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by Sarah Boslaugh

29 Aug 2009

If you were a Martian trying to figure out America in the second half of the 20th century, you could do worse than to start by reading Jules Feiffer’s Village Voice cartoons.  His strips for the Voice basically invented the genre of the adult comic, and that’s adult in the “content which would interest a mature person who thinks about the world around them” sense rather than in the XXX Pussycat Theatre sense. He created a model for strips like Tom Tomorrow’s “This Modern World” and David Rees’ “Get Your War On” which use the medium of comics to deliver a satirical take on current events and the world around us.

Feiffer took on the big public issues of the day. He was the first cartoonist to speak out against the war in Vietnam, he skewered Dwight Eisenhower for failing to support the Civil Rights movement, and pointed out the absurdities of the Cold War and the growing military-industrial complex. He tirelessly highlighted the misuse of language and the abuse of power, drawing on first-hand experience of the latter thanks to a stint in the U.S. Army.

If Feiffer had a recurring theme, it was the refusal of those in power to confront reality, describe it clearly, and take action. Not content to bask in America’s postwar prosperity, he always prodded his country to be better. But Feiffer was not always abrasive: when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, he ran a strip in which a child reads a fairy tale about a handsome prince who woke up a sleeping country—but when the prince was assassinated they went right back to sleep.

Feiffer developed a distinctive style incorporating a flexible number of “frames” which were usually just images separated by white space. They often featured a single individual speaking directly to the reader, like an actor delivering a monologue on stage. That may have been a metaphor for the isolation of modern man but also accommodated Feiffer’s somewhat undeveloped artistic style: his strength was characterization and dialogue, not elaborate backgrounds or action sequences. Concentrating on dialogue let him display his knack for capturing how different types of people presented themselves in speech while subtly undermining their statements with his art.
 
A memorable strip in 1963 featured a spokesman for the peace movement who’s just discovered the reason for the movement’s failure: they haven’t marketed peace as a product. But they’re going Madison Avenue now and as with any advertising campaign, it’s important to find the right tone: “If we’re going to make peace catch on as a product, we’ve got to make it as masculine as war!” How to accomplish this? By borrowing the language of the Pentagon, so peace councils become “Peace Commands” (Peace Comms for short) and peace workers become “Trouble Shooters” who run programs with themes like “Peace Escalation.” He concludes: “Gentlemen, once we make the image of peace more warlike, our fund raising problems will be over! I’m sure congress will be happy to give us all we want.”

Fantagraphics is issuing Feiffer’s Village Voice strips in bound volumes: the first to appear is Explainers: The Complete Village Voice Strips 1956-1966 which came out in May. Some of the material treated in these comics is past history: we no longer have to deal with Joe McCarthy or worry about the Soviet Union blowing us all to smithereens. But it’s amazing and somewhat disheartening how contemporary many of them seem.

In 1961 Feiffer drew a strip of a well-dressed man explaining the news business to the unwashed: publish diverting trivia and press releases and leave real reporting alone. “Free press? We’re a nation of trade journals!” The only reason that’s not totally current today is because we barely have any newspapers left worth paying attention to. Even the Village Voice, once a leader in investigative journalism, has today become just another free weekly from New Times Media. So criticizing newspapers may soon be a nostalgic pursuit tantamount to complaining about the scratchy sound from your record player or that the keys on your typewriter are sticking.

Feiffer’s greatest contribution may be his enduring portraits of notable types among his fellow private citizens. He views them through a rather jaundiced eye and of course they’re studied in their neuroses (cultural note: neurosis is a basic emotion for New Yorkers) and totally full of themselves, but so vulnerable and human at the same time. He ceased cartooning for the Voice in 1997 but his characters live on in popular culture.

There were Bernard and Huey, two masculine archetypes who would later turn up as Sandy (Art Garfunkel) and Jonathan (Jack Nicholson) in Mike Nichol’s 1971 film Carnal Knowledge. Bernard was timid, reflective, and sensitive and never got the girl, while Huey was confident, oblivious and had to fight them off with a stick. And of course Bernard could never figure out what he was doing wrong, while the women who went home with Huey saw no contradiction in declaring that they like sensitive guys only to ditch him every time for the brute.

Then there was the leotard-clad modern dancer perpetually offering a “dance to Spring” or a “dance to the loss of innocence” which always began optimistically and frequently ended with her twisted up like a pretzel or cowering in the corner. She’s still with us, most recently as the subject of a production at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 2009.

Pointless (and often self-imagined) personal competitions were a regular theme, and often music was the battleground. In those days it was jazz rather than indie rock but the spirit was exactly the same. A Feiffer beatnik confidently proclaims that jazz was invented by Steve Allen in 1955 and is taught at the New School.  “If you don’t like it, you’d better learn. It’s the coming thing.”

In another strip, a middle-class gentleman is determined to puncture the pretensions of those who claim to be cool. It’s become difficult since everyone has learned the “right” books to buy and the “right” records to listen to: yes there were recipes for hip non-conformity in the 1950’s just as there are today. But not to fear, he’s found the solution to unmasking the pseudo-hip: he sneaks over and turns on their radios! If they’ve left it on WQXR, they’re busted! The take-home message:  take care to change the setting on all your radio dials to an approve station before throwing a party, lest an undercover hipness detective be on the guest list.

