Outwardly respectable

It’s February 2 today, when the students at the University of Dallas traditionally drink beer in the chilly drizzle at Forker Field (do they still do that?), and when bloggers post favorite poems if they remember to. So, here’s “Macavity, the Mystery Cat,” which I recited to my bored and fidgety classmates at grade school #4.

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw—
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
He’s broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air—
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there!

Macavity’s a ginger cat, he’s very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he’s half asleep, he’s always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
For he’s a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square—
But when a crime’s discovered, then Macavity’s not there!

He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s.
And when the larder’s looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair—
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!

And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty’s gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair—
But it’s useless to investigate—Macavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
‘It must have been Macavity!’—but he’s a mile away.
You’ll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
Or engaged in doing complicated long division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
At whatever time the deed took place—MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!

In a comment on a recent post, Fillyjonk mentioned that there were plans to give Cats a traditionally-animated movie version, with Steven Spielberg at the helm. While I would have preferred that Lloyd Webber et al had left Eliot’s poems alone, this probably would have been preferable to the recent movie. If nothing else, the sketches of Macavity more closely approximate my mental image of the feline Moriarty than the thug of the stage version.

Before anime

My Crunchyroll subscription lapsed a month ago. I’m pretty much done with anime, though I’ll probably always retain some interest. Possibly someone might like to read about my experiences and thoughts, so I’ll write a few summary posts, starting with some pre-history.

I quit watching television when I realized that I could accurately predict the events of an action/adventure/spy show from the first five minutes. This was ‘way back in prehistoric times, when there were only three channels.1 The rest of the family remained addicts, and there was usually a television on in the house at all waking hours and halfway through the night.2 I typically spent my evenings alone in my room, reading, while my parents sat in front of the television.

Movies were a novelty in the small city where I spent the largest portion of my childhood. There was one theater, with just one screen, and one drive-in. You had little choice in what to watch. Consequently, I saw few movies when I was young, and those were mostly thrillers at the drive-in, when my parents tossed me in the back of the car expecting me to sleep while they watched. I had insomnia even then, but I usually found the films more annoying than interesting. (I had nightmares about crop-dusting airplanes after they saw North by Northwest.) Later on in other places we lived, there were multiple theaters available, often with several screens. Unfortunately, movie-going was a family activity, and by then I had had enough of family. With a few exceptions (the Marx Brothers, Ealing Studios comedies, Ray Harryhausen), I never learned to like movies much.

There were a couple of items that presaged my interest in Japanese animation.

First were Saturday morning cartoons. Back in ancient times when I still watched television, my friends and I woke up at dawn on Saturdays and turned the television on, even though at that hour stations just broadcast test patterns, so that we would not miss anything once the programs started. Eventually our parents would wake up and throw us out of the house, but not before we had watched several hours of animation.

Cartoons fell into three classes. The least interesting were the innumerable Hanna-Barbera productions and similar. Yogi Bear, Quick-Draw McGraw, Top Cat, etc., they were all just mere entertainment: formulaic, cheap-looking and bland. They were better than a test pattern, but not by much.

Vastly better were the old Warner Brothers cartoons. These were superior in every respect to HB productions: voice acting, character design, art, animation, music, and particularly the writing. Bugs Bunny was far more vivid and alive than Yogi Bear could ever be. Bugs made me a Raymond Scott fan, too, though I didn’t know that at the time.

The best were the Jay Ward productions. Rocky and Bullwinkle looked even cheaper than Yogi Bear, but it didn’t matter. When the scripts were good, they were brilliant, and they were good more often than not.3 George of the Jungle was consistently good; Hoppity Hooper was downright trippy, as I recall (it’s hard to find; the episodes I’ve unearthed are decidedly eccentric, but I need to see more.) Although the shows were presented as kids’ entertainment, they were written for adults rather than dumbed down for dull children. Bullwinkle is one of the three great comic characters of the 20th century, along with Groucho Marx and Ignatius Reilly.

The other harbinger was Shounen Sarutobi Sasuke. This was the first animated Japanese movie to get a proper release in America, under the title Magic Boy. It turned up one Saturday afternoon at the kids’ matinee, and it blew away all the Disney movies I had ever seen. I thought it was the greatest movie ever made. I later saw Forbidden Planet, and that was the greatest movie ever made, and I eventually forgot Magic Boy.

Some years back, I tracked down a fansub of the movie. By every objective criterion it’s inferior to Disney products. But it had wildness and strangeness absent from its carefully-polished occidental counterparts, and it excited my imagination as no Disney movie ever had.

Books and music took the place of movies and television for me.

Half a lifetime later, I read a news article about a new children’s show being imported from Japan. It had something to do with girls who identified with the planets of the solar system and wore sailor suits. It sounded silly, but I was curious.

Several years after that, I read a review of an animated movie called Perfect Blue. It seemed worth seeing. Too bad it would never come to Wichita. Princess Mononoke looked interesting, too, but it also was unlikely ever to be shown here.

Not quite 20 years ago, a bodhran-playing friend turned out to have a DVD of Princess Mononoke. I asked to borrow it.

Update: I was annoyed to find that recent reissues of Rocky and Bullwinkle on DVD substituted different music for most of the openings and endings. Fortunately, you can find the correct music here. Pianists looking to enlarge their repertoire might consider assembling the incidental music to Dudley Do-Right into “silent movie” suite.

