Saturday, April 28, 2007

A very pale shade of true red-Chinese propaganda posters.

From Stefan Landsberger's Poster Pages via Metafilter.

"Traditionally, Chinese political culture has used the arts to propagate ideals of correct behavior and thought. This practice did not stop with the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949. On the contrary, propaganda art continued to be seen as one of the major means to explain and illustrate the 'correct' policies of the moment and the Communist Party's visions of the future. Thus, it reinforced the messages passed on by other media such as newspapers, film and radio broadcasting."

"The use of science-fiction images, as a backdrop for the messages of economic development, gave the posters a truly utopian quality. Struggle was no longer the theme propagated, and the people were urged to be more careful, civilized, cultured and courteous instead."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A grand guy, Sir Guy Grand (additional)

s.a. might have beaten me to the Grand punch with his post, but I have something else to share about The Magic Christian and our favorite Grand Guy, Sir Guy Grand:

The Magic Christian fund was set up by Terry Southern's brother, Niles:
Founded on the third anniversary of Terry Southern's death, this fund has very high aesthetic yields, facilitated by the high mind-share of its primary concepts. Many of these projects have the brand name value-added of both Grand Guy Grand, internationally recognized prankster, and Terry Southern, author of the film Dr. Strangelove and an official Library of Congress National Treasure. As Magic Christian Fund Manager Nile Southern writes, "When contextually appropriate, we will post episodes from The Magic Christian (1957) fit for enactment against today's corporate power-elite who currently indoctrinate the masses into their arbitrary systems of consumption-driven power and control."
Some of the tasks the fund supports are:

"Major radio stations and department stores only play and sell censored music. An alternative to this is a CD containing 'Inverse Radio Remixes': songs with all lyrics removed except those removed from censored radio remixes. The listener hears just the music track punctuated by the occasional 'that's bullshit' or 'so he shoots up his school.' Investment needed to press the already created remix CD for placement on store shelves." "A urinalysis lab worker should save and return as 'corporate property' all tested urine of new hires in a mass mailing to the CEO of a major corporation. The return of urine to its 'rightful owners' should be made into a highly visible press event."

"Rent a neighborhood grocery store that is going out of business, and offer to purchase his remaining goods and clear out his store for him. Announce 'New Owner--New Policy--Big Get Acquainted sale' and sell everything at ridiculous prices: six pack of Coke for a quarter, dozen eggs or loaf of bread for a dime, etc. Give advance notice to the media, as the store will be cleaned out within a few hours. Switch signs--'Moved To New Location'--and repeat."

"Switch the voice recordings in the animatronic American history figures at Disney's EPCOT center. The new recordings should reveal the not-so-self-evident truths about these 'forefathers,' such as their slave ownership, hemp growing, elections fixing, etc."

"Create a social movement whose ultimate goal it will be to manifest, through the power of popular will, genital warts on George W. Bush. The would-be president will be infected with this unpleasant condition through mass mailings, a web site, and the creation of art depicting Bush with the condition. In this age of plutocracy our aim is to point out the uselessness of the voting booth in actualizing real, material changes, and to explore new possibilities for democracy."

"Rent two top floor rooms each in three Times Square hotels on a busy weekend night at the height of tourist season in New York. From the hotel windows, hang giant banners which read: 'New York welcomes Saddam Hussein'. The banner must display prominently several logos of large companies or municipal entities. Alternatives would be to rent a plane trailing a similar banner, lay down an enormous Welcome Saddam doormat which could be unfurled next to football stadia (where the news helicopter could see it), project the image on the moon or on huge white buildings, etc."
Bravo, Niles, for applauding Terry's Grand spirit ....
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is what is commonly known as money. It comes in all sizes, colours, and denominations - like people. We'll be using quite a bit of it in the next two hours... luckily I have enough for ALL of us."

Our Favortite heroes and film combined: A grand guy, Sir Guy Grand

Well, you know, Youngman, sometimes it's not enough merely to teach. One has to punish as well...

Sir Guy Grand, as played by Peter Sellers in the film The Magic Christian.

"The lead character in The Magic Christian a 1959 comic novel by author Terry Southern, is Sir Guy Grand an eccentric billionaire who spends most of his time playing elaborate practical jokes on people. A big spender, he does not mind losing large sums of money to complete strangers if only he can have a good laugh. All his escapades are designed to prove his theory that everyone has got their price - it just depends on the amount one is prepared to pay them. Episodic in character, The Magic Christian is an unrelenting satire on capitalism and human greed."

