Friday, 21 October 2016

Film: 'Superman' - The Fleischer Cartoons (1941-1943)

The seventeen 'Superman' cartoons made by Fleischer (and Famous) Studios are a marvel to behold. In this era of limited animation, those fully animated mini-masterpieces are spectacular. It's a little sad that the new management that oversaw the last eight packed those examples full of war propaganda and some awful stereotypes, but the quality of the workmanship is unparallelled. All the previous expertise developed from the Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons is concentrated and condensed until the whole screen is filled with technicolour exploits.

The Superman in the Fleischer cartoons is radically different to what you might expect if you have experienced only the modern DC screen universe. The cartoons are filled with rescues of every variety, and some of the best screen action you could ever imagine in a modern television show. It's fantastic. My favourite example so far is the train rescue in 'Billion Dollar Limited', which captures so much of what was wonderful about Superman as to render practically every other version redundant. You may think this is hyperbole, but the Fleischer cartoons really are that good. They're magical. In 'Billion Dollar Brain', Superman ends up pulling the train himself, after the locomotive goes off a precipice, in a spectacularly rhythmic fashion, while pulling off a dozen other feats.

Superman in the Fleischer cartoons is a rescue machine. His main interaction with the villain is at the end, after defeating the scheme, when he picks up the fiend and drops him off with the police. Clark Kent is just a bit player, working at the Daily Planet as it's one of the rare places where he can get up to the date news. He also turns up at the end to do the George Reeves wink to camera that apparently didn't start with George Reeves! Yes, the wink originated here, or in the comic strip. It's hard to say without more research. The end wink might have originated in principle in the radio serial, as did the voice actors used, the legendary Bud Collyer and Joan Alexander.

The Superman phenomenon can be pretty hard to understand now, so long past the relevant time frame. Superman began in Action Comics in 1938, leaped into the radio sphere in 1940, then theatrical cartoons in 1941 and movie serials in 1948 and 1950, before George Reeves took over for television in the 1950s. Superman was massive, a wonderful burst of positivity in a depressed world, exploding out of the chaos of the 1930s. He was the first popular superhero.

These Fleischer cartoons are also utterly gorgeous, with the best technicolour and a truly drop dead gorgeous pinup version of Lois Lane. Lois here is a gutsy newshound, always following stories in the most dogged fashion, and getting into a dust up whenever possible! Yes, she may end up in distress, but not without giving a good account of herself. Oh, Lois, you have either the most wonderful or terrible luck... She also gets to kiss the man himself, which would be frowned upon in many a following year. The artwork is amazing in these cartoons, and puts a lot of modern animation in a box of shame from which it would never recover. Colour, full animation, music, sight gags, and some of the most fluid visuals you can find now, and which you wouldn't even have imagined at the time; all combine to make something special.

Oh, and if you're not sold: These cartoons are in the public domain and available at the Internet Archive. Try 'Billion Dollar Limited'. Go on.


Wednesday, 19 October 2016

In Brief

We're homing in on eight hundred posts, gentle readers of the Quirky Muffin, an unimaginable landmark. Eight hundred posts, and all without any kind of underlying agenda. In fact, this blog's agenda is to avoid, as much as possible, having an agenda! The closest we have come here is to perhaps talk about 'Star Trek' and 'Superman' a lot, two properties with deep underlying optimism. Maybe our agenda, if it does exist, is to highlight some of the more positive works of popular entertainment out there.

Maybe that faux positivity agenda has been how the temptation to go into a full political editorial mode has been averted, no matter how barely. The sheer nastiness of the moment will go on, and eventually something will change. There's just no status quo here to cling to, and there it shall be left. Politics is out for the foreseeable future unless something diabolical happens in the presidential election, perhaps. Let's hope that doesn't happen...

The season has definitely shifted and Autumn is upon us. The OU work continues to pile up and things continue to become more fraught, even as my own students grapple with their stress-filled upcoming GCSE students. The symmetry of stress is maintained, in a thoroughly frustrating way, but it will all work out, given a monumental amount of effort. No-one ever said this was going to be an easy academic year. The work load will continue to grow.

Ah, October, the time when Christmas shopping is finalised and purchasing continues. Why wait until the last minute when we have so much time to get it all exactly correct? Followed searches exist on eBay for a reason, and some bargains are sure to be found. Let's hope that Jasper Fforde, 'Schotten Totten' and some other things really work out.

What will the eight hundredth post celebration be? It's time to start thinking. All suggestions happily received.


Monday, 17 October 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, XV

( Part XIV , XVI )

The two of them settled down at a small desk to one side of the chapel, with a baby monitor keeping them linked to the sick room, and began to write.

