Archive for November, 2008


Posted in Ramblings, Sites of Interest with tags , , , on November 28, 2008 by Andrew T. Smith

This was and I imagine still is my Mam’s favorite skit from Sesame Street. We must have seen this a dozen times when I was young and we always laughed. It has all those classic Sesame/Muppet ingredients to make it work, talking animals, surreal humour (dig that ending) and Kermit getting really, REALLY mad!


How to Ruin a Childhood Favorite

Posted in Ramblings with tags , , , , , , , on November 23, 2008 by Andrew T. Smith



Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends helped turn me into the person I am today. As a child the simple by well crafted television version of Rev. W Audrey’s books encouraged in me a drive to imagine and create. Imagination was required because, while these trains were quite clearly models with static faces and limited movement, I truly invested in the stories and cared for the characters. Creativity came about when I was able to reenact and  eventually conjure up my own stories at home using my ever growing mountain of Thomas toys.

I’ve always found it hard to let go to let go of childish things and so when I saw one of the latest Thomas DVD movies on sale for three quid I just couldn’t resist. I must say I was a little too upset with what I saw to be considered a sane and healthy adult.

The first major problem is that every now and then the plot will grind to a painful halt and a puzzle game will be introduced. I imagine this is some sort of vein attempt to offer interactivity to the Playstation generation but it doesn’t work in this context. The problem here isn’t that what the puzzles teach isn’t useful, generally they seem to encourage practical problem solving, but that they serve no purpose and have no reason for being. The information offered by these interludes could easily be covered by the narration without resorting to encouraging children to scream at the television with futile dreams of changing the course of events through their magnificent decision making skills.  If the kids really do want to play a game that actually rewards them for taking part rather than wasting their time then surely they could visit the Thomas website or buy one of the video games.

I know I’m probably reading far too much into this but the fact that the storyline can never really be influenced by the viewing audiences suggestions means that these sequences are exercises in pointlessness. Do we really want to raise a generation of opinionated people who are happy to scream out suggestions despite not being required or invited to do so. These problems may encourage practicality but not creativity and implies could give kids the impression that there is only ever one to solve a problem or to write a story. 

Another, possibly more painful, intrusion shows up in the shape of numerous musical numbers. These aren’t fun, fluffy Disney-esque pieces in which the characters convey their inner feelings through song, oh no. What we get here are a chorus of intensely annoying  drama school kids singing pointless and forgettable songs for no apparent reason. Where are these voices meant to be coming from? Who are these evil little bastards intent on slowing proceedings down to a snails pace? The new closing theme to the series is perhaps the most insulting example of Thomas the Tank Engines new musical direction.

Here’s a quote, if you can bear it:


Thomas! he’s the cheeky one
James is vain but lots of fun
Percy! pulls the mail on time
Gordon thunders down the line
Emily! really knows her stuff
Henry! toots and huffs and puffs
Edward! likes to help and share
Toby! we’ll let’s say…he’s square!


That last line makes my skin crawl. It’s like the composer and lyricist don’t even care what bile they are churning out. It’s almost as if an in joke has been left in by mistake, a placeholder line that has survived the redrafting process.

Despite these annoyances there is still a lot right with this special. The model work remains as beautiful as ever, despite the intrusion of some nasty sped up camera work, and the script, when not sidelined by the pointless diversions outlined above, is charming and carries a genuine message of tolerance and working together as a community to improve everyone’s quality of life. Bonus points should go to the writers for a bizarre dream sequence in which the trains imagine what fate might befall them if they were to outlive their usefulness; try hard at school kids or you might just end up being strung up and used as a coconut shire!

I know it’s plain weird for me to care about a show which clearly isn’t aimed at me any more but it’s quite painful to see something that helped shape my childhood being diluted down to appeal to the lowest common denominator in all children. Kids don’t need to have flashy graphics and inane songs pumped in their direction in order to ensure their attention. At least I hope they don’t.

