Saturday, April 13, 2024

"The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship: 30 Years of TCM"

Tomorrow will be the 30th anniversary of Turner Classic Movies. It was earlier this month that Turner Classic Movies, as one of their TCM Originals, released a video recounting the beginnings of TCM from those who were with the channel at the very beginning. The video was produced and directed by Scott McGee, the Senior Director, Original Programming at TCM. It was edited by Rob Hampton of Splat Pictures. The Director of Photography was Pete Wages.

Titled "The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship" is must-see for TCM fans. Even as much as I know about the history of the channel, there were even some things I learned. The video is a bit bittersweet, as many of those in the video are no longer with the channel. It is also sad seeing the old logos and interstitials, which in my humble opinion are far better than what Turner Classic Movies has now. Regardless, "The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship" is a wonder to behold for TCM fans, and all involved with it are to be congratulated for a job well done.

Friday, April 12, 2024

My Picks for the 2024 TCM Classic Film Festival

Although I have always wanted to, I have never gotten to attend the TCM Classic Film Festival. I especially wanted to attend last year, when they screened Stand and Deliver (1988). Despite this, every year I enjoy going through the schedule to see what I would want to watch if I were at the festival. Of course, inevitably there going to be conflicts. A perfect example is the first night of the festival this year. Pulp Fiction is at the Chinese Multiplex at 6:30 PM. At 7:00 PM Send Me No Flowers (1964) is also at the Chinese Multiplex. If that wasn't enough of a conflict, White Heat (1949) is at the Egyptian Theatre at 7:00 PM. If I were attending the TCM Classic Film Festival (which unfolds in Hollywood from Thursday, April 18 to Sunday, April 21 this year), I would have trouble deciding what to watch on opening night.

Regardless, I have decided to give it a try, as I usually do. Here then is what I would pick to watch each day. Keep in mind while I have been to Hollywood, I have never walked that part of Hollywood Boulevard, so I have no idea how long it would take to get from venue to venue! For purposes of this blog post, let assume I have the speed of The Flash or the ability to teleport.

Thursday, April 18:
7:00 PM White Heat (1949): This was a difficult choice for me, as I love both Pulp Fiction and Send Me No Flowers. In the end, I decided on White Heat as I saw Pulp Fiction on the big screen when it first came out and, as much as I love Send Me No Flowers, I don't love it quite as much as White Heat.
9:15 PM Grand Hotel (1932): It wasn't nearly as hard for me to pick what film to watch later Thursday night. I have always wanted to see Grand Hotel (1932) on the big screen, but I have never had the chance.

Friday, April 19:
9:00 AM The Caine Mutiny (1954): The Caine Mutiny is one of my all-time favourite movies. Mighty Joe Young (1949) is also at the Chinese Multiplex, but I don't love it nearly as much as The Caine Mutiny.
12:00 PM Them! (1954): I have never seen a giant insect movie on the big screen, and Them! is the greatest of them all.
6:15 PM Rear Window (1954): I have seen Rear Window on the big screen, but it is one of my favourite Hitchcock movies. I wouldn't be able to pass up a chance to see it on the big screen again, especially at the Egyptian Theatre.
9:00 PM Jailhouse Rock (1957): It Happened One Night (1934) is showing at the Egyptian at 9:30 PM, but I have seen it in the theatre. I have never seen Jailhouse Rock in a theatre, or any other Elvis movie for that matter.

Saturday, April 20:
10:00 AM El Cid (1961): El Cid is one of my all-time favourite movies, but I have never seen it on the big screen. There's nothing else showing at the same time that really can compete with it where I am concerned.
2:45 PM: North by Northwest (1959): I have seen North by Northwest in the theatre, but it is my all-time favourite Alfred Hitchcock movie. And it would be cool to see it at the Chinese Multiplex.
6:15 PM The Shawshank Redemption (1994): I have always loved this movie, but I've never seen it in a theatre.

