Friday, December 22, 2017

The heightened cartoon-brilliant art direction of "Dick" (1999)

Has anyone checked in with Dick lately? Directed by Andrew Fleming from a script by Fleming and Sheryl Longin, starring young Michelle Williams and even younger Kirsten Dunst as endearingly dumb best friends, Dick came and went in 1999.

Mashing together the teen comedy with political satire is a challenging task and Dick struggles with its premise, especially attempting to answer the question of who is the audience for this movie: Teens living on the cusp of the 21st century, who have little to no knowledge of the Watergate scandal and its myriad of corrupt players? Adults who lived through the 1970s, watching as intrepid journalists and the legal branch took down paranoid would-be despot Richard Milhouse Nixon? No one was sure how to market this one for maximum audience.

One aspect of this film is crystal clear in its premise and its execution—the art direction by Lucinda Zak, who took all that was hideous, deformed, brilliantly muddy and wrong-headed about 1970s style and ran straight down the field for touchdown after touchdown with it. If you're looking for a feast of 70s oddities for the eyes, this is your movie; sit back and enjoy.

A slew of amazing comedy talent co-starred as historical figures of the Nixon White House era, including Will Ferrell as Bob Woodward, Bruce McCulloch as Carl Bernstein, Dave Foley as Bob Haldeman, Ana Gasteyer as Rose Mary Woods, Harry Shearer as G. Gordon Liddy, which is a comedy of riches, but then it's all topped off by Dan Hedaya just throwing himself into the role of Dick Nixon, plus the great Teri Garr as a Watergate-Hotel dwelling single mom who, like most of the adults in this would-be teen-comedy/political satire, has no idea what's going on under her very nose.

And now, Dick.

Title features a manual typewriter with psychedelic bubble font

Our protagonists, bubbly Betsy Jobs (Dunst) and her romantic best friend Arlene Lorenzo (Williams) are two high-school sophomores who can't wait to win a date with their idol Bobby Sherman. But when they sneak outside of Arlene's Watergate apartment's bedroom to mail in their contest entry, stumbling upon a late-night break-in, fate has other plans in store for them.

The detail in every upper middle-class set of this film is astonishing. Note Arlene's trendy TV and bedroom phone (both luxuries in the inflated 70s) alongside her crafty Bobby Sherman shrine.

According to the DVD commentary (yes, as a dedicated chronicler of obscure film history, I listened to that) a warehouse full of period-era polyester fabrics was discovered pre-production and so Dunst and Williams were treated to a wardrobe of custom-made clothes made from unbreathable synthetic fabrics—great way to get into character—the 70s were colorful but uncomfortable for most of us.

Some major polyester going on here

This is a cartoon version of the Watergate scandal, but perhaps that's what's needed after a dark political corruption storm of this magnitude. Wait, was I just describing the early 70s or today? Either way, over time, the sociopaths at the center of corruption tend to look more absurd (but just as creepy) with hindsight. And also, look at the 70s—this art direction is only a slight exaggeration of certain 70s concepts, and when I say slight, I mean the width of a polyester thread.

Betsy gets the "cool" history teacher and it shows in her presentation.

While poor Arlene gets the "uptight" teacher. This was the extreme cultural divide that we found ourselves in after the social upheaval of the 60s.

Betsy and Arlene are solidly upper middle-class and have plenty of leisure time to enjoy the latest in 70s fads and fashions. The last of the baby boomers, allowance-dollars in hand, had plenty of recreational and consumer activities to partake in. I don't know who on the film crew painted and lit this roller rink, but I want to shake your hand.

A typical (hyper-real) hip girl's room of the era. Canopy bed, lots of orange, textiles, pastels, brights, patterns, flowers and a collie lamp to add a touch of whimsy.

The heady days of trying to make sense of a world gone mad through the prism of girlhood friendship.

Featuring David Cassidy fandom. RIP.

Ana Gasteyer as Nixon's extremely dedicated secretary Rose Mary Woods.

Dick sets in motion a series of events that filter the Watergate scandal through the actions of two bumbling sub-intelligent girls. It's purposefully silly as hell, but the girls, as performed by Dunst and Williams, are endearing. And their dum-dum legacy is a sort of prequel to another cult film Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, which remains the pinnacle of dumb friendship movies as far as I'm concerned.

Nixon recorded everything he said—leading to the downfall of a paranoid would-be zealot

More polyester in our nation's capitol.

Ryan Reynolds, in one of many effective and very funny small roles, and a muscle car.

And here's a typical teen-boy room of the era. Trophies, plastic skulls, groovy love poster all framed in brown plaid (not shown: beer bong).

