Introducing Michael Kallio

Michael KallioMichael Kallio is a filmmaker who has made a lot of horror comedy. I wrote about him over at Psychotronic Review, First Look: Michael Kallio. I embedded 3 of his short films and the trailer for his first feature, which was more or less straight horror.

He looks like a mean guy in the photo but he appears just to be a goof. You’ll have to watch the videos I embedded at Psychotronic Review. They are well worth your time.

But in the meantime, here’s a nice bit of silliness. It’s what claims to be an extended edit of the opening scene of F.O.S. — a 24-minute movie made for television. (I had to look-up what “FOS” means.) It works great as a short film.

Don’t See Randy Rainbow Live

Although I went out of my way to not have this site’s automatic twitter posts tag Randy Rainbow, many of his fans noticed. They were so angry I figured I must have written something really bad. But I’ve gone back and read this article. It’s fine. Unlike most of the press that Rainbow gets, however, it is not glowing. I have yet to see what I think of as a real review of his act. And that’s just not taking him seriously as an artist.

The complaints were mostly about my criticism of Randy Rainbow’s dismissiveness. People apparently can’t read. I was accused of calling him an “asshole.” I did not. (No one seems to have taken the time to even glance at the link.) I was also accused of calling his fans idiots. I did not. These people clearly didn’t like my less than rave review and latched onto fragments that gave them the best option for attacking me.

Not one person evidenced any understanding of the two points I was making. It was tribalism and nothing more. And that’s all art is for most people. Apparently, Good People never criticize anything about Randy Rainbow. Only “shitty” writers and general “douchebags” do that. And that’s fine. But it says a lot that not one of these people who were so upset could bother to leave a comment. Twitter really is the perfect medium for a country that lacks nuance.

–Frank Moraes (20 April 2019)

Randy RainbowLast night, I went to see Randy Rainbow. I got a free ticket. But it was extremely troubling.

It’s hard to write this because I had a great time last night. The show was funny and the band was great. But part of me can’t watch a show without seeing it from a professional and political standpoint. And on these fronts, it was pretty bad.

Professional Entertainment

The crowd that came out to see Randy Rainbow last night was scary. I thought that I liked his work. These people were crazy in love. During the question and answer section of the show, I suffered greatly from pena ajena. The questions were embarrassing. One example, “If your mother ever wants a break, I’m willing to step in.” Rainbow dealt with the question well, “You know I’m in my 30s, right?” (He’s fast approaching 39. Vanity, thy name is Randy!)

So it shouldn’t be surprising that the audience ate up the performance. But my seat cost $55. So I had expectations even if I wasn’t the one paying.

Problems With the Show

Probably the worst part of the show was that the sound was horrible. All the canned sound (more on that in a minute) seemed to come from one speaker. And the EQ was off. There wasn’t enough bass and there was too much treble. It made me uncomfortable. And even though I was otherwise enjoying the show, I probably would have slipped out if I hadn’t been packed in on both sides.

More annoying when it came to the ticket price was the fact that roughly a quarter of the show was pre-recorded video. And these weren’t recorded for the show. They were mostly standard Randy Rainbow YouTube videos. I’d seen half of them before.

And they’re good. (Of course, blown up on a big screen they don’t look so good.) But I could stay home and watch it for free. I think it says a lot about Randy Rainbow’s contempt for his audience that he doesn’t think he needs to program a full 90 minutes of live material.

Canned Music

The live songs always include canned music — mostly background vocals. I don’t particularly like this, but I understand it. I wouldn’t even bring it up except that when Rainbow is singing live, he is usually up on the screen singing as well.

It also highlights the fact that Randy Rainbow isn’t that compelling a live performer. His singing is fine but his gestures are muted — designed for nightclub performances, not a large theater. I think that having a giant screen is meant to make up for this but it only made the live Randy Rainbow seem smaller. It was also extremely distracting.

Often, when performers don’t have a great stage presence, they make up for it in other ways like having outrageous costumes. Rainbow does this to some extent, but not nearly enough. His costumes are more along the lines of prototypes. Like he’s saying, “If this were a real performance, I’d have an amazing costume here.”

Another factor that makes it less than it could be is Randy Rainbow’s dismissive personality. His attitude toward the audience is the same as it is toward Trump. And I kept remembering a headline in Current Affairs, People Who ‘Pretend’ to Be Shitty Are Frequently Just Shitty. Although given his audience, I can’t necessarily blame him.

Commodity Machine

Truthfully, the show would be far better if Randy Rainbow just performed show tunes with his exceptional band. I was especially taken with Justin Vance on sax, clarinet, and flute. He really added to the feel that there was an orchestra on stage instead of just a four-piece combo.

Of course, such a show wouldn’t be popular. It certainly wouldn’t pay for the caliber of the band. But that’s the point. The entire Randy Rainbow organization is a commodity machine.

Randy Rainbow Merch

There are a half-dozen different Randy Rainbow t-shirts you can buy. They are low-quality and made in Honduras. But hey, a good-quality t-shirt might have taken a dollar off the profits.

So perhaps you would like Randy Rainbow glasses? How about socks? The t-shirts are $30 but the socks are a real bargain at just $20.

For only $5, you can get a “what the fuck you guys?” bumper sticker, which is more or less what I thought about this exercise in non-productive capitalism.

Making Money

The two young women selling all the Randy Rainbow stuff were working very fast to meet the demand. It made me start to do some rough calculations.

There were 1,633 seats at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. Seats were $39.50, $45.00, and $55.00. Based on where I was sitting, I would say these represent about 30%, 50%, and 20% of the total seats. The place was packed, so that’s roughly $75,000. I figure rental is $10,000 for the night. The total cost for labor is $10,000 — if Randy Rainbow pays really well. And let’s give him another $10,000 for misc expenses.

That means, even without at least a few thousand dollars from Randy Rainbow merch, the production netted $45,000 playing in a small city. I don’t begrudge Randy Rainbow. Get it while you can!

