Monday, May 30, 2011

Why I'm Not Writing About San Francisco...Yet...

The other day I was really hoping to write about my recent trip to San Francisco, but due to major computer problems, that's gonna have to be put on hold. Suffice to say, I'm now writing this on my new MacBook Pro laptop, which is something I've wanted for quite some time anyhow. I just finally had a good enough excuse to go out and get one with the near-demise of my 3 year old PC.

So, since I now have the new fancy-schmancy laptop, why am I not now writing about San Francisco? Well, partially because it's taken the bulk of the weekend to get myself set-up with the new machine (LOTS of photos and music to import...), but also because I apparently had not backed up my pictures since mid-March of this year...and my trip to San Francisco was in April. To quote the great philosopher, Homer Simpson: "D'oh!!"

Not to worry. The old PC isn't totally fried, I just can't get it to start up. The information is still there, and recoverable, I just won't be able to do anything with it on that machine. Which is fine, because I just want to import it to my new one. Just have to get around to it at some point. I do need to do that, because a trip to San Jose, a trip to San Diego, 2 trips to Anaheim, and the aforementioned San Francisco trip all have their photographic documentation on there, and while I've written the San Jose trip up (mostly), and pretty much covered the San Diego trip, none of the pictures were saved to my external hard drive before my PC's sudden desire to take a very long nap.

One of the biggest reasons I wanted to get a laptop is so that I can do this writing sitting somewhere other than the office in my home. As much as I enjoy it, with the PC I was forced to be solely in my office to do all of my writing. Now, I'm sitting in a room of my home looking out into the backyard, watching birds flying in and out of the trees on a beautiful, reasonably cool (for the deserts of Southern Nevada in late May) sunny day. I might actually move outside to get a better view...and keep writing.

And, while I could mostly do the San Francisco trip from memory, my noggin works a LOT better with visual prompting. I don't want to leave things out, or put things in the wrong order, stuff like that. I can give you a Reader's Digest version; I walked. A lot. From my hotel at Fisherman's Wharf, just a couple blocks from Lombard Street, to AT&T Park, which is the current corporate branding for the home of the San Francisco Giants baseball team, from the same hotel to the Golden Gate Bridge, down to the Painted Ladies, and from the same hotel down to the Warfield Theater for a P. J. Harvey concert. But there's many details I want to include, and they're much more interesting when they're photo-illustrated...and I took quite a few pictures of the very picturesque city.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Megadeth, 1,000 Homo DJ's, Monster Magnet, Pantera (all covering Black Sabbath)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sorry, The Brooklyn Bridge Is Closed

Here's a story that crossed my mind recently, probably because the anniversary of it was just this past week...

Although I've lived in the Las Vegas, Nevada area for over 11 years now (!!!), I was born and raised in New York City. I grew up and lived in Queens for about a quarter century, and worked right in downtown Manhattan at 2 separate jobs for about 2 years total. Both jobs were within a subway token's throw of the late, lamented Twin Towers, right in the City Hall/Wall Street area. Being somewhat familiar with NYC, I've played tour guide on a couple of occasions for co-workers in my Henderson, Nevada Post Office who had never been to the Big Apple before. Both times my victims and I stayed at a hotel right in midtown for a great rate, thanks to a friend who worked there (hi, Cappy!). I made up loose itineraries beforehand, incorporating obvious touristy things that the respective couples wanted to see, plus a few interesting nuggets that I knew would be unfamiliar, yet interesting, to non-natives.

On the day in May of 2005 that this particular story revolves around, we made our way from the hotel early in the morning. The hotel itself was located right at 53rd Street & 3rd Avenue, around the corner from the Citigroup Center, one of the more interesting skyscrapers in New York. Completed in 1977, it's unique angled roof (originally designed to incorporate solar panels, a plan which never came to fruition), and one-of-a-kind base make it quite a standout among NYC buildings, which is no mean feat.

