Wednesday, May 8, 2019

museum shaming

I'm no artist, but I do know that "18 NOV 08" doesn't equal "About 2010." You've officially been museum shamed, Art Institute of Chicago placard makers! (And Gregg Bordowitz's first name is spelled with three Gs, so you've officially been friend and/or colleague shamed, Jack Whitten!)


To the Art Institute's credit, I've only noticed one other factual error on a placard in the 16 years that I've lived in Chicago: last August I viewed a 1987 multimedia installation of Gretchen Bender's titled Total Recall, which, according to its placard, is "named after the Paul Verhoeven film." If that were true Bender would be a time traveler, because Verhoeven's film, based on a short story by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, came out in 1990.

Monday, April 29, 2019

"We're not actors, mister! I assume you've heard of the Avengers priority card?"

Disney bought Marvel Studios ten years ago, putting it in charge of the big-screen adventures of Iron Man and his fellow Avengers. Disney's acquisition of the film and TV assets of 21st Century Fox was finalized last month, meaning it's also now in charge of Marvel characters whose big-screen rights were previously owned by Fox, including the Thing and the rest of his supergroup, the Fantastic Four.

Comcast, which owns Universal Pictures, the studio behind the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World movies, attempted to outbid Disney for Fox's assets last year. One day soon Disney may be rich enough to swallow Comcast whole, and if that happens don't be surprised if the March 1983 issue of Marvel Two-in-One makes a synergistic leap from the page to the screen.


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Play ball! (Or just read about an animated, scripted version of it.)

The following is (most of) an excerpt from longtime Simpsons writer Mike Reiss's book, Springfield Confidential, a Christmas gift from my dad, about the show's 1992 episode "Homer at the Bat":

Everyone on staff loved sports ... except me. But I served a purpose—I represented everyone's wives and mothers in the audience. I'd be the lone voice saying, "Will everyone get this joke about Mordecai 'Three Finger' Brown?" Yes, I was the Staff Girl.

... We cast nine real-life baseball players (only Rickey Henderson and Ryne Sandberg turned us down), and [Simpsons writer John] Swartzwelder created quick, crazy stories for each of them:

* Ozzie Smith visits the Springfield Mystery Spot and plunges into a bottomless pit.
* Roger Clemens gets hypnotized and thinks he's a chicken.
* Wade Boggs gets into a fistfight over who was a better British prime minister, Lord Palmerston or Pitt the Elder.
* Ken Griffey Jr. overdoses on nerve tonic and gets gigantism. (Is that even a thing?)
* José Canseco does something nice for someone. (This one really stretched credibility.)

... It was a very different Simpsons episode, including the fact that the Simpsons are barely in it. Here, the guest stars were running the asylum.

Needless to say, our cast didn't like the show. Our table reading of the script bombed utterly. Two of our actors complained about the script, the only time this has ever happened.

The baseball players were much easier to deal with. Don Mattingly had the only gripe: his character makes his first appearance wearing an apron and washing dishes. "Do I have to do this?" he moaned.

"I'm sorry, it's in the script, it can't be changed," [Reiss’s then co-head writer] Al Jean lied.

"Okay," Mattingly grumbled.

The players were surprisingly good actors. Mike Scioscia could be a real professional; in voice acting, you never know who's going to have the gift.

... And then there was Ken Griffey Jr. He got angry because he didn't understand his line "There's a party in my mouth and everyone's invited." (If he had understood it, he'd have been really angry.) Adding to the pressure, his father, Ken Griffey Sr., was there trying to coach him through the line, and it wasn't helping.

The room was going to implode, so that's when they called in me, the Staff Girl. Since I didn't really know who Griffey was, they figured I wouldn't be intimidated by him. Al shoved me into the tiny recording booth. This instantly became my new worst fear: to be locked in a small glass booth with a large angry man; and I couldn't get out until I made him say a vaguely homoerotic line.

It took a few takes, but we got the line. Decades later, Griffey appeared in a mockumentary about the episode—he's become a much better actor.

Despite the misgivings of the cast, "Homer at the Bat" was a huge hit. It was the first time we beat our competition, The Cosby Show. We beat Cosby several more times after that; within two years his show was off the air. [Actually, The Cosby Show went off the air two months later, having lasted eight seasons. Check your stats, Reiss! —me]

... The episode is still remembered fondly. In May 2017, Homer was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Wade Boggs, Steve Sax, and Ozzie Smith showed up at the ceremony. Smith said the number one question he gets asked is "How did you escape the Springfield Mystery Spot?" Boggs said he still sticks up for the Pitt the Elder.


Saturday, February 9, 2019

Randy Newman channeling Albert Brooks

Newman's performance of "My Life Is Good," from his 1983 album, Trouble in Paradise, reminds me of Brooks at his most comically excited and/or desperate in his movies as (co)writer-director-star, especially 1985's Lost in America. It wouldn't surprise me if they're old friends, but I have no idea. (Messrs. Newman and Brooks, if you're reading this, please confirm or deny the existence and/or length of your friendship by leaving a comment.)

Friday, September 28, 2018

liberals and conservatives

"Whenever I feel bad, I go to the library and read controversial periodicals. Though I do not know whether I am a liberal or a conservative, I am nevertheless enlivened by the hatred which one bears the other. In fact, this hatred strikes me as one of the few signs of life remaining in the world. This is another thing about the world which is upside-down: all the friendly and likable people seem dead to me; only the haters seem alive."

—from Walker Percy's first novel, The Moviegoer (1961)