Saturday, April 28, 2012

Scene Study: Pee-wee's descent into madness!

"Is this something you can share with the rest of us, Amazing Larry?"

Pinky Lee
One of the things which makes Tim Burton's 1985 film Pee-wee's Big Adventure such an enduring classic is its unexpected complexity. You read that correctly. On the surface, this is the featherweight story of a seemingly naive, innocent man-child -- comedian Paul Reubens as the self-described "loner" Pee-wee Herman -- and his quest to recover his beloved stolen bicycle, which has been taken from him by a jealous and spiteful neighbor. And, yes, Pee-wee is supposed to be a fun, happy, lovable character who will appeal to kids in the audience. But, admirably,  the film does not shy away from showing the dark side of both its title character and the world in which he lives. This is a whimsical movie, sure, but it also contains moments of unsettling surrealism and takes some of its visual cues from decidedly-not-for-kids crime and horror films of the past. At times, director Burton seems as influenced by German Expressionism and film noir as he does by the 1950s children's TV hosts (Soupy Sales, Pinky Lee, Buffalo Bob Smith) which spawned the Pee-wee character. Most surprisingly, Pee-wee's Big Adventure does not flinch when it comes to portraying the negative aspects of the title character's personality, particularly his paranoia and bad temper. It could be argued that what allowed Burton and Ruebens to move Pee-wee Herman from the world of sketch comedy where he was born (Ruebens was a member of LA's The Groundlings) into the world of feature films was making the character three-dimensional and complicated. A one-note Pee-wee couldn't sustain a whole movie. But a sometimes-nice, sometimes-not-so-nice Pee-wee can.

An unhinged Pee-wee
Nowhere is the dual nature of this film better reflected than in the justly-beloved "town meeting" scene. In this bizarre sequence, Pee-wee has invited the lovably odd folks of the community -- his completely innocent friends and neighbors -- to confront them with the "evidence" he has collected since the theft of his bike. The crime has brought out the worst in Pee-wee, and the scene is a portrait in extreme paranoia. In a very short span of time, he has ceased to be a harmless, free-spirited eccentric and has become a suspicious, angry, accusatory monster with a tendency toward megalomania. What is shocking is that it took so little to bring such a momentous personality shift. Burton uses lighting very effectively here, casting shadows on Ruebens' face to give him a threatening, unfriendly appearance. Quite often during this scene, Reubens is either partially or completely in shadow. Darkness frequently obscures his facial features, giving him an air of vague menace. And Danny Elfman's score for this scene seems more typical of a tense Alfred Hitchcock thriller. Even Pee-wee's charming, clutter-laden house, seen briefly at the beginning of the scene, looks a little ominous at night. Note, too, that everyone attending this meeting seems to have gotten there on a bicycle.

In this scene, Pee-wee Herman is allowed to act in a manner totally unbecoming the star of a children's film. He yells. He paces. He spouts completely nutty conspiracy theories and keeps his "guests" virtual captives for hours on end in a stuffy basement. Even Pee-wee's little dog, Speck, is afraid of him. Perhaps the most startling moment is when he lashes out verbally at Dottie (Elizabeth Daily), the adorable bike shop employee who is the closest thing the film has to a romantic interest. It took real guts on the part of Reubens and Burton to allow their hero to be portrayed so negatively at this early stage in the film. A more timid film might have worried about alienating the audience, but Pee-wee's Big Adventure gives us more credit than that. Besides, the filmmakers must have rightly figured that audiences would go along with this scene simply because it was so funny. The dialogue throughout this sequence is hilarious. Nearly every line is quotable, so I'll limit myself to excerpting this unhinged monologue, the best of its kind outside of Humphrey Bogart as Fred C. Dobbs in Treasure of the Sierra Madre:
"When you've gone over something again and again and again and again like I have, certain questions get answered. Others spring up! The mind plays tricks on you. You play tricks back! It's like you're unraveling a big cable-knit sweater that someone keeps knitting and knitting and kitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting!"
Oliver Stone, eat your heart out. This is the greatest "conspiracy monologue" of all time.

"Why? What's the significance? I DON'T KNOW!"

