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Over the next few weeks, I’ll discuss some of the things I’ve been doing this past 10 months when I mostly haven’t been blogging.
They include what one might call Internet research rabbit holes, obsessions with obscure corners of pop-culture arcana.
One of these obsessions is a “rabbit hole” in more ways than one.
It starts with something everybody knows, even if it hasn’t been at the pop-cult forefront in recent years.
Warner Bros.’ classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons haven’t been on broadcast TV in years. The one basic cable channel they’ve been on, Cartoon Network, had lately only shown them on weekday mornings, and only when that time slot wasn’t being used to rerun some Tom & Jerry or Scooby-Doo direct-to-video movie. CN’s not showing them at all now. You have to pay extra for CN’s premium-tier channel Boomerang to see these timeless classics.
Even worse for longtime fans, no LT/MM shorts have been issued on DVD (aside from reissues) since late last year. With the industry-wide collapse of disc sales, Warner Home Video has put any future digital remasters of old cartoons on hold.
The prolific WB cartoon studio made some 1,005 “classic” theatrical shorts over 40 years. Approximately 450 of them have yet to be digitally restored. A lot of those look really dingy in the old TV prints seen online.
Oh yeah: Almost all the LT/MM shorts can be found in unofficial online uploads. WB has gotten some of them removed from YouTube, but they just pop up on more obscure sites. (WB could put them up officially, and get whatever ad revenue there is to get, but mostly hasn’t.)
While I was on my last extended “blog vacation” earlier this year, I set out to watch every darned one of the not-on-DVD Warner cartoons. About half of them feature the studio’s “A list” characters (Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Tweety, etc.). Some of them (in the uploaded versions from old TV prints) look good enough to go on disc as is. Others look dingy, faded, and lo-res.
To keep the LT/MM “franchise” (and its lucrative merchandising) alive, WB needs to (at least) make new digital transfers of these not-on-DVD shorts, from the best existing film materials. This would make the films more viable in today’s hi-def era, for release on broadcast, cable, on-demand, streaming, and download “platforms,” as well as on disc. Perhaps some of the less “commercial” entries (the ones with minor or one-shot characters) could receive less of the labor-intensive digital retouching that was used for the DVD releases.
At the same time as I was re-viewing all those films, I also started to research the music used in them.
The studio’s great music directors, Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn, incorporated more than 500 pre-existing compositions into their cartoon scores. They ranged from classical and folk pieces, to contemporary hits and songs from Warner feature films, to obscurities that had originally been published as sheet music for silent-music accompanists.
With the aid of several existing online lists of the “sampled” compositions, I put together a YouTube playlist of most of them. It’s currently up to 434 entries. They’re all records or film clips of the original tunes—not the cartoon excerpts of them.
If you know them only from the cartoon versions (and you probably do), you’re in for a few surprises:
Warner might be mismanaging one of its most valuable assets; but other parties remain determined to keep the cartoons in the public eye.
They include the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, founded by the Spokane boy who became the most famous of the studio’s several cartoon directors.
The Jones Center and the Jones heirs, along with the Smithsonian’s “touring exhibits” division, created What’s Up, Doc?: The Animated Art of Chuck Jones. It’s now at the EMP Museum in Seattle.
It’s got dozens of original art pieces and artifacts from Jones’s Warner, MGM, and indie films.
It’s got one of his most famous works, What’s Opera, Doc?, playing continuously (it never gets tiresome); plus a mysterious minute and a half of music recorded for “unproduced scenes” in that classic. (Wonder what they would have been?)
It’s got excerpts from several other Jones films (and one Tex Avery WB short, the defining Bugs Bunny film A Wild Hare), on flat-screen monitors around the exhibit space.
It’s got a few spots where you can take photos of one another alongside life-size cartoon props, such as under a “precariously” suspended prop anvil. (Photography’s forbidden in the rest of the exhibit.)
It’s got meticulous explanations and documentation about the now-threatened art of 2D animation.
And it’s got plenty of words, pictures, and video footage about Jones (1912-2002).
Besides hundreds of one-reel films for theaters, Jones also worked on TV specials, instructional films, and a couple of animated features (Gay Purr-ee and The Phantom Tollbooth).
At Warner he created his own characters (the Road Runner and Coyote, Pepe le Pew) and developed characters created by or with other directors (Bugs, Daffy, Sylvester).
