Saturday, February 27, 2010


It wasn't fair that Rudy Larriva's very name would become a joke among animation fans, but that's what happened. Larriva, who passed away last week at the age of 94, had the misfortune to direct a series of Road Runner cartoons sub-contracted by Warner Bros. for theatrical release in the sixties. These are a far cry from Chuck Jones' original creations; these were low-rent time-killers, rightly regarded as some of the worst dreck ever distributed to theaters.

Larriva did absolutely nothing to distinguish these efforts, but really, how could he? The scripts were terrible, the budgets non-existent; there was no time, money or talent to emulate Jones' exquisite timing and characterization. Besides, it's not like Larriva was alone in turning out this crap. At the same time, Warners released a series of Daffy Duck/Speedy Gonzales cartoons directed by WB veteran Robert McKimson. No one uses this series as representative of McKimson's work, mostly because he'd done better things once. But then again, so had Larriva.

He started in the business as an animator for Jones himself, toiling away on several Sniffles The Mouse outings as well as the proto-Bugs Bunny entry Elmer's Pet Rabbit. He jumped ship to Disney, where he would be one of the army of animators credited on Song Of The South, the animated sequences of which remain some of the finest things the studio ever did.

His time there was short, but he was fortunate to find himself at the storied United Productions Of America, where he landed an animating gig on their first theatrical shorts, Robin Hoodlum and The Magic Fluke, both directed by the great John Hubley. Larriva served as an animator on Hubley's Ragtime Bear, the first Mr. Magoo cartoon, and would become a mainstay at the studio for several years, earning his first directing credits on later (and sadly, far less distinguished) Magoo cartoons.

This, then, was a fine career. Larriva had worked with some of the best, and they had relied on his solid professionalism. He wasn't a great animator, in the Ken Harris/Bill Tytla/Frank Thomas sense, but he could get the job done, and many great directors obviously respected him. How many people could say they worked with Chuck Jones and John Hubley? Rudy Larriva could!

So, as far as those Road Runner cartoons go, yeah, they're every bit as bad as their reputation. But work was hard to find for old studio hands in the sixties, when even Disney laid off many of its second-stringers. Larriva did the best he could under incredibly dire circumstances. And in any event, far worse was yet to come: In the seventies and eighties, he'd find himself employed by the likes of Filmation, Hanna-Barbera and Ruby-Spears, helping to crank out the likes of The New Adventures Of Gilligan, The Scooby And Scrappy-Doo Puppy Hour, Rubik The Amazing Cube and It's Punky Brewster. Nothing to be proud of, artistically, but at least he kept working in the medium to which he'd devoted his life.

Of course he did. Rudy Larriva was, above all, a professional.

Friday, February 19, 2010


I was surprised to find that someone had posted the entire 1973 TV movie Linda on YouTube. Here are the first ten minutes; if you're interested, you can easily find the rest.

This is a fine example of a typical seventies Movie Of The Week. It wasn't a "prestige" effort, and unlike some telefilms from the era (Duel, most obviously, but also such well-remembered gems as Dying Room Only or Night Chase), it has been almost completely forgotten even by hardcore cultists. Still, it is efficiently made, has a reasonably involving plot and is overall a worthwhile sampling of the much-missed workmanlike qualities of the era's TV product.

Yeah, yeah, which is great and all, but who am I trying to kid? I remember this movie very well, not because I watched it, but because its original broadcast was heralded by a full-page ad in TV Guide featuring a bikini-clad Stella Stevens smiling knowingly at the viewer. Since it was the sight of Stella traipsing through the otherwise dire comedy Arnold in her underwear earlier that year that caused my previously-inactive seven-year-old loins to, uh, do what they do, that ad prompted a similar warm feeling in my pants. And, by the next week, that particular TV Guide had been spirited away to a secret location (a long-abandoned chicken coop, and dear Lord, that sounds positively Ed Gein-like) where I used it to, shall we say, explore my nascent libido.

What's interesting--to me, at least--is, given that my first stirrings of lust were entirely due to Stella Stevens (and seriously, I sat through a lot of bad TV movies just because she was in them), in subsequent years, I've never had a thing for blondes. Since my initial concept of feminine allure were formed by a platinum-tressed goddess, you'd think there'd be some trace amounts of that long-ago longing in what I've been attracted to since, but that hasn't been the case.