A tedious post which is nothing but quotes and one-liners

Satirical sculpture by Chinese artist Chen Wenling

The Internet is nothing if not a playground of guilty pleasures. And one of mine, I will admit, is browsing through those long lists of haphazardly-collected one-liners and (often incorrectly attributed) quotations from famous comedians, politicians, writers, etc. I think the beauty of these lists is that they allow you to seem profound and witty without actually having to do any real thinking yourself. They're thoughts ready to think! All the heavy lifting, so to speak, has been done for you. And so, dearest readers, that is what I am offering you today -- a smorgasbord of borrowed ideas and predigested notions, several of which have appeared on bumper stickers and t-shirts. I have at least tried to offer these quotes in an organized, readable fashion and have even corrected a few egregious spelling and attribution errors.

Ready? Good. Now let's begin.

Friday, April 27, 2012

I Sing the Snot Atomic: A Short Story

"We've got the situation 75% under control..."

The Hubert J. Cromsby Institute for the Advancement of Quantum Botany
Las Calaveras, New Mexico 
April 21, 1975 - 8:04 a.m. 

And hello to you, Dr. Ackerman! Good to finally meetcha! Can I call you Jerry? Super. And please, do call me Dr. Mandelbrot. Haw, haw! Just pullin' your leg there, Jer. But all kidding aside, "Tom" will do just fine. We're all friends here at HJC. Let me show you around the place and introduce you to some of the boys you'll be working with. Right this way. How's Las Calaveras been treating you, by the by? Settling in to your new home all right? Oh? Well, I sure as heck am sorry to hear that, Jer. My wife was the same way when we first moved out here. But she got used to it, and I'm sure your wife will, too. What's her name, if I may ask? What a coincidence. My grandfather's name was Miriam. Haw, haw! But really, Jer, this place isn't too bad once you get used to the heat. Satan's Crawlspace, my wife Dolores calls it. There's not a whole heck of a lot to do in town... a few restaurants, coupla stores. Delores thought she'd go stir crazy. But I tell ya, Jer, at night Las Calaveras has a beauty all her own. It's the sky, Jer, that great big beautiful open sky fulla stars. Makes a person feel, I dunno, free I guess is the word. And here's the best part, Jer: no lawn to mow! Am I right? Haw, haw! The kids took to this place right away. Said it reminded 'em of those old Road Runner cartoons, which I guess it does at that. How you fixed in the offspring department there, Jer? Got two m'self. Randy's nine and Courtney's eleven. How 'bout you? No? Some particular reason? Well, I guess you're right, Jer. It's not my place to pry. But if it's a medical thing, Jer, I know a coupla doctors who would be glad to... Okay, Jer, I'll lay off. Guess I'm always tryin' to stick my nose in where it doesn't belong. But, heck, that's why we became scientists, huh? Delores says a scientist is just a busybody wrapped in a lab coat! A regular Nosy Joe, that's me. Haw, haw! 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

10 Nightmarish Images of Buster Brown, Terrifying Shoe Sprite

"I'm Buster Brown. I live in your shoe. Sleep well, children."

A live-action Buster
When you think of Buster Brown, you probably think of shoes which mothers think are cute but which no kid ever wanted to wear. Fair enough, but much like Skippy peanut butter, Buster Brown shoes were named for a now-long-forgotten, theoretically lovable cartoon tyke from the early decades of the Twentieth Century. Created by comics innovator Richard Outcault, the man often credited with inventing the comics form, young Buster and his canine companion Tige had their own newspaper strip from 1902 to 1921 and subsequently appeared in live-action short films, Broadway plays, radio shows, and even a television series. All of those trickled away by the time the 1960s rolled around, leaving the shoe business as Buster's only lasting legacy. He started endorsing shoes in 1904, nearly from the beginning of his career, and he's still at it over a century later. In case you're curious about the character behind the shoe commercials, Buster was a well-to-do but mischievous lad who had a taste for low-level chaos despite his rather prissy appearance. In each story he would get into some kind of comical shenanigans and would receive his comeuppance in the form of a spanking, yet would never learn his lesson or reform his ways for long. One of his trademark bits was to make a ridiculous pronouncement on some matter and then declare that matter to be "resolved." In fact, "Resolved!" became Buster's catchphrase.