Later, he adapted works by Dr. Seuss, Walt (Pogo) Kelly, Rudyard Kipling, and his former Warner colleague Frank Tashlin, adjusting all of their individual artistic visions to his own.
Thematically, Jones’ films ranged from Disney-esque sentiment to violent slapstick and back again. Stylistically, they ranged from slick “realism” to almost pure abstraction (and, in his version of Norman Juster’s story The Dot and the Line, total abstraction).
And while many animators were/are soft spoken and shy creatures, Jones was an inveterate and articulate self-promoter. He made books and documentaries about his works. He gave many interviews to animation historians, sometimes embellished for entertainment’s sake.
And with the exhibit, his take on “the art of animation” has an immersible, walk-through incarnation. Viewers get to enjoy the finished films, and to learn in grit-detail about each of the many components that went into them.
Can this help revive interest in “analog” animation?
And, just as importantly, can it help rescue the classic WB shorts from extra-tier-cable-channel purgatory?
Some pseudo-random thoughts about l’Affaire Rachel Dolezal, the just-resigned Spokane NAACP leader who’s claimed at various times to be black, part-black, and Native American, but whose parents claim her to be white (and who have the blonde, blue-eyed childhoood pix to support their claim):
If it weren’t for white people pretending to be black, we’d have no jazz or rock n’ roll or R&B or even hiphop as we know those genres today. American white pop music would still sound like “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?” British pop music would still sound like “Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes.”
(We also wouldn’t have sorry minstrel-show acts, macho-baby-boomer blues bands, or fratboy rappers either; but you’ve got to take the bad with the good, right?)
There’s a long-running meme of college-educated white women identifying, or trying to identify, with black women of “lower” castes. It ranges from recent works such as The Help, back to the predominantly white-female audiences for Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. Walker especially depicted Af-Am womanhood as an ultimate embodiment of a specifically feminine wisdom and righteousness.
Could Dolezal, who had Af-Am adopted siblings, have envied their specific “tribal” identity, collective-struggle heritage, etc.? Not for an outsider like me to say.
It can be said that she should have known “being black” involved more than just looks and “soul,” but (as shown gruesomely in recent news items) a continuing legacy on the receiving end of repression, injustice, and brutality. (As Tavis Smiley asks, “Who’d sign up to be black?”)
Dolezal is the second Spokanian to re-invent herself so thoroughly. The first, of course, is Billy Tipton.
Tipton, a small-time jazz pianist and a bio-female who lived as a (hetero) man until his death in 1989, was essentially (in my opinion) a trans who never had reassignment surgery, but who simply tried to create a being and a life for himself and succeeded completely.
Dolezal attempted a similar life-feat, trying to create a present by rewriting her past. Our age of instant information made that ultimately impossible.
There’s nothing wrong, as Smiley’s above-linked essay notes, with being a white person devoted to helping her less race-privileged fellow humans; people who…
…have the courage, conviction and commitment to unapologetically use their white face—and their white voice, hands, feet, head and heart to make America a nation as good as its promise.
…have the courage, conviction and commitment to unapologetically use their white face—and their white voice, hands, feet, head and heart to make America a nation as good as its promise.
The NAACP has (openly) white local and national officers, past and present. More famously, the late Westinghouse and CBS exec Michael H. Jordan (absolutely no relation to the basketball star) was chairman of the United Negro College Fund for a decade.
In the statement announcing her NAACP resignation, Dolezal stated she won’t stop fighting for justice.
Dolezal has been a student, and occasionally a teacher, of Af-Am culture and history. She assuredly knows, both from book-learning and from those in her life, about what black life is really like.
She could have used this knowledge to work at bridging our racial divides.
If she can transcend the unfortunate image of her own “race drag act,” she still can.
Everybody seems to have an opinion or an angle on the tale:
fan art by emre unayli, mavenport.net, via tvmediainsights.com
It was The Great Northwest TV Drama.
It took serialized TV beyond the bedroom/boardroom antics of Dallas and Dynasty and into deeply detailed stories combining comedy, suspense, and pathos.
It expanded the range of what prime time could show, not in terms of cuss words and violence but in terms of characterization and complexities.
And, after several years of regularly-denied rumors, Twin Peaks is coming back.
Showtime announced late last year that it would air at least nine new episodes, but not until 2016. That’s 25 years since the last series episode, which included a line from the spirit of Laura Palmer to Agent Cooper in the Black Lodge, “I’ll see you again in 25 years.”
