"OH, YES IT'S TRUE. IT'S TERRIBLY TRUE. ENGLAND DOES SWING LIKE A PENDULUM DO."
Blog, TV, Records
Posted on Feb 29 2012 by Greg
That's one of the strange but funny lines spoken by Davy Jones
on the iconic '60s series The Monkees
, a show which completely fabricated a pop band for TV yet ironically, in catching the lightning in a bottle, launched a real, albeit dysfunctional, pop legend.
One fourth of that lightning, perhaps the most assured and polished one -- aka the "cute one" -- was Davy, the Manchester-born song-and-dance man who, according to several accounts, would "do forty-five minutes if the refrigerator light went on."
Already a contract actor/singer with Columbia Pictures (he released his own album on the Colpix label before The Monkees
), Davy was the first signed for the series. Another experienced young actor (and emerging singer), Micky Dolenz
, was combined with musician/composers Mike Nesmith
and Peter Tork
. With some improv training and backed by Don Kirshner
's dream-team of music writers and producers (including Neil Diamond, Carole King
, Harry Nilsson
and other icons), The Monkees burned up the music charts and the TV ratings right out of the gate.
In about a year, the eager young performers rebelled against Kirshner, asserted themselves as a genuine group and became one -- almost following a Beatles
-like rise and fallout about half the time. Their albums went from hook-driven solid gold to eclectic, experimental head-scratching curios, but always fascinating and beguiling. Their sole movie, the free-form Head
(co-written by Jack Nicholson
), literally featured the "pre-fab four" leaping off a bridge to a suicidal end, symbolically drawing a curtain over the original group as it was first concocted.
But Davy Jones remained the most accessible in the ensuing years, from appearances on The Brady Bunch
to in-jokes on Spongebob Squarepants
. He'd always be one of whatever three or sometimes four Monkees who reunited. He wrote his biography and kept recording albums for his own label, many of which are found on his website
I was privileged to interview Davy for various Disney Parks articles, as he was an annual fixture performer at the Flower Power Concert Series at Epcot
(he was scheduled to appear this May). He was a wonderful talker, his mind moving so rapidly that his thoughts would overlap. The Epcot
audience adored him and the feeling was mutual, not only during performances, but for autograph sessions at The American Adventure
. Much what he told me wasn't just about himself and performing, but about his wife and his daughters.
TV show, like the original TV Batman
, still holds up astonishingly well, for sheer, fearless, brash lunacy. Even though The Monkees' show owed much to Richard Lester
's Beatle films, watching a show every week, or every day in syndication, is different than watching movies, especially when you also have records to listen to between broadcasts. That was life as a kid in the mid-sixties. My friends and I sat around and listened to Monkee records, watched the show, collected Monkee bubble gum cards and so on.
Seeing them in concert for the first time in 1986 was like seeing the cast of Bewitched
or I Dream of Jeannie
live on stage. And the songs held up a hundred times better than the show.
Davy soloed on several of the biggest hits, particularly Valleri
and Daydream Believer
. These and other Monkee songs have been remade by other performers, and likely will last so long that few will even realize there was a "pre-fab four" that struggled for an artistic level and peer respect that always seemed a little out of their reach. But that didn't matter to the public, who love them and always well.
Davy's career, of course, encompassed more than The Monkees (his TV appearance as Broadway's Artful Dodger in Oliver!
on The Ed Sullivan Show
occurred, surprisingly, on the same night that The Beatles performed). But to most of us, he'll be the one who, when asked to stand up, would say "I am standing up" as a running Monkees gag. He never seemed to mind poking fun at himself or looking silly, as long as he was entertaining.
Somewhere up above, a refrigerator light has just lit up.
THE "KANE" CONSPIRACY...WITH PUPPIES
Posted on Jan 31 2012 by Greg
Never mind that stuff about William Randolph Hearst
conspiring against Orson Welles'
film masterpiece, Citizen Kane
. There's something even more strange and unexplainable going on.