"For example, Grand pays the actor playing a surgeon in a live television soap opera to deviate from the script, comment in drastic terms on the bad quality of the show, and walk off the set. In another episode, he secretly buys a respectable New York advertising agency, installs a pygmy as its president and has him "scurry about the offices like a squirrel and chatter raucously in his native tongue" in front of all the top executive staff and their prominent clients. In a third, he buys a cosmetics company and launches a big promotional campaign for a new shampoo which, as it turns out in the end, has a very detrimental effect on those who happen to use it. He also shows up at a safari in Africa with three natives carrying a howitzer. Grand´s final adventure takes place on board the S.S. Magic Christian."

"In the 1969 film directed by Joseph McGrath and starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr. It was loosely adapted from Southerns novel.

McGrath's film adaptation differs considerably in content from Southern's novel. Relocated to London in the 1960s, it introduces an orphan whom Sir Guy Grand picks up in a park and on a whim decides to adopt. The role was written with Ringo Starr (who plays it) in mind. A host of British and American actors (see cast) have brief roles in the movie, many playing against type. Episodic in character, The Magic Christian is an unrelenting and often heavy-handed satire on capitalism, greed, racism and other human vanities. Notable are the appearances of (pre-Monty Python) John Cleese and Graham Chapman (uncredited), who had written an earlier version of the film script, of which only the scenes they appear in survived.

Their misadventures are designed as a display of father Grand to his adoptive charge that "everyone has their price" - it just depends on the amount one is prepared to pay. They start from rather minor spoofs, like bribing a traffic warden (Spike Milligan) to take back a parking ticket and eat it (who delighted from the large bribe, eats its plastic cover too) and proceed with increasingly elaborate stunts involving higher social strata and wider audiences. As a father-son conversation reveals, Grand sees his plots as "educational" ("Well, you know, Youngman, sometimes it's not enough merely to teach. One has to punish as well.").

At Sotherby's art auction house, it is proudly claimed that an original Rembrandt portrait might fetch £10.000, yet to director Mr. Dougdale's (John Cleese) astonishment, Grant makes a final offer of £30,000 for it ('Thirty - thousand - pounds? Shit! I beg your pardon, I do beg your pardon!') and having bought it, proceeds, in front of a deeply shocked Dougdale, to cut with his scissors the portrait's nose from the canvas. In a classy restaurant he makes a loud show of wild gluttony, Grand being the restaurant's most prominent customer. In the annual Boat Race sports event, he bribes the Oxford team (where Graham Chapman plays a member of the rowing team) and makes them ram purposely the Cambridge boat, to win a screamingly unjust victory. Grand secretly buys a respectable

Grand and Youngman eventually buy tickets for the luxury liner S.S. Magic Christian, along with the richest strata of society. In the beginning everything appears normal and the ship apparently sets off. Yet soon, things start going wrong. A solitary drinker at the bar (Roman Polanski) is approached by a transvestite cabaret singer (Yul Brynner), Dracula (Christopher Lee) poses as a waiter, a cinema show turns out to be a "documentary" of a chirurgical merging of half a white man's and half a black man's bodies into one. Eventually passengers start noticing through the ship's CCTV that their Captain (Wilfrid Hyde-White) is in a drunken stupor and finally gets carted off by a gorilla. In a crescendo of panic the guests try to find their way to abandon ship. A group of them, led by the Grands, reach instead the machine-room, which turns out to be powered by hordes of topless rowing slaves, under the Priestess of the Whip's (Raquel Welch) command. As passengers finally find an exit and lords and ladies stumble out in the daylight, we discover that the liner had never really left the port. During the whole misadventure, father and son Grand look perfectly composed and cool, as if all this is one more of their pranks.

In the final scene of the movie, Guy Grand wanting to find out how far people can go for money, fills up a huge vat with urine, blood and animal excrement and sprinkles it avidly with paper money. In a choreographic way, a crowd of gents approaches the vat and after some indecision starts stepping in to grab the cash. Having forgotten all sense of disgust many even start taking dives in it.

Reception of the film.

Not surprisingly, most mainstream critics have been quite negative on the film, especially for its extensive use of black humour. Darrel Baxton, in his review for Splitting Image, refers to the film as of "the school of savage sub-Bunuelian satire"[1]. Christopher Null in states that "it's way too over-the-top to make any profound statement"[2].

Some audiences may find it irritating to watch scenes of a multi-millionaire who has nothing better to do with his wealth than to use it to humiliate people who are much poorer than he is. Sir Guy Grand can easily afford the luxury of wasting his money on bizarre stunts, whereas his victims cannot. The underlying theme of the movie appears to be that people will do anything you request - if you offer them enough money. Of course people were already well aware of this fact back in 1969 when the film was released, which may account for its cool reception."

