Sunday, September 23, 2007

from the people who cancelled Arrested Development...

So, less than a week after a student at the University of Florida was tasered for trying to ask former presidential candidate John Kerry (you've seen the clip by now, I'm sure, but just in case, watch it here - read some good blogs on the incident here and here), Fox is now showing a promo for their crappy-looking new sitcom "Back to You" (apparently two people arguing in a workplace is so endlessly hilarious we need another show about it, perhaps to contrast the other sitcoms on Fox, which mostly feature people arguing at home) prominently featuring a presumably humorous tasering (I don't have a link to this clip, I just caught it on TV a few minutes ago, but should it emerge on the Internet I'll link to it). Given the amount of sadistic glee Fox News' commentators have shown over the University of Florida incident (the student who was assaulted was asking a question critical not only of Kerry but of Bush as well), this ad feels more than a little ghoulish. Personally, this whole situation makes me kind of sick, especially given how many people have been suggesting the student somehow deserved to be attacked, because he either used the word "blowjob" in his question, cut in line, went over his alloted amount of time asking the question, or just dared to ask a question critical of the visiting speaker at the event. Do I even need to bring up the student's first amendment rights, let alone none of those supposed offenses warranted a violent physical attack upon the student's person. This is some sick, sad, scary shit, but is it really unexpected, given the general intolerance of the political climate these days, which has been rapidly regressing during the course of the Bush administration's reign of whatever. Well, no shit, this is all pretty obvious stuff, I doubt I'm really tell you anything new. And anyway, all this comes barely a week after the anniversary of September 11th. So much for Americans coming together blah blah blah words shame despair...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

awkward memorial/anti-memorial

It was appropriately unpleasant in New York City today. Early in the morning it rained, but instead of cooling things off, it just made it really muggy and hellish. Which is to say that it was uncomfortable in the city today, even moreso than to be expected on the sixth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I didn't really want to write about this, and I don't know that I have anything spectacularly insightful to say about it, but at the same time it seemed kind of wrong not to put anything on this blog at all about it.

September 11th memorials make me uncomfortable. Ideally, I think this should be a day of quiet reflection, but instead it seems to be more about flag-waving and making proclamations that 'New York is the best city in the world', or 'America is the best country in the world' or that we have the best such and such in the world, or whatever. The idea behind all this is that there is something inherently right whatever it is we are doing, and if we change in any way, we're somehow letting the terrorists "win."

Which is of course total bullshit. America is probably more hated in the world community than it was before the September 11th attacks, precisely because of this attitude. The aftermath of 9/11 became more about getting Americans back to work, spending money and squelching any vestiges of dissent among the citizenry, that people seem to have taken very little time, even six years later, to really think about the attacks. And, in a way, that's our great failure, this terrible arrogance...

I think that's all I'm going to say, though I guess I could go on and on. In a few days I'll be back with more film and media related writing, so stay tuned...

Monday, September 3, 2007

he'll save every one of us...

Flash Gordon has been enjoying something of a minor revival lately, thanks to the recent DVD rerelease of Mike Hodges' semiclassic 1980 film version (and merchandising- including new action figures of Sam Jones as Flash and Max von Sydow as Ming- where were these when I was a kid?), and a new series on the Sci-Fi Channel. The new series is really kind of blah. It has a kind of Saturday afternoon syndication feel, lacking the colorful campiness of the 1980s version, or the sophistication of the Sci-Fi Channel's other revival, Battlestar Galactica.

Flash Gordon first appeared as a comic strip drawn by Alex Raymond in the early 1930s. Raymond's detailed, fine-lined illustrations were highly influential on many artists throughout several decades of comic book art. Buster Crabbe played the character in several film serials during the 1930s and 1940s. Though Crabbe would continue to act for several decades, and would star in dozens of westerns, often as Billy the Kid, the actor would remain closely associated with the Flash Gordon mythos thanks to the enduring popularity of his portrayal of the character. There was also a Flash Gordon TV series in the 1950s, starring Steve Holland, who was also the original model for cover illustrations of the character Doc Savage.

In keeping with the spirit of this Flash Gordon moment, I've been watching episodes of the 1979 animated version The New Animated Adventures of Flash Gordon on DVD from Netflix. The series was produced by Filmation, the company that produced the He-Man cartoon in the 1980s. Filmation was also responsible for several comic strip and comic book inspired series in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including versions of Batman, Tarzan, Zorro and the Lone Ranger. Their Flash Gordon is really a cut above most Saturday morning animation. It's fairly faithful to the comic strip version of the character both visually and narratively, with great animation and reasonably sophisticated writing. The episodes have continuity and flow into one another with an almost dreamlike quality as Flash Gordon and his companions- Dale Arden, Hans Zarkov, a lion man, a bird man, a dandyish fop who dresses like the Green Arrow and others- drift from one adventure to the next, not entirely like in serials, in which the action is based on what happens to the character, instead of having the characters forcing action out of their situation, if that makes any sense. Not that Flash is particularly passive, just that he isn't an aggressor, nor particularly arrogant, nor sarcastic, though he does crack a joke from time to time. This representation of the character, in fact, would perhaps play a bit too earnest in today's popular culture.

Thought The New Animated Adventures of Flash Gordon is definitely meant for kids, the material is more sophisticated than expected, and at times a little rougher. In one scene early on, Flash liberates a group of radiation poisoned slaves, who then turn on their keepers and appear to massacre them (bloodlessly, but the implication of violence is there). There's also a running motif of women throwing themselves at Flash, much to the dismay of girlfriend Dale. Ming the Merciless' daughter's designs on Flash are notably lustier than one might expect out of a children's cartoon, and Ming himself keeps a Harem of sexy, scantily clad women. In my book, it's kind of cool that the creators of the show didn't feel the need to sanitize their source material, but kept the content about on the level of an average comic book. Even most comics-based cartoons (up until the excellent Batman- the Animated Series, anyway) can't make that claim- look at Superfriends.

Visually, the show is quite appealing as well. A few different animation styles are utilized, including rotoscoping, in which animation is traced over film of actors in order to achieve more realistic sense of motion. Some of the painted backgrounds are beautiful. The ending of the first story arc, in which the planets Earth and Mongo nearly collide, are especially powerful. As an aside, I noticed in the closing credits that one of the series' animators was John Kricfalusi, creator of Ren & Stimpy.

I wonder- with Flash Gordon and Battlestar Galactica in revival now, could Buck Rogers be far behind? The character of Buck Rogers actually predates Flash Gordon, and was also revived in the late 1970s, presumable to cash in on the success of Star Wars. Someone out there should be enterprising (so to speak) enough to take a crack and making Buck Rogers relevant to today's audiences. I also wonder what it says about this cultural moment that we are again drawn to space opera? Is it pure escapism, or is there something to the danger and apocalypticism of this kind of science-fiction that Iraq war era Americans can relate to?