Or maybe my feelings for Stella Stevens had nothing to do with her hair...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


This date is locked forever in my memory.

I don't remember when Dad died, exactly, or Keith, not the exact days. But with you, it was different. When Ann called me with the news, I stood for a minute staring out the window, at the ice and snow falling, the streets and houses five stories below so gray and cheerless, the whole world drained of color. Then, turning and looking around the apartment, my eyes stopped on the EC Comics calender on the wall. I grabbed a pen and circled February 16th, my hand pressing down harder and harder, the lines of ink so erratic they finally covered the number. I never wanted to forget this date, but I wanted to erase it at the same time.

How could I live without you, I wondered. Literally, how could I live? Was it worth it to continue? Should I just jump out the window, say the Big Adios? How could I function without the person who gave me life and would always give me strength?

You were, after all, the person I talked to the most, the keeper of my secrets, the one who knew me better than I knew myself. You were the one that bought me all those Big Chief tablets and encouraged me to fill them with whatever was in my head. You were the one that bought me that first issue of The Shadow. You took me to The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad, and listened to me talk about it all the way home, and allowed me to remain under its spell. You gave me not only The Catcher In The Rye but also Nine Stories, and you knew where that would lead.

And you were always there, whatever would befall me in my life, and you always listened and pointed the way. Whatever may have happened, I knew I could get out of it, because you would always be there, to give me a push, to say the right words, to make it better. weren't there. I kept staring at the calender, at the window, the ground so far below. And the pictures on the wall, and the clock, and the bed, these surroundings that now seemed so meaningless. How would I make sense of all this now? Who would tell me everything was okay?

The moment passed, and the next one. They kept passing, until now: Four years have gone by. I miss you, but not so much, not anymore. Life, well, it really does go on, and there have been some wonderfully unexpected destinations. And the whole journey has been weird because it seems as though I've discovered a strength inside myself, a resiliency I've never known. Maybe your passing was the very thing I needed. In your very absence, you still point the way.

Monday, February 15, 2010


There's a great book to be written about The Simpsons, about the disparate group of personalities who created the show, how they achieved an amazingly consistent run of quality for several years, and how one by one its greatest creative talents exited, and the sad slide of a once-great show into continuing mediocrity.

John Ortved's The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History is most certainly not that book.

The most obvious mistake Ortved made when writing this was to tell the story as an oral history. Why? When examining the genesis and influence of a particular creative work, a singular voice is needed, a critical independent mind, someone capable of sifting through the agendas of various former staffers and arriving at some sort of truth, and a writer well-versed enough in TV history to analyze the impact The Simpsons may or may not have had on the medium.

Instead, Ortved mostly just talked to a bunch of people--some only tangentially connected to the show--and cobbled their conversations together in the most arbitrary manner imaginable. True, Tom Wolfe did a guest voice on a late-period episode, but how are his comments even vaguely relevant?

More damagingly, Ortved couldn't get interviews with the key creative personnel--Matt Groening, James L. Brooks or Sam Simon--and tries to make do with interviews they'd conducted elsewhere. (Except for Simon, who's never given an interview about his time on the show, and whose absence seriously undermines the wisdom of the whole oral history concept.) But since these interviews often seem to be taken out of context, what they have to say is often made to look bad. (Ortved seems to have a particular dislike for Brooks.)

In fact, there are no fresh interviews with any of the best-known writers from the show's heyday--George Meyer, John Swartzwelder and Jon Vitti are only heard from second-hand. Ortved's biggest "get" is Conan O'Brien, whose tenure with the show was relatively brief, and has little of interest to say. (Probably not O'Brien's fault; given everything else wrong with the book, I suspect he simply wasn't asked the right questions.) But hey, we spend lots of time talking to various execs from Fox, and learn all about how the show got on the air--as if that's the story anybody wants to hear.

The absolute worst parts of the book, though, are when Ortved's own voice emerges to try to supply some kind of connective tissue. Simply put, he doesn't know what he's talking about. He has absolutely no knowledge of animation history--which would be useful when writing about a cartoon show--and the things he presents as Absolute Truths about TV history are wrong, wrong, wrong.