Monday, April 23, 2007

One of our (or at least my) favorite Paintings: Thomas Eakins "The Thinker".

The Thinker: Portrait of Louis N. Kenton, 1900
Thomas Eakins (American, 1844–1916)
Oil on canvas; 82 x 42 in. (208.3 x 106.7 cm)

From the Met:
"Louis N. Kenton (1865–1947) was Eakins' brother-in-law, having married Elizabeth Macdowell (1858–1953), sister of the artist's wife Susan, in 1889. Elizabeth studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, exhibited professionally, and traveled widely. Her marriage to Kenton was stormy and apparently brief, and very little is known of it, or of Kenton. The title associated with this portrait, The Thinker, was at one time based upon an inscription on the reverse that apparently was placed there by Susan Eakins. Beginning in 1900, the portrait was in the Farnsworth Library and Art Museum in Rockland, Maine."

I had only a day at the Metropolitan and anyone will tell you its simply not enough time to take in the massive collection. By the fifth hour I was almost literally running through the museum just to get a glimpse at the rest the paintings I still had not gotten a chance to view, then I turned a corner and saw this incredible painting- and my running stopped.

..and my running has yet to start again, a single work of oil on canvas taught me how to think and process my world.

Lets not forget the other thinker, and a work just as important to my own personal imaginary art collection, but that as they say is another story.....

"One of Auguste Rodin’s most famous sculptures is The Thinker Statue, a piece originally conceived to be part of another work. The Thinker was part of a commission by the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris to sculpt a monumental door based on The Divine Comedy of Dante. Each of the statues in the piece represented one of the main characters in the epic poem.

Initially named the The Poet, The Thinker statue was intended to represent Dante himself at the top of the door reflecting on the scene below. However, we can speculate that Rodin thought of the figure in broader, more universal terms. The Thinker is depicted as a man in sober meditation battling with a powerful internal struggle. The unique pose with hand to the chin, right elbow to the left knee, and crouching position allows the statue to survey the work with a contemplative feel."

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The real and imagined world in a single frame: The machines of Belgian Cartoonist Andre Franuin.

From Wikipedia:
André Franquin (January 3, 1924 – January 5, 1997) was an influential Belgian cartoonist, whose best known comic strip creations are Gaston and the Marsupilami. He also worked on the Spirou et Fantasio comic strip from 1947 to 1969, a period which is seen by many as the series' golden age.
Proof of his popular and critical appeal, Franquin was awarded the very first Grand Prix de la ville d'Angoulême in 1974. Many books by Franquin have been published, a good number of which are considered classics of the genre. They have been translated in many languages. Several books have been written about Franquin, such as Numa Sadoul's Et Franquin créa la gaffe, an exhaustive interview with the artist covering his entire career.
Franquin's death in 1997 in Saint-Laurent-du-Var didn't quite elicit the kind of worldwide posthumous homage Hergé received. However, 2004 saw the first major museum retrospective of his work, an exhibit called Le monde de Franquin, in Paris' Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie this exhibition was continued in 2006 in the city where he was born, Brussels, the latter was fully bilingual (French/Dutch). In 2005, a Walloon survey elected him as the "16th greatest Belgian ever".

Recently an exhibition (27 October 2006 - 15 April 2007) in Brussels featured full size re-creations of the imaginative cartoonist works of his comic based industrial design. So here are the original panel illustrations and the full size "real: machines. Have a look and wish-like I do- that all creative people had a had in the ordinary and not-so ordinary machines in our sadly often un-fantastic world.

The Sous Marine two-man sub.

The amazing Zandajet scooter

The Turbot Rhino 1

Picture credits: The photos are from yhanckis flicker photostream (kudo's to Steve of the ScooterScoop for the great tip on the site). Franquin's drawing are from the colourful Franquin homepage.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Introducing a new world of entertainment: Cheddarvison

From Steve Forrest for N.Y times:

"WESTCOMBE, England, April 10 — The cruel randomness of celebrity became clear to Tom Calver in February, when the cheese got a romantic Valentine in the mail and he did not.

The Web site focuses on just one 44-pound round of cheddar. Not much happens, and yet the cheese has become hugely popular. But in common with other instant media sensations and members of the world’s ditzerati, the cheddar has not been impeded in its rise to fame by the modest nature of its accomplishments. As the star of Cheddar-vision TV, a Web site that carries live images of its life on a shelf (, the cheese has been viewed so far more than 900,000 times.

