Friday Art: The Forest Fire Sequence from “Bambi”(1942)

Another damn natural wind event, another rash of giant fires, none of which are sparked by natural phenomena. It’s faulty power equipment left unrepaired by scuzball utilities squeezing every last dime of profit out of people, out-of-sight/out-of-mind cooking fires by what I actually saw in a news item today referred as “urban campers.”

Gee, I wonder what that fabulous euphemism is a substitute for? And God forbid such “urban campers” cooking food or meth (oh, excuse me, not supposed to say that, bad manners) during windstorms among dry brush are actually CLEARED OUT BY LAW ENFORCEMENT BEFORE WINDS GET GOING.

I forget, they’re super-citizens who don’t answer to any law. They live directly off the land, like Daniel Boone, before they start fires that burn up entire neighborhoods overnight.

And just to make sure California maintains economic diversity and breaks down the barriers of class, the other scumbags starting fires from the electric utilities are all fairly wealthy. So everyone is in on the action.

Or there’s always good ol’ cars backfiring, or arson. We’ve got a full menu.

One of these fires is on the other side of the city from me, a good and hopefully will stay safe 10 plus miles away.

But I am sick of this.

I can address the aforementioned scumbag utility company turning off my electricity during windy weather in order to cover their asses from lawsuits resulting from them not maintaining their equipment by adding a battery backup to my house, which is in progress. But I can’t seem to do anything about the stupid mismanagement of land, of non-existent cutting and brush clearing, of making giant graft-spreading “public” utilities maintain their equipment, or of addressing blatantly obvious sources of trouble like groups of unbalanced and often mentally ill drug addicts fending for themselves in dry washes cooking with open fires left to their own devices instead of being treated/dealt with/sheltered/moved along. I’d like to see attempted arsonists shot on sight. But my vote is outnumbered or ballot-harvested away by countless morons who keep voting in the same corrupt incompetents over and over again.

End of rant.

Did my rant start the fire under Bambi’s ass though? Well, not quite – that amazing sequence from the 1942 film is put together beautifully – the fire and falling embers-into-exploding-flame effects are realistic and truly scary. The color palette for those backgrounds and the fireshadows on the Great Prince and Bambi as they flee the burning forest bring home the heat and danger at every turn.

Disney made his animators go to art school and for Bambi, had them re-train to illustrate forest animals realistically. For background design, they brought in artist Tyrus Wong, a production designer for multiple Hollywood films, as well as mural art around Los Angeles, to get the natural backgrounds of the forest correctly. (And being Disney, fired him right after an animator’s strike.)

Bambi credits David Hand as supervising director along with a number of sequence directors – I cannot find a source giving me the specific sequence director for the forest fire, so I’ll offer my own theory. One of the credited sequence directors is Bill Roberts.

Since Disney had an established practice of trying out visual material in their comic shorts before placing them in features, I’d be pretty sure that Bill Roberts, the director of the Mickey & Pluto short “Society Dog Show” from 1939 definitely had a lot to do with this scene, since the climax of “Society Dog Show” has to do with Pluto rescuing another dog from a fire that breaks out on stage. While the flames look more cartoony here (as do the animals), the camera angles and narrow escapes from fire danger match up quite nicely.

I’m happy to be safe in my home and able to watch cartoons with fires burning elsewhere.

All because man came to the forest, so to speak.

Friday Art: A Photograph Staged To Violate Every Aspect Of The Hays Code by A. L. “Whitey” Schafer, 1934.

I love the thinking behind this photo: “Tell me what I’m not allowed to do, and I’m going to do it just to flip you off.”

And what a great photo! A decade before film noir got going, and possibly what woulda been a fantastic lobby poster for a great sleazy murder story.

The photographer, A. L “Whitey” Schafer is, unfortunately, far lesser known than the more famous studio still photographers who specialized in glamour shots of the contract actresses. George Hurell or Clarence Sinclair Bull. He started out working for Thomas Ince in the early ’20s, moved on to run the photography department at Columbia by 1935, and then took over Paramount’s photo department in 1941. He died in a freak accident aboard a friend’s yacht in 1951. A stove exploded as he attempted to light it.

Schafer explained his technique of staging photos in an article for amateur photographers in Popular Science in 1943. Basically, never photograph anyone against a blank background (unless their outfit’s lines and patterns will draw the eye). Always have something there to frame them, and use those backgrounds to balance and frame the subject.

Here’s his publicity shot of Barbara Stanwyck for Double Indemnity (1944)

He uses that hat/coat rack in back of her, along with that rather loud necklace, to frame the soft shadows of her face. And is she ever in character for this one.

Don’t trust her, Fred MacMurray! Go back to Edward G. Robinson, he’s the true love of your life.