He claims The Simpsons was unique in sitcom history for its caustic worldview, though everything from Sgt. Bilko to Buffalo Bill prove otherwise. He wants us to believe that the show appeared fully-formed in a sea of prime time mediocrity, though its first season was wobbly and the network landscape already included Cheers, Roseanne, The Wonder Years and an early incarnation of Seinfeld. (True, none of these shows were as good as The Simpsons at its best, but they weren't chopped liver.) He seems convinced that The Simpsons single-handedly ushered in a new wave of series driven primarily by their writing staffs, although that's pretty much the whole history of TV ever.

That last point is particularly laughable. At one point, Ortved implies that The Sopranos and The West Wing were somehow made possible by The Simpsons, that it alone made TV a respectable medium for writers. Leaving aside such well-respected Golden Age scribes as Paddy Chayefsky and Rod Serling--Ortved would consider such names ancient history--what about MASH, which was clearly Larry Gelbart's show, or Jay Tarses' Days And Nights Of Molly Dodd...or Taxi, with a staff of writers that included James L. Brooks and Sam Simon?

In fact, the evidence of Ortved's own book shows that writers weren't particularly respected at any point in the history of The Simpsons, since every script would be punched up a string of gagmen, and the credited author often had nothing to do with the final episode. No one voice could ever emerge, no one individual would ever be considered the auteur of the show. It's not the only way to do a show, but it worked just fine for many, many years. Just how it managed to work is a story that fans have been waiting to hear.

And thanks to Ortved, they're still waiting.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


I know, psychologically, how this dream was formed. I did my taxes last night, for the first time as a home buyer, which meant I found myself poring over all the details of when I bought the house, and reliving in my mind the anxiety of those months when it was never certain whether financing would actually come through.

So in the dream, I attempted to buy a house. It was located in a small Iowa town--Casey, apparently, based on the layout--which improbably contained an Indian restaurant, a Milio's sandwich shop and a sprawling indie bookstore with a large film section, but was otherwise a typical Midwestern burg, well-stocked with overall-wearing farmers.

One of which was my real-estate agent, portrayed by a straw-hatted Slim Pickens, who explained to me that, yes, I would almost certainly acquire the property, but there was a waiting period before I could take possession. In the meantime, he showed me the temporary housing he'd located for me: A shack. More specifically, the crawlspace under a shack, which was itself located inside a squirrel-infested corn crib. "There's no electricity, but yuh can see okay durin' the day. Yuh ain't claustrophobic, are yuh?"

The next day, I returned to the shack, accompanied by Mom, who was helping me move. As soon as we got to the shack, we noticed it, the corn crib and indeed the entire town plastered with Old Timey Wanted posters. "Hobos and Vagrants will be SHOT ON SIGHT," the posters claimed, and at the bottom was a crude line drawing of me.

Mom noticed my real estate agent had left me with a week's worth of entertainment during my stay--a box full of Max Brand novels!--then made ready to leave. "But Mom," I said, "don't you feel weird leaving me here? I may be killed."

"Nature takes its course," she shrugged, and walked slowly away. I watched her until she simply vanished, and I realized I was no longer in a corn crib in an unfamiliar town. I stood in the shallow ditch beside the rutted lane of the farm where I was raised. A familiar engine sounded in the distance: The school bus. My dog Spinner ran to greet it. I heard it slowing down.

I knew I was about to see myself, clad in a sweatshirt and striped pants, happy and romping with Spinner. I knew this would overwhelm me, either with joy or despair. Either extreme seemed too much to bear.

So I opened my eyes, and heard Delmar's paws clunking in the other room, and I knew I was awake. I stayed in bed several minutes more, listening to cars on the snow-coated streets, their tires hissing, hissing.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Does anybody, anywhere, have any interest at all in another Mission: Impossible movie?

Probably not, but we're getting one anyway. While it may be true that, as Paramount's press release notes, the first three entries in the franchise have made well over a billion dollars worldwide, they are textbook examples of the kind of blockbuster entertainment nobody really likes. Audiences, primed by pricey and seemingly endless marketing blitzes, show up, sit in the theater for two hours and go home, remembering not a single thing about the experience.

