Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Two DuckTales petitions ...

Ron Jones' DuckTales score is a sorely under-acknowledged component of the series. To this day, certain cues really "get me".

For example, does this image mentally evoke a certain menacing, impending doom-evoking musical phrase?

To hear them standing on their own, as in this YouTube video, renews my appreciation for them:

A friend I've met through blogging, Kenneth, feels just as strong as I do, if not stronger, about this subject. He has created a petition urging Disney Records to "Release the Complete Music Score for DuckTales on CD and/or iTunes". I implore any fan of the series to sign it:


And, Kenneth's inspired me to write one of my own, instructing Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment on how to "Release a DuckTales deluxe collector's edition box set":


Not being in a position to produce such releases ourselves, we have to do the best we can!

-- Ryan

Thursday, November 21, 2013

(Some of) my assorted thoughts on The H-Man (dir. Ishirō Honda; Toho Co. Ltd., 1958) ...

Thanks to the copy in my elementary school’s library of Godzilla by Ian Thorne (Crestwood House, 1977), I spent a good couple years of my childhood pining to see the dozen-plus – if you will – kaiju movies therein accounted for. It was the pre-DVD, pre-Internet era, and I was 10 and growing up in a rural locale, so to me, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster and Destroy All Monsters were painfully unattainable and thus my expectations of them all the ore aggrandized.

Twenty-plus years later, and thanks to advances in both mass consumer technology and personal autonomy, these movies – and related and/or similar movies – are far more accessible. In fact, my palette has extended beyond not just Godzilla (or, for the purists, Gojira) movies, and not just Shōwa-era kaiju Toho movies in general, but to NON-kaiju Shōwa-era sci-fi Toho movies … like, for example, The H-Man ( ... as it's known in the U.S., where the English dub was first released in 1959. Though the original Japanese title translates to Beauty and the Liquid Men, the 2009 U.S. DVD release of the original Japanese version still bills it as The H-Man.)

… actually, for a good while, I didn’t feel as though I were watching a sci-fi film, and  in the end, wish I’d been right. Yes, the title sequence  -- with its ceremonial imagery of hulking ships at sea, a blackened sky cast over them as they’re subjected to the mercy of a roaring storm – and close-ups of newspaper headlines declaring a Bermuda Triangle-like scenario – really, really wants the audience to know that something mysterious and supernatural has gone on and/or is still going on, and wants you to feel scared and intrigued about it. And in the subsequent scene, when an apparent bank robber seems to vanish out of thin air, leaving all of his clothing behind, I’m pretty sure that I was supposed to be thinking, “Woah, what’s going on here?! I must keep watching, to see the resolution to this mystery?” But I was actually thinking, “Hmm, because of the limited special effects, the editing renders things vaguer than I think they were meant to be, so it’s a little confusing as to what we’re supposed to find confusing.”

Like the original Gojira -- also Honda-directed -- from four years earlier, The H-Man is a story of horror wrought by nuclear testing. It’s obvious why this theme and perspective would be recurring and dominant in Japanese films … not just 10-15 years after World War II, but as late as Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990). And while Toho and Honda pioneered the monster movie-as-allegory-for-nuclear devastation subgenre, in other respects, they were not possessed of an “original voice” or a “singular vision”. Even as a kid, I noticed that the “humans”-centered plotlines (which actually make up, on average, 75% of each one) in Godzilla movies seemed to mimic American movies: e.g., the James Bond-esque elements in 1966's Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster; the android-from-the-future-on-a-mission-to-alter-the-course-of-history Terminator knockoff in 1991's Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. Those movies, though, were following contemporary – if cross-continental – trends. The H-Man is quite another case: with its heavy crime-mobs elements, and especially taking into account the scenes set in a seedy, smoky jazz nightclub, one would think that it had taken 25-30 years for `30’s gangster movies to be imported across the Pacific.

(By the way, there’s a team of about four or five policemen and detectives, including the highest-ranking one, who don’t really need to all be there. Sometimes, one or two are missing. Other times, they’re all present. It seems like two or at most three characters are stretched out across five, for no discernible reason.)

