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ARTHUR C. Clarke once wrote that “two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe, or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”
In terms of television programming, however, the idea of alien life existing in the universe has far and away proven the more dramatic and oft-depicted “terror.”
AS hard as it may be to imagine that the dark and intense meth maker of Breaking Bad was once a teen heartthrob, it’s true. In the mid-1980s Bryan Cranston was a dreamboat for teenage girls. So, when I came across the March 1985 issue of Teen Talk magazine, I couldn’t help but share his wonderfully cheesy pictorial. In light of the hardcore image Cranston acquired from Breaking Bad, it’s all the more humorous to see him described as an affable Prince Charming.
The issue also featured the likes of Duran Duran, Ralph Macchio, Prince, and Menudo. Poor Cranston didn’t have enough celeb status to get a mention on the cover. But the future Heisenberg did warrant a two page spread entitled “Bryan Cranston: He’s a Good Sport”. The article begins:
If you’re a fan of ABC-TV’s “Loving” you’ve probably fallen in love yourself – with actor Bryan Cranston. His character, drama professor Doug Donovan, is the resident good guy: sensitive, vulnerable and more than a little good-looking. So when Bryan recently called TEEN TALK and invited us to join him in his work out in Manhattan’s Central Park, we jumped at the chance.
The article continues:
To our delight, we discovered that the real-life Bryan is every bit as nice as Doug, and he’s a great athlete, too. “Growing up, I always wanted to be a baseball star,” he told us. In high school, he played baseball, football and tennis. Now acting is his major passion, but as you can see, he spends plenty of time keeping in shape. “I take an hour-long aerobics class that I really enjoy, “he says. (So do all the girls in his class!) “I also love to play sports.”
Last spring, Bryan organized a soap star football game – “Loving” vs. “All My Children.” “It was fun,” he jokes, “but unfortunately, ‘All My Children’ cheated, so they beat us!” Bryan’s next project is organizing a soap star baseball game, with good guys pitted against bad guys. “I’d like it to be for the public,” he says.
We can’t wait for the game, but meantime, these exclusive pictures of our day with Bryan should score high with you.
And so ends this lovely bit of journalism. I never knew Cranston was such an all-around athlete. One minute he’s jumping rope (“Bryan’s got such great legs!”), the next he’s juggling, and the next he’s creating the purest methamphetamine on the planet…. well, that last part comes later.
Hey, actors have got to start somewhere. It’s not uncommon for actors to rise up through the ranks, starting in soap operas and ending up critically acclaimed superstars. However, there’s just something particularly amusing about seeing Walter White as a young buck, hamming it up for a teen magazine.
MARK Driscoll is a Christian preacher at Seattle’s Mars Hill Church. He is billed on the megachurch’s website as a “Preaching and Vision Pastor”.
Pastor Mark Driscoll is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church—based in Seattle, Washington—and one of the most popular preachers in the world today. In 2010, Preaching magazine named him one of the 25 most influential pastors of the past 25 years…
Pastor Mark is the author of over 15 books, and has also written for CNN and The Washington Post, and been featured as a columnist for The Seattle Times.
He values media. And:
Most importantly, Pastor Mark is a husband to Grace and a father to the “fab five” Driscoll kids. He’s grateful to be a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody.
BELIEVE it or not, it was a hard sell in the early 1980s to convince people to buy a computer for the home. The contraptions were insanely expensive, and they simply couldn’t do a whole lot. Something as simple as filing recipes was a tall order for an ’82 PC. Of course, we were happy with terrible graphics because we knew nothing better – yet, as enticing as having Pong in the living room did sound, the expense was simply out of the ballpark for most families.
Subsequently, it was time for advertisers to play hard ball. No longer were they selling you something that would be a nice asset to your home office or entertainment center. Those days were over. Now, it was being sold as a piece of equipment that was quite literally going to gob smack your very soul. This wasn’t a simple piece of hardware like a microwave – this was a trans-dimensional gift from the gods, and you will never – I repeat, NEVER – be the same.
The tactic worked, and the masses lined up to splurge their life savings on computers and games. Here are some of the images and adverts during the height of the digital penetration….
Behold the Answer to All Our Prayers. It’s reminiscent of the apes surrounding the 2001: A Space Odyssey obelisk. And notice the Holy Aura surrounding this gift from the Heavens. Never mind the fact that they haven’t figured out yet that it’s facing the wrong way. No matter. Timmy’s college fund was well spent.
IN 1975, Mel Brooks appeared on Imperial College’s TV station Stoic to talk about his 1975 films Blazing Saddles andYoung Frankenstein. He sat opposite Mark Caldwell. He offers the insight that cowboys “do not make love to women in Westerns”:
“People say I am in questionable taste, you know what I mean? Well, I must tell you that I used the utmost discretion [and] I did not tell the whole truth about the Western, because they do not make love to women, you know that. They are very straight, very Christian and very with it, you know. They do make love to their horses. They do, they do. They don’t marry them, there is no formal ceremony, but they go off somewhere in the night with their horses.”
Colin Grimshaw writes on this video:
You can see that I have left the original countdown clock at the front because he couldn’t resist being funny even before we had started to record.
WE’VE heard enough about The Avengers, it’s time for another group of superheroes to get some recognition. The Legion of Regrettable Comic Book Superheroes is a motley group consisting of the lamest and oddest heroes ever put to print. You can keep your Iron Man and Captain America; I like my heroes with a touch of stupidity. So, bring on Aqua Melvin, Matter Eater Lad, and the rest of the gang – The Legion of Regrettable Comic Book Superheroes has come to save the day! (or embarrass themselves trying.)
Origin: Adventure Comics #242 – Nov. 1957
Aquaman responds to a distress call from a ship and discovers an unconscious Vaudeville clown onboard. If that wasn’t strange enough, the only way to save him is for Aquaman to give him a blood transfusion. Naturally, this imbues him with Aquaman’s powers for 24 hours and insanity ensues.
Failed political photo-ops
DAVID Cameron is facing ridicule once again. His latest gaffe was to tweet a picture of himself looking serious and statesmanlike while having a serious statesmanlike phone call with Barak Obama. The problem, aside from the typically patronising pomposity of the gesture, was that he looked singularly un-statesmanlike. In fact, he resembled nothing do much as a perplexed pudding.