Capitalism Destroying Art

But the whole thing highlights many problems with capitalism. First, Randy Rainbow is making an excessive amount of money while producing relatively little material. And he’s fast approaching the point where he will not have to produce anything at all.

Then there is the fact that people have to pay $40 just to get a bad seat at this event. And they are apparently paying it because of Randy Rainbow’s celebrity. I too went in eager to like it. But had I paid, I would have felt let down. There was maybe $15 up there on stage. The extra $25 to $40 was what we pay because the market can bear it.

Whatever. Randy Rainbow remains an interesting creative artist. And the people love him. But there really is no reason to leave the house. You can buy all that crap from home too.

YouTube and Twitter are the perfect venues for Randy Rainbow.

Bill Maher, Lee Camp, and Comedy Cojones

Lee CampAs a reader of this site, you are of course a good liberal, and no doubt familiar with the many post-Jon Stewart purveyors of political humor. John Oliver, Hasan Minhaj, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, Seth Myers’s “A Closer Look” segments, the unfairly canceled Larry Wilmore, and Michelle Wolf.

All have done great work. But you may not be familiar with a more left-wing alternative, the columnist and comic Lee Camp. We’ll get to him in a moment!

Bill Maher: Daring Truthteller

Recently, the funny writer Drew Magary posted an article at GQ, titled Bill Maher: Do We Need Him? Maher has, once again, said something people take umbrage at — this time, joking that rural communities lack sophistication. As Magary observes, this is far from the most offensive thing Maher’s ever said — it doesn’t even crack the top 20. (And, in this case, the riffing clearly was a joke; most of Maher’s truly repugnant opinions are delivered with full sincerity.)

Magary is perhaps a little too dismissive of Maher’s long-practiced joke-delivery style. It’s old-fashioned, but he is skilled at it. What Magary gets absolutely right is exasperation at Maher’s “smarmy brand as Teller of Uncomfortable Truths,” a tone Maher’s adopted since being fired by ABC for saying 2001’s suicide bombers were, physically, not cowards.

While ABC was rather gutless in that instance, Maher ended up quite rich and happy at HBO — essentially, like getting fired from a bad job and immediately finding a better one. So Maher’s firing hardly counts as a great hardship, suffered for Telling Uncomfortable Truths.

Punching Down

Along with his self-righteous sense of singular moral courage, Maher has repeatedly punched down on targets his audience shares no admiration for (fundamentalist Muslims, humorless liberals) and, worse, given airtime to others who’ve been justly criticized for more viciously doing the same.

The likes of Ann Coulter, Grover Norquist, Jordan Peterson, and Milo Yiannopoulos, Maher seems to believe, are kindred spirits, attacked by those who want to stifle free speech. In fact, they are the ones attempting to stifle free speech, by deflecting genuine criticism with evasions, untruths, and whining about persecution.

There might be some point in having these monsters on if Maher or his other guests called out their incessant dishonesty. That rarely seems to happen. The most widely-watched clip on Maher’s YouTube page is where Larry Wilmore berates Yiannopoulos for his repugnant remarks towards the LGTB community. Generally, the guests, and Maher, let the liars get away with it.

(The vile Yiannopoulos, now broke, wants other to feel sorry for him. Nobody complains more than a neofascist whose viciousness towards others stops being rewarding.)

As Magary correctly states: Bill Maher’s “show has done far more to legitimize shitty people than to subvert them.” Which, more than the smugness, more than the faux-daring offensiveness, is why I no longer tolerate the skilled joke delivery of Bill Maher.

Lee Camp

I’d been reading Camp’s occasional TruthDig columns for a while, and finally got around to noticing that his bio line mentions the show, Redacted Tonight. It’s roughly in the same visual style as most of those mentioned above, although it clearly doesn’t have the same budget. (In that way it reminds me of the early years of The Daily Show, with a far stronger political viewpoint.)

Here’s his column’s take on our mucking around in Venezuela:

Maybe those people really need our help, and U.S. intervention will work out great—exactly like it did in Syria,
and Yemen,
and Iraq,
and Iran,
and Afghanistan,
and Chile,
and Honduras,
and Haiti,
and Somalia,
and Libya,
and Guatemala,
and Nicaragua,
and Colombia,
and Panama,
and Fraggle Rock,
and those tree forts where the EWOKS LIVED!

Camp is an avowed socialist and Washington, DC native; that’s where the program is taped. (Most of these programs are taped in New York — Bee and Oliver share the same studio, in fact, and Bee once carved her name in his desk!)

It’s presumably because Washington is the home to RT America (The US branch of RT Network, which is funded by the Russian government). They presumably host Camp’s program because of his opposition to American imperialism.

A Few Words About RT Network

The little-seen network is state-sponsored and claims to receive no editorial interference. That’s hard to determine, but they’ve certainly run programs with hosts and/or guests who are no lovers of the crony capitalism Russia has embraced since 1989. For example, Chris Hedges, Thom Hartmann, and Noam Chomsky, among others.

It’s also had some true wackadoodle guests on before, like the crazy Jesse Ventura. Larry King has a show there, maybe because he missed wearing the suspenders. Basically, the gist seems to be that anyone who legitimizes the viewpoint that America isn’t always a Pure Force Of Moral Goodness for our world is welcome on that network.

Well, as others have noted, it’s not like we don’t export CNN to basically every airport on Earth, and that’s in the business of justifying America’s awesomeness. My best guess is that RT will hardly allow any direct criticism of Moscow’s policies, while most other subjects are fair game. Al-Jazeera English, which is widely considered a genuine source of reportage, doesn’t ever criticize Qatar.

As Glen Greenwald noted recently, the US media accepted unquestioningly a false 23 February story from Venezuela that showed our preferred side in the best light while demonizing the enemy. An RT reporter got the story correct, later that very day. (It took The New York Times until 10 March to confirm what that reporter had said immediately.) While Greenwald admits that we should look hard at any government’s state-approved media, in this instance, it was the RT reporter “who was acting like a journalist trying to understand and report the truth.”

The New York Times, naturally, considers Lee Camp a Russian tool. NPR is slightly more forgiving.