They're not bad movies, but they hew to the action movie template so closely, with explosions, chases and love scenes arriving at exactly the expected moments, that in all three previous outings they have yet to fashion any kind of identity, as a brand name or even as Tom Cruise vehicles. The first in the series remains the least interesting thing Brian DePalma has ever directed, the second offered proof that John Woo's American career was going nowhere, while the third--oh, who the hell cares? I've seen the damned thing, and I can't remember a single thing about it.

I doubt anybody could. But the suits in Hollywood don't care. If there are a few dollars to be squeezed out of a franchise nobody likes, they'll squeeze like there's no tomorrow. It's so much easier than being, you know, creative.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


She sits cross-legged on the bed, crying softly. I sit on the edge of the bed, feet on the floor, arms to my side, making no move to comfort her. I'm the reason she's crying, after all.

It's been a difficult day for her, emotionally. I understand that. It's the anniversary of her husband's death, her emotionally and physically abusive husband, and this day must have brought more demons to the surface than usual, especially since she received a phone call before I arrived from one of her now near-adult children, a kid taken away from her long ago when she was declared an unfit mother.

So maybe it wasn't the best day for me to tell her I had no interest in continuing our relationship. Friends, sure, but nothing more than that. But she'd kind of forced my hand, as we spent the long afternoon visiting the gravesites of her husband, her father, assorted cousins and seemingly anyone she'd ever known, and she spent the time talking of all the mistakes she'd made, and how things would be better in the future, and how that future would include me.

"How could you say that?" she says at last, her voice raw and low from crying. "How could you say this today?"

"I wanted to be honest. You think there's a future for us, and...there's not."

"How do you know that? How do you know there couldn't be?"

"There are...reasons. Don't make me say them, not now. They'll just upset you more. I don't want to hurt you."

"You don't?" She whips around, her legs suddenly uncurled, and looks as though she might fling me off the bed. "The fuck you don't. Why the fuck else would you say this to me, today of all days?"

"Because all day long you've been talking about how things will somehow be better for you because of this magical entity of us together, and I've been trying to think of a nice way of saying there is us, there is no future. But there's no nice way to say it, so instead of letting you down easy, I went ahead and let you down rough. And I'm sorry. For everything."

"But I love you, Edward--"

"No, you don't. You love your idea of me, and you love that I'm there for you and I listen to you, and you want someone in your life so bad you've built this image of me in your mind, but it's not me. You can't love me, not really. You don't even know me."

"I know you better than you think."


She curls back up on the bed, no longer angry or sad, her voice full of resignation. "I knew you'd do this."

Saturday, February 06, 2010


Though the world was thrown into a state of almost terminal indifference earlier this week with the news that Fall Out Boy might be breaking up, the scrappy, ink-stained scribes at the Associated Press have managed to score an interview with the deeply uninteresting band's barely-sentient bassist, pretty boy and Joe Simpson son-in-law Pete Wentz, who is eager to point out that FOB isn't necessarily breaking up so much as...Well, let's let Pete have his say:

"I'm OK if Fall Out Boy comes back or doesn't come back. Like, if it's fun for everyone to do again, we're going to do it...I just want it to be authentic when we come back."

Yeah. Authentic. Because if there's one thing Fall Out Boy stands for, it's authenticity. Their pledge to, like, get their fans moving, or whatever, is something Wentz and his faceless bandmates take, you know, seriously. But not so serious that it's, like, whatever. You know?

I should point out here that people have made me aware of my tendency to use the words "Fall Out Boy" as a synonym for "shitty band", and that I seem to hate them out of all proportion to their actual non-worth. But that's just it--they're not even interesting enough to be bad. They're proudly, solidly mediocre, crafting product, not art, and they're not even particularly skilled artisans. In that sense, they're a contemporary version of REO Speedwagon or Kansas, doomed to a future of playing some Aughts Nostalgia Circuit.

Meanwhile, I'll start using 30 Seconds To Mars as my shorthand reference to a shitty band.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


Ive been dog-sitting again, and while I could try to describe how the presence of an adorable, rambunctious canine turns poor Delmar's world upside down, I'll just post another Chuck Jones cartoon to give you a rough approximation. As always with Jones, the keenly accurate observation of character traits makes this soar: Yes, dogs are that cute, and yes, cats are scheming bastards. (Well, not all cats, but if you knew Delmar...)