Of course, he has plenty of competition in the failed phot-op stakes.
Here’s George Osborne, Chancellor and Chelsea fan, in ‘man of the people’ pose, manfully working late while snacking on a burger and fries. His tweet backfired when said burger was identified as coming from posh nosh joint Byron.
Oh, hello! Talking of burgers…
Hey presto – instant ridicule. What a Gummer.
But frankfurters are even more risky. Republican Presidential nominee Michele Bachmann has been dubbed Palin 2.0 thanks to her numerous factual and logical gaffes. On this occasion, however, she was guilty of nothing more than innocent naivety, and chomped on a corn dog in full view of the press without considering the consequences.
Best to stick with a beer. In Nigel Farrage’s case almost literally so, as he clings to his pint prop as tenaciously as Tony Blair clung to his ubiquitous ‘ordinary guy’ coffee mug. Asked about it, he replied: ‘I’ll tell you something. I work an 18 hour day most days and I think I’m entitled at lunchtime to a pint.’
William Hague famously claimed to have regularly drunk 14 pints a day as a schoolboy, and he wasn’t averse to being pictured pint-pot in hand. But his most risible moment was this fashion faux pas which was intended to make him look cool, but didn’t.
Even without the banana, David Miliband achieves the extraordinary feat of making his brother look normal.
But what the hell – normal’s overrated, right? Just ask Francois Hollande. Actually don’t ask him, as he appears to be a bit sensitive about it. In fact, two French press agencies even took the unusual step of withdrawing this unflattering portrait of the French president.
Ask former US Congressman Chris Lee instead. Or better still, just admire this picture of himself that he utilised in the services of his reply to a sex ad on Craigslist.
Of course anyone can have an off-day. But for one man, it happened to be Groundhog Day.
In the end, you just have to laugh along and rise above it.
THE problem with songs about food is that, well, they’re never really about food. Tasty as brown sugar is, the Stones weren’t really singing about sucrose. And when Robert Plant sings “Your custard pie, yeah, sweet and nice. When you cut it, mama, save me a slice” he’s not talking about pastries. You might say it’s a time honored tradition for rock and pop musicians to use food as symbols of sex and drugs.
We certainly can’t go through them all, so let’s narrow it down and focus just on songs with fruit in the title. Here’s a playlist that not only is interesting and fun, but also rich in Vitamin C.
1. “Apples and Oranges” by Pink Floyd
The setting is the produce section at the grocery store; however, apples and oranges are also an allusion to the differences between Syd and a girl he sees there (who, according to Syd himself, he’d been stalking for hours).
In this video, Floyd makes an appearance on American Bandstand. Syd looks absolutely stoned out of his mind, and you can tell the cameraman takes care to avoid him as much as possible.
2. “I Am a Tangerine” by Tommy James and the Shondells
Tommy has admitted that he was hopelessly wasted when he wrote this song, and that it makes no sense whatsoever. Don’t go reading clever allusions and metaphors into this one, folks. When Tommy screams “Hello Banana”, he was genuinely introducing himself to a piece of fruit.
3. “Peaches’ by The Stranglers
“Peaches” is a simple song about walking up and down the beach staring at the ladies. However, the fruit acquired a gynecological connotation by the line:
“Will you just take a look over there. Is she tryin’ to get outta that clitares?
“Clitares” being a French word for bathing suit, and I’m sure The Stranglers were well aware of how the word would get misinterpreted. Clever bastards.
4. “Tangerine” by Led Zeppelin
Led Zep were no strangers to fruity music – let’s not forget “The Lemon Song”. Page wrote this one during his Yardbirds days, purportedly about singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon. The false start at the beginning begat an interesting urban legend – that the intro was the remnant of the “the greatest song ever recorded” but the tape was destroyed, and both Plant and Page couldn’t remember how it went. This snippet at the beginning (not in the video above) is all that remains.
It’s total bulls**t, but nonetheless it’s an urban legend that should be fostered and encouraged. Of course, when it comes to fruit-centered urban legends, nothing will compare to the “Cranberry Sauce/I Buried Paul” conspiracy.
5. “Raspberry Beret” by Prince
Theories abound regarding the meaning of this song. Many feel it’s just a simple story about a young nobody who becomes captivated by a woman who enters the store where he works. Prince was under fire from Tipper Gore over his racy lyrics for “Darling Nikki”, so he wanted to tone things down a bit. But the fact that the store is owned by “Old Man Johnson” belies a dirty subtext. After all, this is the same guy that brought you “Soft and Wet” and “Cream”.
So, what does it mean? Some think the “raspberry beret” refers to an uncircumcised penis. Others say it’s menstrual blood. I say this is may be best left unanswered.
6. “Blackberry Way” by The Move
Very much in the vein of “Penny Lane”; sort of a downbeat answer to the peppy McCartney classic. Personally, I cannot get past the “ooh-wah” bridge (at about the 1:45 mark in the video) which is lifted directly from Harry Nilsson’s “Good Old Desk”. It’s stolen so exactly, the song is ruined for me.
7. “Cherry, Cherry” by Neil Diamond
Speaking of plagiarism, “What I Like About You” by the Romantics features a guitar riff pretty damn similar to Diamond’s “Cherry, Cherry”. Of course, there’s always some borrowing and cross-pollination in pop music. In fact, you could argue “Cherry, Cherry” owes some of its melody to “Dirty Water” by The Standells.
Whatever its roots, I’m inclined to agree with Rolling Stone in calling this one of the greatest three-chord songs of all time. You’ll notice no horns or drums; that’s because this hit was actually a demo version. Adding drums, horns and other polish detracted from the energy, so they kept the original.
8. “Dear Delilah” by Grapefruit
I could have ended this playlist on top with “Strawberry Fields”, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” or “Blueberry Hill”. Instead, I’ll invalidate the entire premise of this article and offer up a song without any fruit at all in its title. The band’s name is certainly fruity enough, though. Grapefruit was of the hallowed 60s tradition of bands naming themselves after fruit (ex. Moby Grape, The Lemon Pipers, Strawberry Alarm Clock… not to mention Apple Records). In Grapefruit’s case, John Lennon actually named them after Yoko’s awful 1964 book.