Also located within a block of the hotel is another architectural achievement, the Lipstick Building, so named for it's oval shape and rosy color. Since the building tapers in at points as it rises, it looks as if it could collapse upon itself, also like a tube of lipstick. While not a traditional sightseeing stop (it was only completed in 1986), if you're in the area, it's certainly worth a look. Like the Citigroup Center, it also has an interesting and beautiful base, this one comprised of many rosy-colored marble columns.

Our objectives for the day were the Empire State Building, Madison Square Park and the Flatiron Building, Washington Square Park, Foley Square (an area familiar to any of you who have ever watched the original Law & Order series, and I used to work in 60 Centre Street, the building featured in the opening credits), City Hall, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers used to stand tall. We worked our way south in the order just listed, so there were several short subway jaunts in-between each (it's really all walkable, but my co-worker's wife was not physically capable of doing that much walking without encountering real problems).

Since this was a Saturday, we were at the Empire State Building on 5th Avenue and 34th Street right at 9AM. There was no line to get in, and we were on the observation deck before 9:30, enjoying the view even though there was still a mild bit of haziness in the air. While it limited the amount you could see off to the outlying areas, it did nothing to detract from the view of Manhattan itself. I enjoy doing the touristy New York things with people who've never been there before, because A) it's great to see the enjoyment they're getting out of it, and B) since I only get in every couple years or so, I really enjoy it myself as well.

By the time we made it back downstairs, the line to get an elevator to the observation deck snaked back and forth in the staging area for something approaching an hour's length...which explained to my friends why we had gotten such an early start on a Saturday morning. Finally convinced them I'm not as dumb as I look (to which my co-worker would always reply, "Nobody could be that dumb!" With friends like these, who needs enemas...).

Our next stop was a half-mile south on Fifth Avenue to see the Flatiron Building, right next to Madison Square Park. Shaped like a clothes iron propped up, this is one of New York City's first skyscrapers. While it comes in at under 300 feet tall, which may seem small today, when it was completed in 1902, it was one of the tallest buildings in the world, and the first of New York City's tall buildings to be built north of 14th Street. Its iconic shape has made it a very recognizable structure, and I suppose its most recent claim to fame was its film portrayal of the home of the Daily Bugle, the fictitious newspaper of the Spider-Man universe.

We then wandered over to the Gramercy Park area, just a couple blocks to the east. Completely by accident, we stumbled into a street fair on Park Avenue South from around 18th to 23rd Streets. I suddenly had an extra added item for the visitors, because a New York City street fair on a beautiful day is a wonderful thing. Looking at people selling trinkets and clothing is always amusing, but the best part is always the food! I always tell people 2 things about NYC food. 1) If you recognize the name of the place (like a chain, or someplace you may have eaten in elsewhere in the world), forget it, avoid it. If you don't recognize the name of the place, and it looks like some dive or a hole-in-the-wall, go in, you're likely to get the best food you've ever had. And 2) some of the best dining to be had in NYC is right off the streets. Fruit stands, hot dog carts, pastry carts, street vendors selling all variety of can eat 3 squares a day without ever sitting down at a table.

Washington Square Park was the next destination, just shy of a mile further south on Fifth Avenue. It's the gateway to Greenwich Village (literally...Washington Square Arch, a monument to General George Washington, sits at the north end of the park, right at the point where Fifth Avenue comes to an end), and it's surrounded by beautiful brownstone apartments and buildings that are part of the campus of New York University (NYU). It makes for a nice transitional point from corporate New York to a more artsy area. While normally a reasonably tranquil place to visit, on the weekends (and this was a Saturday, remember) it becomes an absolute hive of activity. The central fountain area of the park serves as a stage for all manner of street performers, doing their acts for the throngs of people who gather around, with the only admission price being a passing of the hat after the performance. Depending on the day (or time of day, even), you can see anything from stand-up comics to gymnasts to magicians, and everything in-between. Another of New York City's wonderful attractions.

