Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

I Love Lucy

Today would have been comedienne Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday.  It’s said that she can be seen on television somewhere around the world any moment of the day, most likely in her classic series I Love Lucy.

Growing up in the 60’s, it was not a personal favorite of mine.  It seemed very old compared to the sitcoms of the day with its very 1950’s settings , hairdos and clothing.  The credits seemed dark and the theme music didn’t have the goofy jingle quality of the 1960’s sitcoms that I watched at the time.   But that was the perception of a child.  Over the years these ideas have faded away and the show  began to shine for me as the classic it always has been.

I Love Lucy became the template that most sitcoms tried to emulate and most ended being mere shadows of Lucy.  The show had everything– a deep and talented cast, great writers, and great production values.

And Lucy.

The more I watch this show, the more I appreciate the immense talents  of Lucille Ball.  Her comedic timing is perfect and her naturalness on camera pulls you in.  In lesser hands, her title character could have appeared irritating and might have turned off her audience but Lucille Ball made them love her flaws and identify with the way she often found herself  finding improbable trouble.

Her physical comedy was remarkable.  She was trained as a dancer and you could see it most shows as she moved gracefully through the sets and danced with husband Ricky.  But when she danced for comedic effect, it was pure brilliance and a testimony to her  to her talents as a dancer.  I still outright laugh at some of the dancing  bits even though I’ve seen them over and over. 

I often think of her when I head out to Erie, PA and pass through the area where she was born and raised around Jamestown in western New York.  It’s an area that is surrounded by a rural emptiness that most people don’t associate with New York and I can imagine how a young and talented girl in the Roaring 20’s might have dreamed of escaping to the bright lights of NYC or Hollywood.  Well, she did but she did return and is buried in Jamestown, not far from the museum there that honors her and Desi Arnaz.

Anyway, here’s to Lucy on her 100th.  May your show forever run.

Here’s her theme song with lyrics sung by Ricky in a n episode.  The actual theme music was an instrumental piece but the lyrics capture the memory of the show well.

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The current debt limit debate that’s currently taking place in our nations’s capital somehow brings to mind the TV series from the early 70’s, Kung Fu.  It featured the late David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine, a young man living in the mid-19th century whose father was an American and his mother Chinese.  Orphaned at an early age, he is trained as a Shaolin monk in both Eastern wisdom and martial arts.  When his spiritual mentor, Master Po (…take the pebble from my hand, Grasshopper…), is killed by the Emperor’s nephew, Caine exacts revenge and is forced to flee to America to find his half-brother. The show followed Caine as he traveled through the Old West trying to pass quietly yet always coming  face to face with hateful bullies who seem immune to the wisdom that Caine delivers in a cool and calm manner.

You probably see where this is going.  In our own scenario, I think President Obama has taken on the role of Kwai Chang Caine and has tried to deal with the situation with rational thought and actions.  He has remained cool and calm yet it has brought no response.  Like most bullies, logic makes little impression and a calm response is seen as weakness which only spurs on even more aggressive bullying behavior.

That’s where we are in our own episode.  Caine has faced the bullies, delivered some tidbits of Zen wisdom and is told by the bullies to get out the way because they were going to burn down the town and everyone in it, including Caine.  It is time for Caine to act.

Now, as much as I enjoyed the little spoonfuls of wisdom that Caine administered each week, I watched the show as teenager to see him ultimately beat the hell out the bullies, to dish out deserved social justice in a whoop-ass manner.  As much as I admire the calm rationale of  President Obama, he must now stand up to those bullies who have taken our system hostage, who have said that their way is the only way.  He must stop talking ,  bloody the bullies’ noses and take the club from their hands.  Exert power–that is what they understand, the only thing they respect and fear. 

Invoke the 14th and simply raise the debt limit.  Just do it.  You given us the aphorisms, we’ve heard the words.  But the bullies are still threatening to burn down the town and get rid of you in the process.  It’s the part of the show where you’re supposed to kick some asses and kick them hard. 

Do it.  This town needs to get back to work.

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I grew up reading the humor of Jean Shepherd, the man behind the movie, A Christmas Story, now a holiday staple around Christmas.  I remember seeing his books in the library when I was just a teen and being pulled in by the titles, like Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash

Many of Shepherd’s stories about growing up in a small midwestern city were put together for a film in the early 1980’s.  Called The Great American Fourth of July (and Other Disasters), it was shown on PBS and starred Matt Dillon as Shepeherd’s alter ego, Ralphie.  If you’ve seen A Christmas Story the characters will be very familiar.  It opens with Shepherd driving down I-95 approaching that iconic tourist trap, South of the Border in South Carolina, as an introduction to his 4th of July saga.  Anyone who has ever made the trip north or south on 95 has witnessed the seemingly neverending barrage of billboards for Pedro’s paradise.

