Monday, June 26, 2017

More fun with 'Dennis The Menace'

When wry observations backfire.

Dennis The Menace was one of my favorite comics when I was a kid. I was even sort of excited about Dennis' status as a mascot for Dairy Queen. Only when I grew up did I realize that the Mitchell family depicted in the comic was a cesspool of mutual resentment and acrimony. And it wasn't just my imagination either. The comic strip is based on a real family, and it presents a considerably sanitized, brightened-up version of their lives. The real Alice died of a drug overdose in 1959, and the real Dennis became estranged from his father and had a troubled adulthood. The real Henry, aka cartoonist Hank Ketcham, continued to exploit their misadventures for fun and profit for decades, putting a happy face on their domestic strife. But the truth oozes up through the drains sometimes. Here's the real comic for comparison. It's debatable whether my version is nastier or less nasty.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Set Decoration Odyssey, Part Two by Greg Dziawer

This distinctive door knocker plays a key role in Ed Wood history.

The Kitchen Sink

A kitchen sink from Two's Better Than One.
I confess. I'm obsessed with porn loops. Specifically 8mm porn loops from the early '70s that share commonalities with the last two feature films (that we know of) that were directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr. Necromania and The Young Marrieds were both produced by Cinema Classics, headed by Noel Bloom, son of publisher Bernie Bloom, who was Ed's boss at a variety of magazine imprints for the better part of the last decade of Ed's life. The set decorations in those two films overlap frequently with each other. They also overlap with dozens if not hundreds of porn loops from the early '70s.

While Swedish Erotica remains the best known of myriad series of Bloom-related loops, a sister series called Danish International Films not only shares set decorations with the early Swedish Erotica loops and those two features, but also a common language of cinematic tropes. The dissolve edits and, especially, seemingly endless shots of characters walking into and away from the camera—or even sometimes thrusting objects into the camera, handed to a receiver in the reverse shot.

The very first loop in the Danish International Films series, Two's Better Than One, opens with a pretty, young, long-haired brunette at a sidewalk fruit and vegetable market. Clearly shot guerrilla-style, with unwitting folks in the background of the shots soon to appear in a porn film, she continues moving through the crowd to a sidewalk café. She approaches two young hippies at a table, having a bite to eat, and after a very brief exchange—alas, there are no subtitles on the version of this loop I viewed—she hands one a piece of paper and walks away.

We cut to her entering her apartment with a grocery bag. She enters the kitchen and sets the bag down on the sink. There's a cylindrical red lamp on the sink. Odd place for a lamp. But wait! That lamp looks familiar. And there's a wall hanging above the sink, a large number 5 in a white circle, a la a billiard ball, against a red background. That wall hanging looks familiar, too, from other loops. Hmm. The left-hand wall of the set is brown paneling and also appears familiar.

The kitchen sink from The Young Marrieds.
Then it finally dawned on me: The kitchen sink itself is the very same dark brown sink, shot from a near-identical angle, as the sink in Ben and Ginny's kitchen in The Young Marrieds. It's the very same set, as a matter of fact, just dressed differently.

The girl picks up a black rotary phone, also oddly on the sink, and dials one of the gents from the café. If you assumed she had given them her number, you were wrong. Perhaps she gave them her address. How did she obtain their number? The gentlemen on the left in the sidewalk scene picks up a small piece of paper from the table as she hands him the same, fished from her purse. Was he meant to give that to her, an exchange of numbers, and flubbed the scene? As it stands, we can only surmise that she knew them previously and already had the phone number. The black rotary phone is a common prop in these loops, the means by which this new breed of sexually free creatures arrange their no-strings-attached hookups. Omniscient, no?

Of course, this is merely the lead-in to any porn loop's raison d'etre: sex. In this case, as the title implies, it's a threesome. The two gentlemen show up, they move to her bedroom, and the action ensues. There in the bedroom, we spot more familiar set decorations: a painting on the wall, a pillow, a blanket. We even get two money shots.

A metal grate from Necromania.
But let's go back a second to that kitchen. There's something missing. In The Young Marrieds, there's a decoration on the left-hand wall, a lion's head. Where did it disappear to? I know! It's also hanging on the door of Madame Heles' place in Necromania, there serving its actual purpose as a door-knocker.

And that number 5 wall hanging above the sink, repurposed elsewhere, is also missing. In The Young Marrieds, there's a metal grate above the "window" with beautiful pink curtains matching Ginny's lingerie. Where did it go? I know! My friend Dimitrios Otis, self-styled porn archaeologist who put two and two together and Ed-tribute The Young Marrieds to Ed Wood, reminded me that it's there in the hallway at the beginning of Necromania. It shows up elsewhere, too, in the Bloom-related loops.

We've asked a lot of questions this week, most of them rhetorical. And we'll continue asking questions. Where were these loops shot? And who made them? Who printed them and who distributed them? And, most importantly, just how does Ed Wood fit into the picture? We'll answer these questions and more, as we continue falling headlong into the loops, right here at Ed Wood Wednesdays.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fun times with the Armadilloid!

The current storyline in the Spider-Man newspaper comic strip has Peter Parker teaming up with his old foe, Mole Man, who is being pursued by a horrifying creature called an Armadilloid. There's more to it than that, but those are the basic facts as of now. What's really important for you to know is that the Armadilloid is absolutely adorable, especially as depicted in the June 19 strip. So, naturally, I had to come up with new adventures for him. Enjoy. If I come up with more, I'll add 'em.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Letterbox: More mail order oddities from They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants had an active mailing list for over a decade.

I wrote yesterday about my early experiences as a fan of They Might Be Giants and how the band communicated with its fans by means of a mailing list through the late 1980s and '90s. Today, I thought I'd share with you some more TMBG related goodies from the past. Here, for instance, is a letter from 1988 announcing the formation of a fan club, then called The Official TMBG Correspondence Department. This endeavor would later become known as The TMBG Info Club.

A letter from Melony V.W. (1988)

That particular missive was xeroxed, but the following postcard is handwritten. It's from Glenn Morrow, the head of Bar/None Records, TMBG's label at the time.

A postcard from Glenn Morrow. (1988)

The "new TMBG album" he's referring to is Lincoln, released in September 1988. By June of the next year, the band was still releasing singles off that sophomore LP. "Purple Toupee" got its own music video, but a promised EP never materialized. But the group did send out a press release concerning the song. I'm showing you the envelope it came in because of the purple stamp on the outside.

"Purple Toupee" press release envelope. (1989)

And here's the press release itself, printed on now-faded purple paper. The letter explains some of the historical references in the song and encourages fans to request the Adam Bernstein-directed video on MTV. I don't remember the clip getting a lot of play there, though.

"Purple Toupee" press release. (1989)

Naturally, a big part of the TMBG Info Club was promoting official Giants merch. And to do that, you need a catalog. Here's one of the earliest I can find, probably from 1989. Back then, "The Whole They Might Be Giants Catalog" could fit on a single sheet of paper, front and back. Lincoln was a new album back then, and the group only had a small selection of T-shirts. The most interesting item in the catalog is the TMBG fez, which I never actually purchased.

TMBG merchandise catalog. (1989)

"TMBG approved headgear": The $15 fez. (1989)

Note the address: "TMB Productions, Dept. PPFNP." That abbreviation stands for Pure Pop For Now People, a reference to a 1978 Nick Lowe album. I must admit, I bought my fair share of merchandise from these catalogs over the years. The EPs (or maxi-singles) were mainly available on cassette and vinyl in those days, but TMBG also experimented with putting them out on absurdly tiny 3" CD singles. The format never caught on, for good reason, but I still have a few of them. The CD versions all came out, I believe, in 1989. As you can see from the catalog above, the "Hotel Detective" single quickly became a collector's item.

"Don't Let's Start" CD single. (1989)

"(She Was A) Hotel Detective" CD single. (1989)

"They'll Need A Crane" CD single. (1989)

I think I'll close out this survey with a couple of miscellaneous postcards from the past, both advertising the TMBG offshoot Mono Puff, a side project for John Flansburgh. Here are some cards advertising the group's albums Unsupervised (1996) and It's Fun To Steal (1998). You might want to click on this image to see it at full size.

Postcards advertising Mono Puff. (1996-1998)

Wait, just one more thing. I thought I'd share with you this red stamp from an envelope that once presumably contained a TMBG fan club newsletter. As you can see, the mailing came from Newark, NJ. You can see the familiar "melting snowman" logo and the old Dial-A-Song number.

A TMBG fan club mailing (1988)