Archive for December, 2008

When Scenes Have Gone

Posted in Muppets, Ramblings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2008 by Andrew T. Smith

muppet-christmas-carol-posters

The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of those perfect holiday films that ranks alongside classics like It’s A Wonderful Life, Scrooged and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Year after year I have continued to be entertained by the film’s wit and charm but one thing has bugged me ever since I first bought the DVD; there is a scene missing. Before we all jump on our high horses and bemoan the butchery of our film heritage there is one thing to add – the scene in question was never included in the theatrical release.

The story goes like this. The bitter sweet ballad When Love Has Gone was written for the film by composer Paul Williams, performed by an orchestra, recorded by the actors, filmed and then edited into the film. However shortly before the film’s theatrical premiere the decision was made to cut the scene for timing reasons. Nobody  ever saw this musical number as part of the film during the official release but when it came time to offer The Muppet Christmas Carol for sale via VHS the decision was made to reinstate this footage. Having never seen The Muppet Christmas Carol at the cinema this home video version was the version of the film I, and a great many others, grew up with at home and whenever I see the theatrical cut now on DVD or television it always feels as though a chunk of the film’s soul has been removed.

In the sense that it was felt that the film was running too long for theatrical exhibition it is easy to see why this particular scene was cut.  For about three and a half minutes the film asks the audience to do without the beloved Muppet characters and enjoy a ‘straight’ song – there is nothing festive or jolly about When Love Has Gone. But in removing this scene the filmmakers stripped The Muppet Christmas Carol of one of its most moving and essential moments.

The film, as per Charles Dickens’ classic novella, tells the story of Scrooge’s rebirth as a caring compassionate human but this over night change is so sudden that the filmmakers have to take care not to make the character’s motives seem selfish. In The Muppet Christmas Carol adaptation of this story there are four key events that help turn scrooge around; hearing how is viewed by his own relatives, seeing the day his lost love Belle left him, learning of the fate of his employee’s son Tiny Tim and discovering his ultimate fate. Of these four reasons three, on the surface, seem self motivated. Scrooge’s change can be seen to be a cynical attempt to stay alive for as long as possible, he is threatened rather than truly rehabilitated. In the extended Muppet Christmas Carol there is a key difference that makes confirms his change of heart as a moral rehabilitation.

In the theatrical cut of  of The Muppet Christmas Carol the elderly Scrooge is taken back in time to the moment Belle left him. He sees his younger self being emotionally cold and when she tells him that their love has diminished over time she leaves leaving both incarnations of the Scrooge behind. The elderly man cries for what he has lost, accusing the Spirit of Christmas Past of torturing him.

The extended version of this scene makes a big difference as can be viewed below.

Not only is this a beautiful little song but also the positioning of the characters affects our perception of Scrooge’s motivation. In this version of the scene Belle is left behind when her emotionally cruel and distant lover leaves during her song. Scrooge is allowed the chance to see how is actions affected her and cries not only for what he has lost but also for the grief and sorrow he has caused another human being. It is a key turning point in his journey to salvation and serves to alter our impression of Scrooges disappointment with how his nephew has come to see him.

It should also be noted that the brief moment in which Michael Caine as Scrooge duets with Meredith Brown as Belle is one of the most perfectly played pieces in the film. Their shot together is intensely intimate and tender despite the fact that they can not interact.

If you’d like to see this scene as part of the film the only option is to purchase the Kermit’s 50th Anniversary Edition DVD from America. The theatrical cut is presented in widescreen while a secondary pan and scan, cropped version of the film retains this song. It’s a shame that the scene has never been released in Widescreen but one can hope that with an inevitable Blue Ray edition on the way that a decent presentation of the extended film will emerge.

Thanks for sticking with this extended ramble!

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Jim Henson’s Muppets

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on December 10, 2008 by Andrew T. Smith

Perhaps it is the proximity of Christmas that has me thinking about Jim Henson’s Muppets so much lately. The two institutions go hand in hand. I don’t have much to say apart from the fact that you should all invest in a copy of The Muppet Christmas Carol for festive viewing (A post on this film should emerge in the next couple of weeks). 

Robert Prosky 1930-2008

Posted in Ramblings with tags , , , , , , on December 10, 2008 by Andrew T. Smith

grandpafred2

Another day, another sad loss. Robert Prosky wasn’t particularly well know actor but he was one of those fine character players who turned up in countless films.

As a kid I adored Grandpa Fred, the character Prosky played in the film Gremlins 2. It wasn’t a showy performance. He could have hammed it up a little given the zany nature of the picture but instead he delivers a sympathetic and believable turn. I think in some ways he contributed to my interest in the ins and outs of television production; if a washed up horror host and a fish-out-of-water Japanese tourist could put on a show under these conditions then why couldn’t I? 

