4/25/19

SUNSET STRIP DRAG



Take a little spin down the Sunset Strip in 1964, courtesy of the above clip. While the uniformly low buildings of the time have now given way in many cases to mega-hotels, there are still quite a few recognizable ones. My family moved to LA four years after this and even though I was quite young, I feel like I remember this iteration of the Strip. Just watching this evoked the smell of the Barbecue place on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights (where the big nasty mall is now once stood a small nasty strip mall). The cars are sparser of course and much more pleasing to the eye. The City National Bank building looms at the end of the strip through the entire ride and the northwest corner of Doheny and Sunset is the exact same liquor store that it is now--that makes at least 58 years of boozing on that corner. Just as the driver passes the store (no doubt wondering if he should stop in for a bottle) he blows a light and almost crashes into a car that has to stop short. The driver gives him a nasty look, as well he should. And thus ends this little jaunt down the Strip of Dreams...

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3/13/19

CELEBRITY SHILLS: A RETROSPECTIVE



It's been over a month since I've posted anything on this blog and I can place the blame for my laziness squarely on the shoulder of Twitter. After being on Twitter for something like eight years and barely ever glancing at it, I finally found out what is so addictive about it and have lost hours on it (along with an online Bridge game that I've devoted far too much time too as well). I'm not going to opine on the matter. I just confess to having grown addicted to Goddam Twitter. Aside from its addictive nature, it allows me to post things such as the above video compilation of 'Celebrity TV Commercials' from the 50s through the 70s without feeling guilty that I'm not writing a windy blog entry such as this one. But as I'm a writer by profession (and perhaps by nature, though lately my fondness for nature is waning) I might as well keep this muscle tuned up. Or in shape. Whatever.

Among the celebrities featured in the above vintage ads are Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (shilling for Phillip Morris cigarettes), Dean Martin (selling his own branded golf balls), the cast of Hogans Heroes (Jello?), Johnny Cash (can't remember), Jack Benny (gasoline...seriously), Farrah Fawcett (hair products) and others. Perhaps the most poignant and more than a little spooky of those others is John Wayne who appears in two commercials. The first, from the 50s, is for Camel Cigarettes. The second, from the seventies, is a call to support the American Cancer Society, for whom Duke had become a spokesman after contracting the lung cancer that would eventually kill him. And on that cheery note...

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2/6/19

NIGHT FALLS ON TIMES SQUARE IN 1931



Take a stroll through Times Square on a typical evening in 1931 by watching this extraordinary footage that was shot for God knows what reason. It's date is mislabeled as 1929--the films playing in the theaters that are seen include 'Dance Fools Dance', 'The Front Page', 'Trader Horn' , 'My Past' all of which were released in '31--but who cares really? Note that there appear to be no crosswalks and that people bravely step into thick traffic, seemingly unafraid of the approaching cars and trolleys. (Perhaps cars were so lightweight that getting hit by one really wasn't that big an issue?) There's an all-you-can-watch 'Newsreel Theater' that charges 25 cents and that must have been the first 24 hours outlet in history. The multiple lighting displays give us a look at the garish and wonderful area at that time and makes one yearn for color footage of the same stuff...

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2/5/19

WALKING DOWN FIFTH AVENUE IN 1929-ISH



Why was the fascinating footage posted above shot? Hard to say, but I'm glad it was. It consists of three fragments of documentary street footage photographed at three different locations on 5th Avenue in 1929. In the first, two women enter the middle of a crowd (many of whom are looking directly at the camera thus spoiling the shot) wearing strange garments. They proudly if amateurishly, announce that they're 'pajama dresses' and are 'the smartest new women's apparel.' A bossy man (the director?) orders them to say it again and then the camera angle changes to a tighter view. Was this coverage for a version that was planned to be edited like a 'real' movie? Next we see a view of stifling crowds on Fifth Avenue on what was apparently a stifling day, as many straw hats are in evidence and some men actually are going jacket-free, a shock to the eyes of city denizens in that era. The two women continue their strange perp walk and the crowd continues smiling, staring and waving at the camera, thus continuing to spoil the shot.

But things get even stranger at 2:34 when none other than Raymond Duncan, Isidore Duncan's very peculiar artist brother, takes a walk on a different section of Fifth wearing a Toga. He seems to have attracted a crowd of his own as he swans through the city streets, serenely unconcerned with the weirdness of his own costume. Was this a movie about strange pajama and toga get-ups? The third section is supposedly shot on Fifth and Seventy-third Street but it bears no resemblance to the corner that I know so well. (Perhaps there's another 5th and 73rd in Queens?) A black street vendor plays a strange whistle and a group of confused people gather around him. Perhaps he's playing the part of Pan in this increasingly weird epic. Weirder still, he seems to be playing 'That's Amore'...which was composed twenty-four years after this footage was shot.

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1/31/19

'THE IN CROWD'--A TATI MOMENT REVISITED



Dig this: there's a Youtuber who has a channel called 'Soft Tempo Lounge' which features music videos (for want of a better term) he/she have created using footage culled from various 60s-era sources--found footage, commercials, repurposed feature films etc. that are set to music by Euro-pop artists of the time. They're quite accomplished and frequently even mesmerizing. The above selection will serve as an introduction to Soft Tempo Lounge's work--there are many more which you can access on their channel. It's a a repurposing of footage from Jacques Tati's masterful film 'Playtime' (1967) set to a song by Syd Dale titled 'Brass Buy Lightly'. The video itself is titled 'The In Crowd' and features a swinging party of the era--or rather what passed for a swinging party of the era just before heavy-duty rocking parties rendered the one pictured as quaintly tame and a relic of the late-fifties era of narrow ties, cocktail dresses and the like. Catch the groovy moment with the woman between 50 and 60 seconds. Somehow it says everything...

For more info on the not-enough-known-about Syd Dale click here for his Wikipedia entry.  Many thanks to my good friend Marc Myers of JazzWax for hipping me to this stuff.

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