According to the DVD commentary, once Will Ferrell was on board playing straight-laced Bob Woodward to Bruce McCulloch's preening, narcissist Carl Bernstein, a flock of funny people joined the fray.

Best use of Yes's "I've Seen All Good People" in a scene of journalistic triumph

Comedy goddess Teri Garr, long may she reign.

This Watergate Hotel room cannot get any more 70s than this

Also on hand is Devon Gummersall as Betsy's stoner brother Larry, who might be the most insightful person in this satirical world, albeit while being very, very high.

Do you like brown? Then you'll love the 70s

Dan Heydaya firing all his guns as, at the time of filming, one of our freakiest most corrupt Presidents.

I would never make any effort to rehabilitate Nixon's image. He was a criminal, a freak, and deeply flawed on many levels. But the orange person currently residing in the White House makes Nixon look a lot more like an actual human. Sad.

Just here for the poncho in the foreground. My aunt made me one of these for Christmas one year and I was kicking it in second grade in my swinging poncho—thanks Auntie Joan.

A tight shot of a period department store demonstrates what creative art direction and a decent budget can accomplish.

For the girls, the Watergate conspiracy comes to its ultimate conclusion. At the mall. Which is very 70s.

So long, Dick.

In conclusion, I would like to see Kirsten Dunst and Ryan Reynolds do more comedy—they have the chops and they're both so effortlessly charismatic onscreen. I would also like to update Dick for the Trump era and I would call it Shit. But that's just a working title. And the story would begin in the 80s, because imagine the art direction!

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Songs About Treating Women Right

Everyone coming forward with your testimonies of sexual abuse and harassment, I honor your courage and thank you for helping all of us to make a better world for women (and men) going forward. Speaking out is so hard, but as painful as it is, it seems to be having more of an affect than at any other time in our history.

This is a story that happened when I was 16 years old in 1980. I was bussing tables at a somewhat fancy little French restaurant in Clayton, California, where the prices were high, the food  sub-par, and the owners not top-quality people. It was only one in what would become a series of shitty jobs of my youth, but at the time I didn't realize that. It was my third job though, and they were all turning out to be awful experiences due to unscrupulous, sexist, cruel and unlawful creep bosses.

My co-worker, another teenage girl from my class, who I'll call Joanne, came running out of the kitchen one night, and into a dark hallway that led to the dining area, chased by the scuzzy old chef who all gave us the creeps and looked like a decrepit wax image of Keith Moon from the demon universe. He was, as usual, very drunk, and proceeded to chase her down to do something horrid to her. He cornered her and kissed her, trapping her with his hands, which Jesus, the horror, especially because he was oily and three times our age. She screamed and slapped at him and managed to escape his clutches, marching through the dining room to the bar, where our boss was pretending to be a jolly proprietor alongside his brittle wife.

There at the bar, shaking and white-faced, Joanne told our boss what had just happened, ignoring the stares of the diners around us. Our boss listened, expressionless, while she squared herself and shakily described her assault, finding her strength by declaring, "And THAT ISN'T RIGHT!" I was standing there, probably holding a plate with escargot shells rolling around, my mouth hanging open. Joanne's bravery in the face of grotesquely inappropriate behavior really froze my feet to the floor. I had already learned, at age 16, that there was little to no recourse for such things. I had internalized and surmised that we were supposed to take it for the rest of our lives if we wanted to have a job.

Rudy told Joanne he'd take care of it. Hah, I thought, I bet. Keep in mind my boss had once told me that "sure, Hitler did some bad things, but he did invent a car that most people could afford." And he had been sued by a former busser (always teenage girls at that restaurant—they never hired boys) for back wages after our boss and his coworker friends had kept all the tips for themselves. He had already reneged on this lawsuit, within a year of losing the case, by keeping all of our tips now that the original busser had moved on to greener employment pastures. So I wasn't expecting much other than the chef would get a scolding, Joanne would probably quit, and we'd all continue to be terrorized by the lech in the kitchen.

But I was wrong. our boss returned from the kitchen, assuring Joanne that he had fired the chef. Right then. He was gone. Wow, I thought--that was decisive. He also apologized to Joanne. He did the right thing, out of sudden moral imperative, or fear of another lawsuit. We went back to work, and didn't get any tips still, but at least the chef was never to return. It was a powerful moment for me, knowing even a crumb-bum like our boss could step up and do the right thing by firing the miscreant immediately.

But mostly I was impressed by Joanne for not hesitating one instant to report the abuse. She went from being attacked to reporting it all in one swift motion, channeling her anger and indignation for the greater good. What a brave girl. I salute you, Joanne (not her real name), and wish you the best, as I wish the best to all people who come forward for yourselves and for the rights of all of us. Hail.