Another quick subway hop got us a mile further south to the Foley Square area. As mentioned before, if you've ever seen an episode of the original Law & Order TV series, you've seen this area. This is where the main courthouses for New York City and New York State are located, as well as offices for the County Clerk and the City Register, plus a nice little park (Thomas Paine Park) as well. There's also a place to get an amazing chicken parmigiana hero, but since this was a Saturday and all businesses and offices in the area were closed, the area is fairly deserted, so they were closed too...damn...

City Hall, the Manhattan Municipal Building, the Surrogate's Courthouse, and the Brooklyn Bridge are all just a block or so to the south of Foley Square, so after admiring the architecture of "the Law & Order building", we made our way down to them. These were all built in the late 1800's & early 1900's during the "City Beautiful" era, when money was no object when it came to architectural design. The more lavish, the better. These are some of the more stunningly beautiful buildings in all of NYC, both inside and out. In particular, the Surrogate's Courthouse, while an attractive building outside, has an amazing all-marble lobby with a magnificent staircase leading to the second floor offices housing many records. I worked in this building as well for roughly a year, and would often marvel at the beauty of the lobby when I had a few minutes to sit during the work day. More than likely, you've already seen the lobby, since it has been featured in all kinds of media (film, music videos, commercials, print ads, etc.). And while all the pictures with this story are ones I took, the one exception is with this paragraph, which came from the Government of NYC's own web page about the Surrogate's Courthouse building...thanks!

Going off on a slight tangent, I can even give you a little story about "movie magic" that directly relates to the Surrogate's Courthouse. There was some dumb romantic comedy out last year called When In Rome. This link here is to the trailer for the picture. Everything from 23 seconds to 53 seconds in the clip I linked to takes place in a hall or something in Rome where the reception for a wedding is taking place. It's towards the beginning of the movie, and it's pretty much the only part of it (aside from the end, apparently) that takes place in Rome, as the rest of it takes place in NYC. Except that all those scenes at the reception taking place in Rome, are actually shot in the Surrogate's Courthouse lobby in Manhattan, just steps away from the Brooklyn Bridge! Which should give you an idea of just how extravagant that lobby truly is. I remember emerging from the subway everyday to walk the half-block to get to the courthouse, and more often than not, especially on Fridays, there would be trailers parked on Chambers Street right across from the courthouse entrance. These would be for whatever filming or shooting that was to be going on at night or over the weekends right there.

I noticed something else about When In Rome that I feel a need to nitpick about. There's a scene where the female lead is jogging thru Central Park, and she's heading south as she runs across Bow Bridge. Now she's running thru The Mall (also known as Poet's Alley), when some guy starts chasing her. As she continues on, she's now running down the steps leading to Bethesda Fountain, with this guy still in hot pursuit. Except that if she were really still running in the same direction, she would have already gone past the fountain and up the steps in order to reach The Mall from Bow Bridge. Do I really care? No. But am I gonna point it out? Yup. You can argue artistic license, but if you're gonna make NYC the featured location of your picture, you can bet there are gonna be people who notice stuff like this.

And why did I watch something as vapid and stupid as When In Rome? Because when I stumbled across it on TV one morning, I instantly recognized the Surrogate's Courthouse lobby, and I'm a sucker for NYC locations in movies. Even more so when it's doubling for somewhere else, like, say, Rome.

As we headed towards the Manhattan entrance of the Brooklyn Bridge, we waited at an intersection to cross. The road is for traffic coming from Brooklyn and entering Manhattan from the bridge, and it makes a big curve to the right as it does so. You can't see more than 30 or so feet up the road from where we were trying to cross, so even though no traffic was passing, we weren't taking any chances, and waited for the light. Except I noticed that NO traffic was coming. While we waited for the light to change, not a single car came thru from off the bridge. Even for a Saturday, this was unusual, to say the very least.