Sunday, April 21:
9:00 AM Double Indemnity (1944): I have never seen Double Indemnity on the big screen and I have always wanted to. It is one of the essential film noirs, and one of Billy Wilder's best films.
12:15 PM Sabrina (1954): More Billy Wilder. Aside from Akira Kurosawa, he is my favourite director.
2:45 PM The Lavender Hill Mob (1951): Okay, I would hate missing Chinatown (1974) at 3:20 PM, but I love Ealing comedies and this is one of the best. It's always one of the greatest caper movies of all time.
7:45 PM The Asphalt Jungle (1950): The Asphalt Jungle set the blueprint for nearly every heist film to come, and it still remains one of the greatest, if not he greatest heist film. I would have to see it on the big sceen.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

The Late Great Trina Robbins

Legendary cartoonist and comics historian Trina Robbins died at the age of 85 yesterday, April 10 2024, following a stroke. She was at the forefront of underground comics in the late Sixties and Seventies, and the first woman to ever draw Wonder Woman in a DC comic book. She was also the foremost historian chronicling the history of women in comic strips and comic books.

Trina Robbins was born Trina Perlson on August 17 1938 in Brooklyn, New York. She became a comic book fan while still very young, and took to drawing from a young age as well. She became active in science fiction fandom in the Fifties and Sixties, and artwork appeared in various fanzines, including the Hugo award-winning Habakkuk. In the late Sixties she operated a clothing boutique called Broccoli, where she outfitted such music legends as Mama Cass, David Crosby, Donovan, and yet others. Joni Mitchell memorialized her in the song "Ladies of the Canyon," after Miss Robbins had moved to California.

Trina Robbins's first comics were published in the underground newspaper The East Village Other. She contributed to The East Village Other spinoff Gothic Blimp Works during its brief run. In 1969 Miss Robbins designed the original costume for Vampirella (rendered by Frank Frazetta on the cover Vampirella no. 1). In 1970 she moved from New York City to San Francisco. There she worked on the underground feminist newspaper It Ain't Me Babe. It was in 1970 that she produced It Ain't Me Babe Comix with Barbara "Willy" Mendes, the first comic book produced entirely by women. In 1972 she became one of the original artists to work on Wimmin's Comix, the legendary, all-female, underground comics anthology that lasted until 1992. Trina Robbins was involved in Wimmin's Comix for its entire twenty years. She also worked on the underground newspaper Good Times. In the late Seventies she worked on Mama! Dramas for the underground comics publishing company EduComics.

In the Eighties Trina Robbins adapted the Sax Rohmer novel Dope for Eclipse Comics and the Tanith Lee novel The Silver Metal Lover for Crown Books. For Marvel Comics' younger readers imprint Star Comics she wrote and illustrated Misty, a spinoff of long running Marvel character Millie the Model (Misty was Millie's niece). In 1986, Trina Robbins illustrated the four issue limited series The Legend of Wonder Woman, written by Kurt Busiek. Miss Robbins then became the first woman to ever illustrate Wonder Woman in an official DC comic book. For Eclipse Comics she wrote and illustrated the series California Girls, with contributions from Barb Rausch. During the decade she also contributed to such anthologies as Gates of EdenGood Girls, and Gay Comix. She edited and co-edited Strip AIDS U.S.A.: A Collection of Cartoon Art to Benefit People With AIDS. She edited and contributed to Choices: A Pro-Choice Benefit Comic Anthology for the National Organization for Women.

It was in 1994 that Trina Robbins, with fellow comic book professionals Heidi MacDonald, Deni Loubert, Anina Bennett, Liz Schiller, and Jackie Estrada, founded Friends of Lulu, a non-profit organization that encouraged comic book readership in women as well as supporting women in the comic book industry. She contributed to War News, an underground newspaper founded to protest the Gulf War. She also contributed to the anthologies Alien Apocalypse 2006 and Gay Comix. At DC she wrote Wonder Woman: The Once and Future Story, with illustrations by Colleen Doran.

