Wednesday, February 27, 2008

iPods Are for Pod People

Digital revolution replaces listening to music by filing it

I just picked up the new issue of UGLY THINGS, Mike Stax's wonderful bi-annual garage rock music mag, and had an epiphany while reading Tim Earnshaw' "Ugly Thinks" column. Earnshaw was writing about how the iPod Generation's almost unlimited access to songs has made listening to music routine.

"When you have routine access to thousands of songs, listening to music can be routine."

Yes, so true! Gil Scott-Heron was wrong. The revolution will be televised. And podcast. And uploaded to the Internet where it can be bit streamed and downloaded via Bit Torrents. But the end result is that the revolution becomes institution. Ordinary. Hum-drum.

Full disclosure: I have an iPod Shuffle. Which I sometimes enjoy, especially when riding mass transit or walking down the street as it allows me to ignore crazy people screaming at me or asking me for money. But, like the Replicants in Bladerunner, I'm physical. That is, I like to have and to hold my music, in my hand, with liner notes and pictures. (Hopelessly Old School, I know.)

Too Much, Too Soon?

Earnshaw observes that "The digital revolution has replaced listening to music by filing it" and earnestly continues:
It's a long way from having the choice of how many times you're going to play this single, to having the choice of listening to pretty much anything you want, and I'm not convinced it's made the core experience, the listening, any more intense.

The iPod generation has its own illusory random access generator. Sure, the shuffle feature may seem to enable fugitive listening, but unless you stole the damn thing you're going to have a pretty good idea of what's on there, and it's only the sequence that surprises. Downloading MP3s from the internet has become a listening-replacement activity in itself. We all know the pulpy guy with bad skin who spends more time hunting for and downloading MP3s (stock his basement for the apocalypse) than he does listening to them, filling additional hard disks with material he has vague plans, perhaps, of getting around to listening to someday. When choice of listening is determined by a mouse click, not even requiring the slothlike physical activity of crawling to the stereo and the knee-crippling crouch by the [record shelf] racks, skipping from the Misunderstood to Burning Spear in mid-song has never been easier, so that's all you tend to do, like zapping the TV...the stoned communion has become partitioned office-work, or white-wired isolation on public transport. iPods are for pod people.

Radio? It's become so niched, with musical surprise being deemed a Bad Thing for a healthy demographic, that I doubt it has the revelatory power it used to. And now, more of the same, to take you up to the news at the top of the hour. You're missed, John Peel.

For me, and perhaps for you, the idea that anything new and exciting is even possible anymore in pop and rock, in the sense that it damn well was back then, is a vague hope at best...

What we need is to hear the music for the first time again, to be swept up out of the world by grace, not choice."

Related Links:
Ugly Things website (
Ugly Things (Wikipedia)

Forward Into the Past

No Future? Rewind. Playback.

I love music compilation records and I recently picked up the following two '70s and '80s punk/DIY/New Wave CD comps as part of my ever increasing musical Completion Backward Principle. The obvious big name compilations for music of this time period are the Stiff Records Box Set, Hyped2Death's Messthetics DIY comps and Rhino's Postpunk Chronicles/Left of the Dial series, but here are some worthy supplements to the cause, both of them imports from across the pond: D-I-Y: DO IT YOURSELF (Soul Jazz Records) and A PUNK + NEW WAVE EXPLOSION! (Spectrum).

D-I-Y: DO IT YOURSELF (Soul Jazz Records)

This great compilation from the fine-taste arbiters at Soul Jazz Records takes a look at "the rise of independent music industry after punk" in the UK. Its 22 tracks span the years 1977 to 1986, and while a few are obvious or familiar names (Buzzcocks, Scritti Politti , Swell Maps, Throbbing Gristle, Thomas Leer) the rest are complete unknowns to me - but pleasant discoveries. And it really is a mixed bag, from primal low-tech punk doodlings to to experimental synth noodlings, with funk, dub, electronica and synth-pop to boot.

The Buzzcocks' anthemic "Boredom" is the perfect lead-off track, since it served as the First Gen DIY's clarion call when it first appeared on their 1977 Spiral Scratch EP. As Howard Devoto spat out the lyrics about being "in a movie that doesn't move me," Pete Shelley played punk's most famous two-note guitar solo as if to reenforce the "why bother?" attitude of Devoto's disposable ennui. 30 years on have not dulled this song's brilliance, ba-dum ba-dum.

Speaking of minimalist, even better is the follow-up track "Aint You" by Kleenex, Switzerland's first all-girl punk group. Along with England's Slits and Raincoats, these art school babes from Zurich were one of the first three all-gal bands of the punk era when they formed in 1978 and the first Swiss punk export when this song from their 4-track EP made its way to London to be played on John Peel's radio show. They subsequently had to change their name to LiliPUT in 1980 when Kimberly Clark, the company that owned the copyright to the tissue brandname had their lawyers ask the girls "Aint you wanna cut it out?" to which they reluctantly answered in the affirmative. As SF Weekly critic Lawrence Kay succintly described Kleenex's sound, "Music like this doesn't have to be pretty or nice; it just has to make the plaster rattle before the walls cave in." Done and done.

Kleenex: Tissues became issues

After that it's all virgin territory to my ears. Even though I had one single by Swell Maps and had heard material from krautrocker Thomas Leer and Throbbing Gristle, I know not from these songs and most of the bands.

Kleenex is followed by two post-punk Scottish bands, A.P.B (for All Points Bulletin?) doing a funky little instrumental called "All Your Life with Me," followed by Edinburgh's Fire Engines performing the jaggly guitar-driven "Everything's Roses." According to Wikipedia, the Fire Engines released a limited edition split single with fellow Scots Franz Ferdinand in 2004, with each band covering a song by the other.

Naffi's "Slice 1" is a not-unenjoyable 4 minutes and 18 seconds of fret noodling, while Swell Maps' "Let's Build a Car" is, well, swell.

I found Patrik Fitzgerald's "Babysitter" highly amusing ("At least she don't molest your baby"), his Cockney accent and subject matter reminding me of Manchester's punk poet laureate John Cooper Clarke. Apparently he once auditioned alongside Mick Jones and Tony James for the band London SS and toured with The Jam, but his best known work remains the Safety-Pin Stuck in My Heart EP, which he subtitled "a love song for punk music."

Artery's "The Slide" is all go-nowhere tribal percussion backing Cockney chanting about things like "I don't want a wife! I don't want a wife! I don't want a wife!". All fine and well, if not exactly breathtaking. This would play well at Baltimore's High Zero experimental music festival.

Blurt's "The Fish Needs a Bike" sets aggressivley screeching guitars against squawking saxophones in a high-tension affair straight out of the Gang of Four playbook while a Teuton-toned vocalist dementedly repeats "Da feesh need a bike, da feesh need a bike" over and over. Crazy man! According to Wikipedia, Blurt is the brainchild of Gloucester, England's triple threat (poet, saxophonist, puppeteer) Ted Milton. Wikipedia adds, "Blurt's compositions are based around repetitive minimalistic guitar and/or saxophone phrases with relentless, machine-like drum beats, over which Ted Milton orates his lyrics in a variety of 'voices'." It works for me.

The Glaxo Babies' "Shake the Foundations" is pure dance music, bordering on disco, while The Flys' "Love and a Molotov Cocktail" is more grounded to punk rock simplicity, its dogmatically chanted chorus sounding very much like early Clash.

Russ McDonald's "Looking from the Cooking Pot" is downright wiggy, all beeps and blips and odd percolating noises from a sonic stew at full kettle. Who is this guy?

On more familiar ground, the Leeds-based Scritti Politti's debut single "Skank Bloc Bolgna" (1978) is all hair-raisingly tense guitars and socio-politico warblings from lead deconstructionist Green Gartside. In other words, it's ab fab, and on the strength of this DIY effort - and some helpful airplay on John Peel's radio show - the band got signed to Geoff Travis' Rough Trade label in 1979.