Now, I don’t mean that derisively: I happen to like procedural detective/crime narratives. Coincidentally, the premise anticipates The X-Files by over 30 years: an obsessive, solitary professional – in this case, a scientist – is convinced that the answer to an unsolved crime is supernatural in nature, but all concerned law enforcement personnel – and pretty much everyone else, period – believe that his ideas are baseless and fantastical. But it’s just not that character dynamic that resembles X-Files; they take a similar procedural approach, rather than a fantastical one, keeping the ghosts, monsters, or what have you elusive. As far as U.S. antecedents, from my limited knowledge, I can think of the early `40’s horror movies of Jacques Tourneur and Val Lewton, in the sense that they were worldly and very restrained about showing anything sensational.

The anti-hero (the contrarian scientist) forming an alliance and romance with the misunderstood, in-a-bad-spot bad girl heroine has a distinctly American flavor to it, though I can’t pinpoint specific influences.

That’s not to say that Honda and Toho didn't upon spectacle and thrills. The “melting” radiation-affected humans and the ethereal, translucent beings they evolve into are clearly intended to shock, gross-out, and scare. Still, as I said earlier, throughout the scene on the abandoned boats – where the specter-ish entities are first seen – the eerie, ominous ambiance and slowly-building suspense is pulled off pretty tastefully and skillfully Unfortunately, working around these effects lead to awkwardly framed-shots and disconnected editing.

And of course, there’s the climax, comprised of wide shots of a city quadrant being evacuated by the authorities, replete with armed vehicles and tanker trucks; and the subsequent wide shots of the gasoline-saturated river and underground waterways … including a shot of a vehicle speeding over a bridge as the enormous flames from below tower over and lash out at it. It would seem that here is where a considerable chunk of the budget went. And though the desperately-go-right-into-the-heart-of-the-storm-to-rescue-the-girl-and-pull-it-off-just-in-the-nick-of-time motif climax is intuitive, as well as earnestly, laboriously staged and performed,  the technical limitations lead to confusing editing. E.g., when we cut from a shot of the encroaching fire to the principles running from it, it’s not clear how far behind them it is, or where they are now in relation to the where we saw them in the shot that preceded the one of the fire.

Now, some people consider special effects that seem cheesy by today’s standards to irrevocably render a movie laughable. I see past technical (or sheer budgetary) limitations for what they are, and in their context, look at the effort being made. So, for me, it’s Toho; it’s a gritty detective/gangster movie; it’s character-oriented and worldly, with the fantastical elements restricted just about enough to make the movie cerebral without being bombastic and overindulgent visually; and it has a humane, if simplistic (or at least too-brushed-over), “message”. …oh, if it’s not clear, those are all reasons that I liked it!

-- Ryan

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A sampling of Gladstone's original run: Donald Duck #269 (Oct. 1988; cover date Jan. 1989)

Last Wednesday night, at my favorite restaurant, I joined my family to celebrate my 32nd birthday. Gifts included several articles of clothing and a new pair of shoes for the job that I'm starting next week, a Batman logo t-shirt from my sister, and, from my grandmother, a copy of Gladstone's Donald Duck #269. (She said that she asked at the comic shop for "the oldest Disney comic they have", and this is what they produced. At the time of my seventh birthday, it would've been one of the newest.)

Juxtaposed in this issue are two ten-pagers each built around Donald competing against Gladstone to win a contest: best apples at the county fair in Barks' "Red Apple Sap" from Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #205 (Oct. 1957); and best photograph of a buffalo -- the prize being a much-hyped new car -- in the Daniel Branca-penciled "Eyes on the Bison (its native Danish title being "Dream Car", per Inducks), originally published in 1980. 

A particularly entertaining angle in "Sap" is that Gladstone isn't even trying to harvest apples, and is only peripherally aware of the budding apple tree in his yard. He does give passing thought to the fact, given his luck, his apples' success come the fall harvest is a sure bet, but from what Barks shows us, from spring to fall, Gladstone never leaves the lounge chair beneath said apple tree. Donald, meanwhile, tries desperately, all season long, to tend his apples to perfection, and is dismayed to to see, again and again, every effort he make turn in Gladstone's favor. On the other side of the fence -- Gladstone, not Jones, is the next-door foe this time around  -- Gladstone's involvement never goes further than wondering what his cousin is throwing a fit about this time.