Grapefruit’s singer is a member of the amazing Young family – the same clan that spawned AC/DC (Malcolm and Angus Young) and The Easybeats (George Young). Grapefruit had the full support of The Beatles, but couldn’t achieve the success they no doubt expected.
You might say that everything was going peachy keen at Apple, but they wanted to be top banana, and ended up with sour grapes.
(insert sounds of crickets chirping)
Sorry. A fruit pun was bound to happen at some point. My sincere apologies.
ANORAK’s new distraction is the Tumblr Casting Call Woe:
REAL CASTING CALLS FROM REAL CASTING WEBSITES BROUGHT TO BY THe EGLE-EYEDE @PRORESTING
Ready for your close up? Here goes:
THE mid-century palette was vastly different than it is today. Much of what we find advertised in vintage cookbooks and magazines seems nauseating by today’s standards. I’m sure the same will be true of our current tastes when viewed fifty years from now. This gastronomic sea change certainly makes for an interesting browse through recipes and food adverts from yesteryear. Here are a few exceptionally foul examples.
MEALS IN A MOLD
As a general rule of thumb, I prefer my meats not to be suspended in a freakish mold of gelatin and psuedo-mayonnaise. But I’m funny that way. However, I will say the pimiento used for the fish eye is a stroke of brilliance.
BIOPICS are problematic at the best of times, but get it right and you can cement a person’s place in history forever. Especially tricky are rock biopics because, half the time, the person or people they celebrate, are still alive. Or at least, they were around not that long and you can remember if they were horrible or not.
However, some rock films are better than the actual careers of the artist they pay tribute to.
Have you seen The Doors film? That’s a daft romp through 60s fluff and nonsense with some hilarious mystical sequences and leather trousers. 10,000% better than actually having to sit down and listen to anything The Doors ever committed to record. We can whip the horses eyes? C’mon! You’d much rather see one of Meg Ryan’s boobs and laugh at Billy Idol in a hippie wig!
With a biopic of Jimi Hendrix due to drop any minute now, played by Andre 3000 from Outkast, it seems like a perfect time to look at some of the finer performances in the oeuvre.
Let us start with the newest and most exciting biopic in a while. ‘All is By My Side’ features Andre Benjamin as the late Hendrix. We knew he was a man who could pull off Hendrix’s wild attire, but the footage doing the rounds shows that Benjamin is more than adept at doing an impression of Jimi. Have a look.
GUY Burgess woke at around 9.30 on the morning of Friday, 25 May 1951 in his untidy, musty-smelling bedroom. Next to his bed was an overflowing ashtray and lying on the floor was a half-read Jane Austen novel. Since his return from Washington DC three weeks previously, where he had been second secretary at the British embassy, he had been rising relatively late.
IN the disco era there began a phenomenon of immense historical insignificance: the emergence of all female musical trios. Sure, there had been The Supremes, and there were various disco/soul trios that genuinely kicked ass (etc. The Three Degrees, Labelle), but these bands were different. This new breed was basically talentless, and exuded an overt sexuality (i.e. they couldn’t sing, but at least they were hot). Every song in their entire catalog (with 0.00 exceptions) was about sex, and every performance and music video operated unflinchingly to the “sex sells” approach.
The trend extended into the 1980s, paving the way for groups like Destiny’s Child (who were less one-dimensional). Largely forgotten in the annals of pop history, all that remains are the vinyl relics which I hereby dub “Three Chick Discs”. Here are a few examples
“Make Love Whenever You Can” by Arabesque
Make love: Do it today, don’t wait until tomorrow
Make love: The only way to wipe away your sorrow, love
ALTHOUGH Alfonso Cuaron’s blockbuster film Gravity (2013) earned a whopping seven Academy Awards last Sunday night, one crucial supporting player didn’t pick up the Honorary Oscar it so clearly deserved: NASA’s space shuttle.
For thirty-five years now, this durable “space truck” — known officially as the “Space Transportation System” — has appeared in many space movies of the contemporary or realistic variety.
THERE are a lot of people who will go on and on and on about the amazing theme songs of ’80s and ’90s cartoons. While they have a point (who can resist the Willie Fogg theme or indeed, M.A.S.K. and Thundercats?), they pale in comparison to those cartoons brave enough to get a full orchestra on the go.
From the birth of music and animations, right up to the ’60s, studios – notably those brilliant people at Warner Brothers and Disney – created some of the most brain-popping and often side-splitting moments of music ever committed to a TV or cinema screen.
While Disney were the kings of the big, soaraway song or killer ditty, Looney Tunes were the undisputed champs of chaotic, inventive and playful classical and jazz.
Between them, both camps created so much iconic music that it defies belief. However, much of it is sorely, sorely undervalued. So here, let us praise the dazzling and daft songs that will forever light up your life.
Let us begin with the beginning. From the opening bottlenecked guitar to the galloping brass, the opening credits of any Merry Melody or Looney Tunes cartoon, this piece of music is immediate sunshine. Vitamins for your soul. Let’s not forget Mel Blanc’s contribution with his machine gun, rat-a-tat Porky Pig stutter of “that’s all folks!” for the outro music too.
The Wonderful Fotoplayer
As chaotic as the music itself is the instruments invented to keep up with old animations. Watch one of these brilliantly bizarre contraptions being played and imagine the scene it dictates.
For the nerds among you, here’s a breakdown of the Fotoplayer. Yes. We all want one now.
It is easy to ignore the complexity and deftness of the music behind a cartoon, because you’re too busy laughing at someone’s teeth shattering in the mouth after they’ve been hit full in the face with a frying pan, or you’re rolling around laughing an anvil turning someone’s body into a concertina. However, at the 2013 Proms, everyone got to see how furiously busy the musicians had to be to keep up with the score. Better yet, as this video shows, the much forgotten percussion section really gets to shine. Observe as they throw plated into a bin and chase each other off-stage. Absolutely incredible.
We all know that classic music is an absolute drag for the most part. However, Looney Tunes can make anything funny. Often, they would take a tedious opera and turn it inside out. Here, Bugs Bunny conducts and, wonderfully, all hell breaks loose.
