the late great pulp sci-fi artist Virgil Finlay[3] for H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.[4]

Now, fair is fair, and folks would be right to ask:

“Just what’s the #@%&in’ difference between what she did and what you do with your Fictoids or Words Of The Prophets posts?”

For one thing, I’m not making money off the use of another creator’s art or words.  What I post may be freely accessed by anyone.[5]

My Fictoids are typically commentaries on the underlying art, and as such fall under the fair usage provision of copyright law.

I try really hard to use only those images which have entered into the public domain, and / or like Banksy am appropriating advertising art to make a cultural comment.

I strive whenever possible to identify and properly credit the artist, and have gone back and added artist information when I’ve learned it.

Likewise the Words Of The Prophets series of posts are quotes from public persons and as such fall under fair usage, or are otherwise in the public domain.  Any meme I use that I don’t generate, I leave any identifying URL on the image.

Ms Villani is probably in the clear re Virgil Finlay’s art; I haven’t been able to track down a specific date but I’m guessing it’s probably some time in the 1950s or 60s, perhaps even as early as the late 1940s.  Unless the copyright was specifically renewed in the 1970s or early 80s, I’m guessing the image is public domain by now.

The Lennon quote is kinda iffy, but let’s attribute that one to ignorance, not ill will.

I’ll even go so far as to say appropriating Teplin’s font, specifically in the format he used and with the message he painted, might also be a case of plain ol’ vanilla misunderstanding.

But refusing to acknowledge, much less compensate or thank Teplin when it was pointed out to her?

Not cool, Ms Villani.
Not cool at all.

Added later:  
Ms Villani and Mr Teplin
have apparently come to
an understanding and
made peace on the issue

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[1]  With a name like that, it’s almost as if she couldn’t help but be an antagonist in a story.

[2]  We’re going to skip the whole issue of what and how much of a work is considered fair use.  Song lyrics are notoriously tricky items under copyright law, and while one can reference the title of a song with impunity in a literary work, including any quotation of verses, no matter how trivial, invites a letter from a lawyer with ample precedence in her briefcase, so unless you secure permission first, don’t quote a song lyric, even tho people post whole lyrics all the time and make online memes from them.

[3]  Google Image Search the bejeebers outta him; you’ll be glad you did.

[4]  And, yes, Finlay was also an NYC based artist for much of his career, so Ms Villani wins the trifecta!

[5]  You want to use my words for profit, please contact me at the e-mail address below; I lay no claim on any artwork I do not specifically own the rights to.

 

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I Blather On…

21/01/2015

… on the website The Blathers Of Gene Bathurst.  Gene was curious about my experiences writing Thundarr The Barbarian and I had a blast trying to fill in the blanks to the best of my memory.

thundarr portal into time title card

You can find Part One here and Part Two there

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“All Along The Watchtower” by Bob Dylan

18/01/2015

All Along The Watchtower

All Along The Watchtower by Bob Dylan

“There must be some way out of here” said the joker to the thief
“There’s too much confusion”, I can’t get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.

“No reason to get excited”, the thief he kindly spoke
“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”.

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.

Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

© Dwarf Music

art by John Rea Neill
lyrics by Bob Dylan

Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” is one of my favorite songs.  It sounds like the opening scene of a great, epic fantasy (indeed, writer / editor Jessica Amanda Salmonson tried years ago to turn it into a lengthy story with another writer, but her co-author’s untimely death pretty much killed any momentum that project had; still, it would have been wonderful).  Unlike most ballads, it does not complete its story; rather it leaves it open ended and ripe for interpretation.  For that reason, it is haunting.

update:  “As you allude to, I published Ron Nance’s first story ‘Watchtower‘ about the Jester and the Thief. He wrote a very few more tales of this duo, and he and I co-wrote ‘A Wine of Heart’s Desire‘ set in the world of Dylan’s characters, to be found in the Tor Books anthology Tales By Moonlight.” — Jessica Amanda Salmonson

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SNOWPIERCER: The Best 40 Years Late 70s Corman Movie

13/01/2015

Snowpiercer reiterates a point I brought up regarding Captain America: Winter Soldier: It tries too hard to look too real and ends up undermining its own strengths.

It’s a goofy, nonsensical story wrought with allegorical significance, lifting its big shocking reveal[1] from William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s Logan’s Run by way of Norman Spinrad’s Bug Jack Barron and Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”.

Well staged / well directed / well acted with lotsa cartoon villains to hiss and Bruce Willis School Of Long Suffering Machismo heroes to cheer.

It’s all bullshit but it’s
entertaining bullshit.

This is precisely the sort of movie Roger Corman was producing in the 1970s, the original Death Race 2000 being the primo example of the sub-genre[2]Smart enough to fire the imagination, dumb enough to plow past “oh-come-on!” moments, fast enough & funny enough to be entertaining.[3]

Compare this poster…

snowpiercer-poster

…with this poster & tell me
which movie you wanna see.

death_race_2000_poster_01(Yeah, I thot so…)

Had Corman (or Peter Watkins or Robert Fuest) made Snowpiercer, they probably wouldn’t have come to several repeated jarring stops along the way as it dawdled over some new car on the train, making sure we were all acutely aware of the overwrought symbolism drenching the screen before lurching forward again.

And they certainly wouldn’t have given us time to think about what we were looking at and the logic (or lack thereof) in what we were seeing.[4]

There are only two ways to approach cinefantastique:
Either make what one sees onscreen absolutely 100% plausible looking, or else use a stylized approach that doesn’t try to convince the viewer so much as ask them to play along.

When the former approach works, it works very, very well but it typically takes a lot of time and effort (read budget) especially in the script and performances.

The latter approach is more forgiving, basically telling the audience, “Pretend this papier-mâché boulder and painted backdrop is an alien world and we’ll tell you an entertaining story.”

This is why Star Trek: The Original Original Series[5] and early (i.e., no later than Tom Baker) Doctor Who shows grab my interest and attention far better than their glossier descendants.

Mind you, there’s a lot of
exceptionally fine work in
those slicker, more realistic
episodes and much to be
recommended, but the real
magic is in the early episodes.

When you try to make the unreal real, you better come out high steppin’ or you’re cruising for a fall. Audiences will accept felt cloth Muppets with delight but fight tooth and nail against the original 1986 Howard The Duck’s attempt to convince us a bird could talk.

Snowpiercer has a lot to recommend it,
and isn’t a total waste of time, but it
tries
 too hard to convince us and just
barely
 enough to entertain us.

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[1] Seriously, who didn’t see that one marching down the avenue at the 10 minute mark?

[2] Though there were copious films of the same style produced around that time by others: The Gladiators a.k.a. Gladiatorerna a.k.a. The Peace Game, Punishment Park, and The Final Programme a.k.a. The Last Days Of Man Of Earth being of three many that immediately spring to mind.

[3] Oh, and lots of nudity. Lots and lots and lots of nudity. I don’t want to watch an R-rated movie and find out it’s just a bunch of swearing.

[4] This is surprising because Snowpiercer makes a lot of really smart leaps in story and exposition, allowing audience familiarity with various tropes / clichés / stereotypes of the genre to fill in gaps that otherwise would have been filled with talk-talk-talk.

[5] Not the re-released version with amped up spfx that jar with the style of the original show.

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