Redacted Tonight

Camp comes across a little like a young college student who just discovered socialism. But he was born in 1980 and told Fox & Friends to go fart itself, on air, ten years ago. He’s been an Onion writer and part of the East Coast comedy scene. If anything makes him look younger, it’s the long hair; in one episode a co-performer calls him “progressive Jesus.”

Most episodes feature Camp in the funny-angry opening role, then interviewing either one of his co-performers (he’ll play the straight man) or a serious guest; one recent episode featured human rights’ activists from Colombia.

He could use a larger writing staff (most of these shows credit at least ten), as sometimes the jokes are a little repetitive; Camp relies on a lot of what Spock called “colorful metaphors.” Take this recent example:

In my professional opinion, anyone who had anything to do with the selling, perpetrating or planning of the Iraq War should never again hold a position higher than assistant trainee to the guy who picks up the shit of a dog that does not belong to anyone of any particular importance. If that position does not exist, we as a nation should create it just for this moment.

But even when the jokes sound similar, his outrage at criminal injustice always feels real. Here’s a typical recent episode:

Fake Cojones And The Real Thing

Ultimately, Maher’s schtick is hugely neoliberal. It’s humor for the kind of socially tolerant careerists who trust our financial overlords, are vaguely critical of our widely-known military disasters and don’t want to hear about the secret wars. The sort of people who think TED Talks and (Maher’s frequent guest) Andrew Sullivan represent common-sense wisdom. For whom Maher can seem kinkily outrageous at times, but mostly against those dumb religious sorts and super-lefties who don’t live in the real world.

Maher pretends to have Giant Cojones, which gets him accepted among the faux-intelligentsia and has made him obscenely rich.

Lee Camp’s humor might at times feel a little more desperate because he’s genuinely angry. Is he hurting? No, he’s got a perfectly successful comic career, even if it currently involves going a bit quiet on Russia’s crimes. But, as a true liberal, he’s frustrated and furious at what our system of power does here, there, everywhere. And that takes more cajones than Bill Maher has ever had since his struggling club days.

BadMouseProductions and Patronage

BadMouseProductions

I’ve been watching political YouTube videos recently. As Stewart Lee says, “Where the people film themselves talking.” Mostly, I watch assorted leftists — people like Peter Coffin, Three Arrows, and (so unpretentious it is pretentious) Shaun.

I like all these people very much. But I do think we should call them YouTube Ranters. They are part of an online ecosystem. Much bigger are really vile right-wing loons like Paul Joseph Watson and Stefan Molyneux. And a fair amount of left-wing YouTube is spent debunking all the nonsense that comes from the right-wing echo-chamber.

BadMouseProductions

The most interesting person I’ve found online is BadMouseProductions. I don’t know his name. He says he isn’t a “furry.” I also don’t know what that is — maybe a person who dresses up like My Little Pony? It doesn’t matter.

He used to be an anarcho-capitalist but announced one day that he could no longer support capitalism and became a communist.

It’s an interesting thing because the truth is that people who are earnestly looking for a better society can make a quick switch from what society thinks of as far right to far left.

In the case of BadMouse, it really wasn’t much of a change. He had always been looking for a system that would allow people more freedom. So he wasn’t an idiot libertarian who was just looking to replace government oppression with corporate oppression.

Patreon

BadMouseProductions is the only YouTube channel that I support. And for ten bucks a month, I get mentioned at the end of some videos. I got a whole screen because I’m new. In the future, I’ll just be part of a list. That’s good; I wasn’t sure I wanted my name in there at all. Regardless, I’m too disorganized to have stopped it.

But this involves using Patreon, which I hate. I don’t know how much money they skim but it strikes me as unethical in the way that the entire internet now is. One of the reasons I support this particular channel is that there isn’t much money pledged to it — especially considered just how great the videos are.

Economic Freedom Maps

I think the first video I saw was Debunking the Economic Freedom Map. I’ve been seeing these things for over a decade. And recently, I had to remove them from an article I edited about the best places to start a business. (I’d link to it, but it’s typical nonsense for would-be entrepreneurs — even if I thought I did some of my best work on it.)

These economic freedom maps are all reverse engineered: they start with the countries they want to rank high and then come up with the model. But even if this weren’t the case, the conservative idea of freedom is really messed up. It isn’t the freedom to do what you want but rather the freedom to try. Yes, you have the freedom to be a millionaire by buying a lottery ticket while Donald Trump has the freedom to have the money given to him while still a child.

This video does an excellent job of destroying these maps by looking at it from a Marxist perspective with lots of international insights — including some of Ha-Joon Chang. So it isn’t surprising that I would be struck by this work.

Answer Videos

BadMouse is also really good at answer videos. This one is great: Questions Liberals Can’t Answer (But Socialists Can). They are both crisp and, at times, hilarious.

These kinds of videos are also a good chance to see white nationalist videos without having to wade all the way through them — which is really hard. (For this, Shaun is better.) Even if you don’t follow much politics it doesn’t take long to notice some outrageous false or misleading statement.

Venezuela

BadMouseProductions has created at least two videos on Venezuela. The first was Argument ad Venezuelum, which is great. But just last week, he released Joanna Hausmann Is Lying About Venezuela. One thing above all that annoys me about the discussion of Venezuela is that our media’s tendency toward showing “all” sides of an issue on domestic issues is totally absent this issue. The video takes on this issue in the person of privileged “white” Venezuelan Joanna Hausmann.

For some unknowable reason, we almost never hear from supporters of Maduro (and Chávez before him). Instead, any loud-mouth who criticizes the regime is held up as George Washington (but without all the slaves). This is a small push back.

Support BadMouseProductions

Hausmann’s Venezuela video has roughly 350,000 views whereas BadMouseProductions’ has less than 50,000. This is why you should support people like BadMouse who are doing great work but getting relatively little exposure and support. And by “support” I definitely include watching and sharing the videos. Even if you don’t learn anything, they are a couple of quantum levels above most popular YouTube videos.

