PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Halloween Music Blogging: Day One

Today, we kick off our week of really scary music with the appropriately-titled OoohScary. This little musical sketch was created when I first started playing around with orchestral arrangments with my Midi program. Imagine it in the background of the title sequence to a bad horror movie from the 1950s.

All week long, I’ll be presenting some of my little musical compositions, most of which sound like bad monster movie soundtrack music. So, I figured I could get away with subjecting my readers to them during the week leading up to Halloween.

Odds and Ends

Lots of updates, corrections and brief snide comments today, so let’s go:

Kanawha Players Briefs and Shorts “Twisted Halloween” program last night at the Charleston Ballet was loads of fun. The short, punchy plays were a real treat, and there were added Halloween fun and games. Great performances by all involved. Who knew Frankenstein could bust a move? I am officially intrigued by the Briefs and Shorts format, and expect to attend more in the future. If you’re anywhere near the Theater in the Community in Hurricane tonight (Friday)at 8 p.m., you ought to check out this short burst of Halloween fun.

Speaking of Halloween fun…next week right here at PopCult we’ll be bringing you NEW MUSIC EVERY DAY! Don’t get too excited. It’s all music that I wrote. See, since the vast majority of the music I write sounds like background music for a bad monster movie, I thought I’d embrace my inner rut, and pretend that I make my music sound that way on purpose. So each day next week PopCult will feature a different “Halloween Music Blog” that will present some of my brief snippets of eerie-sounding midi noodling. It’s up to you to decide if it’s a treat, or a trick.

Another highlight of the KP show last night was that I got to see my fellow Gazz blogger Charly “Jupiter” Hamilton for the first time since the Playhouse days about fifteen years ago. I’ve been enjoying his and Amy’s LocalArt blog, and it’s always cool to reconnect with an old friend from the Charleston Playhouse. When you get two or more Gazzbloggers together, it’s almost like the Algonquin Round Table…….or maybe the Algonquin Card Table.

Last Week, in my post about watching my brother make animated home movies, I had two mistakes (which my brother Frank was quick to point out). First, Super 8 film is actually shot at 18 frames per second, not 24 (and I knew that). Second, I had remembered the prices for film and processing from the wrong era. Back when Frank was making his films, the cost of film and processing was only around five dollars for three minutes. I had flashed back to my college days, when it shot up past twenty dollars. Now it’s more than fifty bucks, just for the processing. Video killed the film star.

Word has come that November 7th is the day that WHCP will debut their local newscast, with anchor Tom McGee. All eyes will be trained on them that night, to see if they produce a credible new entrant in the local TV news glut, or if it’s a train wreck. A train wreck would be more entertaining, but I have a feeling that the new management is going to try hard to give us a good show. With any luck, WHCP will go back and apply some more duct tape to their transmitter. After a few weeks of broadcasting a decent signal, lately they’ve fallen back into their old ways of intermittently losing the signal on a regular basis. After the debut, I’ll be blogging my reaction here.

A long time ago, Charleston’s mayor portrayed Lil’ Abner onstage at the Civic Center Little Theater. Apparently, that training has come in handy, as he’s been acting like the Mayor of Dogpatch all week long. Maybe he just doesn’t want to have to double the city’s user fee when all the lawsuit dust is settled. Somehow, I don’t think this is what Al Capp had in mind when he came up with the name,”Stupifyin’ Jones.”

Wallowing In Shorts

Thursday Night I’ll be heading out to catch my Animated Discussions co-conspirator, Melanie Larch, in a performance at the 4th annual “Briefs and Shorts” Program put on by Kanawha Players. Thursday Night’s performance will be at the Charleston Ballet at 822 Virginia Street, but they’re also presenting the three ten-minute plays Friday Evening at the Museum in the Community in Hurricane. Both performances start at 8 PM.

This is pretty interesting idea. The plays are new works by relatively unknown authors, and each play runs about ten minutes. Even if they turn out to be dreadful, at least you know they’ll be over soon! On the flipside, a really good play might end just as you get drawn into it, but heck, they can always be fleshed out to a longer form later. It’s a cool format. You get to see three plays and still make it home before 10 PM.

The batch of plays in this upcoming program are themed as Twisted Halloween, each one involving murder, mayhem and a little madness that shows man’s inhumanity to man. Happy stuff indeed—well, Halloween is quickly approaching. I’ve always had a taste for the macabre, so this evening looks to be very entertaining.

The plays are Rave Review by Bill Wine directed by Dave Miller; The Bed Time Story written, directed and performed by John Halstead; and Fear directed by Melody Ison. Melanie is in Rave Review, portraying a disgruntled actress hell-bent on revenge after a series of bad reviews. The role is quite a stretch for her. Brian Hatcher, who has an alter-ego in IWA East Coast, is in Fear.

KP is encouraging people to come in costume, which tends to annoy the heck out of me, but if it sells tickets, I guess it’s tolerable. I just hope I don’t get stuck behind somebody wearing a witch hat.