Mr. Lane helped set up the Webcam in December, when the cheese was made, beginning as milk from Mr. Calver’s herd of Friesian-Holstein cows and then progressing through the standard curds (and whey) phase on its path to becoming a hunk of cheddar. It is to remain on the shelf until December, when, fully mature, it is to be sold for charity.

As befits an inert object of obsession, the cheese has become a blank slate upon which admirers can express their passions and idiosyncrasies. Poems and songs have been written about it. It has been invited to a wedding. At Easter, it received an anonymous gift of chocolate and decorative chicks.

E-mail correspondents have engaged in a lively debate about the metaphysical significance of the cheese’s mold patterns. From the United States, a teacher announced that his class had set up a wall of cheese, where students could post photographs of the cheese “in various states of rotation.”

Other dull British sites, helpfully compiled by Oliver Burkeman in a recent article in The Guardian, include one that shows nothing happening on a side street of Neilston, a suburban village near Glasgow. Another one (now defunct) showed a pile of compost in Sussex.

As befitting a celebrity, the cheese has its own page on, where we learn that it is a Capricorn, that it is not interested in having children and that it has 521 friends...."

Stuff We Wished Existed But Doesn't ... Or Maybe It Does: Hufu

From Wikipedia:
Hufu is a supposed tofu-based product that is meant to resemble, as realistically as possible, the taste and texture of human flesh. It is not known at present if the product actually exists, or has existed, and as such, Hufu has been alleged to be real.

Until the recent closure of the Hufu web site, Hufu was touted as "the healthy human flesh alternative" for "cannibals who want to quit", as well as a product for anthropology students studying cannibalism. The morbidly humorous nature of the product and its official descriptions led many Internet users to suspect that Hufu was little more than a prank on the part of its creator.

Mark Nuckols (founder and CEO of Hufu, LLC)—then a student at Tuck School of Business—claimed that the concept of Hufu occurred to him while reading anthropologist Marvin Harris' "Good To Eat: Riddles of Food and Culture" and simultaneously eating a tofurkey sandwich.

Some customers believed Hufu to be a scam, and the actual product to be nonexistent. This theory was supported by the sudden and unannounced closure of the Hufu home page as of mid 2006. However, according to Mark Nuckols, he closed the website simply because "the world has moved on past hufu, and the site was more expensive to run than it was worth."

Worth tossing in, of course, is the line from Futurama regarding the taste of Soylent Cola: "It varies from person to person."

Friday, April 13, 2007

The not-so-true story of the MV Augusta 60cc Cafe Monomoto Superleggera.

"J. Wood & Company has held an annual auction in Daytona for the past 20 years. This year, they auctioned off a very interesting piece of art that fetched a very interesting price. At the very least, it a well thought out piece of motorcycle racing art, that comes with an unbelievable story.
Here is the story that came with the bike….
"This MV Augusta 60cc Monomoto Superleggera is the experimental machine ridden by young wealthy Italian Luiggi Bandini, during practice for the 1954 Milano-Taranto Road Race. Bandini tragically lost control in a misty mountain section, while waving to a pretty spectator. His grief stricken father, Count Enzio Bandini, “The Falcon,” never again permitted anyone to ride or even view this advanced design, and knowledge of its whereabouts faded. Eventually, rumors of this fascinating machine reached the motorcycling bon vivant Todd Fell. On a trip to Naples, Italy, his quest to find it was rewarded at the Bandini country villa, where in 2004, fifty years after the tragic accident, the late Count’s family was persuaded to part with the treasure."

If mythical motorcycles are really your thing-visit the best (and only) site for just that: The Spagthorpe Motorcyle Company. take for example David Helber's Spagthorpe Rottweiler:

"I was rummaging through the effects of my great-uncle, Major-General Tremorden Rederring, KCB, and found this photo of Bart. Capt. Isidore Dunn-Spagthorpe, late of the Royal Flying Corps., testing the Spagthorpe unirotor at his seaside villa near Tintagel in 1931. Both Capt. Dunn-Spagthorpe and the prototype came to an unfortunate end when the Captain’s trademark silk aviator scarf fouled an idler wheel, breaking his neck and pitching the machine over a cliff edge into the crashing surf of an outgoing tide. Neither the Captain nor the prototype was ever recovered. This ended Spagthorpe’s interest in the monowheel concept. The machine, according to pencilled notes on the back of the photo, had been given the developmental title “Mongrel,” but, had it endured to production status, would undoubtedly have been provided with a more marketably euphonious appelation. What appears to be the word “Rottweiler” is faintly inscribed in a lower corner of the back, and it is possible that this was the projected product name.

