Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Visceral Sense of Jibbs

As you know, I don't "blog" anymore unless it's about THE BIG VALLEY, which has been off the air since 1969, or if I read a book with an owl in it. But occasionally one has a thought that is too long for twitter - not very often! - and where is one to put it? "Here" is the only answer. So I have finally watched the entire ADVENTURE TIME miniseries entitled ELEMENTS, and I did it through legal means. I paid $9.99 for it! But I shan't say anything about the episodes that haven't aired on normal television for normal people yet. EXCEPT! To make the general observation that there are a lot of great jokes in it, among other things. PASTE magazine said ADVENTURE TIME: ELEMENTS has "a visceral sense of armageddon" and maybe they know what they're talking about but I mainly just laughed a lot. NOW! Roughly ninety-nine percent of the jokes contained in the miniseries are jokes that anyone can enjoy, from the most cantankerous old codger to the rosiest tot, but I also noticed a few things that made me laugh in a smug, knowing, secretive manner with which I feel certain you are longing to become intimately acquainted. For example, in last night's episode "Cloudy," the word "jibbs" was used as a mild expletive, as in "What the jibbs?" And... I may not get this line exactly right... "Calm the jibbs down." So! While we were working on the outline for "Cloudy," ADVENTURE TIME head writer Kent Osborne was simultaneously in rehearsals for a staged reading of some kind of script or another, in which his character's name was Jibbs. For whatever reason, this tickled the rest of us in the writers room no end. On top of that, Kent was required to affect an Irish accent for the role of Jibbs, and as he was just beginning to work on it, our delight was boundless in mocking him unfairly when he tried it out in our presence. These twin pillars of hilarity - the name "Jibbs" and our accompanying merciless jeers at Kent's nascent Irish accent - made it irresistible to include the expression "what the jibbs" in the outline upon which we were currently at work. So I was especially happy to see that the exclamation, or a variation on it, occurred more than once in the finished storyboard, brilliantly executed by Graham Falk and the aforementioned Kent Osborne, and, of course, in its ultimate animated iteration, the toil of countless souls. I hope you feel that you have benefited from this thorough examination of "humor" and its mysterious inner workings laid bare and that my vivid yet clinical dissection of the matter has not robbed you entirely of the magic and joy in your life.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Barkley Absconditus

I'm four episodes into THE BIG VALLEY and it's interesting because the whole drama centers around an empty place where a person used to be... not until Laura Palmer in TWIN PEAKS was there another absent character so important to a show. He's the dead patriarch, Thomas Barkley, and I just saw an episode where the town is unveiling a statue of him, but there's a shadow over the face and we can't really see it, can anyone? Yes, yes, THE BIG VALLEY swirls around a terrifying abyss of meaningless where "the father" is supposed to be. Where is the supposed pillar of society? I don't suppose it's a coincidence [yes, of course it is! - ed.] that two bridges have fallen down in four episodes. I'm sure there is some theological approach to THE BIG VALLEY, something from Nicolas of Cusa, something about the deus absconditus.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Familiar Barn Fight

As you know, I never, ever "blog" anymore unless I read a book with an owl in it or for some other reason. But now I have decided I can "blog" about the TV show THE BIG VALLEY whenever I want. Spurred by Laura Lippman's description of it as "gloriously weird," I decided to revisit THE BIG VALLEY, or maybe just to visit it, because I really couldn't remember anything about it. I remembered a promo in which they put a lot of reverb on the announcer when he said the title: "THE BIG VALLEY-ALLEY-ALLEY-alley-alley-alley!" And I remembered, from the same promo, the description of Barbara Stanwyck's character as "Victoria, a woman of backbone and bite!" All I can say is that was a pretty good promo if I still remember it from when I was a kid. So I watched some of THE BIG VALLEY. When a fistfight started raging in the barn, I thought, you know, maybe I did watch this show when I was a kid, because I felt secure in the knowledge that this was a staple of the show, it was all coming back to me, regular fistfights in the barn. But I can't be sure! I think there was something on the other channel I liked better. But here are some things I observed: 1. It all starts with one of the brothers on a bridge and here comes Lee Majors from the other direction and neither fellow will back up his horse to let the other one pass. So they literally just sit there looking at each other until the bridge falls down! I can't say much for the infrastructure. 2. The introduction of Barbara Stanwyck's character. She swoops into the room where her sons are standing and says (I paraphrase, but only slightly), "You're putting on weight, must you shout, here comes a visitor, I'll see you at dinner." And then she's gone. Like she was never there! She spits it all out like a machine gun and disappears in a flash. I thought maybe she was like Fred MacMurray, who supposedly used to come in and sit in a chair for one day and say all his lines for an entire season of his sitcom MY THREE SONS then get up and put on his hat and leave and they had to shoot around him for the rest of the year. My friend Ward McCarthy told me that about Fred MacMurray and if it's not true it's my own fault, because maybe I'm remembering the details wrong and I'm just too lazy to look it up. 3. Lee Majors kneels down at a lonesome grave (the patriarch has been plopped into the ground in the middle of nowhere, right where he was killed, not unlike the sad case of Meriwether Lewis) and then a young woman rides up on a horse and just casually leans down and starts striking Lee Majors wildly and repeatedly in the face with a leather strap, and she doesn't even know him! That's his half-sister, I guess, as they discover later, but there's an extremely weird vibe they've got going on (pictured). In fact they started making me think of Heathcliff and Cathy a little bit, and Lee Majors's name on the show is Heath, so I wondered whether that was on purpose, but my research methods (as noted above) are far too lazy to confirm or deny. Still, Heath is the brash, mysterious outsider who disrupts family life... for instance when he steals some apples! He's just walking around, trespassing, going through their stuff and finally taking an apple and Victoria catches him. So he takes off his hat. And I thought, oh, this brash, mysterious outsider is going to be respectful for a change! We're about to see the tender, gentlemanly side of this brash, mysterious outsider! But no, he was just taking off his hat to cram it full of all the sweet, sweet apples he could carry. And I was like, gee, Lee Majors sure has a hatful of apples now! He's going to have quite a night eating apples. Meanwhile, Audra (Linda Evans) gets a lot of use out of her leather strap, often with good reason, because they seem to live in a nightmarish hellscape. Right now everyone is shooting each other and I haven't even made it to the end of the first episode yet.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Terrified Bob Hope