Raymond Scott was a composer and experimental electronic music pioneer and his work ‘Powerhouse’ was a favourite of the animated short. You can read up on Scott’s genius here. Or, if you prefer, you can watch the video below, which shows off the use of the iconic ‘Powerhouse’, which you inevitably didn’t know the name of until now. You can here the music on its own, here.
No-one can write about music in cartoons without including the outstanding Cat Concerto featuring Tom & Jerry. Watch Tom play the right notes below.
The Sherman Brothers aren’t household names, but their tunes are. They wrote a fantastic amount of songs that we could all sing. Working for Disney, they wrote ‘A Spoonful Of Sugar’, the music from Bedknobs and Broomsticks’, ‘Lets Go Fly A Kite’, the Winnie The Pooh song and, the incredibly memorable ‘I Wanna Be Like You’. And more.
More recently, Danny Elfman’s theme for The Simpsons recalls those glorious golden days of animation. He got a full orchestra and created something grand, silly and complex and filled it with witty asides (the car horn and such), giving us perhaps the most memorable theme tune of a generation. Just perfect.
There are few shows that are as entwined with music, more than the Pink Panther. One look at the title character and your entire brain is flooded with Henry Mancini’s hip jazz. As the Pink Panther didn’t talk (well, he did, but the less said about that the better), the music became his language. The way he put a skip in his walk. The way he tried to style out calamitous accidents. The way he came out of that spin dryer looking like candyfloss. Everything is ticked with the beat of some of the most perfect music any TV show could hope for.
Feel free to add your own favourites in the comments. Everyone loves cartoon music!
ROBERT Ashley (1930-2014). The composer was 83.
Kyle Gann, who recently wrote a biography said of the Michigan-born composer, who in 1958 created the Cooperative Studio for Electronic Music , a pointer to his eperiments with audio synthesis.
“Bob was one of the most amazing composers of the 20th century, and the greatest genius of 20th-century opera. I don’t know how long it’s going to take the world to recognize that.”
Thanks to the internet, the past never goes away. You can hear some of Ashley’s work in full.
In 1997, he spoke to Furious:
PSF: How did you decide to make your works as all being operas?
In 1975, there were no operas in America. I was interested in opera and it seemed to me that the only possible theatre for contemporary opera would be television. So I started working towards a kind of television kind of opera. I started designed the work so that it would be usable on television. I think it’s still true.
PSF: How did you see television as an ideal medium for operas?
It’s contemporary. It’s new. Many more people watch television than go to opera houses. There aren’t any opera houses in the United States. The possibilities for contemporary opera are very small. I thought when I started, it looked more promising (to work with television). Now, in the last few years, television has become much more conversative. But I still think there’s going to be a marriage of television and some form of opera. It might not happen in my lifetime but I still think it’s inevitable. The whole idea of the opera house is so dated anyway. It’s such a nineteenth century idea. Because of that probably, there aren’t any to speak of (maybe 3 or 4). It doesn’t really allow the idea of opera to really grow. I thought if I could get television interested in opera, it would make a kind of new thing that would allow composers to build a whole new repertoire.
It was more promising fifteen or twenty years ago than it is now. The first opera I did, Music With Its Roots in Ether (1976), has been broadcasted a lot. The next one I did, Perfect Lives (1980), was produced by Channel 4 in Great Britian and was shown there for two years and then throughout Europe but only parts of it have been broadcast in the United States. Now in ’97, television is so conserative that it doesn’t look promising. But I think it’ll change back. I think it’ inevitable that there has to be some new genre in television. Television goes through these periods of incorporating new things. First there was live comedy then there were soap operas then there was news and now there’s a lot of television about sports. We went through a period of MTV with pop music videos too. Television always needs new materials and it’s just a matter of time until there’s the right audience for new work that’s not just pop music. When that happens, it’ll be a very good time for composers to do serious big, narrative pieces.
PSF: Why do think there has been resistance to this kind of idea in American television?
Because they’re stupid I guess. Opera on television in Europe is very important. If you think about it in the broadest sense: a lot of the dramas made in India with music are practically operas. They’re not sung but they have a very big appeal. I don’t know why American television people are so stupid but at the moment, they just seem to have some sort of a block. They just do what they do and they do it for a certain number of years. Then it wears out and they try something else. It’s just a matter of time I think.
Brian Robison, of Cornell University, has posted on YouTube 4 American Composers, directed by Peter Greenaway in New York in 1985.
Compared to Meredith Monk and Robert Ashley, John Cage and Philip Glass are household names, yet their relative fame frequently turns on the persistence of misconceptions. All too often, even scholars who might be expected to know better portray Cage as either charlatan or nihilist. Critics in the 1980s tagged Glass’s music as “classical music for people who don’t like classical music,” suggesting his shrewd exploitation of the yuppie market. Director Peter Greenaway and producer Revel Guest weave representative musical excerpts with interviews to present the personalities more accurately, and, in so doing, establishes a broader context for listening. Perhaps the most striking revelation of these documentaries is that such notorious iconoclasts are so soft-spoken in person (compared to the shy, halting Ashley, the loquacious Monk seems downright assertive).
Ashley’s TV opera Perfect Lives was reviewed by Frieze:
As living and breathing musicology in practice, Perfect Lives explores how storytelling creates music and – tangentially – how American social models grew in tandem with musical forms from Europe and Africa. Built into the very structures of how it was written and is performed – there is no definitive score, only the libretto, some diacritic and harmonic indications, and a set of intricate time signatures to follow – Perfect Lives is about the sociability of music. Ashley realized Perfect Lives over a period of years with a number of close collaborators. (‘I only work with geniuses,’ he says. ‘In the end it pays off.’5) In a documentary made by Peter Greenaway in 1983, as part of his ‘Four American Composers’ series, Ashley said he wanted to ‘allow the performers to make musical statements as unpremeditated as speech itself’.
Ashley spoke with Alex Waterman:
What distinguishes traditional opera from any other form of narrative—like religious dramas, for example—is that most operas have a political landscape. This is especially true in Italian and German opera. You get a version of a landscape that has political meaning. I thought about that when contemplating the architecture of the opera house and how it makes those landscapes possible. Of course, that architecture is not available to me, nor would I want it to be. But the landscape has to be there however the opera is presented.