Beyond this, not much is known about the Spagthorpe Rottweiler except that it had a chain-driven oil filter."
Want to see some real functioning Monowheels? then go to The incredible Self Monowheel site.

From "Science et Vie" May 1993, p170
"The text in the picture reads: "Insolites" means "Strange"

"The motorcycle with one wheel. (June 1923)"
"Proud as a peacock, town sergeant Davide Cislaghi, a former electrician, has driven his 1.45 metre diameter monocycle for some dozens of kilometers. No problem with stability; all the vehicle parts are fixed to the interior circle to lower the centre of gravity. To turn, the pilot leans his body to right or left. On stopping, two little lateral wheels lower themselves."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Live small: The Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.

"You know you have reached perfection of design not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away. --Antoine de Saint-Exupéry"

"My name is Jay Shafer and since 1997 I have been living in a house smaller than some people's bathrooms. My decision to inhabit just 100 square feet arose from some concerns I had about the impact a larger house would have on the environment, and because I do not want to maintain a lot of unused or unusable space. My houses have met all of my domestic needs without demanding much in return. The simple, slower lifestyle my homes have afforded is a luxury for which I am continually grateful.

Since completing Tumbleweed, I have continued to make little buildings. How each house gets used depends on the occupant’s particular needs. My houses have been composed with meticulous attention to light, warmth, energy efficiency, and proportion. I have made the most of each cozy interior by minimizing transitional areas like hallways and stairwells and by using otherwise unusable space as storage. The simple, formal designs that have resulted are the best way I have found to order most any space and make it beautiful. "

Specifications: About 75sf, 7’ x 13’ x 11’, 4000lbs
Because its dimensions are well within the legal limits for travel on U.S. roadways, the XS-House can be taken almost anywhere. The porch and awning fold up for added convenience. The interior features a 100 cubic feet of storage, a cathedral ceiling, water heater, shower, toilet, stainless steel counter, refrigerator, sink, heat stove, a double burner, and a vented sleeping loft for two.

Specifications: About 392sf, 14’ x 28 ’ x 10’
This utilitarian structure represents the confluence of luxury and simplicity. The kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and storage are relegated to the ends of the structure, leaving the central area wide open. Stainless steel countertops, fireplace, and details contrast nicely with with the pine-ply interior. The exterior is clad in hot-rolled steel (as shown in picture) or corrugated metal.

As one who lives in a house no larger than a Tumbleweed, I can attest that small is indeed good. Easy to clean, easy on the enviroment, and keeps your possessions small and carefully thought out...I would not live any other way.

Calvin Trillin and his beautiful spot.

From (don't hate me) USA Today

As a young writer for Time in 1962, Trillin and some friends joked about starting Beautiful Spot: A Magazine of Parking. After Art Buchwald mentioned the idea in his column, Trillin says, "We were embarrassed. We decided we'd better put out a magazine."
The first issue, six typewritten, mimeographed pages, appeared in March 1962. (The main story complained about the number of parking spots lost to fire hydrants.) It sold for 25 cents, brought in $17 and, "to set an example for publishers, we spent all the profits on a staff party."
And that was the only issue of the magazine? "Well, put it this way," Trillin says, "the second issue hasn't come out yet." He blames "production difficulties," which, as he puts it, "tend to snowball."
All I know is I really want nay, must to find a copy, and frankly think its time A Beautiful Spot's time to rise again is in this decade. I think I 'll try to contact Calvin and then get back to us.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Future Will Gleam: Syd Mead

Designer for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Blade Runner, Tron, 2010, Aliens, Strange Days, Mission to Mars, Mission: Impossible III ...

... but to me he'll always be the coolly metalic soul of a Ford Future.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Romantics need not apply: The Citizens Association to blow up the moon

"We are a group of citizens from all walks of life who share a common realization and thus a common goal: the Moon is our enemy and must be destroyed. We are dedicated to the pursuit of this goal via lobbying efforts, education of the public, and independent scientific endeavors.

We were founded in 1839 by an unemployed Rumanian werewolf hunter; today we have over two dozen members in five continents. Our numbers are growing yearly as people hear our message and understand the pressing need to destroy the moon."

The Moon is a harsh mistress, but even harsher a master. Too long has the human race lived in thrall to its cruel tyranny. The threat posed to humanity by the Moon is greater now than at any other time in our history. The last time the Moon so threatened life on Earth was 65 million years ago, at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs. Unless we act soon, experts believe the next Great Extinction is inevitable.

There are three main reasons why the Moon is so dangerous. The Moon is responsible for madness, lycanthropy, and the destructive and unexpected tidal forces that play havoc with our coastlines on a daily basis.