Then co-creator David Lynch said he was quitting the project. He said Showtime hadn’t offered enough production money to make the new series the way he felt it needed to be made. Several of the old show’s cast members said they wouldn’t act in the new series without Lynch around.
But then in early May, Lynch and Showtime said the new show was back on, with Lynch again on board. Only now it will run “significantly more” than the originally promised nine episodes.
We’ve been told every new episode will be directed by Lynch, and written by Lynch and his fellow original series co-creator Mark Frost.
We’ve been told the new series will be set in the present day, and will finally resolve at least some of the plot threads left unresolved all this time.
We haven’t been told which original-series actors will be back, aside from Yakima native Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Cooper. Even without the characters who’d been killed off in the series, and the actors who’ve died in real life since then, some three dozen or more major players could reprise their roles, at least in cameos.
And we initially weren’t told whether it would be shot in the Snoqualmie/North Bend area, where the pilot and the prequel theatrical feature Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me were largely made. (The regular series episodes, however, were filmed in L.A.)
At the time the series ended in June 1991, I was semi-distraught that something this beautiful, this perfect evocation of everything I found funny and evil and odd and fetishistically square about my home state, could die. (Nobody knew the “Seattle Scene” music mania would reiterate many of these themes on a global stage by the end of that year.)
Having grown up in a Washington sawmill town, I loved the series as a mostly-realistic portrayal of power and frustration in such a place.
Yes, it had a murder mystery as its central plotline. But part of what made me love Twin Peaks is that Lynch and Frost deliberately broke several of the rules of murder mysteries (thusly dooming the series to a short network run).
The murder victims (at least most of them) were human beings with good and bad sides and personalities and everything, whose demises were treated with tragic weight, not as mere puzzle pieces.
The killers, particularly the schizo Leland Palmer (a medium-time sleazeball even when in his “right” mind), were also humanized. They were still violent criminals, with or without the excuse of demonic possession, but they were also victims in their own way; victims of their own dark ambitions and vanities.
The subsequent 1992 film prequel went further, abandoning donut fetishes and comedy relief to concentrate on how evil was often performed and covered up beneath our region’s shallow protestations of “small town values”.
The Northwest, even the small-town Northwest, has changed in many (at least superficial) ways since then.
The timber business (the main industry in the fictional town of Twin Peaks) has declined.
Digital consumer devices have rendered microcassette recorders and other major series props into quaint nostalgia items.
But there are still Northwest men and women with conflicting dreams and desires—and demons.
This past weekend at Crypticon, the annual horror fan convention in SeaTac, original series actors Sheryl Lee and Sherilyn Fenn gave a few pieces of good news about the new Twin Peaks:
@grrlskout via welcometotwinpeaks.com
(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)
letterman with seattle comix legend lynda barry, 1988
Either the first or the second most famous ex-Mariners co-owner (before or after Danny Kaye) ends late night TV’s longest run (almost 33 and a half years, between two networks) tonight.
Besides having been an investor in the Ms during the baseball team’s disastrous George Argyros era, he often had locally-connected guests over the years, including Foo Fighters as the official last guests on the last show, and Eddie Vedder on Monday’s third-to-last show. (Also: Lynda Barry (above), Soundgarden, Bill Nye, Joel McHale, Kyle MacLachlan, Artis the Spoonman, Sean Nelson’s band Harvey Danger, and especially the late Seattle-born comedian George Miller.)
Some commentators have pointed out that his NBC Late Night series (and especially his short-lived NBC morning show, which never aired in Seattle) were landmarks in conceptual humor (as masterminded by original head writer Merrill Markoe).
Some of these same critics complain that his act on CBS has morphed into a real version of his onetime grumpy-old-guy character, the one with the catch phrase “Get off my lawn.'”
It had been clear for some time that Letterman had accomplished all on TV that he ever would; but that he was determined to stick around until his onetime pal Jay Leno left (for good) first. Once that finally happened, Letterman announced his own retirement. That was followed in short order by the ends of Chelsea Lately, The Colbert Report (a post-“idiot”-character version of Colbert takes over from Letterman on CBS this fall), The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, and soon The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.
(All this has happened while, in the eyes of some industry watchers, online streaming is allegedly “killing traditional TV.”)
It was also clear that Letterman had ceased even pretending to care about the showbiz-hype rituals that are the state religion of late-night talk; leaving a sincere (if borderline-pandering) appreciation for a certain few celebrity pals and longtime frequent guests. These people have populated the Late Show guest roster during this almost year-long “farewell tour,” an exercise in mawkishness that just kept getting mawkish-er as the finale approached.