All in all, it was a very funny film and a great view of Americana but unfortunately is not on DVD and is seldom seen.  You can see it on Youtube in six 10 minute clips.  It’s not the greatest way to see something but if you enjoy the humor of Jean Shepherd it’s worth the effort.  Here’s the first part:

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Growing up, cigarette ads were commonplace in every form of advertising.   You couldn’t flip on the TV without seeing an ad for the smoothest, coolest smokes going at the time.  Camels were the cigarette of choice in our house, long before the coming of Joe Camel.  One uncle of mine smoked Lucky Strikes, another Newports although I might be confusing this one with a Parliament.  An aunt smoked Raleighs with their classy packages with an image of Sir Walter Raleigh and the coupons which she saved for years and years.

 I never knew why any of them made their specific choices, what might have spurred them to say that they felt that their Camel was superior to a Winston or a Kool.  It had to be the image they felt each brand projected rather than some difference in taste or quality.  So it’s always interesting to see early advertising to see how this perceived image came about.  The Marlboro Man is the classic example.  It was easy to see how one might identify with that image of the rugged individualist.  But the Camel? Or Sir Walter Raleigh?  What made them see themselves in that choice?

Maybe it was just a choice made on scientific data, as this ad from the earliest days of television points out.  To our slightly more wary eyes today this ad seems ridiculous but in the 50’s these outrageous claims made by the cigarette companies filled the airwaves.  In a curious way, I miss this blatant huckstering…

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I wasn’t going to post anything today but when I flipped on the television first thing this morning to check out the news an episode of “I Love Lucy” was on with Ricky singing a beautiful song called Similau.  I’ve seen every episode of the show many, many times over the years and am always amazed at how talented Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were.

Everyone knows about Lucy’s comedic sklils but it’s her dancing that I really admire.  She plays up the clumsiness in her  comedy dance routines creating bits that make me laugh every time I see them.  But periodically she flashes the grace and movement of a real dancer.  I don’t think a less talented dancer could create the comedic effect of her often failed dance attempts on the show.

Desi also flashed his wonderful talents on the show, both as a comedian and a real entertainer.  There are a number of his performances of songs on the show that I find really really fascinating with their Cuban beats that were popular in that time.  Of course, there was his signature Babalu but it’s songs like this one, Similau, that captivate me.  Not what you’d expect from one of the most popular sitcoms of all time.

I couldn’t find the version of the song from the show which featured a really interesting and more pronounced rhythmic counterpoint but this is an equally fine version taken from the Peggy Lee radio  show of that time. 

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Last night on The Colbert Report, Paul Simon appeared and played a new Christmas  song called Getting Ready For Christmas.  Before singing he explained that it was based on a sermon from December of 1941, in the weeks after Pearl Harbor.  The preacher was the Reverend J.M. Gates, a fire-and-brimstone Baptist from Atlanta who was famous for recordings of his sermons in the years before his death in 1945.  I don’t know much about him.  Actually, I had never heard the name before last night.

But the song Simon played was pretty good and there were samples of Gates’ recordings in the background at certain points in the performance that intrigued me.  I don’t know exactly which sermon Simon sampled but there are several examples of Gates’ work online.  One, Death’s Black Train Is Coming, was his bestseller and is a great example.  My favorite however is Hitler and Hell which plays very well in the video off the sound of the footsteps of the jackbooted figure that goes through the darkness in it.  I’m thinking that one of the recordings in the advertisement shown here might be the one used in Simon’s song.  Will Your Coffin Be Your Santa Claus! sounds like it might be the one.  Funny, that with such a catchy title it never caught on like Jingle Bell Rock or  Grandma Got Ran Over By a Reindeer.

Anyway, gives a listen to the Rev. Gates, if you are so inclined and here’s Paul Simon’s new song, Getting Ready For Christmas.  It’s a very watchable video.

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A few weeks ago, at the gallery talk at the Principle Gallery, I was trying to explain my process and how my work comes around to being what it is and why there is often a repetition of form and subject.  It’s a difficult thing to describe and has always evaded the limit of my words.  In doing so that day I used an example of an apt description that I had seen once on televison and had written of in this blog.

It was from a segment on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery series called Wallander: Sidetracked starring Kenneth Branagh as a Swedish police detective involved in solving a series of murders.  There is a point at the end where he is forced to shoot and kill the killer who is a disturbed and abused young man.  Wallander (Branagh) is deeply affected by this and goes to see his father, played by the great British character actor David Warner (I’ll always remember him best as Evil in the film Time Bandits from  Terry Gilliam) who is shown above.  He is a painter of landscapes and is struggling with the onset of Alzheimer’s.