Here’s a final image which should prove that the more things seem to change, the more they really don’t. Two small boys inspect a crater. One explains that programs for public housing and school construction were proposed to boost employment, but were politically unacceptable as government interference with the free market. Then a bomb fell out of the sky, leaving a huge crater, and workers had to be hired to fill it in. So the solution to unemployment was found by accident: the government started a bomb-dropping program and put people to work filling in the craters. As the boy concludes, this leaves everyone happy because “Nobody complains about national defense.”

by Bill Gibron

29 Aug 2009

Frank Frazetta and Ralph Bakshi were two highly influential icons from the ‘60s and ‘70s. The former, through his paintings and cover illustrations, literally redefined the look and feel of the fantasy genre. The latter, both beloved and controversial, took cartooning in a more complex and adult direction, formulating such cult classics as Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, and Wizards. As the ‘80s began, the popularity of the sword and sorcery pulp category was at an all time high, and Bakshi wanted to continue exploring the realm. While his adaptation of The Lord of the Rings had proven problematic, bringing Frazetta’s beef and cheesecake conceits to life seemed like a perfect post-American Pop challenge. Oddly enough, it would be the last film the animator would director for nearly a decade.

At its core, Fire and Ice is really nothing more than a battle between elemental good and evil, hot and cold representing each dramatic conceit, respectively. In the allegorical tale, evil Queen Juliana has raised her son Nekron to be a master of the dark arts. Through pure manipulation of will, he can control a massive glacier, sending it roaring across the fertile lands of this unnamed world. Destroying everything in his path, our villain uses an army of Neanderthal like “dogs” to do the rest of his unholy bidding. In the volcanic region of Firekeep, King Jarol is worried. Unless some manner of peace treaty can be reached with the advancing forces, his dominion is doomed. Nekron demands absolute subservience, and when Jarol refuses, the wicked warlord kidnaps his daughter, Princess Teegra. It is up to a drifter named Larn and his partner/protector Darkwolf to step in and save the day.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way right up front - those who hoped that Blue Underground would release both Fire and Ice and the previous two disc DVD bonus feature, the brilliant Frazetta documentary Painting with Fire, as part of this otherwise fantastic format upgrade will be gravely disappointed. True, the main feature is still offered here in all its uncut glory, and the Blu-ray version looks amazing. It’s colorful, detailed, and showcases Bakshi’s unique approach to animation brilliantly. But that 2003 in-depth exploration at the life and work of the storyline’s source and artistic inspiration (Frazetta did collaborate on the project helping with character and costume design) is no longer part of the packaging. Sadly, it turns a previous must-own into something of a casual curiosity.

Indeed, there will be many who take one look at Fire and Ice, compare it to the current crop of computer-aided animated films, and wonder why anyone would champion such a visually awkward approach. At this point in his career, Bakshi was exploring the possibilities of rotoscoping, an old process by which live action footage was “drawn over” to create a more realistic sense of cartoon movement. Having embraced the technique in full for his adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous trilogy (that film covers about the first book and a half), he would literally hire actors, put them through their paces on film, and then turn said material over the animators. Painstaking and problematic, rotoscoping produced what Bakshi called “painting in motion.” In retrospect, it was a perfect match with Frazetta’s epic illustrations.

Yet there is also something clunky and incomplete about the look, a lack of fluidity and finesse that will leave some fans feeling cold. Bakshi does everything he can to liven up the proceedings, giving characters like Nekron the full blown psycho bad guy treatment. There is also a heavy undercurrent of sexuality and machismo present, the characters truly connected to their physicality and form. The one thing you can definitely say about Fire and Ice is that Bakshi and his illustrators really emphasize the functionality of form, putting all aspects of the human (and other) body to expert use.

In addition, the narrative does contain enough twists and turns to keep us engaged. Certainly there are times when Larn’s lack of skill and Teegra’s tendency toward always being recaptured grows old. We like a little variety in our plotting, to see our characters grow, learn, and improve. Here, without Darkwolf’s constant interference, we’d have nothing more than happenstance and failure. Toward the end, when Nekron lets the full force of his evil come alive, Fire and Ice definitely finds its footing. The stand-off is handled very well indeed and the acting really emphasizes what’s at stake. While lacking any known names, the voice work here is strong overall, Bakshi getting the best out of everyone involved.

Still, Fire and Ice will feel like a slight disappointment, a blood and bodice filled misfire that occasionally looks like a corrupted episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Indeed, rotoscoping limits what can be done within the narrative. If Bakshi didn’t film it, it couldn’t be illustrated, and while rare hand drawn elements like the Dragonhawks provide a moment of artistic freedom, everything else is truly locked into the approach. Indeed, one of the reasons Bakshi remains a well-regarded if marginalized figure within the world of animation is his rebellious desire to do things in ways both inventive and aggravating. He’s been accused of being a racist and a revolutionary. Luckily, he’s on hand here to guide a fairly informative commentary track, as well as a Q&A on working with Frazetta. There’s also an old Making-of featurette which explains the rotoscoping process more fully.