Next up is Windows (doesn't Bill Gates own this word in every conext by now?) performing the dubby, effects-laden "Creation Rebel." I know nada about Windows, but the song is nice background music. Likewise I'm clueless about the girls in Icon A.D., but their "Fight for Peace" is a catchy little rocker. According to the only blurb I could find about them on the Interpunk web page (, Icon A.D. was "formed in Leeds in 1978 by four school friends aged 16 to 18, all with no musical ability whatsoever but plenty of attitude" who "noticed an advert from Crass who were planning to release an album of ‘unknowns’. They submitted a rehearsal tape and the track ‘Cancer’ was included on the first ‘Bullshit Detector’ on the Crass label." A John Peel session soon followed and, well, stop me if you've heard this one before.

Then things start to get synthed out and icy-cold, beginning with German electronic futurist Thomas Leer on "Tight As a Drum." Genesis P. Orridge's Throbbing Gristle continues the electronic drift with the beautiful "Distant Dreams (Part Two)."

Then it's back to guitars with The Last Gang's single "Spirit of Youth," in which the vocalist sings about love, love, love and hate, hate, hate and wonders "Is there more than this?" (But didn't Byran Ferry already ask if there was "More Than This"?) The avant-garde explorations continue with Biting Tongues' "You Can Choke Like This," in which a steady drumbeat anchors free-form jazz solos from wailing saxes and scratchy guitars.

Tom Lucy does a spot-on Iggy Pop (circa mid-80s) trying to be provocatively outrageous while picking on the "stupid French boys" of "Paris, France." According to Bridge House Records, "Tom Lucy is currently a top stunt arranger for many top films and TV shows and has worked as a stunt double for stars such as Sean Connery. Tom is also first cousin to Darren, the bass player with Wasted Youth and this is the secret behind this release." Apparently, Wasted Youth were blacklisted from radio play (execpt for John Peel, of course!) because of their name. "To see if this theory was true it was decided to put the single out under the name of Tom Lucy because as well as being Darren's cousin he was in the studio every day with the band and contributed to the recording and production of the single. When this single got almost daily radio play it seemed the fears were proved correct. Although pressure was applied on the band by music industry bigwigs to change their name and style but they would not sell out."

And finally Red Lorry Yellow Lorry close the disc with some dour instro funk (think Joy Division transitioning into New Order).

Here's D-I-Y's full track listing.

1 The Buzzcocks - Boredom
2 Kleenex - Ain't You
3 A.P.B. - All Your Life With Me
4 Fire Engines - Everything's Roses
5 The Naffis - Slice 1
6 Swell Maps - Let's Build A Car
7 Patrick Fitzgerald - Babysitter
8 Artery - The Slide
9 Blurt - The Fish Needs A Bike
10 Glaxo Babies - Shake The Foundations
11 The Flys - Love And A Molotov Cocktail
12 Russ McDonald - Looking From The Cooking Pot
13 Scritti Politti - Skank Bloc Bologna
14 Windows - Creation Rebel
15 Icon A.D. - Fight For Peace
16 Thomas Leer - Tight As A Drum
17 The Frantic Elevators - Every Day I Die
18 Throbbing Gristle - Distant Dreams (Part Two)
19 The Last Gang - Spirit Of Youth
20 Biting Tongues - You Can Choke Like That
21 Tom Lucy - Paris, France
22 Red Lorry Yellow Lorry - Paint Your Wagon


More to my liking is this import compilation that contains simple (mostly) three-minute pop songs - no dubs, no jams, no electronica. I picked up a used copy at Record & Tape Traders mainly for two songs: "Back of My Hand" by The Jags and "Don't Care" by Klark Kent, alias Stewart Copeland of The Police (my all-time favorite drummer, after Baltimore's own Skizz Cyzyk, of course - who is also my favorite fake lefty guitarist). I already had the Jags single and the Klark Kent EP on vinyl, but good luck trying to find these rarities on CD - except on something like this import compilation!

The Jags were a typically mumbly-mouthed Scots band whose powerpoppy "Back of My Hand" was one of the highlights of my "Telephone Songs" mix tape (I used to make lists like these back in the day; other comps included "Girl's Name Songs," "Car Songs," "Train Songs" and so on - I obviously had a LOT of time on my hands! And yes, I totally identified with Nick Hornsby's Hi-Fidelity audiophile). Unfortunately, listening to this song was like watching Trainspotting - I couldn't make out much beyond the chorus of "I got your number written on the back of my hand." I think the singer says something like "I'm not a fuck machine" (if so, I love that line!) but it might just as well be "I know just what you mean" and I think he says something about "dry your eyes" but the broque is so thick it sounds like "dry yer ass" (which gives the song a whole new slant - does the singer have the girl's No. 2 written on the back of his hand?). The track included here is the original single version; apparently a remix version appears on the Best of the Jags CD (God, I hate when they do that - it's like Gerry Todd Remix Overkill Syndrome; you should always put the original versions people first heard when reissuing records - don't get me started on the Richard Hell & The Voidoids Blank Generation CD that subsitutes an alternate version of "Rock and Roll Club" much to my vexation!). Anyway, here's a YouTube clip of the Jags performing "Back of My Hand"; see if you can phonetically decipher it.

Klark Kent's 1978 single "Don't Care" is a great little pop tune with Stewart Copeland's characteristic humorous lyrics ("If you don't like my haircuts, you can SUCK MY SOCKS!"); Sting would cringe at the words, but let's face it, Stu added whatever sense of humor there was to the early Police records (a la "Be My Girl - Sally"). Thank God for good old American pluck! Copeland played all the instruments on the 1980 Klark Kent EP (which was really more like a mini-LP with 8 songs clocking in at almost 25 minutes and was pressed on Kryptonite-green vinyl!), but put together a DEVO-esque masked band for TV appearances, as illustrated in this YouTube clip for "Don't Care."

A very pleasant surprise was hearing Ultravox!'s 1977 single "Young Savage," which would later turn up on their 2nd LP Ha!-Ha!-Ha!. Was anyone a cooler frontman/wordsmith than John Foxx with his rapid-fire delivery and voluminous lyricism that seemed to be equal parts Dylan, Burroughs and J. G. Ballard? From the kick-start opening salvo "The Jekyll-Hyde of you/I can't survive the tide of you" to lines like "Money rents you insulation/Tenderness, asphyxiation," I have no idea what he's talking about, but it sounds so damned good I'm ready to sing his accolades as a post-modern poet of the highest order.

I also liked the way this collection placed two songs about time back to back (synchronicity!), namely the Boomtown Rats' "Like Clockwork" and Joe Jackson's "Got the Time." Listening to the Rats reminded me not only of how effortlessly poppy they were but also of how irritating Sir Bob's voice was (not that my opinion counts for much - after all, he got knighthood/sainthood for his Live Aid work and also got to shag uber-babes like the late Paula Yates). And the superb "Got the Time" reminded me that, before he chucked the killer guitar riffs to become The Piano Man, Joe Jackson and his band - whom I had the pleasure to catch performing at their height in 1980 at Towson State University (perhaps you've heard of it?) - totally rocked. The heavy metal band Anthrax obviously agreed with me, as they covered this song in 1990. Mental note: Pick up the first Joe Jackson album Look Sharp! (1979).

Other highlights include the modish Chords out-Jamming The Jam on "Maybe Tomorrow," Squeeze's first single "Take Me I'm Yours," and Julian Cope's neo-psychedelic The Teardrop Explodes performing "Reward." I remember the Teardrop Explodes being a big deal in the early '80s, with the Liverpudlians even making a pitstop at Baltimore's Marble Bar on March 15, 1981.

The Passions' "I'm In Love with a German Film Star" is a gem, of course, but it already appeared on Rhino's 1998 Postpunk Chronicles: Left of the Dial CD with a better (and louder) mix. I first discovered this song when it was used as the soundtrack of John "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" Heyn's Girls on Film, a short film celebrating the anonymous women who appeared on film countdown reels.

