Wednesday, July 28, 2010

No More Maury Chaykin (1949 - 2010)

Character actor Maury Chaykin passes away on his birthday, in Toronto, at age 61.

- Read his obituary at CBC News.

Bye-Bye, 'That Guy'...

It was a pleasure to have drawn a bead on you over the course of many years and many memorable film and TV roles.

Your performances were so often beautifully larger-than-life,
even if the part was small.

- - Or perhaps, especially.

So sorry to see it cut short. Darn.

- Learn more about
Maury Chaykin at Wikipedia and IMDb.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

El Bandito Jalapeno con El Accesorio Prominente, and other Taqueria Folk Art in San Francisco

Walking along Mission Street in San Francisco on a recent afternoon, I did a serious double-take while passing by a colorful taqueria.
Visible through the open door of El Gran Taco Loco is this ▼ memorable image, painted on the wall...

Wow. So many questions.
Not just the jalapeno's 'stem', but the taco's eyeglasses, the gun - -
- - What exactly are we witness to in this scene?

Immediately I cursed myself for not having my camera with me.
Thinking about it this morning, I decided that others before me must have documented this fascinating piece of artwork.
- - And sure enough, that's just how amazing the internet is.

- Click here for another view of the above image. Larger, slightly different angle. (Source)

All of the images in this post come from the home page of, a site providing a valuable public service, having reviewed (and "mustache-rated") over 725 burritos (so far) all around the City and County of San Francisco, California.

I loves me a good burrito AND being transfixed by art, so clearly, there's much to explore...

(click on images to enlarge in a new window)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Alan Arkin sings: 'I Like You' b/w 'Barney's Love Song' (1966)

The songs in the links posted below are from an old 45 of quirky but charming music originally heard as part of 'The Love Song of Barney Kempinski', a one-hour teleplay that aired on September 14th, 1966 as the premiere episode of an anthology TV series, ABC Stage 67.

For his performance in the title role, actor
Alan Arkin received an Emmy award nomination. (- - And has the program been seen since??)

- From the synopsis posted at TV.Com:
"Barney Kempinski, thirtyish and contentedly
self-unemployed, leaves his Lower East Side apartment smiling and happy.
"On this fine sunny day he is to be married - -
3 o'clock at City Hall - - to his girl Francine.
"In the few remaining hours of his bachelorhood, Barney goes off to tour the city and sing his love song - - exuberant, irresponsible and frequently dangerous - - to life, love and the city of
New York."

The photo at right, ▶
taken during production for 'Barney Kempinski' comes from a profile article on Arkin,
"Actor's Jump To The Top", that appeared in the July 22nd, 1966 issue of LIFE magazine.
- Click here to read that article.

Also appearing in the cast were John Gielgud,
Alan King, Lee Grant and Arlene Golonka.

(An item of note for those of who've never had the pleasure of seeing this production is that there's no listing of anyone in the cast playing the role of Barney's fiancé, Francine. Presumably the character doesn't appear in the story - - ?)

- Listen to:
Alan Arkin - I Like You
(Columbia Records 45, 1966)
(click for audio)

- Listen to:
Alan Arkin - Barney's Love Song
(Columbia Records 45, 1966)
(click for audio)

- Anyone who recalls having seen this program or has more information to share is invited to leave a comment. Better yet, if you know where / how to view 'The Love Song of Barney Kempinski' nowadays, it'd be great to hear from you. It might be fun and worth a pilgrimage to The Paley Center for Media someday to try and track it down in their archives, but in an ideal world it shouldn't have to come to that. (Don't get me started on my rant about how the history of television shouldn't be slipping into the realm of archaeology...)

Looking over highlights of Alan Arkin's career, the chronology of 'The Love Song of Barney Kempinski' falls in between Arkin's breakout film appearance in 'The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming' which had premiered just a few months earlier, and his villainous turn the following year opposite Audrey Hepburn in the thriller, 'Wait Until Dark'.

