Friday, October 19, 2018

Marx Brothers, Streamlined - ongoing project

They're practically part of my DNA, these four brothers, but I'm enough of a fan to appreciate that some of their films are challenging, and in the case of two of the MGM productions, not at a level I can share in public venues due to their 1930's-level of "appreciative stereotyping."
So.  I am working with the former Sony Vegas software and mp4 versions of their 13 films to do the unpardonable - I'm editing down Marx Brothers movies.
Many of them.  Some remain perfection on celluloid, and some (such as "Horse Feathers") could go on for another hour as far as I'm concerned. 
So, trimming out and adjusting pacing have given me the following projection times:

1929 - The Cocoanuts - from 96 to 78 minutes - most of the cuts involved excision of the songs "When My Dreams Come True" and "Monkey Doodle Doo."  "Monkey Doodle Doo" has a lot of fun lyrics, but my ears cannot take the performance. 
1930 - Animal Crackers - 98 minutes?  Make it 398 minutes - recreate the DuBarry scene, in synthetic 2-strip technicolor, please!
1931 - Monkey Business - 77 minutes, still 77 minutes.  Love the opening credits
1932 - Horse Feathers - 68 minutes - oh please, some archive find and restore the apartment scene with Thelma Todd
1933 - Duck Soup - 68 minutes to 67 and 1/2 minutes - to permit showing at my current venue, I had to excise "...and that's why darkies were born." 
1935 - A Night at the Opera - 92 untouchable minutes
1937 - A Day at the Races - 109 minutes down to 90 minutes - that Gabriel scene had to go, along with some other unnecessary exposition - the MGM bricks were falling on the brothers.  Much of the water carnival went to the editing bin, too. 
1938 - Room Service - 78 to 72 minutes - just trimmed out dead air - it seems slightly perkier.  The background dialog between Groucho and Chico while Harpo mastered the layered look lost all the dead space, and with the miracle of compression, I kept everything Harpo did, but about 20% faster.  A second set of great opening credits that will be unscathed.
1939 - At the Circus - 87 minutes to 63 minutes - Out with Swingali, of course, but my stomach could not take any rendition of "Two Blind Loves," and it was an opportunity to slice back on Groucho's scene with Goliath.  Still couldn't do much with the continuity gaffe where Groucho suddenly appears on the train after being completely blocked by Chico at the station.
1940 - Go West - 80 minutes to 68 minutes - the temptation to slice out all except the opening and closing was strong, but I wanted to test how to do internal edits, such as speeding up the closing gag of the railroad official sliding into a prepared hole after he gets clobbered on the gourd
1941 - The Big Store - 83 minutes to 60 minutes - that "Tenement Symphony" is toast, and the bed scene was distilled to a single joke.  At 60 minutes, it amounts to some adequate Groucho time, and lots of music by Chico and Harpo.  I actually like "Sing While You Sell," with the Marxes making a transition to the 1940s-style of musical comedy, and Groucho can dance.
1946 - A Night in Casablanca - pending - maybe an opportunity to play with the pacing.
1950 - Love Happy - an earlier experiment took the 85 minutes down to 60, but I'm looking for better pre-edit material (the Marilyn Monroe sequence is far too dark in my work print).

Sunday, August 26, 2018

And My Viewership is So Quirky!

A Friendly Russian Bear

Twice a month, there are mass visitations to this rather mundane, and generally unviewed, little blog of mine.  Each time, usually about the 5th or 20th of the month (this time the 24th), I get a sudden spike.

Blogger is nice enough to flag the points of origin, and it may come as no surprise that they have been - for the most part - from Mother Russia.

Lately, however, there has been a shift, as if the land of Vladdy Boy is attempting to obscure its inexplicable interest in these typings.

At first, it was obvious - Ukraine.  I suppose it's just to see if their absorbed servers there are working.

Then came, inexplicably - Brazil.  Now, I think Brazilians are monstrously cool, if only from my admiration of their gleeful attendance of Disney World in crisp uniforms and linear progression through the park.  I just wonder at their interest in a collection of doodles from a Michigan pharmacist.

And then, perhaps, not inexplicably -- unknown region.  Granted, until the US acknowledged China in the 1970s, it was considered a "big empty hole in the space," or some such phrase I vaguely recall from a period MAD issue.  Could that still be the attitude of Blogger?  Another quandary.