You also get The Slits sounding ultra-cool dabbling with dub and ska on "Typical Girls," Adam & The Ants playing "I see London, I see France" on the amusing "Young Parisians" and Manchester's Slaughter & The Dogs with a typically working-class-punk assault on "Where have All the Bootboys Gone," which could just as easily be a soccer singalong.

There are also two tracks each from The Jam (the excellent "In the City" and "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight"), the progressive-era Damned ("Grimly Fiendish" and "Eloise", from when they added keyboards and high-production values in the mid-'80s; "Eloise" was a cover of Barry Ryan's 1968 #2 hit and when The Damned released their version in 1986, it became their biggest chart success ever, reaching #3 on the UK charts) and, Eddie & The Hot Rods ("Teenage Depression" and "Do Anything You Wanna Do," the latter's chord progressions sounding strikingly like The Records' "Starry Eyes" - no wonder it was their greatest chart success, climbing to #9 on the UK charts in 1977) - though I never understood why these pub rockers were so big; I remember they played the Marble Bar and local bands thought it was a big deal to open for them because they were from the UK and (erroneously) associated with the punk rock scene. Still, "Do Anything You Wanna Do" was a pretty nice tune and probably the best thing they ever did; watch them do the "Do" as "The Rods" on Marc Bolan's Marc Show and see what you think.

Here's the full track listing:

1. In The City - Jam
2. Teenage Depression - Eddie & The Hot Rods
3. Young Savage - Ultravox
4. Like Clockwork - Boomtown Rats
5. Got The Time - Joe Jackson
6. Typical Girls - Slits
7. Young Parisians - Adam & The Ants
8. Grimly Fiendish - Damned
9. Back Of My Hand - Jags
10. Where Have All The Bootboys Gone - Slaughter & The Dogs
11. Don't Care - Klark Kent
12. Maybe Tomorrow - Chords
13. Reward - Teardrop Explodes
14. I'm In Love With A German Film Star - Passions
15. Down In The Tube Station At Midnight - Jam
16. Take Me I'm Yours - Squeeze
17. Do Anything You Wanna Do - Eddie & The Hot Rods
18. Eloise - Damned

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Reversal of Fortune

OR: WTF???

Getafe 1, Real Madrid 0
February 24, 2008

Thanks to my new favorite soccer blog, The Offside (, for this amazing post, "Check With the Linesman Before You Celebrate" about Real Madrid's incredible reversal of fortune from a disallowed goal & oblivious goal celebration to getting humiliated by their opponents' quick counter-attacking goal at the other end that decided the game 27 seconds later, 1-0. How ever will La Liga leaders Real Madrid live this down - especially coming on the heels of Barcelona's 5-1 thrashing of Levante to narrow their league lead to 2 points?

Not a good day for Real Madrid, but at least the club managed to match Barcelona’s claim on most original goal celebration of the weekend. I’ve never seen anything like this before. Here’s what happened:

Raul squares to Arjen Robben, Arjen Robben sidefoots it home. Real Madrid celebrate. But they don’t notice the linesman’s flag signalling Raul was offside. So while Madrid’s players congratulate each other, Getafe take the ball up the other end, outnumber the handful of Madrid players who were actually paying attention, and Ikechukwu Uche scores. 1-0 to Getafe and that’s how it stayed.

The whole thing is perfectly captured by the close up on Arjen Robben’s face. First he’s running around celebrating and his expression says “Joy! I’ve scored,” then a few moments later he’s rooted to the spot and his expression says “Wait…. what???”

If you squint hard enough you can also see that the gameclock reads 17:59 (in the second half) when Robben puts the ball in the net and thinks it’s 1-0 to Madrid. By 18:26, it’s 1-0 to Getafe. From one up to one down in 27 seconds.

By the way, the Barcelona goal celebration referenced above involved Barca striker Samuel Eto'o, after scoring a hat trick in the 5-1 win, borrowing a photographer's camera and taking a snapshot of his teammates. Now that's a photo finish!


Brian Billick: Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered

I read the article in the Baltimore Sun today about Brian Billick, who whined that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti never told him why he was fired. As one Sun reporter put it: "Did he really have to?"

I have your answer right here, Brian:


That was your regular season record in 2007. With a franchise record nine consecutive losses. With two losses to the "powerhouse" Browns and Bengals. And that howler in Pittsburgh that's sure to be a big hit on the next edition of "NFL Follies."

'Nuff said?

So man up and stop being a cry-baby - I'm sure you'll get over the hurt of having to sit on the couch this year while collecting 5 million dollars for not coaching the Ravens. Sure, you were 13-3 the year before. But the year before you were 6-10 and ever since you've been here as a purported offensive genius you've had an offense whose point totals looked like soccer scores, surely one of the most boring and unimaginative offenses in the history of the NFL. Elvis (Grbc) has left the building. Like Trent Dilfer. And Kyle Boller. And, soon (hopefully) Steve McNair. None could make the Offensive Wizard's turgid gameplan's go.

So keep yourself busy with pep talks to the troops in Iraq and maybe you could use your experiences with the Baltimore Sun (who had the audacity to print your win-loss record) to give seminars on media relations.

Are we done here, Brian?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Dr. Gonad

The Porn Star Who Denied Christ

Paul Thomas denied knowing a Jewish carpenter from Bethlehem

I learn something everytime I browse the racks at Daedalus Books at Belvedere Square. The last time I stopped in, I heard a jazz CD playing that turned out to be the source soundtrack for Cialus' time-released schwing! ED commercials (it's guitarist Herb Ellis playing his version of "Sweet Georgia Brown"). And this weekend I made another discovery, thanks to a cursory browse through Granta magazine there.

Atom Egoyan, my favorite Armenian-Canadian director (The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica, Ararat), had an article called "Dr. Gonad" in which he discussed the film he yearned to make about Paul Thomas, an actor in over 300 films and a director of an additional 208 films, according to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). So what, you say? Well, as any viewer of '70s and '80s porn knows, Paul Thomas is the name of a very prolific pornstar and, later, award-winning adult film director (in fact, Mr. Thomas won the last four AVN Awards for Best Director between 2004-2007). But Atom Egoyan clued me into the fact that under his alternate stage name of Philip Toubus, Paul Thomas played Peter, denyer of Christ, in Norman Jewison's Jesus Christ Superstar (1973).

I can't tell you how excited I get when I discover mainstream films starring adult film stars.

Anyway, here's Egoyan's article from Granta 86:
Dr Gonad
by Atom Egoyan

The director, Atom Egoyan, reflects on the film he yearns to make, but knows he never will.

Few careers fascinate me more than that of Paul Thomas. According to the International Movie Database (IMDb), Mr Thomas has acted in almost 300 films, and must hold a record for directorial credits (208).

His extraordinarily prolific career seems to have tapered off in the last year, with his last credit as director being WMB: Weapons of Masturbation in 2003. As an actor, Mr Thomas will have a hard time matching the thirty credits he scored in 1981, including Swedish Erotica 1–4, 8, 11, 13–14, 17–18, 22, 25, 28–29, and 40–41. The IMDb states that Mr Thomas is sometimes credited as Judy Blue, Toby Philips, Tory Philips, Toby Phillips, Philip Tobias and Phil Tobus, amongst several other incarnations. Given the invariable spelling errors that must occur on certain pornographic titles (when one produces over forty volumes of Swedish Erotica in a single year, mistakes are bound to be made), most of these monikers seem to be some sort of variation of Paul Thomas's birth name: Philip Toubus.

It is under this name, Philip Toubus, that I first came into contact with this talented individual. He was one of the principal actors in Norman Jewison's Jesus Christ Superstar. Mr Toubus—who has a distinctive singing voice—played the part of Peter. Watching this film when it was released in 1973 changed my life. I had sung hymns every morning at school, and endured compulsory Bible readings, but the religious imagery meant little to me until I saw this magnificently entertaining movie. I can still remember every word of Tim Rice's witty libretto.