Let us pay tribute with song.

Lesley Gore - "You Don't Own Me" (1963) The classic "Back off, Jack, I'm my own person and don't you forget it" sentiment from waaaay back in 1963, predating the second-wave feminist movement by nearly a decade. Nice work, Lesley Gore.

Jeannie C. Riley - "Harper Valley PTA" (1968) Jeannie C. Riley is not putting up with hypocritical small-town values judging her. It doesn't matter what she wears or who she dates. You can hear it in her voice.

Aretha Franklin - "Do Right Women, Do Right Man" (1967) There should be a statue if Aretha Franklin in the Public Mall in Washington D.C. and as comedian/social-activist Greg Proops has rightfully proposed, our National Anthem should be a different Aretha Franklin song every day.  I concur.

Pat Benatar - "Treat Me Right" (1980) Pat Benatar! She burst on the scene, her husband and collaborator Neil Giraldo playing gnarly guitar leads behind her onstage, showcasing the crazy-wide vocal range coming from her petite but mighty presence. She's always had one of those voices that cuts through a lot of bullshit in the music biz—no breathy little-girl vocals for Pat Benatar. Her new song "Shine," inspired by the Women's March 2016, is priced at 69 cents to highlight the wage gap for women. Proceeds benefit a nonprofit that supports women going into public service and government. Give it up for Pat Benatar, people.

Donna Summer - "She Works Hard for the Money" (1983) Donna Summer was a huge star on the dance floor during her long run throughout the 70s and early 80s, but she never got the critical acclaim she deserved. I remember one reviewer stating her voice didn't "have much of a range." I'm still livid. Her phrasing was Sinatra-like in its understated manner. When you heard a Donna Summer song on the radio, your brain immediately perked up and you knew it was her. She was distinct, soulful and commanding. Someone kindly uploaded her Grammy performance of "She Works Hard For The Money" with the dance line of working women. I admit that I may have slightly teared up a wee bit the first time I saw this video on MTV. I mean, its theme was rare. It still is. Thank you, Donna Summer.

Queen Latifah - "U.N.I.T.Y." (1993) Who is the most charismatic personality of the 90s? Queen Latifah, that's who, and she lives up to her name, looking regal whether hanging from a crane, leading the neighborhood down the street, riding a motorcycle in leather, or demanding respect from men in no uncertain terms. I love her.

Janelle Monáe - "Q.U.E.E.N." feat. Erykah Badu (2013) Janelle Monáe wants to be her freaky funky self in sci-fi history-referencing black & white menswear, without being judged, thank you very much.

If you need help, the National Domestic Hotline is a resource. You can also report abuse to your doctor and get a referral for services.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

From Hell It Came - Hieronymus Bosch Butt Music

In 2014, a major milestone in music and art history was reached when a music student named Amelia Hamrick attending Oklahoma Christian University took precious time out of her study schedule to transcribe the musical notation written across the butt of one of Hieronymus Bosch's hell-dwellers in his Medieval triptych and master work, "The Garden of Earthly Delights." Hamrick plinked out the tune on piano—written in a book in the painting and finishing across the posterior of the sinner in question in a section of the painting that historians call "The Musicians' Hell"—and posted to her Tumblr, for all the world to celebrate.

Here's a section of the painting known as Musicians' Hell that Bosch enjoyed putting together (do you see the bunny?)

This guy's having an okay time in Club Hell with his jazz hands.

But not so much this guy, his butt exposed, a demon writing notation with its weirdly dotted tongue across this sufferer's cheeks.

Now we can all listen to this 500-year-old butt song from hell, as featured on Anderson Cooper 360. Enjoy!

Hamrick's review is that it's a "really bad" Gregorian chant. But that didn't dissuade Will Ascenzo from posting his chant version on his Tumblr.

Ascenzo's inspiring lyrics:

Butt song from hell
This is the butt song from hell
We sing from our asses while burning in purgatory
The butt song from hell
The butt song from hell

But hold the phone! We're not done yet because Jim Spalink has posted his version of "Hieronymus Bosch Butt Music" on lute, harp, and hurdy-gurdy. Let's listen:

These butt-music composers are legion, but not to be outdone, guitarist Buckethead has recorded and animated his take on Bosch, "Spokes for the Wheel of Torment." If ever there was a band in hell, this is it.