"Dear Peggy, Keeper of the Appendices,

We are faced with a serious problem, here in Toddlingham. The Oracle, and his shop assistant, have been struck down by a mysterious force that apparently hatched from an unexplained item that crash landed in a town allotment. That entity manifested itself here in our Sanctuary, and imprisoned us in invisible tubes directly around our focii in the Pattern. Upon our escape, the being fled, but is still active and perhaps haunting us.

A sketch of the receptacle from which the being emerged is enclosed, as is an interpretation of the imprisonment scene in the chapel. Perhaps you might know something about this which we do not.

We turned to the Oracle for some insight, as a prelude to seeking your assistance and sagacity, but the Oracle was struck into insensibility by forces unknown and remains unconscious, now for the third day. We have relocated him to our Sanctuary, compromised though it may be, and care for him still. A similarly affected shop assistant remains at the hospital at Haagenport, taken before we could reach them.

We have recalled some stories about the supposed ability of the Pattern to offer some recuperative effects via immersion, but lack any more information of the subject. We also seek any insight you might offer on the prophecy-laden tablecloth, a high quality photo of which we send in the SD card with this missive.

We ask a lot, Keeper of the Appendices, mainly because we dare not leave the Oracle unattended or each other for very long, with that entity on the loose. Why it hasn't done more to affect us, we do not know.

Please advise,

C and C."

There shall be more...

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Notes From A Museum Trip

The Earth is amazingly old, roughly four thousand six hundred million years old in fact, a slowly cooling molten mass hanging in space that became our own miraculous habitat. Four thousand six hundred million years old! If that's not amazing, then how about this factoid: The oldest rock found on planet Earth is some gneiss (a metamorphic rock) found in the NW Territories of Canada, which is three thousand nine hundred and sixty two years old... Or it might be in Greenland at a slightly older age; it really depends who you believe. Wikipedia or Cardiff Museum?

Apparently, very old stone is hard to find on planet Earth due to the reformation process wherein volcanic and tectonic processes recycle massive amounts of geology. You only get the oldest rocks away from those danger zones, in the shield regions. Supposedly, the oldest rock in Britain only takes us back into forty-per-cent of the Earth's history, and the oldest one in Wales fifteen-per-cent. Do those percentages make sense? Well, I've not worked them through yet, but they're fascinating even if they're wrong.

Aren't museums wonderful? It was nice to spend the time after an OU tutorial today in wandering around Cardiff Museum and examining it all on a superficial basis. The first few visits to the museum contained a lot more scrutiny, but familiarity allows you just to go around semi-randomly, and make notes of interesting things. For some reason, the ages of rocks, and Wales' shortage of geological history popped out this time, as did the term 'submarine landslide'.

If only art galleries could be more interesting. It seems like most are filled with endless and rather uninteresting portraits, with only a few striking and different pieces that pop out. If I ever go to a gallery, I wander around disinterestedly, becoming attached to just one or two pieces, which are never portraits. Never, ever, portraits! Often they're landscapes or impressionistic, except for today when an Augustus John picture called 'May Earp' popped out. It was the most interesting picture in the gallery, except for predictable exceptions like a Monet or two... Art is probably more interesting than I've claimed in the past.

If you have time to spare, and there's a museum, then don't be afraid. There are fascinating things to be found.


Thursday, 13 October 2016

Television: 'Press Gang: Love And War' (1992) (Episode 4x04)

I've said previously that 'Press Gang' can be considered non-canonical after season two, mainly due to Lynda and Colin being pushed pretty far out into caricature land, Spike and Lynda becoming an unnatural focus, and the whole conceit of the show becoming ridiculous once the Junior Gazette laughably goes commercial. So far in my rewatch, this is the only episode to mock that judgement. This is another episode where Bad Things Happen and Silly Things Happen, but we also briefly get a nicer version of Lynda Day back. How long will she stay? It's hard to say, but it's nice to get her back briefly, even at the cost of a great trauma for Spike. You see, the Bad Thing is finally revealed to be the death of his father, back in the States.

It's not an episode that entirely works. Plainly, there's something seriously wrong with Spike that we're not being told, which is clearly evident within the episode itself, and as a result the Colin subplot of Silly Things falls very badly apart. Not even Colin is so deluded that he can be oblivious to just how distraught and upset Spike is in his grieving, is he? Really? When exactly did he become a subpar moron, anyway? It's not even a dangerous job that he foists onto Spike, once we see it. This iteration of Colin is a very long way removed from the one who saved the young girl in 'Something Terrible'. So, it's non-canonical still, but a step closer than usual to the original timeline.