If you've been following this phenomenon with me since last fall, when Spooky Buddies
was released on Blu-ray and DVD the same day
as Citizen Kane
, prepare for another puzzler The newest "Buddies" adventure, Treasure Buddies
, was released today...
And so was Citizen Kane
Again, America is going to have to grapple with the choice between the two -- unless America buys both. But what if America's mom or dad says, "You can only get one DVD or Blu-ray this week?" What then?
You can use this Buddies coupon
, and put the savings toward Kane
. Then you'll have a masterpiece AND a cute movie with puppies and kitties wearing fezzes. And a monkey.
ONE OF TV'S FIRST ORIGINAL MUSICALS - FINALLY ON DVD!
Blog, TV, Music, Records
Posted on Dec 14 2011 by Greg
I have to admit to being more than a little misty-eyed after finally getting a chance to watch the original, live 1956 musical, The Stingiest Man in Town
, now on DVD. I had first seen the Rankin/Bass animated remake in 1978, then found the 1956 Columbia cast album and listened to it for 30 years, never expecting to actually see the live show itself -- unless maybe I got to visit the Paley Center
and they had it in their library.
To my delighted amazement, Video Artists International
located an astonishingly nice-looking kinescope with excellent sound -- and that sound is largely due to a certified Disney Legend: Tutti Camarata
Tutti was the conductor of this special 90-minute live presentation on The Alcoa Hour
. His ear for acoustics surely influenced how distinct the instrumentation come across, even in this vintage kinescope. In 1956, Disneyland Records had just begun, with Tutti as artists and repertoire director. You can hear his style in The Stingiest Man in Town
, as well as what was likely some arrangements by Maury Laws
, whom Tutti told me could have likely done some chart work for the special (the soaring violins in "An Old Fashioned Christmas" are just like the ones Laws created for such Rankin/Bass specials as Rudolph
You have to get a feel for the temporal context to fully appreciate how ambitious this live show truly was for its period. This was the day of Milton Berle
, Jackie Gleason
and other vaudeville-type live variety shows, as well as legendary live dramas on Playhouse 90
and Studio One
. Walt Disney's filmed series was less then two years on the air, Mickey Mouse Club
was in its second season and Howdy Doody
was still an NBC staple.Mary Martin's
TV tradition of Peter Pan
had begun a year earlier (as live shows until it was taped in 1960) and Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella
would premiere a year later (live with Julie Andrews
, then taped in 1965 with Lesley Ann Warren
). I can't confirm this for sure, but that makes The Stingiest Man in Town
very likely the first -- or at least one
of the first -- original musicals created especially for television.
Director Dan Petrie
(A Raisin in the Sun
, Eleanor and Franklin
) worked with in what appears to be a very limited space, with tight, elemental, movable sets. (Notice the clever transitions, such as Basil Rathbone
sinking off camera in the graveyard while a "stand-in" hand grasps the tombstone, enabling Rathbone to race back to the bedroom set for his next scene.)
The cast, crew and orchestra clearly had a short rehearsal time to perform a show of this scope -- and that's what makes live TV so amazing. The cast, orchestra and chorus are right there, and if the singer misses a cue or changes tempo, the accompaniment has to keep up. Keeping all of this in mind, what unfolds is a remarkable achievement that was largely forgotten for decades, unless you happened to have the cast LP -- or this superb CD reissue
Young audiences may not sit still, at first, for the black-and-white, low-def, leisurely paced kinescope experience of the original Stingiest Man
-- more akin to a filmed stage show than a modern recorded and edited production. But if you can impress upon them the importance of these programs, how they paved the way for what we take for granted today (especially technical advances) and just enjoy the pure talent involved, they may find themselves beguiled.
These are some of the greatest Broadway talents of their day, top popular singers and of course, the great Rathbone, with a truly memorable musical score conducted by one of the most respected names in the music industry.
It might be fun if you watch this along with the Rankin/Bass animated remake (available in the above 2008 DVD set
) and listen to the cast album. In an ocean of Dickens Christmas Carol
adaptations, this particular version is one of the all-time finest.