BadMouseProductions Patreon Thank You

A Brief Introduction to Stewart Lee

Stewart LeeFor some time, I’ve been afraid to go public with the fact that Stewart Lee is by far my favorite comedian. And frankly, it’s embarrassing. I am exactly the kind of person who would love Stewart Lee: intellectual git who doesn’t get much exercise. According to him, his agent says his audience is made up of “people who like Terry Pratchett.” Of course, that begs the question. You could just as easily say, “Terry Pratchett fans are made up of people who like Stewart Lee.” Except: a lot more people like Pratchett than Lee.

I discovered Stewart Lee while researching Ben Elton. I’d admired him for years because of The Young Ones and Blackadder. And I learned that there was this guy who apparently hated him. Normally, you don’t find unknown comedian’s opinions listed in Wikipedia pages. So I went to find who this guy was. And I found this:

In addition to being hilarious, it’s a beautifully crafted bit of performance art. And that’s the thing about Lee: he’s an artist. There are lots of comedians who I find funny. But Lee is the only one who I consider an artist. His performances are like plays.

“Give It to Me Straight Like a Pear Cider That’s Made From 100% Pears”

A good example of this is a 25-minute routine that had its genesis in a television commercial for Magners Pear Cider. I can’t find the exact commercial that Stewart Lee references. But this is part of the series. Listen for, “Why don’t they just give it to him straight, like a pear cider that’s made from a hundred percent pears.”

That’s just 30 seconds. And it really isn’t offensive. What Lee discusses is the appropriation of art for commerce. I’m sure you’ve had the same experience of a beloved song being used to advertise a cruise line or tires. Recently, I’ve had Volvo using the Queen of the Night aria from The Magic Flute to sell the XC90. Magners is not doing this. But how Lee uses this ad to criticize this practice is brilliant.

Comedy doesn’t get any better than that. And even though much of it seems ad-libbed, it is in only the simplest ways. Watching different performances of Stewart Lee, I’ve learned that he can anticipate his audience. For example, he refers to the two women with “pink hair.” That wasn’t planned, but he knew there would be people in the audience he could point out.

Actually, I saw an interview with him in which he talked about needing to finesse routines. The audience doesn’t always do what he’s primed them to do. In about 10 percent of the cases, he has to figure out a way to work around it. Of course, those aren’t the routines that make it onto DVD and YouTube.

My Friends Hate Stewart Lee

When I’ve introduced Stewart Lee to my friends they show the same apathy that I do a new song by Meghan Trainor. And I do understand this. To some extent, Lee is a meta-comedian. Much of his act is about doing his act. He’s very big on complaining about one part of the audience not appreciating a joke, for example. And often, the humor is unstated.

His routine about the royal wedding climaxes at a point where the audience must laugh at an obvious joke that Lee does not make. And while most comedians would stop there, he makes a right turn. I love it but I can see where most people would like something more concrete:

I know I’ve presented over a half hour of Stewart Lee performing. If you’ve managed to make it through any of it, let me know what you think. My bet is that Frankly Curious readers will like it more than Frank’s friends. But I could be wrong. I was wrong before when I thought my friends would like him.

This is my favorite Stewart Lee routine: Scooby-Doo and the Pirate Zombie Jungle Island.

Afterword: Bridget Christie

For about ten years, Stewart Lee has been married to actor and stand-up comedian Bridget Christie. If you have Netflix, there is an excellent set by her. But this was my first introduction to her where she plays an ant stand-up comedian.

Attached to a Rotting Corpse

Daisy and Violet HiltonI was watching the film Chained for Life (1952) as part of my work over at Psychotronic Review. The stars of the film are Daisy and Violet Hilton — conjoined twins born in 1908. But as Mark Weldon put it in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, the story in the film is “nothing compared to their real story.” That’s true. They lived a real horror story.

To begin with, their mother sold them to another woman, Mary Hilton, who basically enslaved them — turning them into a modern freak exhibit. They were controlled through violence. As part of this, they were trained as musicians, and you can see this in the film. They are really good. But when Hilton died, she willed the twins to her daughter, Edith Meyers. Get that? Willed! This is in the 1920s.

A Better Childhood

Their lives improved in 1931 when the twins sued to get out of their “contract” with Edith Meyers and her husband. As a result of the case, they were paid $100,000. This should give you some idea of just how much money the Meyers family (and Hilton before them) brought in on the backs of Daisy and Violet. Humans are savage when it means making a buck.

They lived as performers for most of the rest of their lives. Even if they hadn’t been conjoined, their musical skills would have been in demand — at least as long as vaudeville continued. After that, it was harder to make a living. But they continued — Chained for Life being part of that.

In 1961, they performed at a drive-in theater. Afterward, their manager abandoned them — penniless. They were forced to get a job working at a fruit stand. They worked that job for over 7 years before they died some time around the new year 1969. That was when the true horror occurred.

When Conjoined Twins Die

I had never thought what it would be like when conjoined twins died. But generally, they would not die at the same time. So when one dies, the other is attached to a rotting corpse. And this is what happened to Daisy and Violet.

They were suffering from the flu. Daisy died first. Violet died between two and four days later. So she got to spend this time with the corpse of her sister as it slowly poisoned her to death.

Real Life Horror

This strikes me as a great premise for a novel: a woman attached to her dead sister thinking back on her difficult life while she waits to die. I’m thinking something along the lines of Pincher Martin.

But more than that, I’m thinking of Synecdoche, New York. Charlie Kaufman stated that the idea was to create a horror film — but not to include classic horror elements but rather the things that terrified him.

Violet Hilton could have been too ill to have even noticed her situation. But really, wouldn’t she have gotten thirsty and tried to get up at some point?

Regardless, it’s like with people’s reaction to folklore: it doesn’t matter if it is true but that it could be true.

Spending my last hours on Earth trapped with a rotting corpse — attached to me or not — is a terrifying thought.

It makes me think of conjoined twins in a whole new way. The universe is cruel.

