Archive for Winsor McCay

Things that aren’t films: year’s end summary

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2015 by dcairns

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Finished season 2 of The Knick, the historical medical drama. Looks like that one’s finished. Some incredibly strong moments, particularly the death of a major character in the finale, but also a slight sense of a shark being jumped. It was soapier than season 1 — in one episode, a character who was definitely dead showed up again, and a character had a sudden foreign wife appear whom he definitely didn’t have before. The writers also amused themselves with in-jokes: the Laurel & Hardy line “I brought you some hard-boiled eggs and nuts,” and a product called Rough on Rats, which is an really obscure reference to the Winsor McCay cartoon THE PET.

We got hooked on Toast of London, the sitcom starring Matt Berry, written by Berry and Arthur Mathews of Father Ted fame. I’d been missing out on this comedy gold for several seasons, for no good reason. The first episode I watched seemed a bit too harsh for my tastes. It is a big negative at times, but also brilliant, in terms of visual gags, plotting, ideas, performances, and the bizarre story world, a non-period-specific vision of actors’ Soho, theatres, pubs and voice-over recording studios.

It’s interesting to me that while Mathews has gone darker, raunchier and swearier, his Father Ted co-author Graham Linehan has co-authored the BBC1-friendly Count Arthur Strong. which takes a fairly abrasive radio and stand-up character, senile music-hall comedian Count Arthur, and folds him into a gentle, at times sentimental series set in a recognizable real contemporary world (Count Arthur, like Steven Toast, formerly inhabited a timeless universe where he could theoretically have been around since the thirties). Linehan’s genius for farce plotting is still apparent — see an episode where two untrained pilots go up in a two-seater plane, each convinced the other is the pilot, and Count Arthur’s malapropisms are funnier than they have any right to be (“I have written a racist book.” “Racist? What do you mean?” “You know: Ooh, Madam!” He means ‘racy.’) While Linehan’s move is a more radical departure, Matthews’ seems to us the more successful show, tonally solid in its determination not to touch us, not to be endearing, not to mean anything at all.

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Doctor Who gave us two really strong episodes — amazingly strong! — at the end of the series, but seems unable to sustain a quality run longer than that — the Christmas special was an extraordinary misfire, festive only in the sense of including snow, strained laughter, and a lot of frenzied, pointless activity. It was also weirdly mean, which is fine for Toast of London but problematic for a show starring a noble, pacifist hero. But series head Stephen Moffat seems compelled to push at the limits of how dark he can make his lead character, a strategy that seems better suited to practically any other fictional hero in existence. This episode also showed why doing a comedy episode is unlikely to work on Doctor Who: because composer Murray Gold will crap all over it.

My reading seems to have ground to a halt, owing to being in prep for a film, and owing to my having started Lavondyss by Robert Holdstock, a slow-going but fascinating fantasy novel. It’s quite dense — it takes the world of myth and fairy tale seriously, and tries to invent the forgotten mythology of the Ice Age. Into this are plunged characters from our world. A long way from Tolkein, and more serious and interesting than I can make it sound, just a little hard to wade through when you’re distracted by other stuff.

But I did read The Writer’s Tale, while in early prep. It’s basically Russell T. Davies’ email correspondence with Benjamin Cook, editor of Doctor Who Magazine. It had the effect of making me like Davies more — some of his Who scripts would make me so annoyed, it’s easy to forget there’s an essentially well-meaning person behind it all, trying to entertain us. Davies is so funny and self-excoriating here, you feel he did his best writing in his emails instead of on the show — his best work in TV prior to Who had one foot and a few toes in reality, something the time-traveling adventurer was never going to make easy. It even made me feel sorry for Murray Gold, who was apparently reduced to tears by unsympathetic fan reviews of his music. “I don’t know how to score this show any better!” he declared, helplessly. It could stand being scored LESS, I’d have thought. Less of everything is good advice for this time of year.

At this time of year I like to watch this, obsessively —

I like looking at snow without having to touch it. And I like how the director, after choosing to shoot at dusk in Scandinavia, has made all his other decisions based on that fact — i.e. it’s fucking freezing, how can I shoot all of this with the zoom from a single stationary position so we can get indoors before bits start dropping off?

Also, do they really sing, at about 2.00, “You’ll be dancing once again / Like an angry hen / You will have no time for breathing”?

 

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Kidstuff

Posted in Comics, FILM, Painting, Television with tags , , , , , , on September 1, 2014 by dcairns

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Click to enlarge. And then it all happens.

I was always dimly aware of The Kin-Der Kids, in a collected volume of newspaper cartoons by Lyonel Feininger, lurking on a shelf in Edinburgh College of Art library, but something had kept me from taking it out. Now I realize it was probably the unreadable text — Feininger, like his near-contemporary Winsor McCay, believed in drawing the artwork and speech balloons first, before writing the dialogue, and then would cram whatever he had to say into the available space (McKay sometimes goes the opposite way, finding his balloon to capacious for the plotline, he’ll bung in random cries of “Oh!” until the bubble is snugly used up) — also, the original broadsheet-sized hugeness has been shrunk to half its original scale, meaning that I had to dig out a green magnifying glass I found in the back yard to read it (I can’t think what I did with the nice steel magnifier I bought for M. Natan to use in the documentary “reconstructions” of NATAN).

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Anyway, it’s worth it. The surreal adventures of Daniel Webster (a child with a stovepipe hat and male-pattern baldness), Piemouth, Strenuous Teddy and Little Japansky (a clockwork Japanese boy of unexplained origin) are worth anybody’s time. And not much time is required — the strip was a flopperoo and was cancelled in short order, leaving behind a scant few pages that promised some kind of long-form continuing madness, more eccentric even than Little Nemo and Popeye and the other, later greats. It couldn’t last, but the bold experiment of putting a Bauhaus painter in charge of a piece of mainstream entertainment at least left us with 29 pages of madness (plus another 18 of Wee Willie Winkie’s World.)

A modern-day follower of Feininger’s approach seems to me to be Tony Millionaire, whose Maakies strip, dealing with the adventures of an alcoholic crow and a sock puppet monkey, at sea, have a similar cockamamie picaresque rambunctiousness. There was a TV show which you can watch. It, too, was cancelled. In fact, in its pilot episode, a harpooned sea monster jets blood from its blowhole/s, an image incredibly present in The Kin-Der Kids (children’s entertainment was tougher then). Feininger, apparently sensing that having anthropomorphic animals with their own speech balloons might be problematic when it’s time for them to be killed and eaten, resolves the tonal difficulty by giving his sea creatures crap dialogue, such as, “Who would have thunk it” (no question mark, making it even lamer) and “Drat it all! This is one on me” — the implication being that they are not so much living thinking sentient characters like Daniel Webster and (debatably) Piemouth, as pasteboard caricatures jerked into the simulacrum of life by a quill-wielding kraut.

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To give you some idea of Feininger’s eccentricity, here is his dramatis personae, in which he sees fit to include the Kin-Der family bathtub — which never appears again.