Does this count as Saturday Entertainment? It’ll have to I guess.
Kind of busy right now, so for today’s Saturday entertainment, here’s a small Mst3k treat.
This was a short that wasn’t connected to any specific episode. Instead it was created for the planned ‘Mst3k CD-Rom’ project that was never completed. The short, however, found its way into the fan community and eventually onto DVD. I now present it to you (excuse the substandard sound and the big time indicator in the upper left).
The short tells of an American engineer working for Creole oil and his experience of relocating to Venezuela and discovering all that that then-vibrant and growing country had to offer. From our perspective, it’s actually a little heartbreaking: this is what Venezuela used to look like before Socialism.
But even with that, the riffing is still firing on all cylinders. Enjoy!
In the mid-late-nineties, Budweiser beer started a new advertising campaign, consisting of a trio of frogs just croaking the syllables of their name. It became hugely popular and all-but iconic. Then, after a few variations, an actual story developed, played out over the course of the commercials (especially during Superbowls), involving a self-impressed lizard named Louie scheming to take the frogs’ place.
The surprising thing is that, if you string the commercials together, it’s not a bad little short film, largely due to the great voice acting on Louie and Frankie the lizards (courtesy of actors Paul Christie and Danny Mastrogiorgio) and some strong dialogue (“All my hard work has paid off!” “Louie, you hired a hitman.” “…Yeah, with my own money!”).
On top of that, you have a pretty decent example of basic story structure here. We open with a false order (a status quo that seems stable, but contains the seeds of disruption): the frogs are the champions of Budweiser and Louie is jealous. There’s a rising action: Louie lets his resentment of the frogs lead him to increasingly heated rhetoric and finally desperate action. There’s a chance to turn back via his buddy Frankie’s repeated warnings. There’s a turning point that changes the status quo from false order to disorder: Louie hires a hitman to assassinate the frogs. There’s a unexpected result – the assassination attempt fails to kill the frogs, but leaves one of them incapacitated, allowing Louie to get what he wants after all. Then there’s the climax and logical result of the action, where Louie achieves his dream…only to ruin it through his own personal flaws, the same ones that led him to such desperate measures in the first place. Finally, Louie receive his comeuppance, first by being beaten up by the frogs and then by seeing himself replaced by the character he respects the least and never bothered to take seriously, but who ends up outdoing him completely while being a more reliable performer, thus restoring the status quo to true order.
As Frankie says, this isn’t Shakespeare, but as a bare-bones and very funny illustration of story structure, you could do worse.
Between depression and job hunting, been really behind on writing. So instead of any new original fiction, I’m just plugging along offering you works I like. And I’ve got a treat for you today: the first three of Dave and Max Fleischer’s original Superman cartoons.
My goodness, the artistry on these old cartoons is amazing. Look at the shadows, the expressive movement. There was such a great style to these things, where they didn’t feel like they were supposed to be imitating real life, but were following more of a loose, imagination-based set of rules. These particular ones are more ‘realistic’ than most of the time, but even they keep that exaggerated, animated style. And of course the great use of music and sound to supplement the animation (the main ‘Superman’ score sounds like an embryonic version of the John Williams theme, which I’m sure is no coincidence).
The imagination on display is fantastic as well. I love those mechanical monsters: such a cool, weird, science-fiction design. And I like the way they move: like how the one just walks through the door without breaking stride.
I also like the simple, straightforward storytelling. You don’t need to know the Mad Scientist’s whole backstory, just that “people laughed at me and I will show them all!” The other villains are just after money. Simple enough, even if they use some rather extreme measures to get it. We don’t need anything else.
The Clark – Lois – Superman dynamic is nicely realized, even in shorthand. She blows off Clark and cheerfully plays dirty to try to get ahead of him (though they seem to have a friendly dynamic), while Superman anonymously keeps her safe and Clark quietly lets her take the professional credit.
(By the way, I like how Lois just grabs a plane to fly up and ask for an interview with the mad scientist. That right there pretty much sums up her character. Also love her taking charge of the crisis in Billion Dollar Limited).
This is Superman’s first appearance in cinematic form, and a key step the character’s development since this was when he gained the ability to fly (in the original comics he could simply ‘leap tall buildings in a single bound’ The Fleischers rightly judged that this would look ridiculous on screen and so just had him fly, though the influence of his original powerset can be seen in some of the action scenes, especially in Billion Dollar Limited). The streamlined origin story leaves out Ma and Pa Kent – who had been part of the comics, though their names and role varied between issues – and neither Lex Luthor nor Jimmy Olsen were yet staple characters (although the Mad Scientist in the first short is reminiscent of the early Luthor).