At the Citizens' Association to Blow Up the Moon, we do our best to alert the leaders of all the world's nations to the danger of the Moon. It is an uphill struggle. We also get the word out via education, seminars, and 30-minute infomercials.

Our most recent project involves the construction of a huge Earth-to-Moon thermonuclear missile. The project is well underway, with the blueprints carefully laminated and the stabilizer fins of the rocket halfway constructed. We hope some warheads will be forthcoming in the very near future."
Fine lads, just stay away from Ceres, because that bitch is mine.

Friday, April 6, 2007

"The tower is Utopian": Tatlin's Tower

From Wikipedia:
Tatlin’s Tower was a grand monumental building envisioned and blueprinted by the Russian artist and architect Vladimir Tatlin, but never built. It was supposed to be erected in Petrograd after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, as the headquarters and monument of the Comintern. Its proper name was to be The Monument to the Third International.
Tatlin's Constructivist tower was to be built from industrial materials: iron, glass and steel. In materials, shape, and function, it was envisioned as a towering symbol of modernity. It would have dwarfed the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The tower's main form was a twin helix which spiraled up to 400 m in height, which visitors would be transported around with the aid of various mechanical devices. The main framework would contain three enormous rotating geometric structures. At the base of the structure was a cube which was designed as a venue for lectures, conferences and congress meetings, and would complete a rotation in the span of one year. In the centre of the structure was a cone, housing executive activities and completing a rotation once a month. The topmost one, a cylinder, was to house an information centre, issuing news bulletins and manifestoes via telegraph, radio and loudspeaker, and would complete a rotation once a day. There were also plans to install a gigantic open-air screen on the cylinder, and a further projector which would cast messages across the clouds. (Gray 1986)
The Monument is generally considered to be the defining expression of architectural Constructivism, rather than a buildable project. Even if the gigantic amount of required steel had been available in revolutionary Russia, in the context of housing shortages and political turmoil, there are serious doubts about its structural practicality. (Gray 1986)
There is a model of Tatlin’s Tower at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm, Sweden.

A beautiful and impossible dream? not for the the people of the Tatlin's tower and the world project who would like to build the parts of the tower in different locations all over the world, and then assemble it at a yet unknown location.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A Real Froggy Evening

Ol' Rip didn't want his fifteen minutes of fame. It was thrust upon him. He was Young Rip when he crossed paths with E. E. Wood, electrician and part-time cornet player with the Eastland Municipal Band. He was Ripley to his mother who had sent him to the store for a box of red ants.

Mr. Wood was on his way to the laying of the cornerstone for the new Eastland County Courthouse. The year was 1897 and people were starved for entertainment. So much so, that horned toads were regarded as pets. Even if they never brought the paper in or rolled over, people would watch their little wart-covered bodies sit immobile for hours. This was before Television, this was before Radio. Hell, if Edison hadn't invented the electric light, Mr. Woods wouldn't have been an electrician. Anyway, on the way to the festivities, Ripley scurried in front of Mr. Woods and changed his life forever. E. E. grabbed the unfortunate creature and put him in his pocket planning to present him to his sons at the end of the day.

Mr. Woods arrived at the site just in time to see the town fathers place various articles into the cornerstone/time capsule. Everyday items to be sure, but things that loomed large in the everyday lives of Eastland citizens. A few coins, a Bible, a newspaper and a bottle of whiskey had already been placed inside when the Mayor asked if anyone had anything else to contribute. Ripley chose that moment to scratch his little pointed head and Mr. Woods suddenly remembered he had something to offer. Everyone laughed when Ripley was lowered by his tail into his new home, for these were fun loving people who would've put someone's car keys in there, if cars had been invented. The cornerstone was sealed and Rip's mother and siblings starved for want of the ants Rip was to bring home.

Even in 1897 they didn't build things "like they used to" and 31 years later the courthouse needed to be replaced. When news of the demolition was announced in the paper, a now remorseful Mr. Woods reminded everyone that a horned toad had been placed in the cornerstone. This would be an opportunity to see if the Indian legend of the toad's longevity was true. Word spread and a crowd of 4,000 people showed up. Most of them left when they discovered it wasn't a hanging, but enough were there to witness Rip's resurrection. His seemingly lifeless body twitched and he seemed to inflate himself as he breathed the fresh air. Eastlanders went wild. Westlanders went wild. The bottle of 31 year old whiskey disappeared. Rip went on tour. He went to Washington D.C. and sat on the President's desk (This was Calvin Coolidge, a man only slightly more talkative than Rip), he went to St. Louis, he made public service announcements and endorsed tennis shoes. Robert Ripley (no relation) featured him in his "Believe It Or Not" column and newsreels showed Rip's face on movie screens across the land. Warts and all.