◀ At left; from the LIFE article, Arkin on set with
'Barney Kempinski' author Murray Schisgal.

Beginning in 1964, Arkin had appeared on Broadway in the original run of Schisgal's play, 'Luv', directed by Mike Nichols.

Nichols would direct Arkin again in the 1970 film, 'Catch-22'.

Both also shared roots to improvisational cabaret theater in Chicago; Alan Arkin with The Second City, and Mike Nichols to its precursor, The Compass Players.

Arkin's musical roots go back still further; at least as far as a folk-singing record, 'Once Over Lightly', released on the Elektra label in 1955. ▶

That release would lead him to the ranks of several folk groups before joining Second City, including
The Tarriers, Jeremy's Friends, and The Babysitters.

- Many of those early folk recordings can be heard at an Alan Arkin fansite (follow link), though you may want to beware of possible sporadic 'malware' warnings popping up...

(Please Note: In preparing this post, I was initially excited to have figured out the origins for 'I Like You', a song I'd heard years ago but had never known the story behind. While gathering information, further excitement arose upon finding not only a superior recording to the one I had, but the B-side of the record as well. Credit and many thanks for that goes to (like a) Fish Out Of Water, a wonderful blog of celebrity recordings. This post expands upon that one.)

"Where the Arkin is. On Columbia Records" - - Below, ▼ a print ad promoting the 45 and the TV program appeared in the September 17th, 1966 issue of Billboard Magazine.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Some facts behind 'You Can Shave The Baby': The art of Zbigniew Libera

Our internet is a fun and fascinating tool, but its laziness can be confounding.
Pertinent background information is so often avoided, or eschewed in favor of propagating misinformation.

A small case in point: Images of the oddly hairy baby doll shown below have been circulating on the web for several years now, most often presented as a lone, wacky 'WTF' photo, and almost always with the implication that it was spotted for sale in a marketplace for cheap Asian-produced toys.

Almost never mentioned is that
'You Can Shave The Baby' was never a
consumer item, but rather an art object created in 1995 by Zbigniew Libera, consisting of a set of ten matching dolls in ten matching cardboard boxes.

As described at the Polish artist's website;
"...His works - - photographs, video films, installations, objects and drawings - - piercingly and subversively (in an intellectual way) play with the stereotypes of contemporary culture."

In this vein of presenting 'transformed toys', Libera preceded 'You Can Shave The Baby' with 'Ken's Aunt' in 1994, a similar set of heavier-set Barbie-like dolls wearing unflattering foundation undergarments - -

(click on image to enlarge)

- - he followed in 1996 with perhaps his most famous and controversial work,
'Correcting Device:
LEGO Concentration Camp'

- - Three editions of 7 different highly customized boxed
Lego System sets.

From Zbigniew Libera's Artist's Statement included in an exhibition at The Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota:

"My ability to work with objects is taken from everyday urban contemporary life. In my study of the development of correctional devices and educational toys, I see such devices reveal more about a society and its mechanisms for creating and enforcing its norms than any study of society could.

"'Lego', a construction made partially from various Lego kits, takes us into a village with a mental hospital, Stalin's prison, World War II and Bosnian concentration camps. Thus, I feel I mix historical with contemporary references to represent our world, our little inferno, as built and sanctified by norms.

"'Eroica', is a four-boxed set of toy soldier-sized women figures. They are based on classical models.

"They are a reminder that in the 1990s no toy soldier set is complete without the inclusion of women, who have become the special targets of victimization in genocidal settings such as Bosnia, where rape camps have been well documented. Such is the fashion of 'heroic' actions of armies in genocidal and even less violent encounters where women are victims.

"During an academic conference in Brussels in December, 1997, an agitated audience, who felt that the Lego Concentration Camp was a real toy which was available for sale, demanded that I comment about why I constructed it.

"My response then, as it is now, was:
'I am from Poland. I've been poisoned.'"