While trying to find a way to comfort his distraught son, the father reminds him of the times when Wallander as a child would ask why he painted what he did, why they were always the same.  He gives an answer that struck me deeply when I first heard it because it was so near to the heart of what I do as a painter.

 I used this example that day and as I describing the scene to the folks there at the talk, I was wishing I could just show them the scene to better illustrate what I had meant.  Anyway, I was able to find the scene which is definitely enhanced by camerawork and background music. I hope it gets the point across as well as I think it does.

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The Mothers-In-Law

Sometimes when I’m looking for something for this blog I come across other things that distract me like a shiny object flashed in front of an infant.  Whatever I was seeking is forgotten and I’m off on a new tangent.  Such is the case today.

I was looking for a piece of film of a 60’s garage band when I stumbled on this.  It’s from the short-lived television series The Mothers-In-Law which ran from1967-1968.  It was an unremarkable but funny sitcom starring Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard as mismatched in-laws of a young married couple.  I remember watching it as a kid and enjoying it but can’t remember anything specific.  It was just there.

I only bring it up because of this clip featuring the TV family somehow hosting the 60’s band The Seeds in their living room, where the band performs their garage classic Pushin’ Too Hard.   It’s a great bit of kitschy television, the kind of moment that the 60’s TV often produced.  It’s almost as good as the clip from the Mike Douglas Show with a performance of Mustang Sally by a band called The Cavemen, dressed in goofy Fred Flintstone costumes.  What the heck, I’ll throw that in as well.

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The term bucket list has become very popular over the last several years.  I suppose everyone has things they would love to do before they kick the bucket, fantasies they want to fulfill.  I don’t have anything formalized myself, anything written down, but a few weeks ago I saw something on television that I might have to have at the top of the page if I ever were to assemble such a list.

Yell at the moon with Buzz Aldrin.

In a recent episode of the NBC sitcom 30 Rock, Liz Lemon, Tina Fey’s character, discovers that her mother in her younger days had been in love with Buzz Aldrin and sets out to reunite them.  When Liz finally meets Buzz, he tells her how awful her mother’s life would have been had she stayed with him and that she was lucky to have left.  Having always fantasized about marrying her own aerospace hero, the imaginary Astronaut Mike Dexter, Liz is disappointed and seeing this Buzz asks her if she would like to yell at the moon with him.

“I walked on your face!” Aldrin yells as the two stand looking at the moon from a lofty apartment in NYC as the moon hovers in the daylight.

“I own you!”

“Stupid moon!” Liz chimes in.

I know it’s goofy.  And even though Aldrin’s delivery is a little stiff and stilted, it reminded me of the way Chief Dan George spoke and acted  in Little Big Man.  There’s something in it that feels honest and sincere that makes it more endearing. Unreal but real.  And the idea of Buzz Aldrin, the wizened old astronaut standing in the window and yelling out at the moon as though it were a living being to him, as though it were a kid he was shooing off his lawn, has an almost mythic quality.  This feels magical to me.  It would be great to be able to stand, next to Buzz Aldrin,  there and tell the moon where it could go.

So, if I ever get down to making a bucket list, that would have to be at the top.  Especially since Edmund Hillary is dead.  I would have loved yelling at Mt. Everest with him.

Stupid mountain…


PS: The painting at the top of this post is a new piece, A Time to Rest, and is about 11″ by 15″ on paper.  It will be shown at the Principle Gallery show in June.

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I  have many guilty pleasures, things that I enjoy but am hesitant to admit to others for various reasons.  I don’t know if the television series Breaking Bad , which starts it’s third season tonight on AMC, qualifies if only for the fact that the word pleasure doesn’t seem to fit the viewing experience.

Unsettling.  Disturbing.  These words seemed like a better fit.  And fascinating, always fascinating, despite the uneasy hellscape in which you find yourself immersed.

For those unfamiliar, Breaking Bad is the story of Walter White, a struggling high school chemistry teacher in New Mexico who discovers that he has malignant cancer and in order to provide for his family, which includes a baby and a teenage son with cerebral palsy, turns his chemistry knowledge towards the production of crystal meth.  It’s basically the story of a good person who makes the decision to compromise his beliefs for what he views as good reason and must deal with the transformations and unintended consequences of that decision.

And there are transformations.  And consequences.

I think that’s the appeal of the show.  It’s about a seemingly normal person with good intentions that we can all identify with in some way.  He could easily be someone we know, someone we nod to on the street or chat with at the supermarket.  But his initial bad decision has placed him a labyrinth where every subsequent decision sends him in veering directions that take him further and further from his intended destination.  It’s something that many people who’ve made drastically wrong choices in their lives often encounter although most will never encounter the often horrifying circumstances that accompany Walt’s oddyssey.  When you see where Walt finds himself, you look at your own life and breath a sigh of relief.

And maybe that’s the attraction.

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