Wow! Copyright Ran Out for a Change

Wow! Copyright Ran Out for a ChangeThis year, works of art created in 1923 went out of copyright and are now in the public domain. This is a big deal because it hasn’t happened in decades because when copyright was about to run out in 1999 (on works published in 1923), the US government extended copyright protection for another 20 years.

Let’s think about this for a second. What does it mean, socially, for a work to be in the public domain? Obviously, it means that the work belongs to everyone. But why? I think it is because everyone knows it. To use the most important example, does anyone know who created Mickey Mouse? (It wasn’t Walt Disney.[1]) For 99 percent of people (that’s no exaggeration), the answer is no. But they sure do know who Mickey Mouse is!

But this is just a way of thinking. I’m not arguing that we use it as a test. If it were, it would allow the most famous people to hold onto copyright longer — exactly the opposite of what we are trying to do. (For example, most people around me know that Paul McCartney wrote “Yesterday.”) Once a work of art becomes suffused in society, it is in the public domain — whether the law agrees or not.

Public Domain Is Too Far Behind the Present

It has been a troubling irony that as society has sped up — as art has changed faster — works have gone into the public domain (legally) slower. Just look at the films that have just now been put in the public domain. They are all in black and white. They are all silent.

Meanwhile, films gained sound. They gained color. Video was invented. And now films are largely made on computers. And yet all that we legally allow into the public domain are films so old that children can’t enjoy them. Indeed, the only people who enjoy them are people who take film serious and understand its technique and history.

Good News?

Last year, Timothy B Lee wrote a very optimistic article, Why Mickey Mouse’s 1998 Copyright Extension Probably Won’t Happen Again. Basically, it all comes down to the fact that a lot of defenders of freedom (the real kind; not the libertarian kind) have sprung up like the Electronic Frontier Foundation that are fighting back.

But I think there is another issue. We are now at the ridiculously long 95-year copyright. The stuff being released is so old it has virtually no value as a commodity. As a result, the bad PR is probably not worth the little money the corporation can squeeze out of these works. Is any corporation really going to release a DVD of Safety Last!? It’s doubtful.

So most corporate copyright holders just don’t care. Maybe Disney will make an effort to protect Mickey Mouse from the horrors of pornography.[2] But without the entire industry lobbying and claiming “No one will make movies anymore!” it isn’t likely that Congress is going to act.

And note, creative development is still accelerating. So in 20 years, the stuff that falls out of copyright will be even further behind the times.

My Proposal

From what I know about publishing (which is a lot), I have developed what I think are extremely fair terms for copyright owners. (Note I didn’t say “content creators,” because most owners did not create any content.) Copyright should last for ten years from publication with an optional extension of 10 years. So the maximum copyright length would be 20 years.

I actually think making the extension 5 years is fairer. But I’m trying to be really nice.

This would more than keep the film, music, book, and art industries going. The vast majority of the money they make is in the first year of publication. In fact, if corporations acted like normal people, they wouldn’t even care after 5 years. The amount of money that comes in is trivial at that point.

But as I’ve noted many times before: if a corporation could make an extra dollar by exporting its entire workforce, it would do it without thought. That’s corporate-think. And it is really something that we should fight as a society.

Good News!

So if the corporate world is really done pushing copyright to be longer and longer, we have an opportunity. We can now go on the aggressive. We can push for copyrights to be reduced.

In Lee’s article, he implies that the 56-year copyright of decades ago was reasonable. It wasn’t. And the author’s life plus 50 years was not reasonable.

We can’t allow the absurd modern copyright length to blind us from the fact that in the modern world, a copyright length of ten years is more than enough. Anything else is just corporate welfare.


[1] Yes, I don’t think much of vague notions about “ideas” when it comes to creative productions. I have millions of ideas. It all comes down to how it is rendered. And when people like Stan Lee and Walt Disney try to take credit for these things, I bristle.

[2] This is a common argument made. It is, of course, not why Disney cares about this issue. It’s all about money. It’s always all about money.

Frankenstein vs the Wolfman — 2008?!

Frankenstein vs the Wolfman

For people who have never grown up, Frankenstein vs the Wolfman means the Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, the 1943 Universal classic starring Lon Chaney Jr and Bela Lugosi. But while working hard to avoid working, I came upon this film on Amazon Prime — a short from 2008. And I have to say, this discovery is well worth the whole year’s subscription.

15 Glorious Minutes

If you get rid of the titles, Frenkenstein vs the Wolfman is about 15 and a half minutes. And they are glorious minutes! I’ve often reflected on the desire of humans to tell stories and this is a great example because the technique is really not up to the story. Just the same, it tells an incredibly interesting story — so interesting that the relative weakness of the animation really doesn’t matter.

I should point out before I continue, the animation is at least a hundred times as good as anything I could ever do. But my talents lie in analysis. (And maybe in my experiment plays that no one will ever want to perform.) Frankenstein vs the Wolfman is animated with what looks very much like gaming software. Just the same, I found it far more interesting than any game.

One of the complainers on Amazon wrote, “This is a ‘movie’ (featurette) that only family of the ‘actors,’ animators, etc, could possibly love.” When I read that review, I knew I had to watch it. There’s nothing like an ignorant and opinionated jerk to make me want to watch a film. I start watching everything other than big-budget superhero dreck with the idea that the film was made by my son. Why don’t others?! It is a far better mindset to enter a film if you want to be entertained.

Frankenstein vs the Wolfman Overview

Frankenstein vs the Wolfman tells an incredibly compelling story of three orphans who live in, well, let’s say Transylvania because it has Gypsies in it. It is of interest because the “monster” of Frankenstein is more or less the guy that we know from Mary Shelley’s book: an ugly but intelligent creation. But in this reality, he has been accepted by the community (admittedly somewhat far-fetched given how awful humans are).

Living in this town is a man who has been cursed (by a Gypsy — racism, it seems it eternal and not at all solely an American thing) to spend each night walking the Earth as a wolf. During the day, he’s a writer of horror stories — a wonderful bit of self-incrimination: what writer doesn’t think that they aren’t a total fraud?!

