Keep on Buckin’… the System: Crumb (1994)

Crumb (1994)  Directed by Terry Zwigoff Shown: Robert Crumb

Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb enters FilmStruck at roughly 8:00pm ET today.

Near the end of the 1994 documentary Crumb, directed by Terry Zwigoff, we see Robert Crumb and his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, in their home supervising movers as they get ready to head out. Out of the country, that is. They’re moving to France and Crumb wonders if the “football jocks” can handle moving his delicate records. This leads Aline to relate a story of some people in Eureka that she visited who had a big football helmet chair and a “fat teenager” sitting in it in front of the tv playing Nintendo. Crumb says, rather condescendingly, “You don’t see much of that in France.” Crumb never had much regard for people leading lives mapped out for them by corporate culture and mass media. He even rants at an earlier point about people walking around with logos on their hats and shirts, paying corporations to advertise for them.  In many ways, it’s the most fitting possible coda to an examination of Robert Crumb, an artist whose adult life could be adequately described as an endless fight against copyright infringement, artistic mediocrity, and anything that might make him acceptable to the public at large.


Dark Days in the Warren: Watership Down (1978)


Richard Adams recently passed away at the advanced age of 96. At the much younger age of 52, but still advanced age for a first time novelist, he published what would become a classic of modern literature, Watership Down. I was going to write “children’s literature” but I don’t know if that’s right. Is something children’s literature simply because it uses animals as its lead characters? Is Animal Farm a children’s book because it has talking pigs? I would say the answers to both of those questions is no. Watership Down is no different and while it appealed to my younger self simply because of the animal characters, my older self understands it a lot better.


Takin’ a Ride


Back when poster shops could be found next to any video arcades it was one of the more popular designs: an astronaut seated in a Corvette floating in space with a nebula cloud behind him. It was a poster for a movie that provided an anthology mix of animated science fiction and fantasy tales featuring gratuitous violence, gratuitous nudity, and gratuitous drug use. I still have my cassette tape for the soundtrack album, featuring songs by Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult, Cheap Trick, Devo, and onward through the alphabet of stoner classics. The year was 1981. I was 14-years-old, and I ate it up and went back for seconds. By now most people of my generation will know that I’m talking about Gerald Potterton’s Heavy Metal (1981). [...MORE]

Screen Sorcery: Belladonna of Sadness (1973)


Belladonna of Sadness (1973) begins with a joyful wedding. We first meet the lovely Jeanne, our guide through this strange fairy tale, and her beau Jim as they exchange marriage vows. When the couple returns to their humble abode, their wedded bliss is interrupted by the arrival of the reigning king and his minions who brutally assault Jeanne in an act of ceremonial rape that leaves her broken and bewildered. In her despair, the young beauty makes a pact with the Devil who takes the shape of a mutating phallus that promises her pleasure and power. Afterward Jeanne’s world descends into a dark hallucinatory nightmare of swirling colors propelled by sorcery, perpetual pain and erotic ecstasy.


Growing Pains: The Boy and the Beast


The animated films of Mamoru Hosoda are all about the practical aspects of the fantastical. Wolf Children (2012) begins with the transcendent love between a city girl and a werewolf, but instead of ending at their union, it begins there, with the bulk of the film concerned with the hard realities of raising two rambunctious lycanthrope kids. Summer Wars (2009) uses a video game virtual reality to tell a story about getting along with your prospective in-laws, while the girl in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) uses her powers to perfect a karaoke routine. His new film, The Boy and the Beast, is about a child runaway who discovers a secret world of warrior animals, where he is mentored by a splenetic bear-man. Though there are universe-shaking implications, the core of the movie is about how a kid fills in the emotional lack left by his absent parents. Opening in limited release on March 4th, The Boy and the Beast is another of Hosoda’s gorgeous spectacles that finds beauty and pain in the minutiae of existence.


Pioneering Women: Disney Artists Mary Blair & Thelma Witmer

da01Left: Mary Blair at work.
Right: Thelma Witmer & color stylist Eyvind Earle working on Sleeping Beauty (1959).

Tonight TCM is premiering a batch of winter themed Disney cartoons and movies beginning with the Oscar nominated film So Dear to My Heart (1948) that combines live action and animation to tell a sweet story about a young boy who raises a mischievous black-wool lamb. This is followed by a three animated shorts (Rescue Dog; 1947, The Grasshopper and the Ants; 1934 and Corn Chips; 1951) and the live action musical Babes in Toyland (1961) starring one-time Mouseketeer, Annette Funicello. The evening concludes with the dramatic adventure film Never Cry Wolf (1983), an Artic-based documentary titled White Wilderness (1958) and the Viking fantasy The Island at the Top of the World (1974). This is classic entertainment that the whole family can enjoy so if you’ve got children who need to be in bed before midnight I suggest using your recording devices so you can watch these programs at your convenience.