For another great performance check out his turn in the remake of Miracle on 34th Street or take a look at the man’s IMDB resume.

RIP

NOTE: Thanks to Allen for the heads up on this sad announcement. 

Oliver Postgate 1925-2008

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on December 9, 2008 by Andrew T. Smith

Coming Soon: My First Book!

Posted in Marx Brothers, Ramblings, Re-Marx, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2008 by Andrew T. Smith

I have been gagging to announce this publicly for a great deal of time now and at long last I can finally come clean about what I have been scribbling a way at over the past year; my first book! Bear Manor Media in the USA have kindly agreed to publish the book that nobody asked for, a complete history of the Marx Brothers’ Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel! Read on for the a better explanation of what is to come.

 

Marx and Re-Marx

Creating and Recreating the Lost Marx Brothers Radio Show


Flywheel Radio Guide Magazine Cover

 

In 1932 the legendary Marx Brothers began work on one of their most hilarious and enduring feature films, Duck Soup. At the same time they also began work on their first ever radio series, a half hour sitcom that featured the adventures and mishaps that befell the underhanded lawyer Waldorf T. Flywheel (Groucho) and his hapless assistant Emmanelle Ravelli (Chico). This series, eventually entitled Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel  was written by Marx collaborators and comic geniuses Nat Perrin and Arthur Sheekman, was popular with audiences but in 1933 was cancelled and promptly forgotten. The scripts were shelved, the recordings discarded and the Marxes went back to work on Duck Soup.

However Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel refused to remain buried and tantalizing glimpses of the routines from the series went on to be reused in classic films like Duck Soup, A Night at the Opera and The Big Store. 

In 1986 Micheal Barson, a researcher and Marx fan who had unearthed all but one of the original radio scripts, published them in book form and people took notice. In 1989 BBC Radio 4 aired the first of what was to become an eighteen episode remake of the series. Painstakingly adapted and augmented and with a lovingly recreated cast and ambience Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel once again proved a success becoming popular with listeners and picking up the Golden Award at the New York Radio Festival.

You can’t keep a good joke down.

For the first time in detail Re-Marx takes a look at the history of this enduring series, its genesis, its death and its resurrection.

 

Featuring:

  • Previously unpublished letters from the desk of Flywheel creator Nat Perrin.

 

  • Full Episode Guides for both incarnations of the Flywheel and a guide to related productions.

 

  • Contributions from the cast and crew of the BBC remake of Flywheel; Mark Brisenden (Weekending, Spitting Image), David Firman (Dinner Ladies, Norbert Smith: A Life) (Graham Hoadly (The Adventures of Sexton Blake, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Stageshow), Dirk Maggs (Superman: Doomsday and Beyond,Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency), and Frank Lazarus (Pennies From Heaven, Our Friends in the North). 

 

  • Transcripts of the remaining recordings of the original series.

 

Due Spring 2009

 

Spring 2009 is the best approximate publication date I have so far and while there is still a damn good chance I could mess things up I am very excited about being able to keep you up to date with the latest developments on this very blog. Also bear in mind is that the book, unlike the above announcement, will be fully proof read!

Grandpa Elliot

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

 

“I’ve been here a long time and seen a lot of changes. It’s gonna be back, you’ll see.”

One of the nice features of this wordpress blog is that a page that allows me to see not only how many people have visited Illegible Me in a day but also why. Recently a hell of a lot of people have come here looking for information on a chap named Grandpa Elliot. He’s the guy in the the videos below.

I only mentioned Elliot briefly in this post some time ago but he seems to be attracting a lot of attention.My guess is that the documentary Playing For Change has alerted a lot of people to his existence recently. It’s not hard to see why people seem drawn to him, the man has talent, and perhaps more importantly character, by the bucket load. I can’t claim to be an expert on the man at all but since so many people seem to be Googling his name I shall endeavor to do my best.

“I used to sing on the street corners in New York in the 1960’s, back when there was music on the corners, instead of crack.”

Grandpa Elliot (63-ish), real name Elliot Small, is a New Orleans based street musician who can be found playing in the French Quarter of the city throughout most of the year. The Grandpa persona is apparently somewhat of a character he adopts when performing; Grandpa is blind, Small is not. He was born and raised in the city and has been playing on the streets for over fifty years now. In addition to a fine bluesy voice he can play the harmonica and the harp!  Best known for playing the blues he has also been known to treat fans to some self styled rap and a dose of classical music. His partner in crime is often a younger man named Michael Stone aka Stoney B. Although Small has laid down some recordings over the years these are quite hard to come by. When Katrina struck in 2005 Small was forced to relocate for some time but has now returned to his rightful place, entertaining locals and tourists who are passing by but can’t help stopping.

I hope that helps. For more information there is an excellent New York Times article here.