So far no owls in this biography of Angela Carter, though you might guess how pleased I was to run across "a terrified Bob Hope."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Here's Your Monocle

I recorded a TCM showing of THREE RING CIRCUS and watched some of it last night. I am pleased to tell you about the villain of the piece (pictured), Puffo the Wonder Clown. First of all I am pleased to tell you that his name is Puffo the Wonder Clown. He is addressed often. "You're drunk, Puffo." And, when he is fired from the circus, "Draw your money, Puffo." I cannot explain the pleasure such sentences gave me. "Puffo, he's stealing your thunder!" says another clown, referring to Jerry Lewis. So later Puffo goes out there and kicks Jerry Lewis in the behind and jumps up and down on him. The circus audience turns on Puffo! And I must say I was surprised because it seemed like regular clown business to me. I'm not sure what clued in the audience that Puffo really meant it. Clowns are always brutalizing one another for our amusement, and we thank them for it. But one little girl jumps up and yells, "Stop it! You're killing him!" I may be paraphrasing. After Puffo nearly murders Jerry in the ring (I guess - as I say, it was difficult to distinguish from everyday clown violence), Jerry says in his saintly mewl, "Here's your monocle. I'm not mad, Puffo." You see, Puffo had dropped his monocle in the sawdust to get Jerry to bend over. You know how it is. Oh, Puffo. I am not sure I can rightly call Puffo a sad clown, though he is certainly a bitter clown. Jerry - who tinkered a lot with the script of this famously troubled production - seems interested in rage-filled clowns. Think of the snarling clown who hates America in his film THE FAMILY JEWELS. Think of him, I said! And of course drunken clowns are a national treasure by any standard. Puffo is a mean drunk, as opposed to the garden-variety sniveling of a typical drunken clown like Twitchy, who meets his sad end at the hands of a psychopath in the Mickey Spillane circus thriller RING OF FEAR, but I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. Will you mind very much if we stop talking about clowns for a second? In a subplot, Dean Martin falls under the spell of Zsa Zsa Gabor as the haughty queen of the circus. And I had never really thought about it, but that's a common story element, isn't it? The beauteous, dominant circus woman? I think of Steve Martin in THE JERK (its title an homage to Lewis's THE PATSY?), in the thrall of the sexy motorcycle daredevil who pushes him around. In conclusion, I cannot justify Puffo's honorific. At no point in the film are we given any indication that he is, in fact, a "wonder clown" of any kind.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Owl Club

Jim, the narrator of Willa Cather's MY ANTONIA, grows up somewhat and moves to town, where soon enough is established a dance hall called the Owl Club. Now, I have already told you about some significant owls in MY ANTONIA, and need I remind you that I am under no obligation to tell you EVERY time an owl appears in a book? But if there's something named something like the Owl Club, I believe it bears mentioning. Jim does not frequent the Owl Club ("I refused to join 'the Owls'") but "I made a bold resolve to go to the Saturday night dances at the Fireman's Hall." Needless to say, it breaks his grandmother's heart! Lest you think this makes the book too namby-pamby, there are plenty of wedding parties devoured by wolves and hoboes leaping headfirst into threshing machines.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Birds of Subterranean Habit

Both Dr. Theresa and Bill Boyle love the novel MY ANTONIA, but neither has been able to persuade me to read it until Bill happened to mention the other night that there is "good owl stuff" in it. All right! But the problem is that Megan Abbott and I are on a strict diet of "movie people" biographies and autobiographies. We have read several in a row! Including some I have not told you about because there are no owls in them. We just finished Howard Hughes - very depressing - and on Monday we're set to take up Angela Carter. Wait! I know what you are thinking. Angela Carter is not a "movie person." But our reasoning, if I recall it correctly, is that they made a movie based on her works - THE COMPANY OF WOLVES - so we're going to let her slide by on that account. And I peeked at the first paragraph of the bio and it all starts with Little Red Riding Hood, which ties right in, so I think we're good. So in the meantime I have a couple of days to read MY ANTONIA and I was like, "Please, God, let me hurry up and get to the owls." And there they were! Our narrator and his pal Antonia "watch the brown earth-owls fly home in the late afternoon and go down to their nests underground with the [prairie] dogs." I was like, my word! What manner of owls are these? And as I sat and pondered it, I realized they were none other than the selfsame burrowing owls I heard about at Off Square Books one time, when the author bragged and boasted of stalking them with a shirtless George Plimpton. Go to bookstores, you'll learn something! "We felt sorry for the owls," says Cather's narrator. That's because rattlesnakes slither around and eat their eggs! Easy pickings! And "we used to wonder a great deal about these birds of subterranean habit." And "It was always mournful to see them come flying home at sunset and disappear under the earth."