As you'd expect from the man who invented and perfected the character of Gladstone and the Donald-Gladstone rivalry, they're in quintessential form here. Not only that, but it's a unique and ingenious variation of the formula, achieving a near-fable-like perfection in its simplicity. Barks typically wrote Gladstone in ative competition with his cousin; here, Gladstone repeatedly foils Donald without even willing or trying, his mere existence the catalyst for the obstructing and thwarting of Donald's efforts. 

Better yet, the funny, ironic premise culminates in Donald's victory. On the first page, it isn't a mistake that the narration and dialogue repeatedly emphasizes that in harvest season, those who've worked hard since spring "reap what they have sown". Barks echoes said phrase on the final page, as the plot twist allowing Donald to earn the prize he'd sought and deserved plays out. This is one of those cases where one gets the feeling that the writer cheated a little to work their way around Gladstone's luck. What makes it work, overall, is that Gladstone's luck prevailed as always in the sense that he never lost what he most desired: peace, quiet, and freedom from physically or mentally exerting himself. 

Still, an argument could be made that in entertaining and favoring the notion of winning the contest, Gladstone should have kept his idleness and won best-in-show. If that's true, it would follow that given the lesser prize that he is awarded at story's end, his luck's been diminished a bit. I cannot stress enough, however, that I am quibbling over the technicalities of Gladstone's luck here. The evident pleasure that Gladstone takes in his "special" honor results from his preoccupation with "the easy life", keeping the whole unified. The farming subject matter hinting at his youth, the story's "hard work and perseverance" values are purely Barksian. Nonetheless, he didn't that often end one of his stories on a cut-and-dry "And so, the person who worked hard and persevered, naturally, won out in the end" note. However, that unambiguousness is counterblanaced by the irony and disgruntledness that runs throughout the story, with Barks' curmudgeon nature in full gear. So, why complain when Donald's, for once, given a break? I, for one, was happy from him!


On the other hand, in "Eyes on the Bison", the world is as harsh and unfair to Donald as it usually is, when up against his good-fortuned cousin. In this case, Gladstone indeed intends and seeks to come in first place ... and, naturally (a term that can be taken very literally where Gladstone's concerned), he does, while the great lengths Doanld goes to and the pain he endures (nearly being mauled to death by a raging wild buffalo) is all for naught. There's no moral here: it's your standard Donald-vs.-Gladstone affair, replete with the expected, inevitable outcome. And it's a completely adequate application of said formula. Of course, the Branca art Geoffrey Blum script, both exquisite, enliven and add much flare to the proceedings.


William Van Horn, in his brisk, punchy, brimming-with-outlandish-cartoonish-action five-page "The Bright Side", shows Donald being rash, egotistic, bullheaded, and stubborn ... and then punishes him for it, ending on a hospitalized Donald in a full-body cast. I was rooting for Donald to pull off what he boasted he could, but I guess I can't fault anyone for saying -- or the thrust of the narrative for being -- "He asked for it!" Either way, the story's a fun ride ... and, with its sequence of Donald and the nephews sledding on trash can lids down a mountainside covered with a few feet of fresh snow, it looks like a fun ride. 

The three Taliaferro dailies included in this issue each employ the same basic "boom, bam, done" structure: Donald is presented in a situation in which he's being a jerk and/or impatient and testy, and then "karma" suddenly bites him in the ass. If you, like me, find Taliaferro's renderings charming and rich, and his expressions, pacing, and action to be quite fine cartooning, then you'll appreciate these. 

I noticed that the author of one of this issue's letter lived (kind of) near where I live (and pretty much always have). I decided to Google his name, and found his Amazon! Wish List. Its contents -- numerous `40's-`60's western and adventure films and comedy TV series -- indicates a "boomer", which is consistent with the letter, as it was certainly written by no child (but by an adult with learned and rather picky taste).

Anyway, gee, thanks, Grandma!

-- Ryan