When your muse is 500 years old, that's old-school.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Heavy Metal Moments - Congratulations to Danica Roem on Your Win

Congratulations to Danica Roem, journalist and first openly transgender candidate to be elected as a state official in Virginia, U.S. of A. She beat Robert Marshall, a 26-year incumbent who once referred to himself as the "Homophobe in Chief" and who introduced a bathroom bill that would have forced people to use the bathroom based on the gender listed on their birth certificate. What poetic justice! And she sings in the heavy metal band Cab Ride Home. An epic win.

Take it away, Danica (grand entrance at 0:42)...

Danica's acceptance speech, November 7, 2017: "I believe in building up our infrastructure instead of tearing down each other ... discrimination is a disqualifier ... No matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship, who you love, how you identify, and yeah, how you rock, that if you have good public policy ideas, if you're well-qualified for office, bring those ideas to the table because this is your America too ... We are stronger together."

You rock, Danica.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

I'm a Little Trump-bot - illustrated poem

Hi all, including the hundreds of Russian bots who swarm this little blog whenever I Trump it up. I'm offering you this poem with a delightful illustration. Please feel free to *right-click save* and share on social media or wherever Trump poetry is needed. Poetry is underrated in the U.S. as a political tool, but I'm here to remedy the situation. And you can act it out too, with hand gestures—fun for all.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The old stuff of Omaha, Nebraska - Plus the incredible kinetic art of John Buck at KANEKO

I ended up in Nebraska last month, technically my first visit to the Midwestern United States. A family wedding brought my extended family together in Omaha and it was good.

What is Omaha like, I wondered. I figured at the least it would be:
1.) old
2.) authentic
3.) American

But it's all those things and so much more! Case in point: downtown. Every old American City has a downtown, some shiny, thriving and gentrified, others sadly crumbling into ruin. Omaha's got one of those transitioning downtowns. It looks like it might have died on the vine a couple decades ago as everyone moved out to the new suburbs, but now all the youngsters have moved into the big empty warehouse lofts, they're setting up stores full of old Americana, brew-pub bars with interesting pastas on the menu alongside famed rib-eye steak, and making and showing art—quite a lot of art.

View from our window at the beautiful old Magnolia Hotel

What's in downtown Omaha? Bricks—so many bricks. Brick warehouses, apartments and galleries, but also brick streets. Don't wear your spike heels to the Old Farmer's Market unless you like wobbling around like a broken marionette, 'cause you'll be walking on many bricks on the wide, wide boulevards of Omaha.

My cousin Steve takes in the Old Farmer's Market

Why are the streets so wide? Could be because it's a former agricultural/cattle town and there must have been a lot of hauling of large vehicles full of America's homegrown bounty, heading toward all those former grain dispensaries and slaughter houses. What's the traffic like now? Non-existent. Enjoy the quiet solitude of wide brick streets as you criss-cross your way from antique mart to book store to record store with aplomb.

My brother Steve checks out some cool brick buildings

You know what else Omaha has that slicker now-gentrified west-coast cities don't have anymore? Fonts. Lots of great old fonts.

A great old building font in downtown Omaha

Case in point: wandering around the Jackson Street area, we came across the Fairmont Mercantile building, home of Hollywood Candy. If you like candy, especially old-timey candy that you can scoop out by the bagful from candy jars, this is your candy nirvana. The entire building is a seemingly endless labyrinth of narrow halls and antique stalls, full of the stuff vintage childhood dreams are made of. There's a small theater for renting out to show 16mm movies, and an ol'-fashioned soda fountain. It's a dreamlike time machine. Plus there's candy.

CANDY RESCUE (plus antiques)

I think this was a former slaughterhouse

Here's some vintage finds, all featuring excellent fonts. Whoever designed these toy and game packages, I salute you.

My friend Jill had this Easy Curl set. I don't know how well it worked. I think it heated up with a light bulb, but don't quote me on that. I remember this packaging from my childhood (probably up in her closet on a shelf) and I'm sure it was at that point that the desire to become a tomboy was cemented in my brain forever. It didn't matter if I excelled in sports or not (I didn't—but that was required to be an official "tomboy" in those days), I was just going to go for it. Now I appreciate this feminine, flowered approach, even if the hairstyles really tank.

Although that little girl on the right is rocking a beatnik look

the GAME of ESPIONAGE - the mix of lower-case, upper-case, black, red, purple and pink (with green sub-header: FILLED WITH THE SUSPENSE OF AN INTERNATIONAL SPY HUNT), plus the collage of spy stuff and travel icons—this is a heavenly board game packaging concept. No, I didn't buy it (or any of this). I'm over 50 and I have too much stuff. I'm just a vintage appreciator at this point.