When the light changed, we made our way across to the City Hall Park area, so we could get a good look towards the bridge. With the one companion having the walking issues, we probably weren't going to walk out onto the bridge, but we could at least get a good vantage point from here. What I saw though was a most bizarre sight for New York. There was absolutely no vehicular traffic on the bridge whatsoever. This was unheard of. The reason was plain to see from where we were, as the police had closed the Brooklyn Bridge! This is not something that happens every day. As a matter of fact, I'm not sure this is something that had ever happened ANY day. The Brooklyn Bridge, in addition to being a world famous landmark, and one of the most New York things about New York, also serves as a major artery for traffic making its way between lower Manhattan and Brooklyn and the outer areas. To close something like this must have meant there was a serious problem somewhere. In addition, all pedestrian traffic was being allowed to continue off of the bridge, but no one was being allowed on.

I made a couple of phone calls to friends and family in the area to see if they were seeing anything about this on the news, but no one was coming across anything. I made my way closer to the entrance, and started asking around if anyone knew what was going on. Eventually I was able to find out (I can't remember for sure, but I'm pretty certain I got this from an NYPD officer) that some moron had abandoned a rental truck somewhere on the Brooklyn side of the bridge. While that might not raise any eyebrows in a normal area, this was NYC. 9/11 had only happened about 3 and a half years earlier, and people were still pretty skittish about things like that. So when someone abandons a rental truck on a NYC landmark, it gets the attention of New Yorkers. More than likely, whoever left it had mechanical problems. But the fact that it never occurred to them that leaving it sitting on a venerable icon such as the Brooklyn Bridge would possibly be interpreted as a terrorist act is inexcusable. The only reason this wasn't a disaster of epic proportions was the fact that it was early on a Saturday afternoon. Had this happened sometime during the 9-5 Monday to Friday work week, it would have crippled millions of commuters, and would therefore have been MAJOR news. One can only hope that they found the idiot who left the truck and beat the shit out of him. Just sayin.

Blog Post Soundtrack; The Les Claypool Frog Brigade, Fear Factory, Kyuss, Minor Threat, Monty Python, Louis Prima, Prong, Django Reinhardt, Sepultura, The Bakerton Group (live), Beastie Boys, Budgie, Clutch, The Doors (live), Fear, P.J. Harvey, Hermano, The Misfits (live), The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Scott Reeder, Slipknot, Sly & The Family Stone, Tool, Yawning Man, Woody Allen, Band Of Horses, Björk, Sausage, The International Noise Conspiracy, John Connelly Theory, Korn, Busta Rhymes, Leadbelly, Limp Bizkit (live, covering House Of Pain), Metallica (live), The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Nirvana, Primus, S.O.D. (live, covering Ministry), Slayer, The Stooges, Sublime, System Of A Down, The Ventures (covering Booker T. & The MG's), Beck, The Ramones, Eagles Of Death Metal, Sex Pistols, Brant Bjork, Black Flag, Bo Diddley, James Brown, The Clash, Corrosion Of Conformity, Elvis Costello, Deftones (live)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Unseen Frazetta

I've spent a large chunk of today writing a story about a trip I took with some friends to New York City in May of 2005, but seeing as how it's not quite finished yet, and I feel like I want to post something, I'll put this up instead. It has been just over a year since legendary fantasy artist Frank Frazetta died. I have several art books devoted to the man, as well as prints and posters of his adorning the walls...I've even got a jigsaw puzzle of one of his paintings.

A documentary film about him came out in 2004, and I wrote up a review of the beautiful 2 DVD set for Unseen Films last October. Since the most viewed post on my blog was one about Frazetta, and with the anniversary of his death, this seems like as good a time as any to put my piece for Unseen Films up here.

Frank Frazetta, who died this past May, was an incredibly talented artist who probably gained most of his notoriety from his paintings of Conan for paperback book covers in the 1960's and 1970's. He did many other fantasy bookcovers, paintings for movie posters, covers for horror magazines, comics, and even had an animated movie based on his art directed by Ralph Bakshi (Fire And Ice, which came out in 1983). But it is an interesting treat to see what artists have to say about Frazetta's art, and indeed hear what Frazetta has to say about the subject as well.

