Happy New Year! Welcome back. As is the case every other year: new look. It’s intentionally generic, with a 70s vibe. The moment the culture seems to be heading in a proper direction instead of revisiting diminution and stagnation, you’ll get something with more zest.
Kidding, sort of. I wanted to go back to sans-serif after two years of that great 60s typeface, and this one’s bold and straightforward. I may change it. Nothing’s stopping me.
What else is different? You’ll see as the week goes by. New features and an overhauled Friday. New contact information; new contribution options. And more of the same long-winded stuff you’ve come to love.
You do love it, right?
This is the 27th year of Bleatage, with a few lacunae here and there. At the start of every year, as I renew this thing and retool and carry forward all the legacy things that arose over the years, I wonder: who else has been working this furrow for so long? Kottke’s still going. There are a few others. I’m not sure I still fall into the Blog category, though. I’m not sure I ever did. It’s the Bleat, a daily recitation, a slab of the general and a sprinkling of the particular, with an account of the things that have passed, and a link to more residue of the American Bygone. That’s what it was last year. That’s what it’ll be for this one.
The Wife and Daughter returned from Arizona on Friday, producing a torrent of dog emotions. I mean, I was happy to see them too, but I didn’t think they were dead, or whatever dogs think. Do we know how they understand absence? Birch’s reaction was equal parts surprise and joy, until joy is trumped by whatever sentiments he was trying to get across with barks and whines. And then something clicks and everything meshes and it’s hey you always feed me when you come home right that hasn’t changed so you’d better feed me okay great
Since it was Friday, I ordered pizza. It took longer than expected, and after an hour I called to see if it was en route, or whether the car had been sucked through an inter-dimensional portal and tossed to the other side of the Orion Nebula, in which case they’d remake the order. The phone call began with a cheery message: you could work here! Apply now. Because most people calling a pizza joint care about that first and foremost, just as people who drive up to an oil change shop are wondering if there’s any room down in the pit. The message was followed by forty-five seconds of cheerful upselling about sodas, and whether I should add a sparkling, refreshing drink to my order. Huh; never thought about that. You think these guys carry pop? It’s possible
Finally got someone, asked for an order update, gave him my phone number, and he said the driver had arrived, knocked, no one answered, so he left the pizza on the doorstep.
I said I’d been here. I heard no knock. I heard no doorbell. The dog didn’t react, and he goes into berserker mode if anyone approaches the front door. Are you kidding me? He left it outside? In the winter? Are you SERIOUS?
He mumbled that the driver had knocked and no one answered so yeah
I wanted to ask if he knocked with an ostrich feather sheathed in a velvet pillow case. Opened the door, and sure enough, two pizzas on the ground, in 17 degree weather.
“You should have better front door awareness,” said the guy on the other end, which is where I hung up. Don’t you lecture me on front door awareness, pal.
I don’t doubt that the guy knocked, but it was a single rap with a mittened knuckle, and he had more trips to make, so, whatever, he tried.
Later I got an email from corporate saying WE LET YOU DOWN with the offer of a discount on another pizza, delivered late, and placed on the doorstep.
And now, a new monthly feature.
A newspaper syndicate in 1922 asked a variety of thinkers and notables what the world would be like in a hundred years. Let's see how that played out.
If you’re to ask someone about aviation, you can’t do better than Mr. C. Even I know the name, just from looking at ads and stories in my Dad’s aviation magazines.
So when he’s right, he’s right! But then he goes off on a tangent that makes you wonder: what the hell can he possibly be talking about?
He brings himself back to earth, so to speak, with reasonable predictions about what the future of air travel will be like, and for what reasons.
But then . . .
So . . . radio in the sense of broadcast electricity, a la Tesla. Even better: hydro-electric powered radio propulsion.
Perhaps not that far-fetched, to someone in 2023.
I was looking forward to seeing this, since the title's famous, and it's Von Stroheim. A classic of the early days AND a Simpsons inspiration!
You know this name by now, if only from last year's SONO Monday feature.
We meet Gabbo right away. A vaudeville ventriloquiest. He’s a pill. A jerk. An egomaniac who rails at everything. She’s the long-suffering partner in the act.
Yes, you can certainly understand why audiences went mad for this act:
For the first 15 minutes consists of Gabbo abusing his girlfriend, until she leaves.
Then he starts talking to his dummy. And his dummy starts talking back.
I mean, talking back, on its own.
This does not seem to alarm Gabbo.
The movie doesn’t explain how Gabbo gets to the top. One scene he’s playing backwater joints, and then he’s the toast of Broadway. That setting allows for musical numbers aplenty, and many of the reviewers on imdb wonder why a film that’s supposedly a psychological thriller (maybe) keeps veering into musical territory. Well, it was the early days of the talkies, and they threw in musical numbers all the time to exploit the novelty.
There’s a number that has a top-hat swell:
WHAT A 20s IMAGE. He does a duet with his flapper gal, singing a sarcastic but banal little song. She has an inflection that sounded familiar.
The first singer is Marjorie Kane. The second is Helen Kane.
Helen, of course, was the inspiration for Betty Boop. Marjorie was not related. She was just doing the style of the time. This was her third film. She’d do 77 more, and for most of them . . . uncredited.
Anyway. Pre-code, so there’s backstage undressing:
This blurry section was probably in color.
Yes, they had color. They always had color, just not as we define it.
This eight-second clip is, again, Peak 20s: the mad dance, the Art Deco curtains, the crazy backdrop:
The 12 Sep 1929 premiere at the Selwyn Theatre in New York City's Broadway district. A. Griffith Grey, formerly of D. W. Griffith, Inc., was the new general manager of Cruze's production company, placing him in charge of "presentation and road show activities." The event was heralded with a "living billboard" on the roof of the theater, described in the 16 Sep 1929 Film Daily as a giant spider web with young women posing as flies, while chorines sang and danced on the rooftop below. The spider web was a reference to "The Web of Love," a featured musical number in the film.
Indeed it was.
Although city officials complained about traffic problems caused by the billboard, the 12 Oct 1929 Exhibitors Herald-World reported that a local judge disagreed, saying it attracted tourism to Broadway.
As it happens, I have that issue. Here's the story:
Ballyhoo galore, this:
I suppose people showed up eager to see the spectacular spider-web scene. It’s a weird, bad number.
I mean, look at this guy.
The Great Gabbo opened to lukewarm reviews. Stroheim received good notices, but the film did nothing to further his career. Photoplay called the film "a bitter disappointment... Cruze seems to have lost his sense of humor, and the lighting and scenario are terrible." The New York Times review commented unfavorably on the technical quality of the color sequences. Historian Arthur Lennig wrote that The Great Gabbo "betrays little inventiveness and shows few of its actors to advantage." He notes that, due to obvious budget constraints, several line-flubs by cast members made it into the final cut.
"We'll fix it in post. Or not."
That'll do! Shall we begin this year's ration of 150 matchbooks, drawn from my collection, painstakingly scanned and trimmed and given the now-dead-cliche drop-shadow because that's what I've been doing for almost two decades? We shall.