In the best of circumstances, the architecture and the music–for the people—match. But what’s happened in the last 50 to 100 years is that the music has outgrown the architecture. The instruments are old, the ideas are old—everything’s so old; it’s boring, you know? There is no architecture to deal with what we’re talking about here. I thought, There’s got to be one. And it occurred to me that our architecture might be the imaginary space behind the surface of the television screen. In other words, when you watch TV, you see whatever you see, but behind that there’s an imaginary space and maybe that’s the place for the music of our time.
It’s interesting how you can manipulate landscapes with television so that they have meaning. It’s different from having a person singing here, in my living room, which is something of a landscape. If you go outside of the personality of this room, the landscape is all of a sudden dramatically political—it’s a visual demonstration of how things work for everybody. That’s what opera is about. You’re trying to put the story in an appropriate place so that when you see it you say, Oh, that’s what the story is about!…
The landscape in Perfect Lives starts as big as possible, in The Park, and it’s described quite precisely in political terms. And then it goes to The Supermarket, which is not totally indoors. Then you get the ride through the landscape with the lovers eloping and the bank robbers driving to Indiana in The Bank episode, where you are dealing with mixed outdoors and indoors. Next, you enter the most close-range landscape, in The Bar with Rodney and Buddy talking. Then you move out again to a bigger space in The Living Room, which has more imaginary space. At the beginning of that episode, the characters talk about the Sheriff’s Wife as if she were on the South Pole and the Earth were revolving around her.
It is relentless. And mesmeric.
I.The Park (Privacy Rules)
II. The Supermarket (Famous People)
III. The Bank (Victimless Crime)
IV. The Bar (Differences)
V. The Living Room (The Solutions)
VI. The Church (After the Fact)
VII. The Backyard (T’Be Continued)
7. The Backyard
MAD Magazine is an American institution. It’s been going since 1952 and is still funny, but it’s given the world more than just gags…
THE FREEDOM TO TAKE THE PISS
In 1961, a group of composers including Irving Berlin (writer of White Christmas) tried to sue MAD following a series of parody songs they’d published, to be sung to the tunes of the originals. The case ended up in the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled in MAD’s favour – they basically ruled that it was clear these songs were jokes, that they weren’t intended to be mistaken for the originals, and that they weren’t damaging. This was seen as a landmark case in terms of making parodies legit, and is still regularly cited in courts.
ULTRAVIOLENCE WITH A SUBTEXT
Antonio Prohias’s Spy Vs Spy strip was a wordless ongoing saga of a black-clad spy and a white-clad spy trapping, bombing, shooting and blowing each other up in contrived-but-amazing ways using good old-fashioned big round bombs with “BOMB” written on them. As well as needless violence, though, it’s an allegory of the Cold War, the thirty-year period of general global tenseness that led to the revolution in Prohias’s native Cuba. So it’s well clever, innit, with its explosions. Prohias died in 1998, but the strip continues in airbrush-and-stencil form by Peter Kuper, still bearing the credit “By Prohias” in spy-esque Morse Code every time.
A GAP-TOOTHED CHAMPION
The grinning, gap-toothed idiot on nearly every cover of MAD, Alfred E Neuman has become a beloved American icon despite rarely if ever showing up in the magazine itself – his appearances are limited to the cover and a quote on the contents page. On the covers, though, he’s been everyone from King Kong to Justin Bieber to Jabba The Hutt to the baby from the Nevermind album. He and his catchphrase (“What, me worry?”) have still become enormous – Jimi Hendrix introduced his Woodstock set with “What, me worry?”. Barack Obama, arguably the most powerful individual in the world, once described himself as having “the politics of [former Presidential candidate] Alfred E Smith and the ears of Alfred E Neuman”.
NEW FERSCHLUGGINER WORDS
You know that impossible-to-colour-in optical illusion of a trident that might be a bident? MAD named it – it’s called a poiuyt (which is a very satisfying word to type). They also enjoyed popularising obscure German or Yiddish words, like potrzebie, veeblefetzer and furshlugginer, which became ingrained enough in American culture to recently pop up in Boardwalk Empire.
One of the trademark features of any issue of MAD is Al Jaffee’s Fold-In, an image on the inside back cover that starts off as one thing and, by folding a section of the page into another, reveals a hidden message – like the one Marge’s cellmate has tattooed on her back when she goes to prison in The Simpsons. They’re ridiculously clever, and the now 91-year-old Jaffee does them with no help from Photoshop or computers at all, preferring to paint on a stiff wooden board and only seeing the folded-in image when he’s sent the magazine. Try making one. You can’t. It’s just too HARD.
MARGINS BETTER THAN WHAT THEY SURROUNDED
Most magazines feature loads of dead space in the margins. At MAD they decided to make them a bit more interesting, by getting Sergio Aragones (owner of a badass moustache and known as the fastest cartoonist in the world) to doodle in them. He’s been doing this since 1963, only missing one issue when the Post Office lost his mail.
THE BEST PUBLISHER EVER
MAD founder Bill Gaines was the son of Max Gaines, who had been instrumental in the success of Action Comics in the 1930s before setting up his own company, Educational Comics (EC). After Max’s death, Bill took over and started publishing first romance, then horror comics. These comics – including Tales From The Crypt and Weird Science – were really successful but led to the Comics Code Authority, essentially a censorship board. Gaines responded by transforming the two-year-old MAD from a comic into a magazine. When MAD became successful, Gaines became known for his eccentricities and simultaneous cheapness and generosity. Every year he would take the whole staff on an overseas trip – one year, he found out MAD had one subscriber in Haiti, whose subscription was about to run out, so he took the whole staff to visit him and persuade him to renew it. He also once paid twice the market value of really low-grade paper because he felt MAD shouldn’t be printed on nice stock. Until his death in 1992, he was greeted by staff members with a cheery “Fuck you, Bill”.
A BUNCH OF SHORT-LIVED IMITATORS
A lot of pretenders to MAD’s throne stepped up over the years, of varying degrees of quality. Cracked (which survives as the genuinely excellent Cracked.com) was an unabashed poor-man’s version of it that nonetheless lasted forty years, while Crazy, Sick, Flip, Whack, Nuts (not that one), Wild, Riot, Bughouse, Eh, Unsane, Get Lost and Panic all bit the dust pretty quick.