Frankenstein, an “orphan” because he, like the children, has no parents, helps the three children. The Wolfman, on the other hand, is unrepentant. He doesn’t even try to stop his killing spree. Even though the film humanizes him, he isn’t very likable because he puts his needs above those of other humans. It shouldn’t be a surprise that, in his fight with Frankenstein, he is the loser. But you will be surprised to see how.

Analysis

If I can get a bit political, the film shows the importance of collective action. Even though Frankenstein is a “superhero” in the film, it is only due to the help of the other orphans that he is able to defeat the Wolfman. This is in stark contrast to most superhero films.

What is most remarkable about Frankenstein vs the Wolfman is that, compared to a Hollywood animated film, it is weak. Yet if you just accept it for what it is — or imagine what you personally would be able to produce — you easily get lost in the story. That isn’t to take away from the animation. As I’ve said, I couldn’t do anything close — regardless what software you gave me. But there are so many things besides the animation that the film does really well.

I thought the editing could have been a bit better; there were parts where the pacing didn’t seem quite right. But it didn’t pull me out of the story. The individual images always looked good. The music by Andrew Kalbfus was very effective. The acting was good. But most of all, the screenplay by Colin Clarke & Marc Packard was first-rate. It triumphed over everything else. The overall production by Andrew Carlson and Colin Clarke works — which is how I try to judge any piece of art.

Colin Clarke’s Other Films

And it shouldn’t be forgotten that this was the first film Colin Clarke directed. He’s made a total of five films over the last decade. I’ve seen four of them, which are all worth checking out: Raven’s Hollow (2011), Witchfinder, and Slit.

Raven’s Hollow is animated the same way as Frankenstein vs the Wolfman. It’s not as strong, simply because the story isn’t as strong. But it’s well made and interesting throughout.

Witchfinder is mostly a live-action film as the rest of Clarke’s film seem to be. The acting in it at the community theater level. But it mostly doesn’t get in the way. And I thought Valerie Meachum as the witch was particularly compelling. Again, the focus of the film is on the story, which is very strong.

Slit is probably Clarke’s strongest film in terms of production value. I have some problems with the story. In particular, the denouement was exactly what I expected. And overall it struck me as a bit misogynistic. And there are strong fetish elements to it. Regardless, the film works and is of interest to see Clarke’s growth as a filmmaker.

I still like Frankenstein vs the Wolfman most. Other people will probably find his live-action films better (especially Slit). But there is something special about this animated film that brings back memories of watching Creature Features with my older siblings.

Regardless, I think any of Colin Clarke’s films are worth checking out. At $1.99 to rent, they are probably over-priced. But if you have Amazon Prime, there’s no reason not to. I’d start with Frankenstein vs the Wolfman. Next, I recommend Witchfinder.

one rat short – better with cheetos

i want cheetosdear frankly curious reader,

wendy here again. you could probably tell from the lack of capital letters. it’s not that i cannot type capital letters. I CAN. I CAN PRESS THE ‘CAPS LOCK’ KEY AND TYPE ALL THE CAPITAL LETTERS I WANT.

but if i am to use capital letters properly, i have to do a lot more work. and this is hard enough. as you humans like to say[colon] anyway…

it’s kind of like the french phrase je ne sais quoi. but that literally means, ‘i don’t know what.’ so once again, we see that the french are more honest than the americans. anyway… why don’t you just say, ‘i don’t know.’ it would be a good start — for the whole country. but i’m getting sidetracked. and i have another sidetrack i need to get to before i get to what i came here for.

where is frank?

it’s daytime. so where is frank? well, he got himself sucked into his toastmaster thing. so he’s off at a ‘leadership’ training all day.

now frankly [opening parenthesis]ha ha[closing parenthesis], i don’t see that he needs any more outlets for talking. all he does all day long is talk to himself. it’s quite annoying, really. but i’m a forgiving rat. we all have our little foibles. and this toastmaster thing does get him out of the room more.

it’s wendy if you please

as you should know, my name is wendy fink. that’s wendy with an ‘e.’ let me emphasize that[colon] wEndy.

geez, i have to catch my breath.

so because any article published here is immediately posted on the frankly curious facebook page, some wag wrote, ‘It’s no mystery who authored this creative piece. Everyone knows its Wendy.’

[opening parenthesis]that’s right, i can copy and paste. oh isn’t it amazing[exclemation mark] the rat can copy and paste[exclemation mark]. you people disgust me.[closing parenthesis]

so okay, the guy — who has an icon that looks like a puppet’s vagina — is referencing perhaps the most anemic band ever, the association, doing their 1967 number 1 hit — with a bullet — ‘windy.’ note that’s windy with an i. i’ll emphasize again[colon] wIndy.

you know[colon] the word you would use to describe the weather when there is a lot of wind. what is wrong with you americans and your name spelling[question mark] and the song was written by a woman whose first name is misspelled as far as i’m concerned[colon] ruthann friedman. but what do i know, i’m just a rat that learned english and how to use a computer.

so frank posts the song. like that’s going to make it better because everyone will see immediately that the song obviously refers to some human because no rat would be so silly as to name a child after bad weather.

but here it is, since i know you’ll want to listen to it now[colon]

okay, brian cole looks pretty cool, but how can you not playing that bass. he died of a heroin overdose just five years later. he was just 29 with three kids. i hope the royalties kept coming in. je ne sais quoi.

one rat short

now i’ll make a guess, not being there in 1972, but i assume cole was injecting that heroin. he’d have to be — heroin was at an all-time low in terms of purity — just 3 percent by some estimates. maybe someone just smothered him and they blamed it on the heroin. it wouldn’t be the first time someone snapped over that low-e string.

but the injection got me thinking about the rat romeo and juliet[colon] one rat short by the animator alex weil.

now i’m not saying i don’t have my problems with this film. i don’t know what all that rat fighting at the beginning is all about. rats really aren’t like that. and there’s a little bit of furism going on where the black rats are vicious and the brown rat is good but from the wrong side of the roof and the female is virginal white.