It's too late to make a long story short, so I'll leave out his kidnapping. Rip spent what were to be the last months of his life in Mr. Woods front window in a goldfish bowl sunning himself or burrowing in the sand. Rip had literally found his place in the sun. Neighborhood children caught red ants by the bushel for Rip. But in February a Norther blew in and the temperature dropped. While the Woods slept under quilts, Rip froze in the unheated front room. Eastland County wept. The Nation mourned. A casket company provided a glass case, a monument company a marble base, and a taxidermist performed the sad task for free. Like Lenin, Stalin and Ho Chi Minh, Rip was put on public display. (It was never proven that Rip was, or ever had been a party member). Eastland's favorite toad, the reptile that brought fame to a otherwise sleepy town can be viewed to this very day in the Eastland County Courthouse. (North side.)

From Wikipedia:

A mid-1950s construction worker involved in the demolition of an 1892 building finds a box inside a cornerstone. He opens it to reveal a singing, dancing frog, complete with top hat and cane. The man tries exploiting the frog's talents for money, but as it turns out, it won't perform in front of anyone else. For the rest of the cartoon, the man frantically tries to demonstrate the frog's abilities to the outside world, all to no avail. After his stay in an asylum, we see the haggard man dejectedly hiding the box in a building that's under construction. In the year 2056, the building is demolished by futuristic ray guns, and the box with the frog is discovered yet again, starting the process all over.

The cartoon has no spoken dialog, in fact no vocals at all, except by the frog, otherwise relying on pantomime and other visuals, sound effects, and music: mostly songs from the ragtime and early Tin Pan Alley era, with a dash of Opera showing the frog's versatility; along with one new song written for the cartoon "The Michigan Rag", a parody of pop-rag songs of the era.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Welcome to Weirdsville: Hellfire!

History has not been kind to them. If you can even find references to their Brotherhood it’s usually shaded with Christian hysteria, whispered tales loaded with the usual Catholic shockers of Satanism, sacrifice, the black mass, rituals - you name it. They say that the winners write the history books - well, I consider it a bad sign that it takes a lot of digging to uncover the truth: while they haven’t won they certainly have a good enough foothold to pretty badly taint the memory of the Amorous Knights of Wycombe.

Even if you travel to their later meeting place, the sleepy little hamlet of West Wycombe, the locals spout the nonsense - telling tales laced with those Christian bogeymen images: hooded figures droning a litany of forbidden words while a naked offering is laid out on cold granite, awaiting the ritual blade in the hands of a Satanic Priest.

While the truth about the membership of the Monks of Medmenham, and later the Amorous Knights of Wycombe, isn’t as - well - Hammer Films material, the tale of its founding, membership, and rites is fascinating.

Oh, to be in England in the 1760s. The Colonies were behaving themselves, the Great British Empire was just that, and everyone - so it seemed - belonged to a club. There was one for just about every class, interest, or occupation: The Lying Club, where the truth was banned; the Ugly Club where the qualifications for membership were unhandsome, at best; the Golden Fleece where members took on such names as Sir Boozy Prate-All, Sir Whore-Hunter, and Sir Ollie-Mollie.

Then there was the Monks of Medmenham Abbey. Meeting clandestinely on a spot of land somewhere along the Thames near London, this circle of Gentlemen came to typify the age, the era of the Great English Clubs.

Sir Francis Dashwood is one of my heroes - roguish, yet always the stalwart Gentleman; a prankster and jape, yet the author of the Book of Common Prayer - Sir Francis was the center and guiding force behind the very special club, the one later to be known by the misnomer, the Hellfire Club.

Born in 1708, and a indirect descendent of Milton (“tis better to rule in Hell, than serve in Heaven”), Sir Francis was a great supporter of reforms as well as artistic advances. His estate at West Wycombe became a example progressive architectural design and intelligent land management. He was elected an MP 1762, in appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer the following year - and then the year after that elevated to the House of Lords. To add to these wonderful accomplishments, in 1766 (under Pitt) Dashwood was appointed Postmaster-General. Sir Francis, you see, was a man of accomplishment, of intelligence, ability, and - most certainly - wit.

Oh yes, for while Sir Francis was elevating his way through Parliament, he also created, and pretty much single-handedly maintained, his own special club. Unlike those other eccentric clubs of the time the Monks of Medmenham Abbey was a special organization - one dedicated to japing the Papists, providing a place where a gentleman of sophistication might find a place to meet, drink, and - in general - raise a little hell.