I particularly remember Mr Toubus/Thomas as he denied Christ three times. His look of increasing bewilderment as he fulfils Christ's prophecy struck me as something close to sublime. Years later, I would witness this same face (though decidedly less bewildered) in such films as Dr Gonad's Sex Tails, Dracula Sucks, Nasty Nurses and, of course, his crowning porn achievement, Best of Caught from Behind 2. Though Mr Thomas would go on to perform in This Stud's for You, Cumshot Revue and Naughty Cheerleaders, nothing would erase the pleasure of the young actor, in his first screen credit, denying Jesus Christ.

What went so horribly wrong (or so spectacularly right) in Mr Toubus's career? A pathologically cynical agent? A simple and almost plaintively earnest desire to stretch his wings? I have always thought that Mr Toubus would be an ideal subject for a documentary—a documentary I will never make.

I will never make this documentary because I have constructed a perfectly structured framing device for this film, and it would crush me if Mr Toubus would not conform to it. In my fantasy of our imaginary interview, Mr Toubus would deny me. First, he would deny me three times and then, by the end of the interview, he would have denied me more times than there are episodes of Swedish Erotica (sixty). I would intercut his denials with images from his porn career and cutaways from his denials in Jesus Christ Superstar. The big problem with this approach is that I have no idea what Mr Toubus could possibly deny. He certainly couldn't deny his participation in the porn. He might deny that this was a lamentable choice. But even if he were to deny this (and there's a very good chance Mr Toubus is perfectly pleased with his decisions), this would only account for one niggling denial. Certainly not enough for a movie.

So this potentially fascinating film will never be made.

As an aside, our careers almost collided at the Adult Video News Awards, a splashy event held every year to honour the best in porn. In 1997, Mr Thomas won Best Director for his work on Bobby Sox. A year earlier, my film Exotica had won for Best Alternative Adult Film (difficult to believe, but it's also there on the IMDb record under 'Awards & Nominations'). I entertain the fantasy that Mr Thomas was on the nominating committee that selected my film.

Needless to say, Mr Toubus would deny this.

Trivia: In the film noir classic Tension (1949), "Paul Thomas" is one of the names Warren Quimby (Richard Baseheart) considers adopting when creating his new identity.

Related Links:
Paul Thomas (Wikipedia)

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Blog about Soccer Blogs & Blowhards


I recently discoverd that the Baltimore Sun has a soccer blog by Wes Harvey (pictured left). It's called Alive and Kicking and it's not bad. Now if only the Sun would deign to cover soccer not just online but in print - and I'm talking about real soccer/football here - not that gimmicky indoor soccer nonsense the Blast play (indoor soccer was invented to make the beautiful game palatable for Americans by trading in everything that makes the game great - creating space, using tactics like overlapping runs and free/corner kicks, running great lengths for long periods that test an athelete's stamina, skillful passing and trapping - all for the score sheet's bottom line of goals.) Hey, here's a thought...maybe the Sun could arrest their sagging sales (though the hike from 50 to 75 cents a paper didn't help) by covering a sport Baltimore's ever-growing Hispanic populace might read about. Apparently Lamont "Wes" Harvey is a Sun graphic designer who just happens to know about soccer (God forbid the Sun should hire a full-time soccer reporter like the Washington Post). But I'm pulling for Wes to get a regular print byline sometime soon.

And now on to a discussion of blowhards (both good and bad), namely the soccer announcers on Fox Soccer Channel and GOL TV.


Over at Fox Soccer Channel, things are starting to get really bad. My pet peeves? First off, they've started adding annoying pop-ups and text scrolls hyping new shows during match broadcasts. But it gets worse. Namely, for some reason Max Bretos seems to be incredibly popular at the channel (he's getting more and more hosting assignments), even though this megalomaniac is guilty of blatant "homerism" anytime the USA plays a match and comes off as a complete idiot if you bother to listen to what he's actually saying. And he's a complete Company Man at Fox, where he can regularly be seen shilling for Fox Soccer Channel anniversary specials and the like.

Formerly banished to covering South America's inferior domestic leagues (there's a good reason why the European soccer leagues are bursting at the seams with Brazilian and Argentine players - they all left the bush leagues to play in the Big Show), he once hosted the Argentina League show, which was the most bizarre of all the international soccer roundup shows on Fox; it was unlike any other highlights review program and was totally devoid of play-by-play professionalism as lazy boy Max used the highlight reels to make groan-inducing quips and wince-worthy puns, often bordering on racism (like the time he commented on an Argentine striker's goal by saying, in Frito Bandito voice, "I haff somedink for yooooo!")

Worse still is his tendency to accentuate rolled R's whenever he enunciates Spanish words, trying to come off as a master linquist like those annoyingly overeducated National Public Radio types who make a big show of properly accenting "Nica-ragua"). A total know-nothing who has trouble walking by a mirror without stopping. But for some reason, boorish Bretos is in favor at Fox now; having served his time in the soccer bush leagues, the FSC brass have brought him home to roost.

Mitigating Max Factor: Max sometimes calls games with former player Chris Sullivan who, though not as foppishly articulate as the superslick Maxster, actually knows the game and makes intelligent points. Bad hair, though.

For more Max-basing, check out this rant from the MLS Underground blog.


And speaking of over-confident Fox Soccer Channel gits in love with themselves, equally annoying is Scottish mumblecore blowhard Bobby McMahon. When you can understand his Willie the Groundskeeper broque at all, the FSC analyst is prone to such smug inanities as "Eef yee lookit duh Spunish Preemeer leek dis year, its hyard to oonerstan jus whyee Reel Madreet are tup oof da taybor; Aym jus waytin fur dem tee bee shoon up!" Um, maybe they're top of the table Bobby because they're the class of the division and one of the most exciting and star-studded teams in the world. And who exactly is going to "find Real Madrid out"? Barcelona sucks this year and relies too much on Lionel Messi to save them while Ronaldinho recovers from injury/burnout and Thierry Henry is still trying to find his place in the flow of the team. My God, Real puts up 7-0 thrashings of opponents while Barca continues to have listless 0-0 draws with nobodies (goal scoring has been a real problem for them - and with that payroll I'd be expecting LOTS of goals!) and Villencia, Sevilla and even the Villareal's Yellow Submarine have pulled disappearing acts that have seen the drop from serious contention (unlike last year when La Liga was the most exciting - and hotly contested, the title coming down to the final weekend - league in the world).


Meanwhile, over at GOL TV, I can only listen to games (re)announced by the winning team of play-by-play straight man Phil Schoen and the insanely colorful color man Ray Hudson. (GOL TV originates in Florida, where for the most part they dub commentary over taped games from Europe - especially Spain's Primera Division (La Liga) - and South America.)

Some people hate Ray Hudson, but I love him. My girlfriend doesn't care much for soccer (or The Three Stooges, but that's a different matter!), but whenever she hears Ray Hudson's voice she starts laughing ("It's that crazy guy again!") and stops to watch. Ray Hudson, thank you; you made a non-believer believe!

Sure, he's often (most often, I'd say) full of hyperbole and enough hot air to fill a Bio-dome, but no one's as passionate or prosaic as this lone poet of football commentary. His stock adjectives are "heavenly" ("That was a heavenly ball, Phil!"), "magical" ("Messi's goal was magical, Phil!"), and "warrior" ("Ah, Phil, these Galacticos are warriors, man!") and anytime a striker gets a ball in the box he'll scream "He's in, Phil, he's in!!!"

And his love or certain marquee players- especially Brazilians like Ronaldinho ("Ronny") and "Little" Robinho and Argentines like "Little Lionel" Messi and Juan Roman Riquelme - is so obvious you wonder if he dreams of spending time with them in a public bath house.

Ray's cult is so pervasive that there's even a new blog dedicated to his amusing utterances, Hudsonia: The Wisdom of Ray Hudson. The blog's mission statement says it all:
Ray Hudson is a football/soccer commentator for GolTV with a unique ability to coin phrases that defy both logic and belief. This blog is inspired by the awesome enthusiasm he brings to the game and his quest to 'invent a new language in English'.