And the whole hip-irony shtick he’d popularized back then has become one of the native tongues of marketing and advertising, in all its air-quotes smarm.
As of Thursday, the longest-serving hosts still in late night will be (1) Conan O’Brien (who’d originally replaced Letterman at NBC) and (2) Jimmy Kimmel.
Letterman’s leaving the public stage means I’ll now probably never get to ask him what, if anything, he remembered about Frances Farmer. He and the ill-fated Seattle-born film actress were each on Indianapolis local TV, albeit at different times.
I do know a guy who’d studied drama with Letterman (and future Three’s Company star Joyce DeWitt) at Indy’s Ball State U. This guy had remembered Farmer’s TV show, but alas not much about it; only that she’d been a low-rent Loretta Young introducing creaky old movies in the afternoons.
via the hollywood reporter
Once again, I’ve fallen behind on my idealized blog posting rate. And not for any good reason. (Though I am working on a new (kinda-sorta) project, to be announced at a later date.)
It’s sure not for a lack of things to write about. Goodness knows, dudes n’ dudettes are always suggesting those.
Here are some of the topics I could have blogged about in recent days:
yep, she married the guy in the top picture.
the kalakala in 2007, from wikipedia
During my long “blog silence” last year there were many things I could have written about, for sure. Some of them I mentioned in my little space in the little paper City Living Seattle (I’ll repost those soon here). Others I didn’t get to there either.
this year's space needle fireworks were sponsored by t-mobile and heavily emphasized the color 't-mobile magenta.'
As promised previously, MISCmedia is back for two-ought-one-five with a new commitment to try and make sense (or at least document the nonsense) of Life in the Demitasse Size City.
To start things off, and for the 29th consecutive year (really!), we proudly present the MISCmedia In/Out List, the most trusted (and only accurate) list of its kind in this and all other known media relay systems.
As always, this list operates under the premise that the future is not necessarily linear. It compiles what will become torrid and tepid in the coming year, not necessarily what’s torrid and tepid now. If you believe everything hot now will just keep getting hotter, I’ve got some RadioShack stock to sell you.
Since most of my most loyal readers will have other things to do on Sunday afternoon, here’s some relatively timeless randomosity for whenever you log back in:
For the 28th consecutive year (really!), we proudly present the MISCmedia In/Out List, the most venerable (and only accurate) list of its kind in this and all other known solar systems. As always, this is a prediction of what will become hot and not-so-hot in the coming year, not necessarily what’s hot and not-so-hot now. If you believe everything hot now will just keep getting hotter, I’ve got some BlackBerry stock to sell you.
If you know the answers to some or all of these questions, then you stand a fighting chance at MOHAI Trivia.
This monthly “pub trivia” competition began in April 2012, as a way to help promote the Museum of History and Industry’s pending reopening in south Lake Union. It began at the Wurst Place restaurant/tavern on Westlake, near the old Naval Reserve armory where MOHAI moved that December.
It’s now has also branched out to other bars around town, where volunteer quizmasters offer “MOHAI rounds” as part of those locations’ weekly trivia contests.
But the monthly flagship event is still held at the Wurst Place (except during summer breaks).
And, since its inception, it has been dominated by one team of obscure-knowledge buffs.
Which happens to be the team I’m on.
The Decatur Cannonballs were organized by Jeff Long, a rare book dealer and a longtime Seattle history maven. The other members, all founts of obscure knowledge, are Long’s longtime friends Chris Middleton, Brian Doan, Bill Sandell, and Randall Fehr.
The team is named after a U.S. Navy “sloop of war” whose artillery fire helped end the Battle of Seattle, a one-day uprising by local native Americans against the new white settlement in 1856.
(On nights when some members were unable to attend, the remaining team members have used the alternate name Denny Hillbillies, after the hill that was leveled to create today’s Belltown.)
The Cannonballs won all of the first 11 MOHAI Trivia events. Sometimes they won handily; sometimes by a mere half point. Once, a tiebreaker question was needed to put them on top.
They aced “name the local building” photo questions, questions based on audio clips from movies filmed in Seattle, the origins of local place names, old political scandals, local celebrities, historic events, and sports teams. They beat as many as ten other teams on any given night.
Finally, in November of this year, a team arose to challenge the Cannonballs.