Newcomers to Bakshi’s world will probably be less than impressed with what goes on here. Yet in some ways, Fire and Ice and the way in which the film was made highlights the growing changes in animation throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. It many ways, it can be seen as a precursor to the mainstream acceptance of anime, the Japanese conceit that combines detailed realism with visionary ambition to accentuate the plotting and character performance. While Frazetta is a minor player here (made even more so by the Blu-ray’s lack of Painting with Fire), his imprint remains strong within Bakshi’s bravado turns.

While Fire and Ice is less of a classic and more of a oddity, it definitely delivers what it promises. Sadly, it would signal the last full length animated feature the filmmaker would ever produce. Bakshi would go on to make the Gabriel Byrne/Brad Pitt/Kim Basinger live action combo Cool World, but he has yet to return to the artform that made him famous. Like Frazetta, he seems locked into a time when FM radio provided a potent backdrop for misspent youth and adolescent angst. No matter how serious the connection to speculative fiction or fantasy, both men will be remembered for the nature of their artistry. Fire and Ice is a perfect example of why. 

by Tyler Gould

29 Aug 2009

Because not enough of the world’s music has Timbaland’s stamp on it, he teamed up with Rockstar Games to create a music mixer based on this Flash toy. The result is Beaterator, and it’s coming out for the PSP on September 29th, replete with beats, loops, and a veritable smorgasbord of sounds meticulously crafted by the hit machine himself.

Between this, the utilitarian KORG DS-10, and the inimitable Electroplankton, developers are carving out an interesting niche for music production on handheld video game consoles. Check out this video to see Timbaland in action, Beaterator in hand.

   

by PopMatters Staff

29 Aug 2009

A Sunny Day in Glasgow
Ashes Grammar
(Mis Ojos Discos)
Releasing: 15 September (US)

A Sunny Day in Glasgow actually hail from Philadelphia and not across the pond. The shoegazey group formed their own label to release their latest album, dropping in mid-September. We’ve got two sample tracks as well as a video detailing the making of the album.

SONG LIST
01 Magna for Annie, Josh, & Robin
02 Secrets at the Prom
03 Slaughter killing carnage (The Meaning of Words)
04 Failure
05 Curse Words
06 Close Chorus
07 Shy
08 Lights
09 Passionate Introverts (Dinosaurs)
10 West Philly Vocoder
11 Evil, with Evil, Against Evil
12 The White Witch
13 Nitetime Rainbows
14 Canalfish
15 Loudly
16 Blood White
17 Ashes Grammar
18 Ashes Maths

19 Miss My Friends
20 Starting at a Disadvantage
21 Life’s Great
22 Headphone Space

A Sunny Day in Glasgow
“Ashes Grammar / Ashes Maths” [MP3]
     

“Failure” [MP3]
     

by AJ Ramirez

29 Aug 2009

Guitarist and chief songwriter Noel Gallagher has quit Britpop survivors Oasis, reportedly due to an “altercation” just before the group was set to take the stage at the Rock en Seine festival in Paris, France, on Friday night. According to a statement he posted on the band’s website, Gallagher said he “could not go on” working with vocalist/younger brother Liam Gallagher a single day longer. Despite the suddenness of the split, the news would carry a far greater impact if Gallagher hadn’t done the same thing several times before, only to rejoin soon thereafter.

Gallagher has exited Oasis over disagreements with his brother so often it has become a running joke. The first such incident occurred following a September 1994 concert in Los Angeles, California, where Noel took exception to Liam’s drug-fueled stage antics and subsequently fought his kin backstage.  The siblings made up shortly thereafter; meanwhile Noel was inspired by his post-breakup exodus to Las Vegas to write the strong Oasis b-side “Talk Tonight”. Noel left the group again in May 1995 during the production of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?; this incident involved an in-studio showdown between cricket bat-wielding Noel and a furniture-tossing Liam.  The elder Gallagher’s next exit came in 1996 at the height of his band’s popularity, when he opted to return home to the UK in the midst of an increasingly disappointing American tour. Despite brief talk of continuing the tour without their leader, Liam and the rest of the band shortly returned to Britain, where the Gallaghers duly patched things up amid a media panic.  In the new millennium, Noel made another mid-tour exit in 2000, allegedly precipitated by his brother’s rude comments about his wife.

It is possible that Noel Gallagher has finally had it with his brothers behavior and could not longer carry on in Oasis In interviews in recent years, Noel has painted a picture of Liam as a stubborn, inconsiderate loudmouth who calls at four in the morning just to berate him (in contrast, Liam is not above chastising his brother in the press as well). Still, given the elder Gallagher’s past behavior, post-mortems on the life of Oasis are premature. If Noel Gallagher has not returned to the group in six months’ time, then readers can surely expect an Oasis career retrospective by this author here at Sound Affects. Until then, wait and see if he cools off a bit.

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