In addition to transcribing Ray's words from each week's La Liga game, Hudsonia also features audio clips of the mouth that roared. I came across this site thanks to another blog, Who Ate All the Pies. Poster Ollie Irish had perhaps the best-ever oxymoronic description of Hudson's humorous hubris when he called it "brilliant nonsense." Here's his full description:
Hudsonia is a newish blog dedicated to the wit and wisdom (more of the former and not a lot of the latter, to be honest) of Ray Hudson, cult co-commentator for GolTV. We've featured Ray a couple of times on Pies and it's no surprise that he now has his own dedicated forum. Here's a wonderful Hudson stream-of-consciousness pearl (a HudsonBall?) to tempt you over to Hudsonia:

'Said keep your eye on him, I've always loved him, man, as a player. Said, such a bread-and-butter man but what a warrior. The ball gets fed back to him, and it's a gangster goal. And here Poulsen is Al Capone. It's a great, rifled machine gun hit ...'

Nonsense, but what brilliant nonsense.

Hudson is a former player and MLS coach but his greatest achievement is that big motoring mouth of his. When he took over at D.C. United in 2002, he explained his excitable loqaciousness thusly to the Washington Post: "It's in me blood. I have very deep passions for this game and for my players. I'll let the whole world know how I feel, no holding back."

Hence he is wont to describe a goal celebration as "Robinho had an orgasm after that goal!" and throw out other bon mots such as:

"I'm higher than a hippie at Woodstock"

"He's as competitive as a hungry tiger, yet he's got the sensibility of a village priest."

"He looked like Sophia Loren walking up a flight of stairs - absolutely beautiful."

"They've just cut their own throats today and Real Madrid are just playing in their blood."

"You can hear a drop of salsa hitting a chimichanga in that Valladolid locker-room."

"Brilliant run. Timing to perfection. Swivels his hips like Marilyn Monroe as he puts it in..."

"Thierry's off to the races and that is time-warp pace. He actually folds space, Einstein-like, Thierry. And he doesn't miss these ones. And he says 'I'll buy you my dance tonight, my son.'"

"Plays it in front of him, and Bojan could put that away balancing a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale on his head..."

"They've got more crazy rules than Blockbuster video these referees with the offside rule these days, Phil."

"There’s more flair in this team, in this club, than a nineteen-seventies high-school reunion."

"This is a cabaret goal, again. And he’s Liza Minnelli."

"Look at that! He's a defender but he's like a fish up a tree with that finish!"

"The ball’s trapped in between Raúl’s legs. Keita doesn’t matter what ball he kicks, he’s gonna get something."

"It doesn't matter if it hits him in the face, you've got to forget that, Phil. It's Hilbert, he's not a good-looking lad in the first place..."

Want to hear Ray? Just check out YouTube. Be forewarned, he has a thick Geordie accent, but it's been watered-down somewhat by his time Stateside. Here's a sample clip called Ray Hudson - Greatest Soccer Commentator Ever


Compare him to that Hispanic guy on GOL TV (Rafa something - Unsein?) who is the worst color commentator in world soccer. I wish I knew his name. He covers some games with Phil Schoen and while I know it's tough for a native Spanish speaker to sound eloquent when English isn’t your first language, it doesn't excuse the fact that he's slow, inarticulate, uninformative and often silent (someone should remind him that he's getting paid to comment on, not just watch, the games) and quite often stops and sputters like a broke-down bus.

"' a...good goal..."

Not exactly Sparkle Plenty or Mr. Excitement.

Oh, the horror. GOL TV, do yourself a favor and get him off the air!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

My Body: An Annual Report

At the start of the new year, I received a document from my healthcare provider detailing every medical claim I reported in 2007. They said it was some regulatory requirement. Whatever. As I scanned the list, I counted 23 ailments that sent me to a doctor's office last year - that's almost a trip every two weeks! For convenience's sake, I put together the following illustrated guide to my various maladies.

Tom Warner: The Year in Review

What a drag it is growing old.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Weekend Toon Up


Inspired by MICA's Suzan Pitt retrospective Thursday night, I spent all day Saturday watching animated films at area theatres.


First up was the the "The 2007 Academy Award Nominated Animated Short Films" program at the Landmark Theatre, where I saw all five short films nominated for Best Animated Short at the 2007 Academy Awards (a separate program addressed the live action short film nominees). One of those films was the amazing Madame Tutli-Putli, which I had seen previously and was sure would be the pick of the litter and a shoo-in for this year's Oscar. But after seeing the full line-up, I wasn't so sure. In other words, this is a great program of immensely talented animators, one in which everyone's a contender! In fact, I was so impressed by the impressionist watercolor technique employed in the Russian short My Love (Moya Lyubov) , I have to give it the Oscar nod (though I Am the Walrus was easily the most enjoyable short).

The 90-minute program was perfectly paced and included (in order of appearance):

(directed by Samuel Tourneux and Simon Vanesse, France, 9 minutes, French w/ English subtitles, CGI)

A priest tries to sell an old man a machine that he promises will transport him to Paradise. This funny short was a great opener, managing to entertain while also showing the hypocrisy of Catholic theological excess in a way only Europeans raised under Church ideology can.


MEMES LES PIGEONS at Internet Movie Database

(directed by Alexander Petrov, Russia, 27 minutes, Russian w/English subtitles)

Alexander Petrov has been nominated for four Oscars for Best Animated Short Film, winning previously for THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (1999). Inspired by Ivan Turgenev's novella First Love, this long short set in 19th-century Russia tells the story of a teenage boy in search of love who is drawn to two very different women from two very different social classes. Da, da...typical Russian epic novel fare with a typically tragic Turgenev twist (readers of my Lazy Eye post take note - it involves strabismus!). But it's handled with great imagination and amazing technical skill - Petrov employs the time-consuming technique of painting pastel oils on glass, giving his film the look of one of Monet's impressionist paintings come to life. The effect is visual poetry at its finest.

MY LOVE - PART 1 (extract from You Tube)

(directed by Chris Lavin and Maciek Szczerbowski, Canada, 17 minutes, Claymation/CGI)
Official Madame Tutli-Putli Website

Jeepers, creepers, where'd you get those peepers?

A timid woman boards a mysterious night train and has a series of frightening experiences. That's the non-narrative plot of this stop-motion puppet animation film, but its real story lies in Madame Tutli-Putli's expressive eyes. Those emotive orbs were the creation of Jason Walker, who crafted a production process in which he seamlessly added live action human eyes to stop-motion animation. The process is explained in detail on Jason Walker's official web site (
Jason developed a system of separating and analyzing the previously shot stop-motion puppet moves, choreographing, rehearsing and shooting a human actor's corresponding "eye performance" to match each puppet move, at the same time recreating as closely as possible all light and shadow passes original to the stop-motion. Once the human eyes were shot, each eye was individually positioned, scaled, re-timed and digitally composited onto the puppet scenes. As different actors were cast for almost all the characters, the requirement was not only to integrate the human eyes onto each puppet, but on a frame by frame basis, match the subtle movement of the puppets, the camera, and the train – all the while retaining the flow of the acting. "This required every trick in the book and more!" exclaims Mr. Walker. The creation of the film and this extraordinarily painstaking process took 4 years from concept to completion.

Beyond its technical aspects, the film is also a thought-provoking psychological exercise, for Mademe Tutli-Putli certainly carries more than just Samsonite luggage aboard the train. Like the characters in Suzan Pitt's Asparagus and Joy Street, the protagonist is clearly taking a trip to the center of her mind.