THE WORST MOVIE EVER
After the success of the amazing 1978 film Animal House, produced in association with the magazine National Lampoon, MAD became attached to a similar college-set film called Up The Academy, starring former Bond girl (and later wife of Ringo Starr) Barbara Bach. It was by all accounts a complete dog-egg, leading MAD to disown it, and Bill Gaines to pay $30,000 to remove MAD’s name from it and offer handwritten apologies and refunds to anyone who’d sat through it.
THE USUAL GANG OF IDIOTS
Before the switch to magazine format, founding editor Harvey Kurtzman created the majority of the magazine, but after the switch, freelancers known as “the usual gang of idiots” came in and made the magazine their own. Regular readers of MAD learned to look out for certain names on features – if Dick DeBartolo had written a Mort Drucker-illustrated film spoof, you knew it was going to be good. One of their strangest but best-loved contributors was Don Martin, known for his incredibly unusual way of drawing feet and ridiculous sound effects – like Wonder Woman undoing her bra being soundtracked with “Snap ploobadoof”. Both loved and hated was Dave Berg’s The Lighter Side Of…, a long-running, severely inoffensive feature which featured probably the worst-dressed characters ever drawn.
BIG, BIG ART NAMES
As well as influencing a ton of big names (there’d be no Daniel Clowes without MAD, Robert Crumb cites it as a huge influence, and Alan Moore has claimed that MAD’s Superduperman spoof was a direct influence on Watchmen) some properly big deals have passed through the doors of MAD. Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman, of Maus fame, was a regular contributor, Drew Struzan and Frank Frazetta both did covers, and one issue a few years ago contained contributions from no less than ten Pulitzer-winning cartoonists. Plus “Weird Al” Yankovic once wrote for them.
A BETTER VIZ
Viz editor Graham Dury, creator of the Fat Slags, tells us “MAD magazine had a massive influence on me when I was little. The two blokes on earth I would most like to get stuck in a lift with are Don Martin and Sergio Aragones, so long as they had a big stack of paper and some pens with them. I loved the way everybody Martin drew had that fantastic self-confident strut and shoes that flopped over at the end. And Aragones’s scribblings were probably the best bit of the magazine. They showed that the editors really cared about it and wanted to just pack it with stuff. But I doubt I’ll end up in a lift with either of them. Well certainly not Don Martin anyway, as he’s dead. If any of your readers see Sergio Aragones getting into a dodgy looking lift, could they let me know?”
Much in the same way that Nirvana only really felt like they’d made it when they got a call from “Weird Al” Yankovic, being spoofed in MAD is kind of like a badge of honour. MAD’s letters page regularly features notes from celebrities proudly holding up magazines taking the piss out of them. When asked about big moments in his career, Slash from Guns N’Roses said “The magazine cover that has meant the most to me was probably when I appeared in MAD magazine, as a caricature of Alfred E. Neuman. That was when I felt I’d arrived.”
AMERICA IN A NUTSHELL
If there was an alien race out there that had only ever been exposed to MAD, they’d have a pretty decent grasp of modern American history. You can trace wars, leaders, politics and technology through it, as well as the history of entertainment, from issue #4’s Superduperman to last issue’s Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus cover. MAD’s first cover after 9/11 nearly didn’t happen – the initial cover story was on the New York Marathon, and showed corpse-laden NY streets. They wisely decided to pull it, and replaced it with an image that was simultaneously funny, respectful, patriotic and… excuse us, there must be dust in here.
Comics in the 50s didn’t encourage people to question anything – everything was more about being pleasant and not rocking the boat. MAD came along and started picking holes in the American Dream, suggesting the products Americans were buying were crap, their leaders were clueless and that the people were being treated like dicks. These days everyone’s a cynical bastard, but MAD invented it.
THERE is just something inherently creepy about a doll coming to life. I think it falls into the same category as clowns, kids and the elderly. Because they are supposed to be so benign or innocent, it becomes all the more warped and vulgar when they take a bloodthirsty bent.
The devil doll trope didn’t start with Chucky. In fact, you could go back centuries via fairy tales and the golem mythology. In terms of cinema, you could start with The Devil Doll (1936) or Dead of Night (1946). However, we’ll concentrate on films from the 1970s and adjacent decades.
So, here are the top demonic doll movie moments from the 1960s through the 80s. If there’s any egregious omissions, please fill me in, and let’s make this list grow!
15. CHILD’S PLAY (1988)
Woefully cheesy, this film just doesn’t do anything for me. However, I recognize it’s earned its place on the list of evil dolls, so here’s Chucky. Moving right along….
ALAN Pardew’s ‘head pushing’ antics raised heckles in some quarters and smiles in others.
Whether it deserves to butt into our arbitrary Ten Great Football Headbutts list is for you to decide. Judge for yourselves, dear readers…
1994: Duncan Ferguson on John McStay
Rangers’ 4-0 victory over Raith Rovers was overshadowed by Big Dunc’s sticking the heid on McStay. The referee didn’t see it, but the police did, and he was eventually convicted of assault.
IN 1977, the entire planet was foaming at the mouth for anything Star Wars. The frenzy continued for several years with piles of Star Wars products flooding the stores daily. It seemed all you needed to do was bear a passing resemblance to the film or utter the words “star” and/or “wars” and your product would sell like hotcakes.
RECENT rumours about Space Jam II (purportedly to star Le Bron James…) serve as a good reminder that the science fiction cinema and the game of basketball are inextricably linked.
Well, not really.
But sci-fi and basketball at least have something of a common history.
THE decision by eBay to discontinue its trade in Holocaust memorabilia brought to an end a particularly offensive and peculiar episode in the annals of collections and souvenir-hunting.
And while it is undoubtedly one of the most despicable examples, there is no shortage of tasteless, gauche and tacky souvenirs out there, if you know here to look…
(Warning: one picture below portrays a lynching. It is shocking.)
ANORAK’s history of controversial children’s books: sex, drugs, sambo’s gay lover and anti-authoritarianism in the classroom.