So... all in good fun, right? A harmless piece of Americana, right? WRONG! As the following pictures will prove, Buster Brown is the most horrifying hellbeast ever devised by man. He has the piercing stare of a psychopath, a fact which contrasts hideously with his weirdly formal, effeminate appearance. His dog, Tige, is no better -- a snarling, gargoyle-like creature with the mouth of a shark and an eerie fixed gaze which matches that of his master.

Read on at your own peril, gentle traveler.

Wayne, for reasons of his own, is on Google Plus

A screenshot of my Google Plus profile, which exists for some reason.

What can I say, readers? My sympathies always go to the underdog, and that includes the field of social media. Maybe that's because, as a living-impaired American, I am the ultimate underdog... a six feet underdog, if you will. So instead of going the typical route and getting a Facebook account, I've decided to take the infamous road less traveled and put all my networking eggs in a Google Plus-shaped basket. That's right! Even though G+ seems to be the Washington Generals to Facebook's Harlem Globetrotters, I've been a semi-reliable presence on the fledgling site.

Check me out! Original content and every damned thing. Please! I need people in my circle(s) to feel worthwhile! Is that desperate? Since when have I not been desperate? Here's a link to get you started!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

(today's zomby) Smoother than a cold Colt .45

And what do you think of this cartoon, Fred "The Ogre" Palowakski?


 Quite. Very droll, sir. Very droll indeed.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Three Stooges Vs. Zombies! (well.... a zombie)

Moe Howard and Dan Blocker in Outer Space Jitters (1957).
With The Three Stooges opening this weekend, I thought the time was right to explore a vintage Stooge short in which the hapless trio dealt with the living impaired. Yes, the Three Stooges did a zombie movie, though not until they were pretty much out of gas creatively. The boys made 190 shorts for Columbia Pictures between 1934 and 1959, and the film in question -- 1957's Outer Space Jitters -- is #182 of that series, which should give you an idea. By this point, they were already on their third "third Stooge." Curly and Shemp were both dead by then, so the role was filled by comedian Joe Besser. Stooge fans tend to be divided about Besser. Some loathe him, while others despise him. Me, I tend to be more forgiving because I grew up hearing Besser's voice on Hanna-Barbera cartoons like Scooby's All-Star Laff-A-Lympics. Maybe Joe's prissy, effete style of comedy does not mesh with the rough-and-tumble aesthetic of the group, but to me he's a livelier "third Stooge" than "Curly Joe" DeRita ever was.

Blocker and the Stooges.
None of which is to say that Outer Space Jitters is any kind of masterpiece. The boys were well past their prime here -- their average age in this short is 55 -- and the episode just kind of chugs along without generating much in the way of actual laughter. My favorite moment, in fact, comes early on when Larry turns to the camera to plug Colmubia's then-recent musical, Pal Joey. The plot has Larry, Moe, and Joe, along with their frequent co-star Emil Sitka, on a fact-finding trip to the planet Sunev to find out "what's cookin'" up there, only to discover that the Sunevians, who run on electricity rather than blood, are planning to conquer the Earth by raising an army of cavemen from the dead. Or something like that. The one caveman zombie we see is played by Dan Blocker, much better known for his role as Hoss Cartwright on the long-running Western series Bonanza. Like pretty much all monsters in the Stooge films, Blocker just kind of staggers around after them but never inflicts any damage. He doesn't need to. As always, the Stooges are quite adept at injuring themselves and each other.

Anyway, if the preceding article has piqued your interest, here is Outer Space Jitters for your perusal. Enjoy.


Saturday, April 7, 2012


Hey, folks! At long last, Zomby is returning from his "vision quest" overseas and is ready to star in more cartoons on this blog. Speaking of which, how do you like the redesign? Myself, I think it's pretty darned snazzy. I mean, you'd have to have iron willpower not to read it. It's begging to be read! Bettie certainly seems to approve.


Friday, April 6, 2012

The Management Kindly Requests: A Werewolf Story

The continental breakfast is a key plot device in this story! Watch for it!

Note to readers: As a change of pace, I thought I'd share with you a very brief piece of creative writing from the vast Kotke archives. This particular story arose from a challenge I received from another writer to compose a werewolf story which was told entirely in the second person. I do hope you will enjoy it. - JB

Ah, good, sir. You're awake.

