Friday, August 27, 2004

The Big O

Among my guilty pleasures is an animated cartoon called The Big O. The Big O is a Japanese animated cartoon or anime. It is also very hard to describe. I like to think of it as a cross between Batman, the many Japanese giant robot cartoons (such as Gigantor or Giant Robo), and Dark City. It centres around Roger Smith, a negotiator in a futuristic place called Paradigm City (which may or may not be the last surviving city in the world). In Paradigm City, everyone lost their memories 40 years ago, which makes life there somewhat complex. It also requires Roger Smith to often come to the city's rescue, utilising the giant robot called the Big O. The Big O is a megadeus, a robot which responds to the commands of a specific indidvidual (in Big O's case, Roger Smith). Smith does not know why the Big O responds to him or why other megadei respond to yet other specific people. Roger Smith is assisted in his work by R. Dorothy, an android who seems to become more human every day, and his butler Norman. Throughout the series Roger Smith tries to figure out the mystery behind Paradigm City's lost memories, all the while fighting various giant robots and villains who could have come from a Dick Tracy or Batman comic strip.

With my love of The Big O, I was very happy when I found a quiz to determine what character I was most like. Not surprisingly, I turned out to be Roger Smith (I always thought I looked good in black. LOL). Anyway, here are my results:

Which Big O character are you?
Which Big O character are you?

Anyone else who wants to take the quiz, here's a link to it Paradigm City Personality Quiz

Good night, all!

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Western TV

I don't know how many of you remember that back in the Eighties the Family Channel used to show old Western TV shows all Saturday. Now the Hallmark Channel does it. I have to admit that I have a fondness for those old TV shows. I wasn't even alive yet when the first wave of Westerns hit television in the Fifties, although the second wave was well under way not long after I was born. In fact, I rather suspect that the first TV show I ever watched was probably Bonanza. I remember my parents used to watch it every Sunday night. I also remember Gunsmoke, although my parents weren't nearly as loyal in viewing Gunsmoke as they were Bonanza.

In reruns I would discover other Westerns. Rawhide followed the adventures of a cattle drive. The Rifleman followed the adventures of a homesteader and his son.

My favourite two Western TV shows were also the most offbeat. Have Gun--Will Travel centred on Paladin, a man whose occupation was probably best described as "troubleshooter." In one episode Paladin might be hired to capture a convicted murderer. Another episode Paladin might be hired to help a suitor win the woman he loves. In yet another episode, Paladin might be hired to umpire a baseball game (yes, that was an actual episode!). Have Gun-Will Travel differed from other Westerns in another way as well. This was a thinking man's Western. Despite his slogan ("Have gun--will travel), Paladin more often used his wits than his gun. Indeed, this was a character fond of quoting Shakespeare! And many of the episodes dealt with issues not often seen on any TV series at the time.

My other favourite Western is The Wild Wild West. It was at the same time a Western, a spy show, and a sci-fi series in the tradition of Jules Verne (I guess one could say it was an ancestor of Steampunk). It featured the adventures of two agents for the United States Secret Service, James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin), assigned to the American West. There they faced villains who often had technology that was very advanced for the 19th century. Their archenemy was Dr. Miguelito Loveless, a villain intent on world conquest. Among his plots were a powder which causes madness, a powder which can shrink people, and a chemical that can kill all life (plants, animals, people).

While I admit that I have a fondness for the old Western TV series, they did have their flaws. Despite the fact that many cowboys were African American, very few African Americans appear in any of the series. Hispanics also rarely appear, except for the stereotypical Mexican bandits. While Native Americans often appeared on the TV Westerns, they were usually portrayed as little more than ethnic stereotypes. Asians rarely appeared on TV Westerns except in the stereotypical servant role. Even as sophisticated as Have Gun--Will Travel was for its time, Paladin's servant "Hey Boy" was little more than a stereotyped Chinese man.

Beyond the largely European American world that the TV Westerns portrayed, there were many cases where one Western TV series was indistinguishable from others. In fact, there was very little variation in the professions of the heroes of TV Westerns. In the Westerns aired on the networks and in syndication from 1955 to 1976, the vast majority of protagonists were either gunfighters, lawmen, or ranchers. As hard as it is to believe, that whole time there was only one TV Western with a doctor as the main character (Frontier Doctor with the great Rex Allen). Lawyers fared a little better--there were three Western TV shows that featured lawyers as their protagonists. To some degree, then, the heroes of the TV Westerns were interchangeable. Despite the huge number of Westerns aired in that time, there was very little variety.

Anyhow, despite their flaws, I am still fond of those old shows. They are something of "comfort shows" for me. They are shows that remind me of a simpler time when I was a child and did not have the responsibilities or stress that comes with being a "grown up."

Monday, August 23, 2004

Gene Kelly's Birthday

It was on this date that Gene Kelly was born in 1912. It seems to me that the general consensus is that he was the greatest male dancer besides Fred Astaire. My own thought is that Astaire and Kelly share the title; given the differences in their styles, it is hard for me to determine who was actually better. At any rate, I have been a Gene Kelly fan for a long time.

I have no idea where I first saw Gene Kelly, but I suspect it was on the hour long TV special Jack and the Beanstalk which first aired on February 26, 1967. Kelly directed the special and also played the role of the peddler (the guy who sold Jack the beans). I saw it when it first aired and again when it was rerun on a local station. At the time I had no idea who Kelly was and I really don't remember that much about his role in the special. At that age I was more impressed with the animated characters it featured. Indeed, it was the first special to mix live action and animation (courtesy of Hanna-Barbera).

I have no idea what was the first Gene Kelly movie I saw, but I suspect it was Singin' in the Rain. In the days before weekend television was overwhelmed by sports, the local TV stations would show old movies. I got to see everything from the old Sherlock Holmes movies with Basil Rathbone to El Cid to several movie musicals. Of course, among those musicals were those of Gene Kelly. Kelly was also a director as well as an actor and dancer. He not only directed musicals, but films in other genres as well. Among my favourite movies from childhood is the Western The Cheyenne Social Club, which Kelly directed.

I suppose the question remains as to why a heterosexual male would be a fan of both Hollywood musicals and Gene Kelly. Well, before anything else, I should point out that stereotypes should not be confused with the truth. Not all Irishmen drink. Not all Italians are mafiosi. And not all straight guys hate musicals. Besides which, speaking as a heterosexual male, I can see many things about Hollywood musicals in general and Kelly's musicals in specific that would appeal to most straight men.

First, most Hollywood musicals feature at least one beautiful woman (usually more) and often they are very scantily clad. Indeed, I suspect if the average guy got one look at Cyd Charisse in Singin' in the Rain, he would forget all about his dislike for musicals...

Second, many Hollywood musicals have a strong sense of conflict. This is particularly true of Kelly's movies. Often the conflict is over a woman. In Cover Girl Danny McGuire (Kelly's character) finds he has a rival for Rusty (Rita Hayworth's character) in the form of Noel Wheaton (Lee Bowman), a big time Broadway producer. Other times the conflict may be over something else entirely. In Singin' in the Rain the conflict is between Hollywood star Donald Lockwood and his co-star Lina (Jean Hagen). Essentially, Donald wants to save his own career, save Mammoth Studios, and help his lady love and Hollywood newcomer Kathy (Debbie Reynolds) in her career. This conflicts with Lina's goals, which are essentially to help herself. To me, then, Hollywood musicals offer the same thrills that a good football game or a good action movie do--a conflict and the resulting competition between two or more individuals.

Third, with regards to Gene Kelly, the characters he played were ones with whom the average guy can identify. His characters all come off as average Joes, the sort of fellow you might meet in the local pub or at the racetrack. Even Don Lockwood of Singin' in the Rain, a famous actor and big time matinee idol, is pretty much an ordinary guy. Gene's characters are then fellows an ordinary guy can identify with and root for.

Fourth, most Hollywood musicals and certanly most of Kelly's musicals work as comedies. In fact, Singin' in the Rain is absolutely hilarious. Even if a guy doesn't care much for dancing and singing, he can still appreciate the humour.

Fifth, the Hollywood musicals generally have fairly good music. In fact, many of today's standards came from these musicals. Such composers as Irving Berlin and Cole Porter did a good deal of work in Hollywood. If a guy enjoys good music, then he will enjoy Hollywood musicals.

At any rate, I have always thought that Gene Kelly's musicals were among the best Hollywood ever produced. In addition to the sheer talent of Kelly and his co-stars (Cyd Charisse was the equal of both Kelly and Astaire), the movies usually had strong plots and good characterisation. This lifted them above the standard Hollywood musical fare. Indeed, as great a dancer as Astaire was, only a few of his musicals matched Kelly's movies for sheer quality. I seriously doubt that they will ever be matched again.