The Little Red Schoolbook
In 1971 the proprietor of Stage 1 publishers was found guilty of having in his possession obscene books for publication for gain. Richard Handyside was fined £25 on each summons and ordered to pay £110 costs.
The obscene publications were copies of The Little Red Schoolbook written by two Danish schoolteachers, Søren Hansen and Jesper Jensen – and then rewritten by a group of British adults and schoolchildren, including a young Hilary Benn. It urged young readers to question authority and challenge social conventions, and described adults as ‘paper tigers’. Pupils were encouraged to disrupt lessons that they found boring.
The book was widely regarded as an invitation to anarchy, and it was banned in Italy and France. An abridged version was eventually passed for publication in the UK, but it had by this time achieved considerable notoriety. Ironically, the main area of contention was not the political message, but the section giving basic sex education and advice – particularly concerning masturbation – most of which would be on the school curriculum these days. This was of course the convenient pretext chosen the DPP in order to suppress a book that they regarded as socially subversive.
An extraordinary documentary can be heard here.
Enid Blyton is by no means the only venerable authoress to find her books falling out of favour as popular opinion changes over the decades, as Richmal Crompton will have known only too well.
She remains the most high-profile example, however, thanks to her ‘Gollywog’ series, which related the adventures of Golly, Woggy and Nigger, who liked nothing better than to stride along, in Blyton’s own words, ‘arm-in-arm, singing merrily their favourite song – which, as you may guess, was “Ten Little Nigger Boys”.’ These books are not currently available in most children’s libraries
More famous are her Noddy books, in which they feature once again. In one particularly pointed incident, Noddy is attacked by golliwogs, who steal his car and leave him stranded.
Luckily the Toyland police were very efficient, and always at hand.
Not all gollies are bad, though. In Golly Town we find a Mr Golly, who is one of Noddy’s best friends. He owns Toyland’s garage, looks after Noddy’s car, and is an all-round bloody good bloke, as this picture proves…
The Tale of Little Black Sambo
Another former staple of junior school libraries that fell out of favour (though it remains popular in Japan). In 1996, Fred Marcellino produced a set of new pictures, renamed the characters, and republished it under the title The Story of Little Babaji.
One could be charitable and say that Hergé’s most controversial Tintin adventure merely represented the condescending views of Belgian (and British) society at the time.
Post-war, they seemed anachronistic and offensive, portraying as they did a nation of stupid, lazy, infantile savages in need of a clever white master. The book quickly fell out of favour (and out of print).
The Brave Cowboy
A similar trick was pulled with Joan Walsh Anglund’s charming best-seller, in which scary ‘Indians’ were removed and replaced by white bankrobbers and other ne’er-do-wells.
Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin
This otherwise unremarkable tale relates the everyday life of five-year-old Jenn, who lives with her dad and his boyfriend.
In 1986 it was reported that the book was in the library of a school run by the Labour-controlled Inner London Education Authority, and this was a major factor in the Tory government passing Section 28 of the Local Government Act, which prohibited the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality. The full, bizarre story can be found here…
And Tango Makes Three
This modern-day ‘Jenny’, based on a true story about two ‘gay’ penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo has the distinction of having had the most had the most ban requests in the USA in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010. In 2009 it came second.
‘It’s regrettable that some parents believe reading a true story about two male penguins hatching an egg will damage their children’s moral development,’ said co-author Justin Richardson. ‘They are entitled to express their beliefs, but not to inflict them on others.’
I VERY happily grew up with Sir Roger Moore in the role of Ian Fleming’s James Bond, and thus maintain a deep well of affection and nostalgia for his seven films…even if some Bond fans do not
Moore’s epoch as Agent 007 isn’t usually considered the most creatively fertile time in the franchise’s history, in part because the Bond films of the day pursued “hot” movie trends instead of initiating them, as had been the case in the 1960s.
To wit, the Bond movies of the Moore era attempted to jump on the bandwagon of Blaxploitation cinema (Live and Let Die ), martial arts/Kung-Fu films (The Man with the Golden Gun ), and even the Star Wars craze (Moonraker ).
Despite the fact that Bond films of this time period seem desperate to pinpoint some – any — pop culture relevance, the Roger Moore efforts nonetheless boast some surprising character moments that could have been ripped straight from the novels…and Fleming’s literary descriptions of the character.
For instance, at least two films of the Roger Moore era (The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only) make explicit mention of the character’s tragic history — namely his dead wife, Tracy — a background that the last Connery film, Diamonds are Forever (1971) totally ignored.
Although it is undeniable that some James Bond films of the Roger Moore indeed tread heavily into unfortunate slapstick comedy (see: the pigeon doing a double-take at a gondola-turned-hovercraft in Moonraker), the actor’s finest moments in the famous role arrive not when he is called upon to play scenes broadly or cheekily, but rather when he is tasked with expressing Bond’s humanity.
Some of these “human” moments are small, even throwaway ones, but each one reminds the audience that 007 is not just a superhuman quipster in a white-dinner jacket. He’s still a man who bleeds, sweats, and struggles.
In chronological order then, here are five character moments from the James Bond Era of Roger Moore:
From The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): Bond talks to agent Triple XXX (Barbara Bach) about the fact that he murdered her lover.
The Spy Who Loved Me sees British and Russian intelligence join up to solve the mystery of several missing nuclear submarines. Britain’s finest, Bond, and Russia’s – XXX — join forces, and trace the missing subs back to a man named Stromberg (Curt Jurgen).
In a scene set in Sardinia, where Stromberg is headquartered, XXX confronts Bond about the fact that he may have murdered her lover three weeks earlier, on an unconnected assignment.
Bond turns away from XXX (and the audience), before he answers her accusation. Finally, he tells her that it’s hard to know who you kill when you’re racing on skis at 40 miles an hour…but yes, he did kill her lover. At this point, she informs Bond that after their mission is done, she will murder him.
This scene reminds the audience both of the constant danger in Bond’s profession, and its emotional toll upon him. Moore doesn’t rush the scene, or play it lightly. Instead, he takes his time with Bond’s response, giving us time to wonder how Bond will answer. It’s a balancing act for 007, because if he tells XXX the truth, their mission together will be imperiled. But he also feels he owes her the truth…so he gives it to her.