No, no, Mr. Risling. You don't have to get out of bed. This won't take but a moment. You will forgive me for entering your room like this, sir, but you didn't answer your phone, and the management wanted me to pass along a few items of interest to you.

You gave us quite a scare last night, of course. What, sir? You don't remember? Certainly, you will remember some of it. Nothing, really? Hmm. You are Mr. Erik J. Risling, correct?

Eh? What's that? You don't even know where you are or how you got here? You are kidding, I trust. No? Well, you could start by looking around the room. That should jog some memories. You, sir, are in room 316 of the Applewood Motor Cove. You see that shattered window and those slashed drapes, sir? Yes, those. You did that, sir. And the bloody footprints on the carpet, too, which Rosa is now diligently attempting to remove. Of course, you will be paying for the replacement and cleaning of these items. Your credit card has already been billed, Mr. Risling. No need to fret.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Of death and baseball...

"Death is a part of baseball."
"Oh, yeah, it's the main part." 

-Two executives on The Simpsons

Today was Opening Day for the Chicago Cubs. (They lost.) But being a living impaired American, I could not help but meditate upon the connection between death and baseball. Here is a song by the late great singer-songwriter Steve Goodman which sums it all up:

Goodman's song is funny and sad and true at the same time, and it will probably not surprise you to learn that the man himself was terminally ill and near the end when this was filmed more than a quarter-century ago. I think the fact that the Cubs lost today only makes it more poignant.

Yes, Steve, they still play the blues in Chicago. And probably always will. RIP.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Thoughts on 'Blood For Dracula' and its brilliant title sequence

An assortment of foreign posters advertising Blood For Dracula.

By some accounts, there are more films about Dracula than about any other fictional character. The Guinness people say he's been portrayed in a staggering 272 films, even more than Sherlock Holmes (who's been portrayed a mere 254 times). Of all these cinematic incarnations of the famous bloodsucker, perhaps none have affected me as deeply as Paul Morrissey's 1974 horror-comedy opus, Blood For Dracula (a.k.a. Andy Warhol's Dracula, after its world-famous producer). In this bizarre and hilarious film, a companion piece to Morrissey's Flesh For Frankenstein, the famous vampire is portrayed by the eccentric and beloved German thespian Udo Kier as a frail, weak creature who barely has the strength to walk and who is bossed around by his own manservant, Anton (Arno Jeuring). In desperate need of virgin blood but scorned by the people of his own country, Dracula makes a last-ditch journey to Italy in search of fresh victims and winds up as a house guest in the crumbling home of the Di Fiores, a fading aristocratic family with four comely daughters. Morrissey deconstructs the Dracula legend and uses it as a platform to satirize morality, class warfare, and even politics. The film is set shortly after the Russian Revolution, and the Di Fiores' gardener (a never-better Joe Dallesandro) is a bolshevik who views the Count as a relic of a bygone era.

What really gives the film its kick, however, is Udo Kier's performance in the title role. This is a Dracula unlike any I've seen in motion picture history: frail and vulnerable, a shadow of his former self. Paul Morrissey introduces us to this unconventional Dracula with an astonishing opening sequence, all done in one take and set to the melancholy, nostalgic music of Claudio Gizzi. If you'll indulge me, I'd like to walk you through this sequence step by step. Keep in mind that the image directly below is the very first thing you see in the film.

The face of Dracula: pale, haunted, vulnerable.
He begins to add makeup, starting with greasepaint eyebrows.
He adds color to his lips. For the first time, we see his fangs.
Dracula paints on his famous black hair. In reality, it is white.
Though he has no reflection, he has been looking in a mirror.
The chair pulls back, seemingly of its own accord.
Dracula exits the room in shadow. All this has been one shot.

For a low-budget film shot quickly and written as it was being made, Blood For Dracula is remarkably accomplished and compelling, telling a story which is thought-provoking, disturbing, amusing, and arousing. The opening sequence perfectly encapsulates Morrissey's particular take on the familiar character, and it's all achieved with careful framing, evocative music, and a pitch-perfect performance by Kier, whose eyes and facial expression communicate so much without one word being spoken. The following clip will show you how all these elements came together in the finished film: