Saturday, June 11, 2011

Viral Videos

In the past two or three days you may have seen what is supposed to be the bio video of a woman named Debbie for the dating site eHarmony. Debbie has an MBA from Villanova and she loves cats. She really loves cats. The video which spread rapidly through the various networking sites is actually a spoof. Indeed, eHarmony does not even use bio videos. Regardless, the video is an example of a phenomenon that has existed for some time: the viral video.

A viral video is any video spread through video sharing sites (such as YouTube), social networking sites, email, and so on that becomes so popular it is ubiquitous on the internet. They are essentially the internet video equivalent of the rumours and folk tales that have been spread from person to person from the beginning of mankind. As such it should not be surprising that viral videos existed even before the advent of such video sharing sites as YouTube and DailyMotion. In fact, the earliest viral videos arrived on the scene not long after the creation of the World Wide Web. Those of you have been on the Web from its early days may remember the obnoxious and nearly inescapable"Dancing Baby" video that arrived on the scene in 1996. "The Dancing Baby" became so inescapable that it appeared multiple times on the TV show Ally McBeal and was parodied on the shows Millennium, Celebrity Deathmatch, and The Simpsons.

Another well known viral video that pre-dates video sharing sites such as YouTube was known as "The Star Wars Kid." In 2002 a Canadian teenager made a video tape of himself pretending to be a Jedi, swinging a golf ball retriever as if it was a light sabre. Unfortunately a classmate discovered the video, then showed it to a friend who made a computer file from the video tape. The video was distributed amongst students at the teenager's high school, and then around 14 April 2003 it was uploaded to the World Wide Web. From there it took off, until finally a version existed complete with the Star Wars theme and the sound effects of a light sabre.

Of course, the spread of viral videos would be helped immensely by two phenomena. The first was changes in the means through which people access the internet, as more and more people around the world began accessing the internet through cable connections rather than the much slower dial up connections. Those of you, like me, who have been on the internet since the early days can probably remember trying to watch videos on dial up--often the video would take longer to buffer than the length of the actual video itself. This problem was solved with cable connections, in which even movie length videos would run almost immediately, with little to no buffering.

The second phenomenon was the advent of the video sharing site. Video sharing sites had actually existed since 1998, when the very first, ShareYourWorld.Com, was launched. ShareYourWorld.Com would pretty much crash and burn, but it would pave the way for other video sharing sites. MetaCafe was founded in 2002. YouTube and Dailymotion were founded in 2005. It was YouTube that would prove to be the most successful and that would lead the way in the use of video on the internet. It also made much easier than ever before for videos to go viral. Of course, much of the reason that MetaCafe, YouTube, and Dailymotion succeeded where ShareYourWorld.Com failed was, quite simply, the fact that in 1998 most people were still using dial-up to access the internet. By the mid-Naughts, many more people were using cable connections to access the net.

This has led to an explosion in viral videos, to the point that it seems as if there is at least one a week, usually many more. It has also led to a whole new phenomenon--individuals intentionally creating videos meant to go viral. A perfect example of this could be the aforementioned spoof of bio videos for dating sites mentioned above. I rather suspect that whoever created the video fully intended it to go viral. Another example was created by Indigo Productions as a parody of yet another viral video. "The JK Wedding Entrance Dance" featured a wedding party, from groomsmen to bridesmaids to the bride and groom themselves, dancing down the aisle. The video went viral days after it was uploaded to YouTube. Indigo Productions, a video production company located in New York City, created its own parody of "The JK Wedding Entrance Dance" with "The JK Divorce Entrance Dance." Of course, this points to another phenomenon that had existed at least since "The Dancing Baby:" parodies of viral videos.

Of course, as might be expected, viral videos have created internet celebrities. Perhaps no better example of this is Justin Bieber, whose career began simply because of viral videos. Starting in 2007, his mother uploaded videos of his various performances to the internet. This in turn led to Bieber being discovered by a record executive who signed him. The rest, as they say, is history. An even earlier example of a celebrity created by viral video, although one whose fame was a bit more fleeting, was Gary Brolsma. In 2004, even before YouTube was founded, Mr. Brolsma uploaded a video of himself, taken by webcam, lip syncing "Dragostea din tei" by O-Zone. For a time it seemed as if Mr. Brolsma was ever present, not only on the Web, but on television as well. And while he still makes videos, he is no longer seen as often as he once was.

Viral videos are not only capable of creating celebrities, but they can also created problems as well. In the instance of the "Star Wars Kid," the video was uploaded without his permission. As a result he suffered teasing and bullying not only from his schoolmates, but even the public at large. This resulted in a lawsuit against those who had uploaded the video. Oddly enough, his parents only sued because of the distress caused by the posting of the video. They did not sue because of copyright infringement, which they certainly would seem to have had a right to do so. After all, their son made the video and it was posted without his permission.