(directed by Josh Raskin, Canada, 5 minutes, English, 2D Animation)
Official Web Site:

Animators looking for ideas, take heart: this is a prime example of how to make something out of nothing. In 1969, 14-year-old Jerry Levitan (pictured left) snuck into John Lennon's hotel room in Toronto with his tape recorder and persuaded him to do an interview. This was during John and Yoko's "Bed-In" to promote world peace phase. Levitan got 5 minutes worth of conversation about various topics, including war and peace, music and, unfortunately, his dislike of George Harrison (what's his problem? George was my fave of the Fab Four!). It all wouldn't have amounted to much, except for Josh Raskin's imagination and skill as an animator and director 38 years later. He uses a stream-of-consciousness technique to illustrate basically every word that comes out of Lennon's mouth. More specifically, he employs James Braithwaite's pen sketches and Alex Kurina's digital illustrations to create what the film's official web site quite rightly calls "a spell-binding vessel for Lennon’s boundless wit, and timeless message." That message is illustrated below:

The look of the animation reminded me of both Terry Gilliam's Monty Python work (which of course harkens back to the cut-up collage techniques of Stan Vanderbeek) and Frank and Caroline Mouris' FRANK FILM (1973), especially in regards to the latter's pacing and thematic synching of images with narration.

Check out the trailer below:
"I Met the Walrus" trailer

(directed by Suzie Templeton, UK & Poland, 27 minutes, stop-motion Claymation)
Official Web Site

The kids in the crowd loved this one the best, and why not? It's a familiar story to them, but this version of Prokofiev's classical music drama of a young boy and his animal friends who face a hungry wolf is told with a different slant. The director nixes all that "cry wolf" foreplay and gets right to the matter at hand, the action and Prokofiev's music propelling the narration-free story forward until it reaches a new, "re-imagined" non-violent ending. There are also ample bits of humor, thanks to Templeton's amusing animal models.

Suzie Templeton is best known for her award-winning film DOG (2002), which told the story of a boy coming to terms with the death of his mother. This film has won many prizes, including a British Animation Award and a BAFTA.

Watch Official Trailer

The short was also featured on PBS' GREAT PERFORMANCES. Check out the clip below to see director Suzie Templeton talking about the maing of her film:
The Making of PETER & THE WOLF


Then it was up to the Charles Theatre to finally catch Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (2007, France/USA, 95 min), which I had been hearing about since my animator friend saw it at the Annecy Animation Festival in France. First-time director Marjane Satrapi did a marvelous job adapting her graphic novel of the same name to the big screen (after all, who else knows the material as well as its author?), and I like the way she used black-and-white to depict her life under an oppressive regime in Iran and color for her life in the West.

Satrapi's story of her coming-of-age, from a 9-year-old during Iran's Islamic Revolution, a teenager during the long war of attrition with Iraq and as a young woman eventually escaping to the West is both a history lesson and the story of one woman's independent spirit and quest for artistic and creative freedom. Particularly amusing is the appeal of "decadent" Western culture in the form of punk, ABBA, Iron Maiden and Michael Jackson for Satrapi while in her homeland, as contrasted with her contempt for its excesses in the West. For example, when she is Vienna hanging out a middle-class group of friends made up of mohawked nihilists and punk rock-listening anarchists, she can't figure out exactly what they're rebelling against, other than boredom. They seem to have it all too easy while in her country listening to something even as innocuous as the Bee Gees was enough to get one imprisoned.

As has been pointed out by other reviewers, the emotional highlight of Satrapi's film is the unironic use of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" to represent her resolve to change her plight and strike out for personal and artistic freedom. Westerners may snicker at the cheesiness of the song's sentiments, but irony is a luxury for oppressed people whose main concern is survival.

It would be easy after watching Persepolis to smugly assume that the West has religious freedom and that that Iran's religious regime is an all-too-obvious form of fascism. But religious fanaticism of all every stripe came off pretty poorly in the films I saw today, from the mean-spirited imans and nuns in Persepolis to the conniving priest in the animated short Meme les Pigeons vont au Paridis (Even Pigeons Go To Heaven).

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Pitt Stop


Fanboy with Suzan Pitt

Last night I got to meet one of my idols, American animator Suzan Pitt (pictured above right), who was in town for a free film screening of her works Asparagus (1979), Joy Street (1995), and El Doctor (2006) at the Maryland Institute, College of Art. Suzan Pitt is an artist and independent animator whose acclaimed works are characterized by their bright color schemes and concern with the spiritual and psychological journeys of their protagonists. Interested in the aesthetic of moving painted images, her goal has always been to make animated films that are gorgeous to look at but which also have something important to say. But that only tells part of the story of this talented artist's work; her life is a work of art in itself, one that has enabled her to meet and work with artists of every stripe, including "rock stars" like Debbie Harry (who sings a song with the Jazz Passengers on the soundtrack of Joy Street) and Peter Gabriel (Suzan helped animate his Big Time music video). But more on that later.

The screening was organized by Laurence Aracadias and Richard Lipscher of MICA's Experimental Animation Department (as pictured below with Suzan), in collaboration with the Maryland Film Festival.

Laurence Arcadias, Suzan Pitt and Rich Lipscher

Entering MICA's Brown Building lobby at half past 7 p.m., I immediately spotted Laurence Arcadias talking to someone I assumed was one of her students, a slender study in black jeans and knee-length black coat. But on closer inspection the "student" turned out to be none other than guest of honor Suzan Pitt, who calmly explained that she had lost a lot of weight the last month from a bout of flu.

"You wear it well," I complimented her. "I mistook you for MICA coed."

Despite still being a little under the weather, it immediately became apparent that Suzan had a very relaxed, easy-going manner, one entirely in keeping with her self-characterization as "an old hippie." She is definitely "Old School" as far as animation goes, a hand-drawing/painting cel animator (the end credits in her latest work, 2006's El Doctor, said it all: "Hecho a mano," made by hand), who takes great joy in what she called "the process" - the whole soup-to-nuts process from conception to completion that goes into creating a work of art.

As we stood conversing outside Falvey Auditorium, other Suzan Pitt fans gathered around her, including my cineaste co-worker Marc Sober (pictured right), his friend (and erstwhile Baltimore Film Festival impressario) Harold Levine, retired film teacher Mike Iampieri, and BCPL Nex Gen librarian Cody Brownson. In full otaku fanboy mode, Marc and I loomed over Suzan asking for autographs and pictures. She gracefully indulged our attentions and obliged all parties concerned with ample photo ops.

By way of introduction...a slight digression

So why all the fuss and fawning, you ask? Well, if you don't know about Suzan Pitt's work, you really should. I would be doing an injustice to her if I summed her career up in one word, but it's the first word that pops into everyone's head when they've seen her work, past or present. That word is: Asparagus.

Asparagus is hard to digest on just one viewing

I work in the audio-visual department of the Enoch Pratt Free Library and anytime someone interested in animation asks me for recommendations, the first question I ask is, "Have you seen Asparagus?" It is at once mind-blowing, bizarre, and surreal - as well as beautiful, detailed and thought-provoking. Or, as Turner Classic Movies describes certain must-see films, it's one of "The Essentials."

Five years in the making (1974-1978), this award-winning (First Prize - Oberhausen International Film Festival, Baltimore Film Festival, Atlanta Film Festival, Ann Arbor Film Festival) 20-minute candy-colored dreamscape wowed audiences upon its 1979 release and propelled Suzan Pitt to the front ranks of indie animation. As critic Michael Spor recalled, "Asparagus was the biggest thing in the Independent animation world back in the early ’80s. Hardly a screening of animated films existed without including this short."

Baltimore filmmaker/curator Skizz Cyzyk can certainly vouch for that last statement. Long before it finally became available on DVD, Asparagus was only available locally as a 16mm print at the Enoch Pratt Central Library and Skizz used to check it out regularly to show at his Mansion Theatre and MicroCineFest "underground film" screenings. And I myself have shown it so many times at Enoch Pratt film programs that I've lost count.

Dollhouse still from "Asparagus"

In addition to film festivals, Asparagus also ran theatrically on the Midnight Movie circuit, where it achieved cult status when paired with David Lynch's Eraserhead (it was a truly match made "In Heaven" - when you see it, you'll know why.) From its opening scene of a woman defecating an asparagus spear into her toilet bowl to the concluding set piece in which the artist opens her Medusa's box to release rare wonders before a claymation audience, beautifully detailed cel animation leads its blank-faced protagonist into a world of Freudian symbolism and Jungian archetypes.