- More Zbigniew Libera links are at Wikipedia.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

(link:) 'I Love Ethel' - A trove of scrapbook photos, memorabilia and other treasures from the estate of Vivian Vance

Follow link to read an article that ran last week in SF Gate:

"I Love Ethel - A Vivian Vance Archive Uncovered"

The photos posted here are taken from the large online gallery linked to the article.

Writer Bob Bragman's column, The Collective Mind is a regular feature geared to
Bay Area antique hunters and anyone who enjoys a good find.

In this installment, Bragman tells an interesting and circuitous tale of an antique dealer friend's connection to
New York publisher John Dodds, the husband of actress Vivian Vance, and of various items from the Vance/Dodds estate that were passed along after Dodds' death in 1986.

Furniture, artwork, and a scrapbook filled with clippings and personal photographs taken from various points in Vance's life and career - - all steeped in showbiz history.

Also included (and excerpted) is the manuscript for Viv's unpublished autobiography, including tales of troubled portions of her life and rumors about the nature of her relationship with co-star Lucille Ball.

Fascinating and well worth a look. Check it out!

(Big thanks to Joe Sixpack for the link)

Reasons To Be Cheerful: A triumphant return for The Castro Theatre's NOIR CITY Film Festival

As I write this it's after midnight in the wee hours of Sunday morning, and I'm still buzzing from the superb double-feature I caught earlier this evening in the City at the historic Castro Theatre on the second night of NOIR CITY, The 8th Annual
San Francisco Film Noir Festival

I'm hoping to get back over once or twice this next week to catch more of the festival before it's gone for another year...

Kicking off tonight's program was the impressive short embedded below, which intercuts clips from a few dozen classic Noir films, synched perfectly with Massive Attack's 'Angel' used as background score.

It was a huge crowd-pleaser for the packed house of Film Noir fanatics at The Castro...

'The Endless Night: a Valentine to Film Noir' was assembled by Serena Bramble, a 20-year-old studying psychology at Santa Rose Junior College.

Click here to read more about Ms. Bramble, the festival and its highlights.

Follow the video to its posting at YouTube, for notations listing all the films used as source material.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Plagiarism is The Sincerest Form of Bloggery - -

- - or some such nonsense (and I should know).

Tee-hee, I'm honored...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

'My Body': Buddhist wisdom meets gross-out novelty song, circa 1980

I've just received word that the topic for next week's installment of The Contrast Podcast will be a return to songs pertaining to
Parts of The Body.

So far I've managed to take part in the previous 'body part' episodes, focusing on
The Eyes, The Skin, The Arms, The Lips, The Feet, The Stomach & Guts and The Heart, so I'd hate to miss out on doing The Hands next week.

When struck by the thought, "Eventually we'll run out of body parts and will have exhausted that topic", I got to thinking about songs on the topic of leaving the body behind.

I thought of 1968's 'Absolutely Free' by Frank Zappa & The Mothers, and then remembered this odd little novelty song, recorded by a Buddhist nun around 1980.

The LP, 'Awakening: Ancient Wisdom For Modern Ears' was an independent pressing originating from The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a large Buddhist community and monastery near Ukiah, California.

"...Based On The Teachings Of Shakyamuni Buddha And The Venerable Teachings Of Master Hua", the album attempted to make some concepts and dogma more palatable to Western ears.

Carrying a folky / new age-y vibe overall, the music takes a couple of detours into other genres, including this peppy and charming number, with whimsical lyrics regarding the decay of the human body after the spirit departs.

From the LP
'Awakening: Ancient Wisdom For Modern Ears'
(Wondrous Sounds Records, circa 1980),
Listen to: Bhikshuni Heng Yin - My Body
(click for audio)

The singer, former bhikshuni (now Dharma Master) Heng Yin studied under Hsuan Hua and spent many years translating Buddhist texts.

- To hear more songs from the 'Awakening' album, click here.
I can recommend the selection 'Gotta Do Something/Might As Well Cultivate', which sounds slightly reminiscent of early releases of Timbuk 3 from the last half of the '80s.

Freshly-stirred links