And in conclusion, this is another work that I’m giving canon status, and twice over. In the first place the cartoons themselves are a pivotal piece of American animation and culture: one of the Fleischer brother’s key contributions (along with Popeye and Betty Boop). Anyone interested in animation really needs to watch these.
And in the second, the Superman story as such in at least one of its classic forms is certainly part of the canon. Whether its Siegel-Shuster comics, Fleischer cartoons, Kirk Alyn serials, George Reeves TV, Christopher Reeves films, Lois and Clark, or the DCAU, or, best of all, all of them, anyone interested in western fiction should be familiar with Superman (no, Snyder does not count. And let’s just get ahead of things and say neither does J.J. Abrams).
Enough chat: enjoy pure, classic Superman.
A startlingly accurate image of how the former expects the latter to react:
I am rapidly becoming a full-bore Gilbert and Sullivan fan. Their plays are some of those works, like the writings of Shakespeare, Pope, and Dickens, that really show off the English language to its full power of rhythm, sound, and turns of meaning. As well, of course, of being set to absolutely beautiful music. I like musicals in general, but Gilbert and Sullivan are to a modern Broadway show what Rembrandt is to a comic book artist.
So, for your Saturday pleasure, I offer a full recording of The Mikado, one of the best such recordings that I’ve found (all too many recent versions of the play have the actors in western garb or even modern dress, which…just why? What happened to you?). This one features a great cast, including the immortal John Reed (who offered yesterday’s rendition of ‘Nightmare Song’ and was a foremost G&S performer for many years) as Koko. I also especially love Kenneth Sanford as Poo-Bah (“Oh, my proto-plasmic ancestors!”), who will forever be my definitive image of the role.
(I actually watched a version once which, while quite good, featured a thin Poo-Bah, which is like having a thin Falstaff!)
Set aside a few hours to be happy and enjoy!
On Saturdays I like to offer some form of entertainment. Sometimes it’s my own fiction, other times it’s bringing attention to something that I think is worth your time.
For today, I’m offering one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite shows: Mystery Science Theater 3000, episode 614: San Francisco International. This, I think, is a fairly decent ‘introductory’ episode to MST3k: the movie is a lame TV pilot from 1970 (it actually went to series and ran for one season, though with a slightly different cast), cheesy, but not unwatchable, especially compared with some of the other films that appeared on the show.
The premise of the show is that it’s a melodrama about the trials and adventures of the workers at San Francisco International Airport. Think of it as a 70s disaster movie…with no disaster. I guess I can see something like this working, but you’d have to really try at it, get some very strong writers and charismatic actors. Or play it as a workplace comedy perhaps. Otherwise it’s just watching other people doing their jobs with a patently forced emergency every week. Like, the first regular episode of the series involved a military shipment of poison gas, and the next involved a general who might be assassinated. How would you keep this up for even one season without audiences either laughing over how disaster prone this airport is or else resolving never to fly again? And remember, this was filmed at the real San Francisco International Airport. I wonder who signed off on that idea? “We’ll do a show that depicts us having a deadly crisis every week: that’ll bring in the customers!”
On second thought, they should have had that guy as a character on the show. Though maybe that’s who the Pernell Roberts character is meant to be: the guy who does dramatic publicity stunts to try to draw attention to airport issues. I’m guessing his real-world counterpart didn’t keep his job for long.
That said, I actually enjoy the movie quite a bit. It’s unoffensive and there are some engaging scenes, mostly involving the effortlessly in charge Clu Gulager as the airport security chief. Both the thieves’ plot and Gulager’s ploy against them are genuinely clever. And as the guys point out, there are a *ton* of veteran character actors and TV mainstays in this thing: Pernell Roberts, Clu Gulager, Van Johnson(!), Walter Brooke, Tab Hunter, Dana Eclar, Nancy Malone, and so on (amusingly enough, this contributes to the ’70s Disaster Movie’ air, since those were usually stuffed with major stars. Here it’s stuffed with TV and character actors). Overall, the film goes down pretty easily: the kind of thing you might turn on as background noise while you’re doing something else.
It brings out some excellent riffing from Mike and the bots throughout (“Jeez, ever since Vatican II, you guys…”), though the best comes in the finale, where a sequence involving a troubled kid stealing a plane elicits some gaspingly-funny riffs (“The faces of those you’ve wronged will be showing up on your left”).