Regardless, there have been other instances where the owners of a particular material have insisted on enforcing their rights. Many viral videos contain content that is not original and owned by someone else, whether it is a song or footage from a film. In such instances it is not unusual for the copyright owner to enforce his or her rights when a viral video uses their material. A perfect example of these are the ever popular "Hitler Reacts to..." videos, in which Hitler reacts to such incidents as Michael Jackson's death, the break up of Oasis, and  so on. The original footage was from the film Der Untertang, produced by Constatin Films, and portrayed Hitler reacting to news that Germany cannot win World War II. In April 2010 the studio began the rather hopeless task of getting every "Hitler Reacts to...." video pulled off the internet.

As to why videos go viral, that may be a difficult question to answer. If viral videos are considered the equivalent of rumours, then perhaps we could apply Robert Knapp's theories regarding rumours from his study "A Psychology of Rumour." Knapp theorised that rumours "provide 'information' about a 'person, happening, or condition' and that "they express and gratify 'the emotional needs of the community.'" Now I am not sure how much information viral videos actually convey, but they would seem to "express and gratify the emotional needs of the community" in some way. How they do this perhaps varies from video to video, although all of them probably satisfy some need for entertainment on the part of society.

Of course, just how entertaining many of these viral videos are is questionable. I personally found "The Dancing Baby" annoying more than entertaining. And while the aforementioned "bio video for a dating site spoof" starts out funny, it actually slides into being downright disturbing as the woman continues talking about cats. I also found "The JK Wedding Entrance Dance" irritating, although I thought its parody, "The JK Divorce Entrance Dance" to be hilarious. Anyway, my point is that I really do not know how many of these videos ever went viral as they simply do not seem to be very entertaining to me. I can only suppose I am atypical of the average internet user.

At any rate, viral videos existed almost from the beginning of the World Wide Web, well before YouTube. There can be little doubt that they will continue to proliferate in the coming years. In fact, I rather suspect they will become more and more common, as more individuals access the internet through cable and devices capable of recording video (cell phones, digital cameras, et. al.) before more and more commonplace.

Friday, June 10, 2011

"Only Make Believe" by The Misfits

It is a little known fact that Conway Twitty was originally a rock 'n' roll singer. Indeed, he actually had some success in the genre, namely with a song he and Jack Nance wrote entitled "It's Only Make Believe." Released in 1958, the song was a huge hit, going to #1 not only in the United States, but in the United Kingdom and Canada as well. If ever there was an instant classic, this was it. Despite such success, Conway Twitty switched to the country genre, making songs that were often as bad as "It's Only Make Believe" was good.

Fast forward forty five years and horror punk band The Misfits are recording a new album. Entitled Project 1950, it is filled with covers of Fifties songs, including "This Magic Moment," You Belong to Me," and, under the title "Only Make Believe," "It's Only Make Believe." Personally, I think The Misfits did a good job with the song. Give it a listen yourself.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

TV Producer Leonard Stern Passes On

Leonard Stern, who created the cult classic TV show He & She, wrote for such classic shows as The Honeymooners and  Get Smart, and co-created Mad Libs, passed on 7 June 2011 at the age of 88.

Leonard Stern was born in Manhattan on 23 December 1922. He attended New York University.  He began his career submitting jokes to Milton Berle while still in college. It was while he was writing for Dinah Shore that he was noticed by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. He made some uncredited writing contributions to their film Africa Screams (1949) and wrote Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion (1950). He wrote on such films as Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town (1950), The Milkman (1951), Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair (1952), Lost in Alaska (1952),  and Three for the Show (1955).

Mr. Stern's career would be in television, however, as he one of the writers on the legendary show The Jackie Gleason Show.  He would also write for such legendary shows as The Honeymooners and The Phil Silvers Show (AKA Sgt. Bilko).  In 1961 he created the first of many shows, on which he also served as a writer and producer, I'm Dickens, He's Fenster. The series lasted only one season, but it hardly hampered his career. In 1965 Leonard Stern was brought on as a producer on a spy parody created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry called Get Smart. He also wrote many episodes of the show which would become not only a hit, but a classic. Mr. Stern was particularly active in the mid-Sixties, creating, producing, and writing for The Hero; Run, Buddy, Run; and He & She. None of them proved to be hits, although He & She was not only critically acclaimed, but won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy. It has since been regarded as one of the most brilliant comedies ever to be cancelled after only one season.

Leonard Stern would go onto create and produce The Governor and J. J., which lasted only a season, and then McMillan & Wife, one of the rotating segments of The NBC Mystery Movie umbrellas series. McMillan & Wife proved rather successful, running several seasons. He also produced The Snoop Sisters, Homes and Yoyo, and the television series version of Operation Petticoat. He also wrote the screenplays for the movies Just You and Me, Kid (1979) and The Nude Bomb (1980), a film loosely based on the series Get Smart. He produced and created the series Partners in Crime. He would serve as a creative consultant for the shows Sledge Hammer, The Nutt House, and the 1995 revival of Get Smart.

In addition to writing for television, Leonard Stern co-created the game Mad Libs with Roger Price. In 1953 while working on a script for The Jackie Gleason Show, Mr. Stern asked Mr. Price for an adjective to complete a sentence. Mr. Price's rather funny responses resulted in the creation of Mad Libs, the name suggested by someone at a cocktail party. The game, in which participants fill in the blanks in a sentence or even a story,  has since sold over 200 million copies. In fact, in 1963 Messrs. Price and Stern joined with a Hollywood publicist to form Price-Stern-Sloan Publishers Inc., with the primary purpose of publishing Mad Libs. The company was bought by the Penguin Group in 1993.