In the Naughts Trina Robbins worked on GoGirl! for Image Comics and Dark Horse Comics. She also wrote an adaptation of Honey West for Moonstone Books. She also contributed to The Phantom Chronicles at Moonstone and Girl Comics at Marvel. In the Teens Trina Robbins wrote Honey West and The Cat  for Moonstone Books.

Of course, Trina Robbins was also known as a comic book historian, and she was the foremost historian when it came to women in comic books. Her first non-fiction book, Women and the Comics, was written with fellow comic book professional Catherine Yronwode. Over the years she would write several more non-fiction books, including A Century of Women Cartoonists (1993), The Great Women Superheroes.(1996), The Great Women Cartoonists (2001), Wild Irish Roses: Tales of Brigits, Kathleens, and Warrior Queens (2004),  Forbidden City: The Golden Age of Chinese Nightclubs (2009), Lily Renée, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer (2011), Babes in Arms: Women in Comics During the Second World War (2017), Flapper Queens: Women Cartoonists of the Jazz Age (2020), and Gladys Parker: A Life in Comics, a Passion for Fashion (2022), as well as many others.

In 2015 CBR readers named Trina Robbins one of the greatest female comic book artists of all time. It was certainly an honour that was well-deserved. Ms. Robbins had an utterly unique style that blended the style of underground comics with mainstream Golden Age comics. What is more, as an artist she was very adaptable. Her work on The Legend of Wonder Woman evoked H. G. Peter's original version of the character from the Golden Age. Her work on Misty brought to mind the work of Dan DeCarlo, while still remaining readily recognizable as the work of Trina Robbins. She was also a great writer of comic books, with a gift for creating fully-realized characters. The women in any of Trina Robbins's work were always strong and true to life.

In addition to being a talented artist and writer, Trina Robbins was also a tireless activist. In the Seventies she spoke out against the misogyny present in the work of some underground comic book artists, particularly Robert Crumb. She did a lot of work towards getting more women reading comic books, as well as getting more women in the comic book industry. Much of her work in comic books was meant to appeal to young girls and encourage them to read comic books. For example, GoGirl! centred on a teenaged female superhero.

Trina Robbins's work as a historian was an outgrowth of her activism. Despite the many contributions of women to both newspaper comic strips and comic books, They were often neglected or outright ignored in histories of the medium. Trina Robbins corrected this with her many books on female comic strip and comic book creators. In fact, Trina Robbins and Catherine Yronwode's Women and the Comics was the first ever history of female comics creators. Of course, Trina Robbins's work as a historian went beyond comic books. Over the years she wrote about everything from female killers to Irish women to Chinese nightclubs.As a historian Trina Robbins had an enjoyable, entertaining style and an eye for detail. One not only learns from her history books, but they are thoroughly entertained as well.

Trina Robbins was a talented writer and artist, and she certainly increased the visibility of women in comics. From those who had the privilege to have met her, I also know that she was charming, funny, and extremely knowledgeable. She was well-known for her kindness and generosity. She was supportive of new talent and fans alike, Trina Robbins was more than a great talent, more than a great activist, even more than a great historian. Trina Robbins was simply a great human being.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

The Popularity of Parks and Rec

It as fifteen years ago today that Parks and Recreation, perhaps better known as Parks and Rec, debuted on NBC. Its first season of six episodes received mixed reviews, with many comparing it negatively to the American version of The Office. For its second season it was retooled, and it received much better reviews. By its third season it could even be described as critically acclaimed.While reviews for Parks and Rec improved during its initial network run, sadly, its ratings did not. The show came in at no. 96 for the year for its first season, the highest it would ever rank in the Nielsens. For the remainder of its run, Parks and Recreation never ranked higher than 111 for the season. Despite this, Parks and Rec developed a cult following of intensely loyal viewers. What is more, its following grew even after it ended its run on NBC.For 2018 Parks and Recreation was one of the ten most watched shows on Netflix.