The Monks certainly did that. First at their hidden little island, set inside a false ruin of an old Abbey, they met - clandestine greetings across the cool waters of the Thames, lanterns and torches lighting the way, the Monk-robed members gathering together to eat, drink, share amusing anecdotes and fuck like bunnies.

While there were definitely intellectual intercourse at those meetings of the Monks of Medmenham Abbey, it was rather plain-old-simple intercourse that kept them coming back. After 1763, when the cloaked and torch-bearing Monks had attracted some undue attention, they moved local to Dashwood’s own estate in West Wycombe - where the Lord de Despencer had constructed a veritable erotic, playful interpretation of Hades on - and under - Earth.

The hills around West Wycombe are soft chalk, ideal for tunneling and that’s just what Sir Francis did. With his artistic and architectural eye he created a maze of tunnels, underground rivers, chambers and gardens on his property, decorated with elaborate erotic sculptures, teasing portraits of the Knights of Wycombe (such as depicting Sir Francis with halo), and many small chambers for intercourse of both kinds. It was at Wycombe that the real Hellfire club began, a festive playground where the political, artistic, and intellectual elite of England met - engaging in dalliances with some of the most famous of London prostitutes. My favorite little jape of the society is that while it is pretty much incontrovertible that Ladies-of-Rentable-Virtue were present, it is also believed that - since both ‘Monks’ and ‘Nuns’ wore veils or masks, and identities kept very secret -lovers, wives, sisters, and daughters of other members were also there.

Now before you imagine (you filthy creature you!), English artists and intellectuals running around in a white-wig version of Porky’s, let me reassure you that while Eros was a major focus of the Knights, it was handled with grace and dignity - the Nuns could refuse any offer, or accept any offer, as they saw fit. It was a place of playful perversity, where free-thinkers could gather together to titter and mock the oppressive Jacobites and their domineering Pope. Rituals were held, yes, but with all the seriousness of rowdy jesters.

And what jesters they were - and this is what elevated the Amorous Knights of Wycombe to memorable heights. I’ve told you of Sir Francis, peer by day, Monk by night, but the other members - particularly the inner circle - shine with their own randy double-lives. Just listen to this litany of the famous and infamous who all took part in the elaborate games and fanciful parties in and under West Wycombe hill: The Earl of Sandwich (for whom the food was named), First Lord of the Admiralty; Thomas Potter, Paymaster-General, Treasurer for Ireland and son of the Archbishop of Canterbury; John Wilkes, MP, and Lord Mayor of London; Frederick, the Prince of Wales; Horace Walpole, Politician and author; Edmund Duffield and Timothy Shaw, the Vicars of Medmenham; Chevalier D’Eon de Beaumont, French diplomat; and - even possibly - our own bawdy intellectual, Benjamin Franklin. In addition to these noteworthies, West Wycombe also admitted the well-spoken rake or two, and some famous artists such as Giuseppe Borgnis, and Robert Lloyd.

Alas, nothing is forever. The tide turned, and when the now-Papal friendly popular opinion discovered the existence of our festive Monks, the scandal almost brought down the government with them. Even its own sense of nasty jape seem to have had a hand in the club’s fading. During one particularly intense mock black mass, ever-the-rogue John Wilkes took an ape, affixed it with a devil mask and released it during the service. The outrage was wonderfully hysterical - though telling that the Earl of Sandwich (said by many to be very ugly, and very ugly tempered) was said to have fallen to his knees and said, “Spare me, gracious devil. I am as yet but half a sinner. I never have been so wicked as I pretended!”

The last meeting took place in 1762, shaken by scandal, internal conflicts, the Monks simply fell apart. The caves fell into disrepair after the death of Dashwood, and soon the horror stories of the evil rites held there had hidden the truth; that it was once the festive and mocking domain of the Amorous Knights.

On a closing note, I have to relate one of my favorite events during the later part of the society. In a bitter hypocrisy after the floundering of the club, that disreputable Earl of Sandwich had the notorious wit John Wilkes on the stand - in no doubt an act of revenge. Proving himself beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was completely, utterly wicked, Sandwich belabored his previous fellow-monk until, in a fit of frustration at Wilke’s calm and witty rejoinders proclaimed, “Sir, you will either die on the gallows, or by the pox!”

To which, in a perfect closing to this tale of elegant mischief, Wilkes responded, without batting an eye: “That depends, Sir, on whether I embrace your principals - or your mistress.”

- and, of course, who wouldn't also mention the recreation of the Hellfire club from The Avengers, specifically for Miss Peel's outfit as "The Queen of Sin."