Warhol on Capitol Street

“Capitol Street in the style of Warhol”
— Digitally Assaulted photograph
rudy panucci / October 2005

Three TV Shows Worth Watching

Rather than dwell on the negative, and spend a lot of primo blogosphere real estate tearing down the worst of what television has to offer, I thought it might be a good idea to mention a few things that TV is doing right. There’ll be plenty of time for hatchet jobs later. So here, in no particular order, are three great TV shows that you should be watching:

Smallville Thursday at 8 p.m. on the WB (WHCP, locally)

The legend and mythology of Superman is pretty durable. It’s lasted for nearly seven decades in comic books, with a major reboot every generation. It survived translation into the classic “Adventures Of Superman” TV show from the 1950s. Two really great, and two really bad movies in the 1970s and ’80s broadened the appeal of the Man Of Steel. There have been several cartoon series, some excellent, some horrid. And there was even the wretched “Lois and Clark” series in the ’90s, the less said about the better.

So when it was announced that the WB would do a new television series that would be a cross between “Dawson’s Creek” and Superman, fans of the Last Son of Krypton were skeptical, but prepared for a new take on the classic legend. This is a new take on Clark Kent’s high school years, with an emphasis on his destiny as the defender of the Earth.

Smallville has turned out to be the best live-action version of the Superman legend ever done. It’s taken elements of the classic versions of the story of the alien baby with super powers, and updated it to modern times, without losing any of the charm or sense of wonder of the original story that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster gave us in 1938. The foreshadowing is a key part of the appeal for fans of the comic book. There have been some brilliant moments where you know the writers and producers are paying tribute to a classic comic book story. And they’ve accomplished this without the use of the famous blue suit.

Even with the arbitrary changes to the comic book that Hollywood seems to be obliged by law to make, Smallville has proven to be remarkably loyal to the spirit of the book. The producers have added elements to the mythology that not only make perfect sense, but also weave Superman’s legacy of super-powered enemies into the show in a perfectly logical manner. The respect for the source material is one of the keys to the show’s success, and a real treat for comic book geeks like myself. This week, Aquaman shows up!

Smallville sports one of the most-talented casts in prime-time. Tom Welling is a perfect Clark Kent/Superman. Annette O’Toole and John Schneider bring a youthful vigor to his adoptive parents, Jonathon and Martha Kent, that has been missing in previous versions of the story. Michael Rosenbaum proves to be a talent to watch with his multi-faceted portrayal of Lex Luthor, who’s destined to become Superman’s greatest foe. The entire cast is impressive. It’s a mystery why Warners didn’t just decide to continue this series, with the same cast, in the Superman feature film. Sadly, they decided to go with a totally different approach with the currently-shooting big screen Superman epic, and it’s possible that Smallville may be sacrificed in order to not confuse the public.

Let’s hope that isn’t the case. Smallville, now in its fifth season, is showing surprising strength on its new night. In the key demographics, it’s ranked second behind “Survivor” on CBS. Smallville has been soundly beating “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Joey” and “Alias” on a regular basis. Any fan of Superman should be watching this show. Any fan of good adventure shows should be watching Smallville.

Good Eats Weeknights at 7 PM, and Wednesday at 10 p.m. on the Food Network

Shifting Gears, we have the coolest cooking show on TV, Good Eats. Host Alton Brown brings a quirky, informative quality to this cleverly produced series that goes beyond simple “how-to” cooking instruction to a full-blown “why does it work that way” method. Brown is like the cooking show successor to Mr. Wizard. He clearly explains the science of how to prepare and cook food, and you come away with enough knowledge to adapt the lessons to recipes that have nothing to do with the show you’ve just watched. You also come away entertained. Brown puts his pre-chef background as a cinematographer to work constructing a bright, fun half-hour show that’s as packed with comedy and pop culture references as it is with recipes. Even when he’s cooking something you find totally repulsive (seafood, in my case), you wind up watching, because the show is still informative and entertaining.

Good Eats is good television.

Rome Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO

I got hooked on Roman history about 15 years ago when Bravo re-ran the old “I Claudius” series (originally on Masterpiece Theater). Since then, I’ve always enjoyed a good dramatic retelling of the days of the Ceasars. But there was always something missing. It just wasn’t a “real” Roman epic unless the actors all spoke with British accents. Blame it on Claudius, I guess. Rome finally fills in that missing piece. This is a wholly satisfying TV show.

There’s a reason that HBO’s Rome has been so critically acclaimed. It really is that good. It’s first-rate drama, impeccably acted, with intelligent scripts and feature-quality direction. Being on HBO, they’re free to depict realistic gore, sex and language, but that’s not the main reason to watch the show. This series, currently eight-weeks into a 12-episode run, is just about the best thing on TV. Forget the Sopranos, Rome is real Italian drama.

HBO will be running mini marathons of the first eight episodes starting October 23rd at 8 p.m. The remaining episodes will air on the following Tuesday and Friday. If you have Charter Digital, you can also catch up with Rome using their video-on-demand service. The final four episodes start airing on October 30th.

A grand-sweeping historical epic with great acting and production, and also BRITISH ACCENTS — how can you go wrong? All roads lead to Rome, and all remotes should, too.