Shadows in the background can also be used for framing, especially when you want to emphasize darkness over light. How about some Marlene Deitrich?

Every now and then, some contemporary celeb will pose for black and white glamour shots like these, but it’s sadly a rarer and rarer art.

But kudos to Schafer, especially on that screw you to the Hays Code. In our current environment of overzealous speech policing, it’d be nice to see more of the same artful defiance from people these days.

Larry Storch Tested For James Bond

Little known outside of Hollywood lore, when Sean Connery quit playing Bond the first time after You Only Live Twice, numerous actors were tested to replace him before they settled on unknown Australian model George Lazenby.

Adam West was one. And while they were bringing in television actors whose series were over with, they brought in Larry Storch, who assumed somewhat of a make-over for publicity shots like the one above.

Continue reading “Larry Storch Tested For James Bond”

Friday Art: Cats by Franz Marc (1910) + A Pair of Peter Cushing Films

Marc is considered a German Expressionist, although this work, with its super-bright colorful thick swirly brushstrokes, suggests a lot of Van Gogh and general post-impressionist influence.

Marc loved painting animals with a wild color palette. Most of his works depict animals and wildlife. He got drafted into the German army in World War 1 and put into the infantry. By the middle of the war, Germany realized artists were valuable and started transferring notable ones out of the army. But before the orders reached him, Marc was killed at the Battle of Verdun, along with lots and lots of other people.

It’s best to think more about the kitties, isn’t it?

I visited a local pet supply store today just to pet the black cat who lives there. Turns out he’s got a case of the fleas, since one of the tiny little bastards bit me on the hand. If I die from bubonic plague, let it be known that I went out the way I wanted to – petting some lazy ass cat.

I’d like to think Marc went out the same way. It’s the romantic in me.

And yes, more cat pictures and stories. I can’t help myself. I’m fascinated, hypnotized and soulfully owned by the furry little bastards, I admit it. I’ll even watch stupid movies if they’re centered around cats, like my review of “Eye of The Cat” a while back. This time, cats led me to a Peter Cushing film which was not that good, and then another Peter Cushing film that was out and out excellent.

Continue reading “Friday Art: Cats by Franz Marc (1910) + A Pair of Peter Cushing Films”

Four Animated Films Off The Beaten Path Worth Your While (with lotsa clips!)

Funny how we usually still think of animation as a cinematic art form delegated mostly to children’s entertainment. All of the animated features coming from Disney/Pixar or Dreamworks or Ghibli are aimed at kids primarily, with material for adults put in around it all to keep parents interested and build cult following appeal. And usually the best of those films are much, much more for adults in the end – the nostalgia for childhood running through all the Toy Story movies, for example, elevates those films beyond the light-hearted kiddie adventure of talking toys questing after some small thing. Up can’t really be appreciated until you actually develop enough of a sense of your own mortality to relate to the characters. Miyazaki’s films are so multilayered with folk tales, mythology and magic that their complexity outdoes that of mainstream grownup entertainment by a bunch.

The films I watched (one of ’em re-watched after many years) over the last few days fall into the same category – two of them seem to be for kids on the surface but once you start watching, you realize they’re not. And the other two are clearly made for a grownup audience, utilizing forms of animation to accentuate the themes of the story.

Ruben Brandt, Collector (2018) comes from Hungarian artist and (impressively) first-time film maker Milorad Krstic. It’s about a psychologist having nightmares of figures from great works of art trying to kill him – so he recruits some of his criminal patients to steal the actual works for him, figuring that the control of ownership will free him from his dreams. Beyond the interesting ideas on why people enjoy art, or need art, the film follows a lot of the conventions of the modern heist film, with action set pieces, car chases, a nicely woven complex plot with some nice surprises (especially a very ambiguous ending, although the doppelganger-from-my-dream-world theory seems to work here), and interesting characters. Each of the thieves has some sort of psychological problem that turns up in their manner of thievery. Brandt exploits this, but also provides them with artistic paths towards their control over their issues, just like the possession of the art will give him control over his own. The visual style adds a lot to it – the character design mixes elements of Cubism (especially Picasso) and Surrealism, with backgrounds and action mixing both 3D and 2D rendering for an effect of giving us an experience much like one of Ruben’s art dreams.

Check out the trailer!

Even if the trailer, I bet you caught little references to all sorts of stuff beyond the art works too… a little homage to Tarantino here, a little bit of Mission: Impossible there… and there are famous works of art everywhere in the background, either in museum scenes or on t-shirts, posters, ice cubes that look like Hitchcock, you name it… the whole thing feels amazingly original. I can’t really say I’ve seen anything quite like the totality of it, and I liked it a lot.

Continue reading “Four Animated Films Off The Beaten Path Worth Your While (with lotsa clips!)”