A Link to the Past

Posted in Ramblings, Sites of Interest with tags , , , , , , , on November 20, 2008 by Andrew T. Smith
This news item from the Los Angeles Times arives at Illegible Me a little late but I think it’s worth reporting. Since I have no idea how long this link will last I’ll copy and paste the full text below.
At 114, a daughter of former slaves votes for Obama
Gertrude Baines is the world’s oldest person of African descent. She cast her ballot at a convalescent facility near USC.
By Tami Abdollah
10:36 PM PST, November 4, 2008
Gertrude Baines’ 114-year-old fingers wrapped lightly over the ballpoint pen as she bubbled in No. 18 on her ballot Tuesday. Her mouth curled up in a smile. A laugh escaped. The deed was done.

A daughter of former slaves, Baines had just voted for a black man to be president of the United States. “What’s his name? I can’t say it,” she said shyly afterward. Those who helped her fill out the absentee ballot at a convalescent facility west of USC chimed in: “Barack Obama.”

 Baines is the world’s oldest person of African descent, according to the Gerontology Research Group, which validates claims of extreme old age. She is the third-oldest person in the world, and the second-oldest in the United States after Edna Parker of Indiana, who is 115.

The walls of Baines’ room on the second floor of Western Convalescent Hospital are covered with birthday cards from presidents and officials from years gone by.

A picture of George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, is framed on the wall. Above it is a signed picture of Obama and City Councilman Bernard Parks, now running for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. On Baines’ bed sit two teddy bears, one with an Obama pin on its right arm.

“Why am I voting for him? Because he’s for the colored,” Baines said, her language itself hearkening to a different time. “Sure it’s good. That’s the first one I know to be in there. Everybody’s glad for colored men to be in there sometime.”

On Tuesday, Baines sat in her wheelchair, a fuzzy red scarf around her neck, a red bonnet on her head and black slippers on her feet. She is hard of hearing and her memory comes and goes. She tends to refer to historical milestones by who was president at the time.

Aside from chronic arthritis, she is relatively healthy, mobile and attends church every Sunday in the hospital’s dining room. That’s where her pastor first told her a black man was running for president.

“It struck me,” Baines said. “It struck a lot of people when they heard about a colored person” running. Baines looked over at her favorite assistant nurse, Cynthia Thompson. “What’s that boy’s name?”

“Jesse Jackson?” Thompson said.

“Yeah,” Baines said with a laugh. “He tried, but he didn’t make it.”

“Why they want to keep having white? Why not let a colored person in some time?” Baines said. “I’m glad, I’m glad, I’m glad to get a colored man in there, and so many people are. I hope nothing don’t happen to him.”

This is only the second time Baines has voted. The last was for John F. Kennedy.

“And you see how they killed him. I was in Memphis, Tennessee, at that time, during the parade. Who was the next president they shot? Two of the boys . . .” she said, trailing off.

A registered Democrat, Baines said she was going to ask the hospital to remove Bush’s picture from her wall. “They put him up there,” she said disdainfully, waving her hand.

“We are all the same, skin dark, white, that’s all,” Baines said. She said Obama would be good for everybody. “Republicans don’t care for the poor people,” she said. “They want it all and they don’t want the Democrats to have nothing.”

Baines gets most of her election information from chats with hospital workers and friends. Her eyesight is poor, and it is not always easy for her to watch television.

On April 6, she will turn 115. Baines has been at the hospital for about nine years, and has outlived everyone in her family, including her daughter — who died of typhoid at 18 — and two nieces.

Baines said she spends much of her time sleeping and eating, but enjoys getting out in her wheelchair for a ride now and then, eating extra crispy bacon for breakfast, and watching “Jerry Springer” from time to time.

As lunch rolled around, Thompson wheeled Baines around to face the television as it cast images of Obama striding by to vote.

“Everybody says they think he’s going to get it,” she said. “And I hope he do. Maybe things will get better.”

Shortly after 8 p.m., her nurse switched on the television and Baines witnessed Obama’s victory. Baines smiled and said to the nurse: “I told you so.” Then she went to sleep.