Dexter Fletcher seems to be one of those actors who fell into the Cataclysmic Temporal Abyss of the 1990s. He was incredibly charming and witty, even with a fake American accent (or maybe because of it) in 'Press Gang', and then vanished. He's a director now, last responsible for the 'Eddie The Eagle' film of last year. This episode gives him the opportunity for a small masterclass in angst, while Julia Sawalha gets to look concerned for at least ten minutes. Yes, that's at least ten minutes of Lynda Day not being a manipulative obsessive tyrant! She's even nice! It's probably because Dexter's giving it everything for the first time since the second year of the show...

It's ultimately all an exercise in the narrative withholding of information, and a standard Moffat puzzle box, but it manages to be a very good episode. That Moffat is such a writer, adept at both linear and non-linear storytelling, that you sometimes forget that he's really just a regular human being, like the rest of us. He is, though, or at least we assume he is. This is more of an actor's episode though, due to the Colin flaw, and it being a 'bottle episode'. It's also an episode that holds out some hope for the last eight episodes of the show that remain. Maybe, just maybe, these remaining characters are coming home from the land of caricature? Just a little? Perhaps? We will have to wait and see.

I miss Kenny.


Tuesday, 11 October 2016

They Do It With Ink, Of Course

In a rare fit of old-timey worldliness, this post is being written in the middle of nowhere with the old fashioned and infinitely useful pen and paper. That's right, pigment on processed wood pulp! You can't beat the classics. As always, it's much more meditative out there in the wilds, with nothing but a cylinder of ink and a bicycle to protect you from the beasts and monsters of the wild. It's a nice small interlude of calm in an otherwise frantic few hours.

I wonder how they make ink in the twenty-first century? We have more colours now than they used to have. Are they breeding special squid, I wonder facetiously? Or would they be like those multi-coloured pens, where you pull down a switch for each colour. Hence, tentacle number one for black, number two for red, and so on? It's a thought.

The review of 'Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel' will be coming very soon, gentle readers of the Quirky Muffin. It's just a question of working out how to write about a book of radio scripts for a long-lost radio show from the 1930s, which is rendered even more complicated by the voices of Chico and Groucho Marx that permeate every line! They're trapped in the pages, and sometimes you wonder if Harpo isn't in there too, and Zeppo, propping things up and filling in bit parts... However, this should all be saved for the actual post!

It's nice out here, in the middle of the country, writing on a small bridge over the bicycle trail. If it weren't for the occasional cyclist it would be ideal. You get to ponder silly thoughts, examine silly ideas, and wonder how things got to be the way they are. How will it all end up? Who will win the Golden Waffle Iron of fate at the end of the political cycle? Will we stop the world burning up and ending this ice age prematurely? How will the unending Trump debacle end, and what bizarre shenanigans will his own side pull next to stop Corbyn getting anywhere? Why is string pale brown? Do sheep actually act sheepish? Do aliens watch our news like their own version of trashy reality television? Why can't people be silly anymore?

It's a strange place to live, isn't it? I guess it's time to go back to civilization.


Sunday, 9 October 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, XIV

( Part XIII , XV )

The Oracle lay in the tiny bed, looking small and delicate. He showed no signs of waking, but didn't seem in any danger. The two ninjas of health looked at him concernedly. The shop assistant had been taken to hospital earlier, once they had realised they could do nothing for her. There was no apparent cause for either of the illnesses!

"We can't just leave him here, you know." Said the Man.

"I know. And we can't take care of him ourselves without neglecting all our other wards. Well, not for long anyway."

"The thought of abandoning him to a regular hospital..."

The Woman thought, and thought some more. "What about the shop?"

"It will be taken care of. You make that call, and I'll prepare him for travel."

[Yes, I have completely lost track of this story at this point!]

*    *    *

The chapel, home of our two protagonists, was quieter than they remembered as they put their friend into the bed they used for visitors and difficult cases. He didn't stir at all, and just lay there, insensate.

"We still need to consult the Appendices. I hesitate to leave you alone, here where that Entity has already manifested once." The Man touched his companion's arm gently.

"And I would hesitate to leave you alone here too."

"There is something that we could do, without the Appendices, but I don't know if it's worthwhile."

"What? What do you mean?" The lady was always surprised when her protege pulled a rug out from under her. "You, sir, are keeping secrets!"

"No, but there was something that Ken told me, when I visited him after the novitiate. He mentioned an unexpected recovery after being immersed in the Mosaic." He looked awkward for a moment. "I've got some idea for it, but it's definitely 'blue sky thinking'."

"Ken was ever an experimentalist."

"Maybe it's in the Appendices..."

The two looked down at the Oracle once again.

"Let's write a letter." They said, in harmony once again.

To be continued...