Friday Art: The Pony Express by Frank Tenney Johnson (1924)

So the other day when I had some free time, I dropped into one of my more preferred dumpy thrift stores and came up with a copy of The Searchers: Making of An American Classic, which looks like it’ll be an interesting read for a buck and a half. Granted, most of it is not about the making of the film (one of my favorite old westerns) but about the true history story that inspired the film: the Comanche kidnapping of Cynthia Parker and how she became one of their tribe, becoming a wife and mother, including a son who became a Comanche chieftain before her Uncle found her after years of searching & took her back against her will.

The film takes that set-up, with Natalie Wood kidnapped and Uncle John Wayne searchin’ and searchin’, while giving us John Ford’s version of the settlement of the west and what sorts of bigotries and barbarities cleared the way for what is presumably a more civilized nation.

So I thought I’d offer one of the kind of American western paintings that inspired a lot of Ford’s imagery – in terms of landscape, character and even lighting. Frank Tenney Johnson’s Pony Express gives us a wonderful night time view of the western wilderness, with a set of mail riders departing from a very lonely looking stone outpost, the kind that’d turn up as a safe stopover for Ford’s Stagecoach passengers, or contain some creepy would-be bushwhackers like Futterman’s general store in The Searchers.

Johnson was mostly known for works like this, where he painted cowboys by moonlight. He gives us a wonderful cloudy moonlit sky against the weak competition of the glowing lamps from inside the outpost. I love the reflection of moonlight off the body of the big brown and white horse in the lead, too.

WHADDYA WANT ME TO DO, SPELL IT OUT FOR YA? DRAW YA A PICTURE? DON’T EVER ASK ME ABOUT IT AGAIN!

That’ll be the day.

Weekend Entertainment for May 25-27, 2019

Some books and movies to discuss this Memorial Day weekend, thanks to several days of clouds ‘n’ drizzle that kept me inside most of the time. So while I’m letting a seasoned porterhouse come to room temperature before I sizzle it up for dinner (I posted a wonderful steak recipe & method here), I’ll tell ya about them.

I knocked off a couple of Hollywood gossipy quasi-bios this weekend, starting out with the one I grabbed a week back aong with a nice haul of other volumes at a big annual library sale – George Jacobs’ Mr. S – My Life With Frank Sinatra. Jacobs was Sinatra’s personal valet from the early 1950s to 1968, the PERFECT time to get all the dish ‘n’ dirt about bad marriages, Rat Pack Tales, the prime years of his music (if you ask me), dalliances with the Kennedys, and so forth. Jacobs mostly focuses on the sex lives of everyone he discusses, so this one was a very entertaining page turner. Sinatra would be incredibly loyal, sentimental and generous to people he liked, and could turn on a dime if he felt betrayed, cutting people completely out of his life & taking the grudge to his grave. Jacobs incurred Frank’s wrath by dancing with Mia Farrow at a Hollywood club, setting off gossip and rumors about affairs and such…. all perfectly innocent in Jacobs’ version, but Frank could never ever forgive the other men who he thought had eyes on “his” women – most often Ava Gardner, who he never could get over – but also the mismatched Farrow. Jacobs spins wonderful anecdotes – little wisps of his observations of Sinatra, and none of ’em disappoint. When I picked it up at the library sale and flipped through it to see if it’d be worth reading, every page I landed on contained another story about Frank getting pissed off at something or someone, smashing a phone, kicking a car radio, or threatening to kill himself – and I said “SOLD!” It was certainly a must-read item, an entertaining behind-the-scenes description of truly monstrous behavior towards people and especially lovers by the overly entitled – just perfect to make me feel both morally superior AND entertained.

Continue reading “Weekend Entertainment for May 25-27, 2019”

Friday Art: Movies, Five Cents by John Sloan (1907)

I’ve posted Sloan before and will again since I’m a big fan of the Ashcan School material. Even if much of it centers around city life in New York where I’ve never lived, everyday modern city life is, well, everyday modern city life everywhere, really. So I always like seeing the simple scenes of everyday people livin’ the life.

And what a tiny movie theater Sloan shows us here – such a small, cramped space with that hint of a wall and lowering ceiling in the upper left – but that’s the way it was in 1907, barely out of the nickelodeon era, right around the time DeMille and others began filming in Hollywood and not New Jersey. In 1907, no American knew who Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton or even who DW Griffith was yet. It was all in its infancy, usually depicting plain and boring domestic dramas, hints of which Sloan gives us on that black and white screen.

Our audience is prety well dressed, racially mixed, and unlike modern audiences, not texting on their damn smartphones. They’re all fixated on the screen, except for the center figure looking right at us, as if we’re the ones coming down the aisle with the popcorn to sit next to her.

And if movies were five cents again, maybe I’d go more often.

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