GIRDER and PANEL BUILDING SET - for that boxy characterless modern look.

Happy Puppet Play - Peppy Puppy Marches and Dotty Duck Walks. That's what I'm talking about...

I didn't know Parcheesi started out as "Pachisi." But apparently it did. Look at this design. Wow.

QUIZ kIDs OWN GAME BOX - for the J.D. Salinger appreciator in us all.

Let's play the board game of TAG—which began the syndrome of "Kids these days just want to sit inside playing board games, instead of running around in the fresh air and sunshine."

There was a wide selection of old metal Aladdin lunchboxes, some with their original thermoses. This thermos was on its own, unfortunately. I'd love to see the hippie love-child lunchbox that it originally came with. Enjoy all three views of adorable peaceniks on a thermos that was probably full of Kool-Aid and Tang, back in the day. I hope the child who used this wasn't too ostracized by his or her more conservative schoolmates.

Do you like PEZ? I hope so, because there is SO MUCH PEZ in this place.

Check out that realistic bat-head PEZ next to Speedy Gonzales - terrifying

After escaping the warren of past consumer purchases, return to the present time zone with some delicious homemade ice cream at Ted & Wally's across the street. I had chocolate garam masala one day, and ginger the next. Both exquisitely flavored and made in old bucket ice cream jugs with rock salt and heavy cream. Also: there's an old Pepsi machine as you walk in the door (more fonts). Out of service, but still: the fonts.

Served IN CANS

A simple direct marketing approach

Walking around the old warehouse district, you see flyers and street art and are reminded of simple pleasures from cities of the past, only this is happening in Omaha, today. Our west-coast metropolises have gotten so slick and monied. It's refreshing to see this stuff, especially SoCal surf-punk band Agent Orange playing a show. PUNK WILL NEVER DIE.

Stuff to do and see in Omaha

And now for a special treat—the John Buck sculptures at the KINETIC Exhibit at KANEKO Gallery. All hand-carved from soft woods, featuring current and past politicians, explorers, money-men, artists and their muses, corruption, incredible beauty, abject cruelty, space and time. And with the tap of a floor button, they move. I took a little video throughout our tour as we stared in wonderment at Buck's incredible prolific vision of humanity and our foibles. He also makes prints and drawings. He's a mad man. The KINETIC Exhibit is dismantled now, but if you get a chance to see this Montana-based artist's work, I really think you should do so.

Most of the images below are featured in the video, but here they are in case you don't have time to see them moving to a weird She Mob soundtrack because your Internet life has become so busy of late (I understand). Incredibly this entire surreal experience was free of cost. We walked into the museum (a city block's worth of warehouse conversions) and into a guided tour, which meant we could see every sculpture in motion. We also learned that all the works had arrived in Omaha in pieces and none were labeled. Buck and the curators worked together to put them all back together for the exhibit. Kudos to KANEKO—you're the real deal.

Manifest Destiny personified

Frida Kahlo and her pets make an appearance

45 holding onto the love of his life — wads of cash

Trapped in a burning church

Picasso and Einstein with muse in the background

Power, corruption and satire are some of Buck's major themes

The former Presidents' waltz — FDR in a tutu because he never got to dance in his adult life

JFK has Marilyn Monroe on his mind

Teddy Roosevelt and General Grant have a dance confrontation

Nixon's tape head confronts a shuttered Lincoln — dream stuff made real

Europe's explorers ready to conquer and exploit the "new world"

Lady Liberty about to clobber an Aztec god

The tears of the Madonna on a ship heading our way

Creatures based on the 14th-century Travels of Sir John Mandeville
Omaha is a fascinating city, obviously

The entire world and Trump's hair

What else can you do in Omaha? Why not walk over to Iowa on the Bob Kerrey pedestrian bridge, where you can straddle two states at once for a state-border out-of-body experience.


I stay behind in Nebraska while my cousin Mary Ann checks out Iowa. Her husband Steve balances out the geographical scales. Yes, there were three Steves on this journey, making it extra-special. While crossing the bridge, my cousin Gary and his wife Barb emerged from Iowa, coming our way. We didn't even know they had been out of state, but they had been, for around ten minutes or so.

My cousin Mike married his beloved Anna at the splendid Orpheum Theater where they first met, both working musicians in the touring production of The Lion King. They even had their names on the Orpheum marquee and we all gathered onstage to congratulate them. Anna grew up in Nebraska and now we all want to visit again. Sorry, Anna, prepare yourself for a bunch of brand new cousins, aunts and uncles showing up in Omaha on a semi-regular basis from now on.

Surely one of the finest productions at the Orpheum to date