but you could say the same thing of any of shakespeare’s works, so i guess it’s okay.

this is a very sweet and sad film. and trust me, humans do much worse to us than that. then again, you do much worse to each other. humans really have a lot to learn from rats.

so take a look at it. i did go to the trouble of finding it and copying and pasting the embed code. that is no easy feat for my feet. i tell ya, i should find an open mic somewhere. what hilarity[exclemation mark]

are you still here[question mark] watch the film[colon]

keep those letters coming

the email has been piling up since my last post. i’m just kidding. no one has written. but i am serious that you can write to me at rat at franklycurious.com and i will answer your questions, assuming you don’t annoy me too much.

my next post will be an advice column, whether any of you write to me or not. i’ve got loads of questions saved up like, ‘how long before humans go extinct[question mark]’ not soon enough for the planet[exclemation mark]

that’s not that to say that i don’t have a certain fondness for you hairless apes. my opinion would go up if frank would start eating cheetos. and if you don’t get that then you didn’t watch the film and i am so not in the mood for it.

cheers,
sally fink signature
wendy

Pablo Casals on How to Appreciate Art

Pablo CasalsMy great wish was to hear Pablo Casals. One day my desire was almost fulfilled and I met him. But ironically, it was I who had to play. It was in the home of the Von Mendelssohns, a house filled with El Grecos, Rembrandts, and Stradivaris. Francesco von Mendelssohn, the son of the banker, who was a talented cellist, telephoned and asked if he could call for me; they had a guest in the house who would like to hear me play.

“Mr. Casals,” I was introduced to a little bald man with a pipe. He said that he was pleased to meet young musicians such as Serkin and me. Rudolf Serkin, who stood stiffly next to me, seemed, like myself, to be fighting his diffidence. Rudi had played before my arrival, and Casals now wanted to hear us together. Beethoven’s D-Major Sonata was on the piano. “Why don’t you play it?” asked Casals. Both nervous and barely knowing each other, we gave a poor performance that terminated somewhere in the middle.

“Bravo! Bravo! Wonderful!” Casals applauded. Francesco brought the Schumann Cello Concerto, which Casals wanted to hear. I never played worse. Casals asked for Bach. Exasperated, I obliged with a performance matching the Beethoven and Schumann.

“Splendid! Magnifique!” said Casals embracing me.

Bewildered, I left the house. I knew how badly I had played, but why did he, the master, have to praise and embrace me? This apparent insincerity pained me more than anything else.

The greater was my shame and delight when, a few years later, I met Casals in Paris. We had dinner together and played duets for two cellos, and I palyed for him until late at night. Spurred by his great warmth, and happy, I confessed what I had thought of his praising me in Berlin. He reacted with sudden anger. He rushed to the cello. “Listen!” He played a phrase from the Beethoven sonata. “Didn’t you play this fingering? Ah, you did! It was novel to me…it was good… and here, didn’t you attack that passage with up-bow, like this?” He demonstrated. He went through Schumann and Bach, always emphasizing all he liked that I had done. “And for the rest,” he said passionately, “leave it to the ignorant and stupid who judge by counting only the faults. I can be grateful, and so must you be, for even one note, one wonderful phrase.”

–Gregor Piatigorsky
Cellist, Chapter 17

What Did Shakespeare Mean by “Purple Testament”?

What Did Shakespeare Mean by Purple Testament?
The royal family still likes purple — a lot — they are just more subtle.

If you’ve read me at all, you know of my love-hate relationship with “That Bard” — the broccoli of theater (something you don’t like but think is good for you) — William Shakespeare, or as I like to refer to him, “My Willy.” So I was very interested in a Twilight Zone episode I was watching, which I’ve always liked, called “The Purple Testament.” It’s from Richard II one of That Bard’s better plays, “‘He is come to open the purple testament of bleeding war.” But for the first time I thought, what does that phrase mean?

So I went looking to see if it was a common phrase at the time. Indeed it was not. I guess Willy just thought it sounded good and fit into his blank verse. As with all of Shakespeare, there is so much talking. A lot of people think people spoke that way at the time. No. I’m sure an actual king would have simply said, “He’s come to start a bloody war!”

But the phrase still requires some explanation. He wrote “purple testament” and not something else. The whole line is “the purple testament of bleeding war.” I will give myself at most five minutes to come up with a more understandable line (although truly, I’d rework the line before, which is 12-syllables not 10):

“The bleeding war of his selfish hubris.”

And don’t tell me that isn’t a great line, because his line wasn’t great either. And mine has the advantage of saying what Richard actually means!

What Do The Shake-Scholars Think?

Still, there have been 400 years of Shakespearean scholars (if you include people like Jonson). So some of them must have come up with some good ideas, right? Not so much, no.

In his mid-19th century edition of The Works of William Shakespeare, Howard Staunton wrote:

Stevens believed that testament is here used in its legal sense, but Mr Whiter, in his ingenious Specimen of a Commentary on Shakespeare, quotes a parallel passage from the first part of the old play Jeronimo,

“There I unclasp the purple leaves of war”

and remarks, “Whatever be the direct meaning of the words in question, I am persuaded that the idea of a book with a purple covering suggested this combination to the mind of our poet.”

What Does “Purple Testament” Mean

Well, sure, Shakespeare stole from everyone — all writers did at that time. But it only provides some indication of Shakespeare’s process. It could be reaching but Jeronimo was performed in 1592 at The Rose, when Shakespeare was there.

But all this tells us is a little about the writing process. Why did the Jeronimo writer use “purple leaves”? I don’t know the play. I assume by “purple,” he is referring to autumn. Thus it indicates the lead into war — and thus death. That’s not bad.

A purple testament has no such association. Based on the context, testament doesn’t just refer to a book, it refers to the Bible. Richard is ranting on about how no one likes him but God.

So is Shakespeare implying that Richard will soon lose the favor of God? I think that’s a reasonable reading of the text.

Why Do We Always Have to Help Out Poor Willy Shakespeare?