The documentary is a splicing of clips from interviews with contemporary fantasy and comic artists, along with a biography of Frazetta. Frazetta himself is one of the interview subjects, along with members of his family. Many of Frazetta's peers are interviewed as well, and there are also scenes of him wandering around Brooklyn reminiscing about the days of yore with some of them. We even follow him into his mother's home in Brooklyn.

A diverse range of people comprise the interview subjects, from actress Bo Derek, to musician Glenn Danzig, to the creator of The Rocketeer (and the man responsible for the late 20th Century revival of interest in 1950's pin-up model Bettie Page), Dave Stevens. Each relates their own personal way in which either the art, or the man, or both, affected their lives. It's an interesting testament to see how one man had such an effect on a broad range of talented human beings.

The Collector's Edition 2 DVD Set version that this review is based on comes with a large amount of bonus material on the second disc. There are many deleted scenes, outtakes, and additional stories to be told that were cut out of the actual feature to make it flow better. The first disc includes many extended interview segments as bonus material as well. But perhaps the most unique extra feature is at the beginning of the second disc, which shows Frazetta drawing a panther left-handed. After a series of strokes left him unable to draw right-handed, as he had naturally done all his life, he just taught himself how to do it with his other hand...a truly stunning achievement, especially when you consider he was in his 70's when he re-learned how to draw, and could still do it amazingly well.

Again, this review is based on the 2 disc version of Frazetta: Painting With Fire. There is a 2 disc Special Edition of the movie based on his art, Fire And Ice, which comes with the Painting With Fire main feature as the biggest bonus on the second disc...but then you don't get any of these great extras in this set. If the thought of a documentary of perhaps the greatest artist of the second half of the 20th Century seems interesting, you may as well go all out and get the version with all the goodies, and get Fire And Ice as a separate purchase.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

You'd Never Guess Why I'm Writing About Seattle This Time

The hardest part about writing this blog of late is deciding which of the many unfinished travel stories I should work on. If I remember correctly, I was in the middle of telling tales about going to New York, Florida, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Jose, and had also teased that I'd gone to San Francisco right after my San Diego day trip (a travel story that might actually be, perish the thought, finished). So I shall now roll a 6-sided die to determine which of the recent journeys will be the lucky lottery winner in today's "I actually have some time and am gonna do some writing" sweepstakes...

...and just in case you think I'm kidding about this, i just went to my Simpson's Monopoly board game, pulled out a die, and rolled a 4, which means we head back to Seattle!

After talking with Frank Quitely for about 25 minutes or so in the hallway outside where his panel was going to be at the comic book convention, it came time to actually go in. The moderator came up while Quitely and I were talking outside, introduced himself, and asked if there was any way Quitely wanted this handled. I chimed in with, "Just don't ask him about the animated Superman film based on his work, because he hasn't seen it yet."

The panel itself was fairly interesting, as it was completely devoted to Quitely. This was just going to be 45 minutes or so with him sitting at a dais, along with the moderator, and a room full of people interested in hearing what an artist they admire has to say about things. After 15 or 20 minutes of interview-style questioning between Quitely and the moderator, the floor was opened to questions from the audience. Since most of what I'd really wanted to know I'd already ascertained from talking with him before, I was perfectly happy to just sit there and let other audience members step up to the microphone and fire questions away. I did get quite a good chuckle when, invariably, the second audience question was what Quitely thought about the animated Superman film...

After the panel let out, I wandered the show floor a bit to kill some time until Quitely's next signing session that evening. I got a meal at the small food court in the convention room, and wound up sharing a table and chatting with a nice young woman dressed as Batman villain Poison Ivy. A male friend of her's came over while we were eating, which wouldn't normally be worth mentioning except that he was fully dressed as another of Batman's nemeses, The Joker. Things like this aren't uncommon at events like this, but when you stop and examine it from an outside perspective, it just seems a tad bit odd...