Every Dog Must Have His Day


“What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight–it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

One of the best new films I’ve seen in recent months is WHITE GOD (2014). This Hungarian production thoughtfully directed by Kornél Mundruczó tells the deeply troubling story of Hagen, a pampered pooch owned by a somewhat aloof thirteen-year-old girl named Lilli (Zsófia Psotta) who is abandoned by Lilli’s callous father and left to fend for himself. We follow the discarded pet on his harrowing journey through the streets of Budapest where he encounters other homeless dogs as well as abusive dogcatchers, cruel butchers and finally bloodthirsty dog handlers who train Hagen to kill. When he eventually escapes his torturers, he is a much meaner animal and forms a pack with other abused canines. In a brutal finale, the dogs roam the city taking revenge on the humans who have tormented them.

The film is weighted with biting social commentary as well as religious and political allegory but at its heart, WHITE GOD is a rather simple and profoundly sad story about a helpless dog that learns he must rely on himself and rebel against authority if he wants to survive in a dog-eat-dog world. It also doubles as a sensitive coming-of-age story about the young dog owner who learns a similar lesson although the perils and circumstances she faces are much more privileged and forgiving.

While watching WHITE GOD I was reminded of a few other films I admire that center around dogs like Hagen who were forced to take similar journeys while suffering the consequences of man’s inhumanity to man and animal alike.


September 12, 2015
David Kalat
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The Art of Standing Still

The problem with animated cartoons was baked in on Day One.

Winsor McKay was not the creator of cartoons, but he’s close enough for discussion’s sake. Right away with his inaugural film,, he devotes half the running time to emphasizing how gruelingly hard the whole enterprise is: the months of work, the towering stacks of drawings. Eventually the animation starts, his famous newspaper cartoons spring to life, and all that effort is legitimized. But as thrilling as the fruits of his labors are, he makes sure to keep the labor part of it in full view.

This was the problem: making pictures moves means drawing an absurdly unreasonable number of pictures. As magic tricks go, this one’s nightmarishly hard.

And this sets something of an upper limit to the enterprise: detail-intensive work like this can’t be easily rushed. So, as a business concern, making animated cartoons profitable means one of two things. Either a) upselll the hard work and try to get audiences to pay a premium for the technically difficult work you’re doing, or b) try to find a way to get away with having the pictures not move.

This is the story of Plan B.



Think Pink: The Enduring Appeal of Lady Penelope

ladyp01Last week I celebrated the 100th birthday of Orson Welles and this week I’m celebrating another milestone, the 50th anniversary of THUNDERBIRDS and the International Rescue team featuring secret agent extraordinaire, Lady Penelope.

This popular “Supermarionation” series of television shows and feature-length films debuted on British TV in September of 1965 but Lady Penelope made her first appearance nine months early within the pages of the comic book magazine, TV Century 21. Lady Penelope’s early introduction indirectly resulted in her becoming somewhat of a special ambassador for THUNDERBIRDS and she managed to entice both male and female comic readers with her stories of “Elegance, Charm and Deadly Danger.” This coming Saturday (May 9th) TCM viewers will be able to see Lady Penelope as well as her fellow International Rescue team members in THUNDERBIRD 6 (1968) airing at 8 AM EST – 5 AM PST. In anticipation of THUNDERBIRD 6 and in celebration of the THUNDERBIRDS 50th anniversary, I thought I would explore the enduring appeal of Lady Penelope who, along with her pink six-wheeled Rolls-Royce and trusty sidekick Parker, has managed to capture the imagination of children and adults for the past 50 years.


March 14, 2015
David Kalat
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Walt Disney Down South

Walt Disney had a problem. Technically, he had several problems, but they were all knotted up with each other like a set of headphones that had been left too long in someone’s pocket (great metaphor, huh? That’s why they pay me the big bucks).

And his response to this problem was in many ways mean-spirited and venal, cheap and short-sighted. But listen, Walt Disney is one of my heroes. He didn’t have the luxury of seeing the future, of knowing how his decisions would pan out. He did what he could to keep his studio alive, and while I might wish he had made some different choices, I also get why he did what he did.

And thanks to his choices—good, bad, or indifferent they may have been—he seeded to the world a deliriously weird film called The Three Caballeros. This oddity will be on later this week. You have to rearrange your schedules to see it. Cancel your plans, turn your phones off.


KEYWORDS: Donald Duck, The Reluctant Dragon, The Three Caballeros, Walt Disney

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