When Baines was born, Grover Cleveland was president and the U.S. flag had 44 stars. She grew up in Georgia during a time when black people were prevented from voting, discriminated against and subject to violent racism. In her lifetime, she has seen women gain the right to vote, and drastic changes to federal voting laws and to the Constitution — and now, this.

“No, I didn’t never think I’d live this long.” she said.

How amazing is that? I doubt her father, a former slave, could ever have imagined a black man in the White House let alone in his own daughter’s lifetime. There aren’t many of these folk, who survive as an amazing link to the past, around any more. Here’s hoping she will see the inauguration!

Filmroll A to Z

Posted in Ramblings on November 19, 2008 by Andrew T. Smith

There seems to be an internet meme doing the rounds at the moment that involves choosing a favorite film for each letter of the alphabet. This may me an exercise in pointlessness but here goes. These are not necessarily my favorite films, just the ones that came to mind first.

A – American Splendor

B – Basil the Great Mouse Detevitive

C – Crumb

D – Duck Soup

E – Ed Wood

F – The Fall of the House of Usher

G – Gremlins 2: The New Batch

H – Hellzapoppin’

I – It’s A Wonderful Life

J – Jolson Sings Again

K – King Kong (Original)

L – Little Shop of Horrors (Musical)

M – Matinee

N – The Nightmare Before Christmas

O – Once

P- Paris Je T’aime

Q – The Quatermass Conclusion

R – Rope

S – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

T – Targets

U – Utopia (AKA Atol K)

V – Vanilla Sky

W – Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

X – X Men (I wouldn’t class this as a favorite but it was the best I could come up with)

Y – Young Frankenstine

Z – Zodiac

So… have you learned anything about me from that?


Posted in Ramblings, Sites of Interest with tags , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2008 by Andrew T. Smith

It’s 2am and I am still awake. I have no reason to be awake except that I should be working on a very important project. I’m not. Instead I find myself blogging, and web browsing, and watching a DVD, and burning a CD. It’s like my brain can’t get enough at the moment and refuses to switch off for the night. I’m wired and I don’t even drink coffee. 

Basically I think I’m turning into Johny 5.


Posted in Ramblings, Sites of Interest with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2008 by Andrew T. Smith

Thanks for making the right choice America!

Mr Smith Revisited on Trailers From Hell

Posted in Ramblings, Sites of Interest with tags , , , , , , on November 3, 2008 by Andrew T. Smith

Here is an excellent link to Michael Lehmann providing a fascinating commentary on the trailer for the classic Frank Capra film Mr Smith Goes To Washington. Go see it now and come back.

Lehmann makes some excellent points there but I’m not sure to what extent I agree with them all. The one statement of his that I have a problem with is that he half jokingly suggests that he hopes nobody ever sees the film again. This would imply to me that this seventy year old film could be politically dangerous if viewed by people, that in some way it could turn us all into Sarah Palin supporters; which is a bit rediculous really. To an extent I can see his point, however. I would hate to see this film adopted by the far right and used to support their fraudulent claims of working for the working and middle classes. That would truly do a disservice to all involved in this fabulously entertaining film.

As an outsider looking in to the American political system I see the films message being something more like this. Power breeds corruption, we have known about this for centuries. In this film a small town man named Jefferson Smith is taken for a ride by a government he previously respected and trusted. His country betrays him but Smith fights back not with a campaign of violence or by toppling the system of which he is a part. His strength comes from his words and through his ability and willingness to learn a new role and make a stand. He reminds those at the top that their power is a privilege and not a right and that they have a duty to everyone in the country, not just those who can afford to have a say.

I don’t see this as a parallel to Palin. I see this as a rallying call for the American people to take a greater interest in their political system. If they want to make a difference and put a halt to what they see as an injustice they can, but only by engaging with the system and making a stand that is in line with the principals of democracy they are hoping to defend. This is Jefferson Smith’s legacy.

Regardless of whether you agree with Michael Lehmann or me on this topic I think it’s fantastic that, almost seventy years after its release, a film can still inspire debate and challenge our ideas about the world.