WHAT'S THEIR NAME? IS IT "PREP" AND "LANDING?"
Posted on Dec 02 2011 by Greg
Have you ever heard someone refer to Remy as "Ratatouille?" I haven't but I've overheard it. But I must confess that I have had trouble remembering that "Prep and Landing
" is the name of this recent addition to the holiday TV season, but the lead characters are named "Lanny" and "Wayne." (Maybe I get it from my Mom, who calls one of her favorite TV shows "Bad Men" starring "Don Hamm."John Lasseter
and the Pixar artists have often expressed their fondness for the work of the Rankin/Bass production company, who still hold the record for the highest number of holiday specials, and the highest-rated ones, too. Prep and Landing
is inspired by the perennial joy of seeing favorite specials every Christmas season, yet it wisely does not try, as others have with varied success, to emulate the Rankin/Bass model. There are loads of little nods -- including the distinctive lettering that has become ubiquitous yet began with Anthony Peters
' work for Rudolph
, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
and Paul Coker, Jr.'s
designs for other Rankin/Bass shows and numerous greeting cards.
Thought it was created through Walt Disney Animation, Prep and Landing is bears the fruit of collaboration with Pixar. The half hour show even seems like a Pixar short film,or Monsters, Inc. The amusing extra features are much in the style of Pixar, with cute training films (though without the spot-on acerbic edge of the Krusty Krab Training Film
episode of Spongebob Squarepants
), news reports and commercials. I love this kind of clever stuff and I hope they keep doing it.
TWO "BEAUTYS" REISSUED FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Posted on Nov 30 2011 by Greg
Made-for-video Disney sequels can be a polarizing subject for Disney fans for many reasons, but one positive way to look at them I share with you courtesy of beloved Disney enthusiast and merry, magical artist Stacia Martin
, who looks at video sequels as "what if's" that may or may not have happened -- much like the comic book and Little Golden stories extended characters into new adventures. If you look at it that way, you can dismiss an inferior sequel with a simple, "Oh well, it never really happened anyway." I choose to believe that about the dreadful Superman 3
.Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Enchanted Christmas
, which premieres this year on Blu-ray, is nice enough to resist dismissal, however. With a wonderful musical score by Rachel Portman
and Don Black
, and the original voice cast, this is a worthy video-level successor.
One cannot expect quite the detail or consistent animation of the theatrical Beauty, but a lot of effort went into making this film something that would hold up with every holiday season. If you still have your DVD and do not have Blu-ray, some of the bonus features, including an animated "fireplace," have made their way only over to the Blu-ray on this new edition.Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World
shows us what a regular television series might have been like had it happened. The film is comprised of four individual stories with little connection except that the all take place after Belle arrived and before the happy ending. Having read quite a few storybooks and comics with the same plot restriction, it's got to be a challenge for the writers to come up with premises that cannot advance the situation too much, but also take the characters to some new point at the same time.
The four stories are pleasant, the songs -- by the wonderful Patty and Michael Silversher
, who wrote so many great Disney songs for TV and recordings -- are delightful, but the animation falls a bit short of Enchanted Christmas
. Perhaps that is why this title was not released on Blu-ray.
Both Belle's Magical World
and Enchanted Christmas
include one half-hour episode of a former Disney Channel children's series called Sing Me a Story,
in which a live-action Belle on videotape sits in her nice library/living room with two children, some puppets and visiting human characters and retell two stories using footage from vintage Disney cartoons.
This is not unlike the 1972 syndicated series, The Mouse Factory
. Purists will be taken aback by the editing and redubbing of the cartoons, but it's wasn't the first time this happened and it won't be the last. The most interesting thing about these shows is that they were produced when Disney's Hollywood Studios
was Disney-MGM Studios
and actual TV and movie production was in full swing there. Both Los Angeles and Orlando actors appeared in the series -- some who worked in the Parks one day and did TV appearances on other days.
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