That’s three quality examples of TV at its best. Check back for more triptychs of terrific television.

Radio Free Charleston Memory

“What’s Wrong With The World”

Back in the very early ’90s, when I had my radio show, Radio Free Charleston, I came up for an idea for a spin-off public affairs show. The idea was that, since so many of the RFC/Charleston Playhouse crowd would wind up at the Southern Kitchen at 3 in the morning complaining about everything, we should record it, edit out the profanity and air it as a panel discussion show called “What’s Wrong With The World.” At the very least, it would help the station meet the public affairs content requirements of the FCC.

Looking back, a pubic affairs program that presented the viewpoints of young, slightly addled people in various stages of exhaustion and/or inebriation might sound like a train wreck, but I have a feeling that, had I managed to pull it off, it’s the kind of show people would still be talking about today.

They’d be talking about how insane and unintentionally funny it was, but it would have left a mark, or stain, or something.

Dog Blogging

I had a houseguest this weekend.

Meet my dog-nephew. His name is Dash, but I call him, “Doggiedogboydoggiedog-boydoggiedoggiedoggiedog.”

He is a good dog.

(In case you were wondering, this post was not ghost-written by a six-year-old.)

An Animated Childhood

Elsewhere here at thegazz.com, you’ll find articles about Wallace and Gromit I wrote with my partner in animation crime, Melanie Larch. You may be wondering how we know so much about the process of creating clay and stop-motion animation. The answer is simple… for most of my life, I’ve been an eyewitness to it.

I had the unique experience of growing up in a house with an animator. My older brother, Frank, started making his own animated films as a young teen in the late 1960s. Being five years younger meant that, not only was I likely to hang around watching him do this, but I was also pressed into service as something else to be animated. Yes, I was a child animation model.

It was better than getting beat up for not doing it.

Now, back in those days, Frank had to use Super 8 film to create his masterpieces. He experimented with all forms of animation. I was used to mimic the popular gas station commercials of the day that had pixilated humans scooting around like they were driving, only without cars. I ruined many a pairs of pants doing that. This technique is still being used for commercials today. In addition to little brother animation, Frank also tried his hand at using typing paper, Terry Gilliam-style cut-out animation, notebook paper, and clay.

It was tedious and expensive work. Film cost nearly $20 for three minutes, when you figured in the processing costs. This was before home video had revolutionized the home movie market. Back then, it was so rare for anyone to shoot home movies that people would actually watch them, as opposed to today, where more than half of the home movies shot on video are never seen by human eyes again.

Frank would work for weeks on some of his clay-animated films. He’d move the models, shoot one frame, move everything else again, and so on. It might take several minutes to move each model for each frame of film, and it takes 24 frames of film to add up to one second. So, there were many days where I would have to be quiet and still for hours. Loud noises or sudden movements could upset the models, which were often precariously balanced.

Frank managed to do some pretty impressive things with the limited resources he had available to him. There were cute alien cartoons, dinosaur fights, and the bloody ultra-violent finale to his “Mugger” series. I remember after the final shot was completed for that one, the set with the dismembered Mugger was left on display in the basement for weeks. Every time Mom did the laundry, she’d have to walk past the table with the little clay guy with his entrails strewn about. I think she eventually made Frank clean it up.

Aside from clay, Frank also made movies starring action figures. The epic adventures of “Captain X” spanned several films, and featured special effects ranging from scratches on the individual frames of film to the later years, when real pyrotechnics came into play. I still have film of my GI Joe Space Capsule getting destroyed. Somewhere in the basement, we still have a Latex-covered animation model of a monster for a film he did in college. Thirty years on, the latex smells just as bad as it did the day it was brewed up.

Anyway, these days Frank is using a new medium
for his animation. He’s pretty much mastered computer animation. He has done commercials, educational films and television shows, and is currently working on a movie, which stars IWA East Coast wrestler Mad Man Pondo. While he used live-action actors, all the backgrounds, most of the aliens, and all the vehicles and special effects are computer-generated. You can read more about REPERKUSSIONZ over at Frank’s production blog, here. Frank shot the live-action earlier this year, and expects to be working towards finishing it sometime next year.

Making the story complete, I also show up in the film for two brief appearances. I play a giant spider-legged creature. That’s me up at the top of this post. I don’t really have spider legs. It’s just my amazing acting ability. I also play a few hundred tree-headed monsters. Nearly forty years after first being used in one of Frank’s films, he’s asking me to share my incredible screen presence. I couldn’t turn him down.

It’s still better than getting beat up.

Art Blogging

Scape Number Four

The series continues.

Music Blogging

So I decided to attempt to write something Jazzy sounding. Despite using saxophone and marimba, it still came out sounding like soundtrack music to a bad suspense film. Listen for yourself to a Jazz Sketch.

I wrote this in July of 2004. Since then, I have recycled it through the wonders of Midi, and I’ve incorporated parts of it into one movement of my symphony. It’s in the “Anxiety” movement. The most striking feature of this tune is that it’s at least a minute too long. There really ought to be a prize for anyone who makes it all the way to the end.

But there isn’t.

Don’t even ask about the symphony.