Asparagus' climatic theatre scene

The link with David Lynch (who, like Pitt, came to filmmaking from a painting background) is more than natural. As is a link with the books of Haruki Murakami (who is sometikes referred to as a "literary David Lynch"). For they all share a fondness for mood and tone over mere narrative and exposition, and for surreal dream-like images. As one spot-on reviewer characterized Pitt's work: "Her background as a painter informs everything she does. She is far more interested in the value of the image than in narrative or character."

Meanwhile, back in the lobby...

As Suzan Pitt made her way into Falvey Auditorium to start the screening, I mentioned that I had seen clips of Asparagus show up in the documentary Midnight Movies, which was inspired by the book of the same title by J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum. The footage appeared during the documentary's segment on David Lynch's Eraserhead.

"I heard that too," Suzan replied, "but it wasn't credited." That would be par for the course, as Suzan complained that people are now also downloading her movies for free on the Internet. Time was, you could only see Asparagus by going to a midnight movie screening, but now everything is readily available in the information age and the increased exposure doesn't necessarily guarantee artistic compensation.

"It's not just people uploading clips for viewing on YouTube," Suzan explained. "People are now downloading the entire film through Bit Torrents."

This is a particularly sore point, because Suzan gets not one penny from these downloads. This is a woman who has invested YEARS of her life for each project she undertakes, with scant funding from grants and institutions. So if you like her work, show it by supporting the woman. You can buy her collected works DVD (distributed by First Run Pictures), El Doctor, Joy Street & Aparagus: The Wonderfully Strange and Surreal Animation of Suzan Pitt, directly from her for $25. (Sound pricey to you? It's not. That's about 5 fancy Starbucks lattes, and this isn't exactly Dragonball Z animation that you can find at your local Blockbuster, this is a true American Master, who painstakingly creates lush, detailed animation that bears rewarding repeat viewing.)

To buy the DVD (and/or reproductions of her cel animation art) directly from Suzan Pitt, just send an e-mail to

And check out her website and blog while you're at it!

And now, on with the show!

At 7:30 p.m., it was time for the show to begin. Inside Falvey Auditorium, MICA experimental animation instructor Laurence Arcadias gave a brief introduction to her guest of honor and then Suzan Pitt stepped forward to address the audience.

Introducing herself, Suzan pointed out that she is that rarity in animation, a female animator in a field that seems to be dominated by men. Not that there aren't oustanding female artists working in the field (Carolyn Leaf, Sally Cruikshank, Kathy Rose, Martha Colburn, and Faith and Emily Hubble spring instantly to mind - not to mention MICA's own talented Laurence Arcadias, whose recent short "Dust off and Cowboy Up!" has been making the film festival rounds).

"I don't really understand it, but it's a fact," Suzan said.

Grrrl Power

It's ironic, given that the first feature-length animated film was made by a woman, Lotte Reininger (1926’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed) that so little has been written about the history and achievements of women working in animation. Although women have always worked in the male-dominated animation industry in auxiliary roles (tracers, painters, colorists, designers), the number of females working as independent animation filmmakers has only recently increased, a surge that animation scholar Jayne Pilling attributes both to the rise of independent filmmaking in the United States and a redress of gender imbalance in funding policies in the arts, as more colleges and universities offer animation courses (increasing employment opportunities for female artists and providing access to new and and costly equipment.) Of those rising female ranks, many work as independent animators like Suzan Pitt. The reason, according to Linda Simensky (Cartoon Network’s Vice President of original animation): "Women pursuing careers in the field seem more interested than men in animation as an art form. Thus, it is not surprising that the area of independent filmmaking seems to have more women than men; after all, it is an area of animation which has more room for self-expression and no real traditional hierarchy in which to fit."

Suzan then mentioned that she gave a talk earlier in the day to MICA animation students and screened Suzan Pitt: Persistance of Vision, Blue and Laura Kraning's documentary about her that appears on her collected works DVD. (Blue Kraning also wrote the script for Suzan's latest film, El Doctor.) Suzan went on to compliment MICA's animation students, many of whom were in the audience, lamenting that so much animation work goes overseas these days when there are so many outstanding animators coming out of American film and art schools.

Hands-On Animation

Many of those students have the latest high-tech computers and software to assist them in the creation of their animation. But Suzan admitted that she was very much from the Old School, one whose films were made entirely by hand.

"My films take a long time," she explained to the audience during her introduction. "Joy Street took four years, Asparagus five years and El Doctor another five years."

Not that she didn't keep busy with other projects while working on those films. A multi-tasker, Suzan supported herself as a full-time painter who also worked on operas (she created animated images for German productions of The Damnation of Faust and The Magic Flute), theatrical productions, music videos, and other creative collaborations with fellow creative types. Of the latter, she knew many; don't forget, she lived in New York City between 1977 and 1987, an exciting time of artistic endeavor in music (Punk, Disco, New Wave, No Wave), art (Basquiat and the whole downtown/SoHo art scene) and literature.

She also found time to have exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of Art, the Holly Solomon Gallery in New York, and the Stedlijk Museum in Amsterdam, two large multi-media shows at the Venice Biennale and Harvard University.

She was in no rush, she admitted, clearly enjoying the time-consuming process of creation, like medieval icon painters who measure their work's progress by the passing seasons.

"You're in your studio, listening to music, using natural light, with the camera on the animation stand. I enjoyed it, being in my own little world."

When she was starting to make films, Suzan said she had a 16mm Bolex camera that she loved.

"Of course, I was younger then and I could bend down and shoot my stills right off the floor, but now that would just about kill me, so I have to use an animation stand now."

But eventually Suzan switched to shooting in 35mm because, as she described it, "It's really the closest you can get to seeing the orginal art as imagined by the creator - mistakes and all" before it's cleaned up or tweaked when converted onto video, DVD, or a 16mm print.

Suzan mentioned that her next film will be shot entirely on 16mm, the medium she started out on. She explained that the change was due to wanting to work at home at her own pace, so that she could tamp down the labor-intensive grind of having churn out work on site at LA's Cal Arts, where she teaches. As she explained in her new blog (
Most of my films were shot on a professional Oxberry animation stand using 35mm color negative film. This provides a beautiful high resolution image from which 35mm prints can be made, or the film can be transferred to a digital video format and the work finished in video. However, the countless days and weeks required to shoot the animation meant I had to work at Cal Arts or a professional facility in Los Angeles. I've always wanted to be able to work in my own converted garage studio!

After investing 14 years to create the three films screened at this retrospective, I think she's more than entitled to take it easy and work from home!

That said, Suzan told the audience that they were in for a treat tonight because she was screening only 35mm prints of her films, which not only presented the most beautiful rendition of her art but, to discerning eyes, would allow us to her "mistakes." This discerning eye didn't see any.

Roll Film...

And on that note, the lights dimmed and the screening opened with Joy Street.

JOY STREET (1995, 24 minutes, 35mm)

This is a story of despair and spiritual rebirth that was previously shown at the Sundance Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Naples International Film Festival (winning Best Short Film), and the San Francisco International Film Festival (where it won the Golden Gate Award). Besides being on her collected works DVD, Joy Street is also available on the Cartoon Noir VHS collection.

Analyzing Joy Street in Animation World Magazine, Jackie Leger wrote "one might say it is the culmination of Pitt's life as an artist and a woman." It certainly reflects a time in Pitt's life when, during the '90s, she became involved with rain forest activism, traveling to Guatemala to observe and paint examples of flora and fauna there. Visually, the film seems split into two parts, the first a dark German Expressionist mood mirroring the protagonist's despair and the second half an explosion of color and movement as the woman starts to look on the sunny side of life thanks to a ceramic ashtray mouse that comes to life. Linking the two parts is Pitt's jungle fantasy sequence.