Bond’s sense of duty and moral code is on display in this scene, and Moore gets that aspect of the character absolutely right.
The longer that Bond is in the business of killing people, the more bodies will pile up, and the more angry spouses or family members he will be forced to confront. From this scene, we understand very clearly how Bond’s profession separates him from other people, even from other people in the spy business.
From Moonraker (1979): A rattled Bond — nearly pulped in a sabotage training centrifuge — pushes away Dr. Holly Goodhead (Loise Chiles) as she tries to help him.
This is an almost throwaway moment, but it occurs early in the 1979 film. Bond is visiting the complex of industrialist Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), and Drax has secretly ordered that “some harm” come to him on a tour of the facility.
Dr. Holly Goodhead – secretly a CIA agent — convinces Bond to try out a training centrifuge, but then steps away, unwittingly leaving the villainous henchman Chang (Toshira Suga) to sabotage the machinery, and nearly kill Bond.
An apologetic Goodhead returns after Bond has disabled the deadly machine, and worriedly asks 007 what happened.
Instead of answering, he staggers out of the centrifuge, pushes her aside roughly, and is clearly pissed.
He doesn’t want to talk.
He doesn’t want to relate.
He’s angry, and this moment reveals that Moore’s Bond isn’t always suave or slick, or on the make. This is one of the few times in the Moore films that we see Bond genuinely ruffled, and knocked off-kilter.
In this moment, audiences see a hurt and angry Bond, one who momentarily rejects civility and who hasn’t yet restored his façade of charm.
It’s a telling — if brief — moment for the character. The ever-present mask of composure falls away.
From Moonraker (1979): Bond saves 100,000 people from nerve gas…without quipping.
At the end of Moonraker, Bond and Goodhead board a space shuttle, Moonraker 5, and attempt to destroy three globes in Earth orbit.
If these globes re-enter the atmosphere, they’ll spew toxic nerve gas across whole continents. Bond destroys two without breaking a sweat, but can’t draw a bead on the third and final canister. He must switch to “manual” control to target it when things get rough.
Meanwhile, both the globe and the shuttle are making bumpy re-entry…
Now, on first blush, this moment might seem like a retread of Star Wars’ finale, with Luke Skywalker switching to manual control to lob two proton torpedoes into the Death Star vent.
But — wholly unexpectedly — this moment proves to the most suspenseful and tense of the entire film, which too often trends towards slapstick humor.
Moore has been accused of playing the 007 character “lightly,” but here he plays the character as hyper-focused and severe. Bond often carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, but he has never undertaken that task as literally as he does in Moonraker (1979), with whole populations imperiled. He has one shot to save the world, so he better make the most of it…
There are no quips, no smiles, and no trademark charm.
Instead, we get an extreme close-up of a tense man in action. Just lots of sweat and those piercing, laser-sharp blue eyes…
From For Your Eyes Only (1981): James Bond kicks a car off a cliff
For Your Eyes Only is far and away Roger Moore’s best Bond film, a grounded, action-packed follow-up to the outer space extravaganza of Moonraker. The film features many great action scenes, particularly the final mountain climbing set-piece, which endures as another masterpiece of escalating suspense.
But in terms of character moments, Moore gets a great one in this movie.
Near the end of For Your Eyes Only, he fights a merciless assassin, Locque (Michael Gothard). Locque has been killing agents and Bond’s allies throughout the whole film, and now Bond finally has him cornered, his car perched on the edge of a rocky cliff.
In his car, Locque panics at his precarious predicament, but things get worse when Bond approaches, and tosses him a keepsake: the “Dove” pin Locque left behind at several crime scenes.
Bond returns the pin to Locque….and then kicks the fucker’s car off the cliff.
Again, there’s nothing light or jokey about this moment. Bond is judge, jury and executioner, and he dispatches Locque with blunt, brutal finality. There are times for compassion and times for humor…and this isn’t one of them. Instead, Bond wordlessly metes out justice. He does so in one fluid movement.
This is the very moment, perhaps, when many Bond fans realized how ill-served Roger Moore had been by some of the Bond scripts. He was capable of being as tough, but rarely had the opportunity to flex that muscle. He shows here that he can capture Bond’s grace, and killer instinct…with perfect economy.
From Octopussy (1983): Bond explains to Octopussy (Maud Adams) how he treated her father.
In Octopussy, Bond travels to India and meets the mysterious smuggler called Octopussy on her private island. She asks him a question about an old case, and there’s every chance their meeting could go fatally wrong. Specifically, Octopussy asks if Bond remembers Major Dexter Smythe.
Bond does remember.
Turns out he was a British agent turned thief who Bond was tasked with bringing into custody. But instead of merely arresting the criminal, Bond gave the man twelve hours to get his affairs in order. Rather than be publicly disgraced, the major took his own life.
Octopussy is his daughter, and she is grateful that Bond gave Smythe time to consider his fate, and avoid public disgrace for his family.
Once more, we are confronted with Bond’s code of ethics. He may be licensed to kill and serve Her Majesty’s Secret Service but he’s not a monster, and when he goes into the field, he interprets orders, rather than simply obeying them. As I wrote above, there are times for compassion, and this story reveals such a time.
Again, Moore is particularly good in this scene because Bond is in a bind. Lie to avoid consequences? Or tell the truth and face them?
He picks the latter, and earns Octopussy’s respect for his honesty (as well as historical behavior). The message is that this Bond is a man of honor.
These days, the Bond films are serious, emotional affairs about a wounded warrior, and that’s all to the good. It’s easy to look back at the Bond films of the 1970s and decry them as being silly or inconsequential by comparison.
Many aspects of the films do fit that bill, but Sir Roger Moore was the 007 for my generation, and — in moments like the ones I enumerated above – I’m glad he was on the job.
I HESITATED using the word “worst” since many of these are novelty songs, which are intentionally strange or humorous rather than attempting to be a genuinely serious musical composition. However, that doesn’t erase the fact that they, like all the songs in this list, are simply unlistenable, intolerable, and unbearable. These songs are so bad you will be tempted to escape and click your “back” button. But I encourage you to see it through – press on, and see what sort of stuff you’re made of.