But here’s the problem: for hundreds of years, people like me — but generally with a far higher opinion of That Bard — have been doing this: assuming that he wasn’t just pulling lines out of his ass that fit. It’s very likely that “purple testament” meant nothing to him or the actors or the theater-goers.

He probably just liked the sound of it. Also, of course, purple is a “royal” color. Queen Elizabeth I (you know, the woman who was queen when Richard II was written) forbade anyone outside the royal family from wearing it. So that was doubtless on Willy’s mind, given what a suck-up he was to royalty.

It’s a good phrase though. It sounds important. But mostly, I think it was meaningless — just five syllables when Shakespeare needed them.

Historical and Other Errors in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

O Brother, Where Art Thou?As the title should suggest, this will be a silly article. But the truth is, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is probably my favorite Coen Brothers film. I’ve watched it a lot. But it is historical fiction. The Coens have called it a cross between Homer and Ma and Pa Kettle. That’s certainly true, but it is a film that is firmly grounded in the Great Depression. And it has two clear historical figures in Baby Face Nelson and Tommy Johnson. Plus, the character of Governor Menelaus “Pappy” O’Daniel is clearly based on the Texas governor Wilbert Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel. So I figured we’d look into these things.

Timing Problem

One part of the film that has really come to bother me has nothing to do with history. Instead, it has to do with timing. After the young Hogwallop saves the trio from the police and Satan, Pete says that it is the 17th and that the location of the buried treasure will be turned into lake on the 21st. So let’s go through the film, although I know this is not going to be interesting to anyone who doesn’t know the film fairly well.

Timeline

  1. The trio pick up Tommy and make a recording.[1] They sleep near a barn that night, and again the police and Satan show up. Since they weren’t in the barn, they got away — Tommy separating from them.
  2. The trio are picked up by George (Baby Face) Nelson. They spend the evening with him until he wanders away, leaving them with all the money.
  3. With all the money left to them by Nelson, the trio seem to forget all about the treasure. We see them take a pie that was cooling in a window (they leave payment for it, however). Then, that night, we see them eating the pie.
  4. We see them walking more and a brief scene of them at night with Ulysses telling them a story. One could take days 19 and 20 as just a montage and really only one day. But as you will see, this doesn’t help.
  5. The next day, the trio run into the Sirens, who turn Pete over to the authorities. We see that night that Pete is about to be hanged, but then roles over on his comrades.
  6. Ulysses and Delmar discover that Pete is alive and back in prison. That night, they break him out. Then they save Tommy from being lynched. And finally, Ulysses reunites with his wife who insists he go back to their old home and get her original wedding ring.
  7. When the quartet reach the house, Satan is waiting for them, because Pete told them they were going there. (They think they are safe because they’ve been pardoned, but at this point it is completely established that the “sheriff” is Satan, “The law?! The law is a human institution.”)

History

I’m going to deal with three characters here, even though the governor isn’t supposed to be exactly the same character. There are some interesting aspects of his story.

George Nelson

George Nelson was quite an interesting guy — especially for a gangster and a psychopath. O Brother, Where Art Thou? is quite correct that he hated the moniker of “Baby Face.” In 1926, Harry Akst and Benny Davis wrote it. It was an immediate Number 1 song by Jan Garber and His Orchestra. George Nelson was just 18 at that time, and already an established gangster. But some other gangster with more power started calling him “baby face” because of his youth and small stature. (I can’t find the details, but I read a book about Nelson years ago.)

What’s most amazing about George Nelson is that he had, all things considered, a pretty normal family life. At the age of 20, he met and married Helen Wawzynak. The two of them had two children: first a boy and then a girl. As Nelson wandered the nation robbing banks, he brought his wife and son with him. His wife taught his son on the road. I don’t remember anything about the daughter; it’s possible she wasn’t born until after George Nelson’s death.

By all accounts, George Nelson was very sweet to Helen and the children. This is remarkable, because as a gangster, he was ruthless and shows every sign of being a psychopath. Helen lived until 1987. I’ve always thought should would have been a fascinating person to know.

George Nelson never went to the electric chair. He was killed in a shoot-out with federal agents. Nelson still holds the record for the number of federal agents killed by a man: three.

Tommy Johnson

There is a story told about Tommy Johnson (but more often about Robert Johnson). Tommy Johnson’s brother told a story some years after Tommy had died, that he had sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his extraordinary guitar playing skills. You can see why the the story is so often attributed to Robert Johnson, who was truly an innovator, whereas Tommy Johnson was a great blues musician, he didn’t stand out that much from other blues players of his time.

The problem with his portrayal in O Brother, Where Art Thou? is that it has Tommy Johnson meeting with the Devil in 1937. He had been a professional musician since 1914, when he was still in his teens. His career lasted until his death in 1956, when he died of a heart attack. He is still a very enjoyable performer. You can see that he’s actually more of an interesting singer than guitar player.

Wilbert Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel

The real Pappy O’Danniel was the governor in the wrong state and the wrong time (in the 1940s). But there is no doubt that the Coen Brothers were thinking about him. For one thing, he worked most of his early life in the flour industry. What’s more, he went on to be a radio celebrity with a show that was supported by a flour company. In fact, it was the fame he gained from radio that made him governor — much like our current president. Nothing ever changes. We’ve always been stupid.

The other thing that is wrong about O Brother, Where Art Thou? is that there was no gubernatorial race in Mississippi in 1937. The races were in 1935 and 1939. It’s interesting though. It had been 70 years since the Civil War, yet no Republican ran in either of those races. The South only turned Republican, when the Republican Party became the party of segregation. It’s not nice to say, but there really is something wrong with southern whites.

Summary

Like I said, this was a silly article. But why not? O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a silly movie. I hope you enjoyed my providing some context.


[1] The trick that Ulysses plays on the blind producer, saying that there are six of them rather than just the four would never work. He could clearly hear that there are two background singers, a lead singer, and a guitarist. One person could sing and play guitar, and the lead singer could also do background vocals on the song. So Man of Constant Sorrow could be performed by two people — four at the most. Just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you are an idiot. But it is a clever con on first brush.