As one IMDB user commented, "Pitt gets despair right on: the closed in feeling of alienation, inner pain and hopelessness that can swallow up one's reality, especially when enhanced with alcohol and tobacco, is vividly recreated here, quite a feat for animation."

This observant user adds, "Here Suzan Pitt does her riff on the classic genre of still objects coming to life at night and partying, and what a riff it is. How many times have you been way past blue, took a big, fat toke, then suddenly noticed a small detail of your existence that makes everything seem suddenly worthwhile? That's what you get here. Pitt even includes a rain forest of inspiration for the viewer to play with, crafted from her travels in Central America, and it's a blast. Don't linger over the ape smelling the flower, though, as those of you who have experienced Pitt's other classic pieces of animation will no doubt read sexual connotations in the image. Now that will bend your head."

The "still objects coming to life" riff seemed to be an homage to a bygone era of anthropomorphic animation, reminding me of old 1930s cartoons produced by the Fleischer Brothers and Van Beuren Studios in which cars and trains had eyes and limbs and everything seemed to be in constant motion, as if dancing. These cartoons starring Betty Boop, Koko the Clown, Molly the Moo-Cow and Van Beuren's Tom & Jerry (not the cat and mouse duo) existed to make people laugh and be happy, which is exactly what the depressed protagonist of Joy Street needs. That's why the swinging uptempo music, scored by The Jazz Passengers, is also so important.

Now Hear This!

"Wasn't the music in Joy Street wonderful?" Suzan asked the audience after the screening. "The Jazz Passengers really added to the film. Music is so important when you're making animated films. For Asparagus there was maybe $400 for the music, but we actually were able to get a little money to compensate the Jazz Passengers."

The Jazz Passengers were founded in 1987 by saxophonist Roy Nathanson and trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, formerly of John Lurie's NYC band The Lounge Lizards, and their ranks later included Blondie's Debbie Harry. Harry appeared on In Love (High Street Records, 1994) and later became a regular member of the band, appearing on a number of follow-up albums, including Individually Twisted, (which includes two duets with Elvis Costello, including "Doncha Go 'Way Mad").

In Joy Street, Debbie Harry sings "When the Fog Lifts" over the end credits backed by the Jazz Passengers. The song can be found on the UK-released CD Blondie Personal Collection.

Picture This: Debbie & the Jazz Passengers put the joy in JOY STREET

"Debbie Harry is a wonderful jazz singer," Suzan Pitt told the audience. "People don't realize that, but she is. And just a wonderful person, too, just so fun to be around and helpful. Besides the song during the credits, that was her providing some of the ooo's and ah's, along with me, during the jungle fantasy sequence."

And speaking of rock stars, I had to ask her about Peter Gabriel. Knowing that Suzan had provided animation for Gabriel's 1986 music video Big Time, I asked her if he was an animation fan.

"Oh yes," she replied. "And just a wonderful, charming man. I remember him as this quiet, polite, doting man who would serve you tea and sit there talking with you about all sorts of things and then they'd summon him off to start filming the music video and he'd suddenly turn it on and become this dancing, animated 'Rock Star'!"

Fade To Black

ASPARAGUS (1979, 20 minutes, 35mm)

Next up was Asparagus, which started, stopped, started and then stopped again, experiencing some sort of technical difficulty in the projection booth. The film only screened for roughly a third of its run time before the lights went up and Suzan had to explain that a technical glitch made it impossible to continue.

A big sigh of disappointment swept the auditorium. That said, the lights dimmed as the next film came on.

EL DOCTOR (2006, 23 minutes, 35mm)

El Doctor was the last film presented. This was her most recent film, one that played on PBS in October 2006 (as well as the 2007 Maryland Film Festival). Suzan's website describes it as "a dark animated poem set in a crumbling Mexican hospital about 1920. Inhabited by surreal characters including the man shot with one hundred holes, the girl who sprouted morning-glories, and the woman who thinks she is a horse, the Doctor prefers to drink. The Saint of Holes and a mysterious gargoyle rearrange the Doctor's fated demise and send him on a dark and twisted journey. The film celebrates the nature of perception and the miraculous." With a script by her documentary biographer Blue Kraning, El Doctor took over five years of production, utilizing the hand-painted skills of Suzan and a group of Los Angeles- and Mexico-based artists.

It was also project that reenforced to Suzan that she is, and always has been, a very independent spirit. As anyone who follows PBS' Art 21 knows, a great deal of modern art involves collaborations with sometimes a crew of collaborators - gallery assistants, technical crew, and so on. Suzan works with others, but admits she likes to approach it in a more communal spirit, working at her own pace with people she feels close to. As an example, she mentioned that although El Doctor was partially funded by a public television grant - which relieves the anxiety independent filmmakers experience looking for funding - it was not without its costs.

"I was stressed somewhat by that experience," she explained. "I felt this pressure of having to deal with deadlines and people who were overly organized. It was kind of like working with both the FBI and the CIA."

In other words, instead of fellow artists, she found herself having to work with the business/bureacracy side of Art - the funding side full of adminstrators and executives.

Small wonder then that she plans to return to her home studio for her next production, where she'll return to her roots with her handy old Bolex standing on the animation stand she built herself.

The Few, the Proud

On the way out, Marc Sober lamented the sparse turnout for the free screening (a phenomenon I'm all too familiar with at some of my screenings). I mentioned I didn't even known about the event until a few days earlier when I got a Friends of the Festival e-mail from the Maryland Film Festival, which advertised it as $10 - unless you were a friend of the festival. Maybe that had something to do with it. Who knows. Regardless, it was the no-shows' loss, for they missed watching three beautiful 35mm prints of Suzan's films and, even better, getting to hear the creator talk at length about herself and her work.

Note: Michael Spor's blog has a great review of Suzan Pitt, that sums up her work - and specifically the import of Asparagus - better than I ever could in a million years.

Partial Suzan Pitt Filmography:

Here's a filmography put together by Jackie Leger for Animation World Magazine. Note that some of these works are in the permanent collection of the Walker Art Center, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Filmmuseum in Amsterdam.

Bowl, Theatre, Garden, Marble Game (1970), 7 min., 16mm.

*Crocus (1971) 7 min., 16mm.

A City Trip (1972), 3 min., 16mm.

Cels (1972), 6 min., 16mm.

Whitney Commercial (Whitney Museum of Art, 1973), 3 min., 16mm.

*Jefferson Circus Songs (1973), 20 min., 16mm.

Watch JCS Part 1
Watch JCS Part 2

*Asparagus (1979), 20 min., 35mm.

Night Fire Dance (Columbia Masterworks Records, 1986) (Co-Director), 1 min., 35mm., black & white. Music video, with music by Andreas Vollenweider.

Big Time (Warner Records, 1986) (Storyboard & Animation), Music video; music by Peter Gabriel.

Watch "Big Time"

Surf or Die (Profile Records), 3 min., 35mm. Music video; music by The Surf M.C.'s.

Watch "Surf or Die"

The Damnation of Faust (Hamburg State Opera, 1988), one hour, 35mm.

Bam Video (Brooklyn Academy of Music, 1990), 3 min., 35mm.

Colors/Colores (Public Broadcasting System, 1995, 1 min. 15 sec., video.

Joy Street (Channel Four & PBS, 1995), 24 min., 35mm.

Troubles the Cat (The Ink Tank, 1996) (Director), 12 six-minute sequences for the Cartoon Network.

El Doctor (PBS, 2006), 23 min., 35mm and digital

*Distributed by the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the British Film Institute, London.

Related Links:
Suzan Pitt's Website
Suzan Pitt's Blog
Suzan Pitt's DVD from First Run Pictures
El Doctor review (Animation World)
Suzan Pitt DVD review (Frames Per Second magazine)
DVD Verdict review of Suzan Pitt's DVD
Michael Spor's Blog about Suzan Pitt
Animation World's Review of Suzan Pitt (Jackie Leger)

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