And two categories were found that stumped the Cannonballs. They were local hip hop and local Olympic athletes—both vital aspect of our recent cultural scene but both topics about which these 50ish Caucasian dudes were relatively ignorant.
That night the Cannonballs finally lost.
The previously undefeated champs took it all in stride.
After all, constant triumph without at least a few setbacks just isn’t the Seattle way.
Then the Cannonballs promptly won again in December.
MOHAI Trivia at the Wurst Place (510 Westlake Ave. N.) occurs the first Tuesday evening of every month, including Jan. 7. Neighborhood MOHAI Trivia events will resume in the new year following a holiday hiatus; check MOHAI.org for dates and locations.
(ANSWERS: Henry Yesler; zero; University Village; Ben Haggerty.)
I first knew Mike Vraney, the legendary Seattle rock promoter and home-video mogul, from the regulars at Time Travelers, a comic book store at Second and Pike that also stocked some of the first “punk rock” records. It was a nexus for the nascent “alternative” music scene in town.
He became one of the promoters (with Jim Lightfoot, Carlo Scandiuzzi, and Terry Morgan) who reopened the Showbox Theater for live rock shows in 1979. (The legendary big-band hall at First and Pike had, by then, become a Jewish bingo parlor.)
For two amazing years he helped to stage dozens of shows, all of them memorable, with both national (the Ramones, XTC, the Police, Devo) and local (the Blackouts, the Beakers, the Fags) acts. For that alone, he shaped my life and what would become known years later as “the Seattle scene.”
From there, he went on to manage such bands as the Dead Kennedys, TSOL, and Seattle’s own The Accused.
Then in 1990 he launched Something Weird Video.
At first, it was a simple operation. Vraney had unearthed a cache of nudie-cutie “loop” film reels at a swap meet. He sold VHS tapes of their contents.
Those tapes sold well enough that he put out tapes of other reels he and friends had collected over the years, and sought out similar “cult” films to release.
Early hardcore pornos; earlier softcore sex films (that had been driven out of the marketplace by hardcore pornos); indie horror and gore flicks; nudist-camp pseudo-documentaries; sci-fi “creature features;” gangster and spy capers; gruesome driver’s-ed classroom films; drive-in intermission promos; old beer commercials—almost no genre was too outré for Something Weird.
In these tapes’ packaging and promotion, Vraney effectively captured and updated the carney-barker showmanship of old sleaze cinema. His video boxes were printed in lurid colors that made them stand out on store shelves. Wherever available, he incorporated the films’ original advertising copy and poster art on his videocassette boxes, along with scads of text placing the films in the context of their original making and release.
Before long, Vraney was buying or leasing the rights to films by such schlockmeister auteurs as Harry Novak, David Friedman, Doris Wishman, Joe Sarno, Michael and Roberta Finley, and Herschell Gordon Lewis. (Vraney took his company’s name and logo from one of Lewis’s no-budget “classics.”)
He brought these films (which had originally only been screened in drive-ins and urban “grindhouse” cinemas) and their makers (who’d been mostly unknown, even to the films’ original viewers) to the attention of new generations of enthusiasts. The pop-rock band 10,000 Maniacs named itself after a film Vraney had reissued, Lewis’s 2,000 Maniacs.
When DVDs first came out, Vraney hit upon a two-pronged business strategy.
For “mainstream” markets (or at least as mainstream as Something Weird got), Vraney signed up with distributor Image Entertainment to place over 100 discs (mostly double features) in major retail chains. These “Special Edition” discs included trailers, shorts, and the films’ original posters and ad art.
He kept full control of the rest of his catalog (which by this time numbered in thousands of titles) for sale on DVD-R, through mail order and through specialty video stores.
As the DVD biz peaked and declined (he once told me he’d known DVD was done for when Tower Records, his biggest customer, folded), Vraney moved into downloads, streaming, and on-demand cable TV. He even set up a stock footage operation, licensing scenes from some of his videos (such as his compilations of old commercials and educational films) for documentaries.
In 2012 he co-produced That’s Sexploitation!, a documentary about the makers of old time nudie, softcore, and stag films. Even as he appeared at some of its festival screenings, he kept private what only family and close friends knew—that he’d been diagnosed with lung cancer.
The end apparently came quickly.
He leaves behind his wife and partner, artist Lisa Petrucci, and two now-adult children he’d had with his first wife Tammy Decroff (who had also died from cancer).