***

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the next installment.

First class, second class

About a hundred thousand years ago, I saw several episodes of the International Festival of Animation on teevee, with Jean Marsh as host. Some of the short films were wonderful; others were tedious. As the show progressed, the proportion of the latter increased, and I eventually lost patience. My favorite was a piece called “Second Class Passenger,” an account of an uneventful train ride in Europe. Once I discovered YouTube, I’d search periodically to see if someone had uploaded it. I finally found it this afternoon.

“Traveller Second Class” was released in 1973 by Borivoj Dovnikovic, or “Bordo,” of the Zagreb school of animation. There’s quite a bit of Zagreb animation at YouTube, including more of Dovnikovic. It’s sometimes good — the character designs and slapstick often remind me of Jay Ward productions — but too often the fun is compromised by an excess of message. The train ride is the only example I can unreservedly recommend.

Not Tweety Pie

There are still a few glitches, but it looks like I finally have my website back after a botched migration. (Thank you so much, InMotion Hosting, for a most memorable weekend.) To celebrate, here’s Sylvain Chomet to show why I am not a twit, featuring a cameo by President Selfie.

Update: It seems InMotion forgot to repoint both nameservers. Within 24 hours — in principle — everything should be working properly. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Update II: See also Terry Teachout.

MacBatty

I just discovered that Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters was made into a movie. It’s not the Discworld novel I would have chosen — Granny Weatherwax is my least-favorite of Pratchett’s recurring characters, and I’d have preferred a good adaptation of The Light Fantastic ((The title was deliberately chosen to annoy Robbo.)) — but it’s still funnier than most alleged comedies. Chrstopher Lee is a resonant Death, though his voice doesn’t have “all the warmth and colour of an iceberg.” Although Wyrd Sisters is animated, Nanny Ogg’s abundant presence renders it not quite suitable for children. She sings a bit of her hedgehog song, too.

Groucho gets wyrd

There are some things in the movie that I don’t remember from the book.

Update: It turns out that a lot of Pratchett has been dramatized, and much of it is available and inexpensive — downright cheap, sometimes, if you buy used. I just ordered these:

The Colour of Magic (which also adapts The Light Fantastic ((“You know when we were flying and I was worried we might hit something in the storm and you said that the only thing we could possibly hit at this height was a cloud stuffed with rocks?”
“Well?”
“How did you know?”)) )

Soul Music

Hogfather

There’s also a Discworld calendar, but since I already have four other 2015 calendars ordered, I think I’ll pass.

5555+


The Lavender Hill Mob by crazedigitalmovies

I stumbled across a few old favorite movies. Above is The Lavender Hill Mob, an Ealing Studio classic featuring Alec Guinness and his classic smile.


Interstella 5555 by pyke369

Probably the greatest AMV ever made. I’m not particularly fond of either Daft Punk or Leiji Matsumoto, but the combination works very well.


Yellow Submarine (1968) George Dunning with… by myfilm-gr

You have a choice of Yellow Submarines. Above is from a lower-quality source; below looks better, but the aspect ratio is wrong.


Yellow Submarine 1968 full movie by ursula-strauss

100 years ago today …

… (yesterday, actually) Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur debuted. (The live-action first half of Gertie is here.)

*****

Today’s headline: Russia Issues Terror Alert For ‘Moose And Squirrel’

*****

So, what is the state of animation a hundred years later? Let’s take a quick look at the winter 2014 anime season.

The only show I can recommend is the hellish comedy Hozuki no Reitetsu. Much of the humor depends on knowledge of Japanese legends and folklore as well as contemporary Japanese culture. If you’re not familiar with the story of Momotaro, for instance, you’ll miss many of the jokes in the first episode. Even so, enough of the humor survives translation, ((Sometimes excessively free translation; e.g., in the fourth episode, the rabbit’s victims are tanuki, not badgers, but “We don’t need no stinkin’ tanuki” doesn’t have the same impact.)) and this account of the life of a competent, dour oni in an underworld populated largely by flakes and silly people nicely illustrates the close relationship between humor and horror. It also features the second-most bizarre ending animation of the season, starting with the second episode.

If you’re interested in the art of animation, Space Dandy might be worth watching. (There are episode-by-episode discussions here.) The title character is an unsympathetic jerk, however, and the stories aren’t particularly interesting. It’s probably best enjoyed without subtitles and without sound.

The third episode of World Conquest: Zvezda Plot reminded me of Cold Turkey and Yasutaka Tsutsui’s “The Last Smoker,” and I wondered if it might be another Excel Saga. However, the fourth episode was merely weird, and the fifth dumb, and I’m losing patience.

Witch Craft Works has the winter’s most bizarre ending animation. It’s also the second series to feature an iron maiden (but not Iron Maiden). Five episodes in, it looks like the dweebish protagonist is caught in the middle of a war between the witches of order and the witches of chaos, and that every female he knows is more than she appears to be. It also seems that he himself has a past he doesn’t know about. I hesitate to give Witch Craft Works a recommendation. Every episode adds complications and new characters, and I will be surprised if the crew can bring the show to a satisfactory resolution in just twelve episodes. However, thus far it’s held my attention, and, despite the female lead’s over-ample bust, fan service has been negligible.

Nothing else I’ve sampled is worth mentioning.