After dinner I got on to the line for the evening Quitely signing session. Upon getting up to him, we briefly talked some more while he signed a few books he'd done the artwork for that I'd brought with me, and then I was back off to the hotel. It had been a rather productive day, but a long one, and I'd spent maybe 15 minutes in the hotel since arriving earlier that day. When I made it up to the room, I posted a couple things on Twitter about seeing Quitely, and mentioned something he'd said about a project he was contributing to for Mike Allred's Madman character. Just a few minutes later I got a reply from Allred himself on Twitter, wanting to know more about what Quitely had said. We had a brief Twitter conversation, and even in the middle of it, I found it interesting that I had managed to get to "see" another comic book creator I admire at this convention, even though this particular one was not actually in attendance. After a nice walk thru a biting wind to get some supplies from a local convenience store, I returned to the room, soaked in a nice hot tub for close to an hour, then passed out watching some TV. Party animal.

I slept in on Saturday morning, something I rarely, if ever, get to do when I'm home. Even on my days off I've always got something to do, so I tend to get up not much later than I would if I was going to work. That's what's nice about these trips. I've got things to attend during the day, and seeing as how I've been to Seattle many times before, I wasn't filled with a burning desire to wander the streets for hours beforehand. I did get up early enough to make my way to the gym at the top of the hotel, as it afforded a beautiful view of downtown Seattle on a gorgeous sunny morning. After taking pictures from up there for a while, and just standing and enjoying the view, it was time to head over to the show.

I brought a couple more books over to go see Quitely again, because A) who knows when I'll ever see him again, seeing as he lives in Scotland, and hasn't been in this country since 2002, and B) it was nice to be able to briefly converse with him a little more. I really enjoy his work, and have an even greater deal of respect for him after talking with him for the time that I did. This kind of connection is the reason I go to these events. I really enjoy meeting and talking with the people whose work I admire and enjoy, and pulling a signed book off of my shelves always sparks a nice memory of those times.

My next objective was to go see a couple more people who hadn't been there on Friday, but would be there on Saturday. Another of the artist's with a vision I appreciate is a man named David Mack. While he has done some very notable work on Marvel's Daredevil character, it his own creation, Kabuki, which really shows off his artistic abilities. While he has expanded the bounds of what would normally be allowed in terms of form and content in Daredevil, it is still a high-profile product from a high-profile company, and there is still an editorial rein. On Kabuki, it's pretty much a full-on experiment in re-inventing storytelling. Mack, who I also follow on Twitter, is someone who I always seek out when I know he's at a show that I'll be at, as he always has new and interesting things to look check out at his table. He brings an extensive amount of his originals to look thru, as well as a complete selection of books he's done, and every time I see him, there's at least one new book. He is also an incredibly personable guy, very friendly and easy to talk with, and quite generous with what he is selling. He will also do sketches at shows for very reasonable fees. But I actually had another reason for talking with him this show, and that was to ask a couple questions about his DVD, The Alchemy Of Art: David Mack. It's a great DVD, and I wanted to talk with him about it for a piece I was writing on it for Unseen Films. The DVD is well worth having if you're a fan of art at all, let alone Mack's work specifically.

More to come on this story...eventually...

Blog Post Soundtrack; The Misfits, Foo Fighters (live), Pearl Jam, Elvis Presley, Fear Factory, The Who, The Ruts, Neil Young & Pearl Jam, M.O.D., Eagles Of Death Metal, The Buzzcocks, Moloko, Aerosmith, Metallica (live), AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Tom Jones w/The Pretenders (covering an Iggy Pop song...can you believe it?!?), Mr. Bungle (live), P.J. Harvey, Sublime, Bo Diddley, Anthrax & Public Enemy, Public Image Ltd., MC5, The Strokes, The Police (live)