While it did poorly in the Nielsen ratings during its initial network run, Parks and Recreation has continued to be popular throughout the years. It is currently available on the streaming services Peacock, YouTube TV, and Philo, and available for rent on yet others. It currently airs on Comedy Central and IFC. For a show that did poorly in the Nielsen ratings during its initial network run, Parks and Rec has proven to be more popular than other shows that were higher rated in the ratings during their initial network runs.

As to why Parks and Recreation has continued to be popular, much of it may well be due to the fact that when it debuted it was a rather unique show and it has remained so ever since. Following the Rural Purge during the 1970-1971 season, very few broadcast network shows have been set outside of large metropolitan areas. In fact, in some seasons it has been difficult to find any show not set in Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York City. In contrast, Parks and Rec is set in the fictional city of Pawnee, Indiana. Pawnee is hardly a small town (it is much larger than Mayberry, North Carolina on The Andy Griffith Show), but it isn't exactly St. Louis either, much less Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York City. From the show itself and official material associated with the show, it appears to have a population of anywhere from 60,000 to 80,000 (I suspect it is probably closer to 60,000 than 80,000). This would make it about the size of Muncie, Indiana or Cheyenne, Wyoming. In fact, an upside down map of Muncie served as the map of Pawnee on the show. This would make Pawnee a mid-sized city.

While Pawnee is hardly a small town, the fact that it is a mid-sized city located in the Midwest makes it easier for viewers in what those on the coasts derisively call "fly over states" to identify with the characters on Parks and Rec. Indeed, Pawnee, Indiana would appear to have more in common with Mayberry, North Carolina than it does Los Angeles or New York City. Indeed, among Pawnee's problems is a nearly constant raccoon infestation. Farming would appear to be one of the major industries in Wamapoke County, the fictional county in which Pawnee is located. Among Pawnee's other industries are soft drinks (Pizzies national headquarters is located there) and candy (the candy company Sweetums). These are the sort of businesses one would expect in smaller cities and even towns as opposed to major metropolitan areas.

Of course, another way in which viewers in the "fly over states" can more readily identify with the characters on Parks and Recreation than, say, the characters on Friends is that it features the sort of characters one would expect to find in small towns and even mid-sized cities like Pawnee. Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) is a bureaucrat who loves her hometown and remains eternally optimistic despite working in politics. Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) is the director of Pawnee's parks and recreation department who believes the best government is a small government. Jerry Gergich (Jim O'Heir) is an employee of parks and recreation who is clumsy, overweight, and unable to speak publicly, but who nonetheless remains good-natured. Pawnee is filled with somewhat eccentric characters of the sort often seen on such rural comedies as The Andy Griffith Show and Newhart.

Despite being a mid-sized city, Pawnee has other things in common with smaller towns as well. It has a rival city in the form of Eagleton, which was smaller and a bit more upscale. Sadly for Eagleton residents, their city would eventually incorporated into Pawnee. Many Midwestern cities have rivals and, in some cases, they have more than one (my hometown has two). Pawnee also has a few negative things in common with mid-sized cities and small towns in the Midwest, but aren't often acknowledged on television and more often than not reality as well. Quite simply, Pawnee has a history of both racism and misogyny. Indeed, Pawnee celebrated driving the fictional Wamapoke  tribe from their land on which the city currently sets. While racism and misogyny are hardly things any Midwesterners should be proud of, it would be foolish not to acknowledge that historically they existed.

Ultimately, I think the fact that Parks and Recreation was set in the Midwest, as well as its portrayal of Pawnee and its residents, makes it easier for viewers to identify with the show. While Midwestern viewers might enjoy Seinfeld or Friends, they might not necessarily identify with the characters or their experiences, whereas they can identify with the characters of Parks and Rec and much of what happens on the show. Quite simply, I think Parks and Recreation remains popular because it is one of the few sitcoms that has been set in the Midwest made in the past forty years.