Leonard Stern would be remembered for his creation of Mad Libs alone, but he also wrote several hours of classic television. Indeed, while Mel Brooks and Buck Henry may have created Get Smart, it was arguably Leonard Stern who shaped the show into the one we know and love. Mr. Stern was possessed of  a keen mind with a gift for both parody and sophisticated humour. It is for this reason that He & She, although it only lasted a season, is remembered to this day. Few writers in television can claim to have worked on as many great shows as Mr. Stern did. That he did so is proof of his sheer talent. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Special Effects Wizard Harry Redmond Jr. Passes On

Harry Redmond Jr., a pioneer in motion picture special effects who worked on films from King Kong (1933) to The Bishop's Wife (1947), passed 23 May 2011 at the age of 101.

Harry Redmond Jr. was born on 15 October 1909 in Brooklyn, New York. His father was also a special effects pioneer, Harry Redmond Sr., who ran Metropolitan Studios in Long Island. In1926 Mr. Redmond Sr. and his family moved to California. It was not much later Harry Redmond Jr. entered the movie industry, starting out in the props department of RKO before moving into special effects.  His first credit for special effects was Chance in 1931.

In four years as a special effects expert at RKO, Mr. Redmond would work on such legendary films as The Most Dangerous Game (1932), King Kong (1933), Flying Down to Rio (1933), She (1935), Top Hat (1935), and Lost Horizon (1937). In 1937 Harry Redmond Jr. struck out on his own and worked on such films as The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), The Outlaw (1943), and The Princess and the Pirate (1944). During World War II Mr. Redmond built a studio for the Army Film Training Lab in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.

Following World War II Harry Redmond Jr.  returned to Hollywood. He provided special effects for such films as A Night in Casablanca (1946), Angel on My Shoulder (1946), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), and The Bishop's Wife (1947). It was while working on Storm Over Tibet in 1947 that Mr. Redmand met writer and producer Ivan Tors. Mr. Redmond would provide the special effects for Ivan Tors' movies The Magnetic Monster (1953), Riders to the Stars (1954), Gog (1954), and Battle Taxi (1955). He would also provide special effects for Donovan's Brain (1953) and Sitting Bull (1954).

Harry Redmond Jr. would eventually move from movies to television. His first work for a television show would be on the series Dangerous Assignment in 1952. Afterwards he would provide special effects for Ivan Tors' shows Science Fiction Theatre and Sea Hunt. He would also provide effects for the show The Outer Limits. Mr. Redmond served as an associate producer on the TV series Ripcord and Daktari, as well as the movies Flipper (1963) and Clarence the Cross Eyed Lion (1965).

Harry Redmond Jr. was true pioneer in special effects. Indeed, he worked on some of the earliest "special effects extravaganzas" in the history of Hollywood. Many of the films on which he worked are not simply historic, but legendary: King Kong, The Lost Horizon, The Prisoner of Zenda, Angel on My Shoulder, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Bishop's Wife, and Donovan's Brain. While the budgets of the Ivan Tors' movies and TV shows on which Mr. Redmond worked were much lower than the classic feature films on which he had worked, one would not know it from the special effects. Even on a limited budget Mr. Redmond was able to create convincing and realistic special effects. In an age before computer generated imagery, Mr. Redmond was a true pioneer.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Wally Boag R.I.P.

Comedian Wally Boag passed on 3 June 2011 at the age of 90. He was best known for his many performances at Disneyland. His role as Pecos Bill in Disneyland's Golden Horseshoe Revue was listed in Guinness World Records as the longest running stage show of all time.

Wallace Boag was born in Portland, Oregon on 13 September 1920. He entered show business while young, joining a professional dance team at age nine. By the time he was nineteen years old he had become a comedian. He performed as far afield as Radio City Music Hall in New York City,  the Palladium in London, and theatres in Australia and New Zealand. Starting in 1945 he was briefly under contract to MGM, appearing in bit parts in Without Love (1945) and Thrill of a Romance (1945).

It was in 1955 that a friend told Wallace Boag about auditions Walt Disney was holding for the Golden Horseshoe Revue in Disneyland. In 1971 Wallace Boag would take the character of Pecos Bill to Disney World in Florida. The original Golden Horseshoe Revue would end in 1986.

Wallace Boag would have roles in the Disney movies The Absent Minded Professor (1961), Son of Flubber (1963), and The Love Bug (1969). He appeared on such television shows as The Borden Show, The Wonderful World of Disney, The Ed Sullivan Show, and The Muppet Show.

Wallace Boag would entertain literally millions over the years at Disneyland and Disney World. His performances would also have a last influence on various comedians over the years. No less than Steve Martin has cited Wallace Boag has one of his idols. In fact, Mr. Martin even studied Mr. Boag's performances. While Mr. Boag may not have been among the most famous comedians, he was certainly among the most influential.