But tonight, 104 hits at 3am from, of all places, FRANCE! Now, I'm a bit of a francophile, I love me some croque monsieur whenever possible, but a trip to Montreal or Quebec is about as gallic an experience I've been able to muster since high school.  Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier rock my world, and I love mistranslating Jean Gabin into storyboards that'll never be produced due to copyright issues (I have learned from Nina Paley's encounters, so those guilty pleasures will remain for my eyes only).  But 104 folks simultaneously interested in me from France at 3am?  If I were in France at 3am, I wouldn't be interested in me, yet alone my blog!

Vive la France! Ooo La La!!!
Now, if Mother Russia is trying to boost my ego by artificially nudging my pandemic numbers, that's very flattering of her.  She already sends a surfeit of solemn bride material to my effectively  collapsed Instagram account, after all.  But my lovely wife is all the companionship I require, thank you, and if I need more hirsute experiences, I have an adoring dog who already lays claim to me as her human.  I admire your expanse of time zones, I respect your knowledge of transdermal chemical substances (at a safe distance), get a kick of of Shostakovich, and think vodka is the third best use of a potato, after French fries and potato chips.
Masters of Transdermal Compounding

Whoa - an epiphany - French fries! Maybe that's the French Connection!

Mother Russia - you're one clever mother!
My dog guards us diligently...

But, sometimes, at a distance

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Pharmacies in Battle Creek - A BRIEF Historical Overview

last update: 5 August 2018

A Bit of Background

Before the creation of the FDA in 1906, there were no restrictions placed on what could be sold as medicine in the United States.  Morphine was a common ingredient in infant teething formulas, asparagus extract was sold as a urinary “purifier,” and even Grape Nuts was touted by C. W. Post as a treatment for appendicitis.  Further, no drug company was required to state the ingredients of its products.  Overdosing and addiction were common in those “good old days.”.   Battle Creek, because of its reputation for health, drew the attention of several companies that set up shop, or at least rented a post office box, to benefit from the distinction of being in the same city as Dr. Kellogg’s Sanitarium.

Until 1919, Michigan pharmacists were only required to have a 10th grade education and have two years apprenticeship before taking a licensing exam.  Licensing of individual drugstores was not required until 1921.  Until that time, opening a pharmacy required little more than the willingness to do so.  It wasn’t until 1929 that even a two-year college level training was required (present training takes six years).

In the pre-FDA days, Battle Creek boasted over a dozen pharmacies, most of them concentrated around the center of town.  Many of them dispensed their prescriptions in elaborate monogrammed bottles, stoppered with the finest Portuguese cork, and sealed with paraffin.  The requirements for labeled ingredients imposed upon the patent medicines didn’t apply to compounded prescriptions; in fact, until as late as the mid-1960s it was still considered by many as a violation of the physician-pharmacist working relationship for a pharmacist to discuss medicine with the patient.

As chain pharmacies emerged, gaining strength with preferential pricing and agreements with insurance and drug companies, independent pharmacies found it increasingly difficult to remain competitive and still be profitable.  As a result, the baker’s dozen of independent pharmacies that existed in 1978 has dwindled to two in 2001.  Their legacy of treating the ill and serving their community will remain in our community’s collective memory.
Ahmberg and Murphy's Elegant storefront - Kellogg Foundation stands in this location

Some Random Notes on the Collection at the Kimball House Museum in Battle Creek, Michigan:

(note - this is far from a complete listing of Battle Creek pharmacies - this brochure was developed as a guide to selected artifacts at the museum put on brief display in 2001.  The legends surrounding Speaker's pharmacy could fill a book on its own.)

Log Cabin Sarsaparilla, of Rochester NY– sarsaparilla was a general tonic and “cure all” for digestive disorders; simple to make, it often contained high levels of alcohol to “enhance” its absorption and “preserve the ingredients.”  Dr. Guysott added yellow dock (then popular for jaundice or constipaton) to his preparation.

The “bitters” from Dr. Sawen’s and  Dr. Hostetter’s subscribed to the philosophy that medicine had to taste bad to be good.  It didn’t hurt that the compounds were usually 50 proof.  Dr. Hostetter made use of an annual almanac to promote his product.

Pine Tree Tar Cordial, again replete with a hefty dose of inebriants, would give the proper impression that the patient was drinking turpentine.

Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound was the grandmother of all patent medicines; her picture was common to nearly every typesetter’s box.  Her written advice to customers, however, was completely posthumous.  The product is still made today, although the “preservative” is at a lower concentration.

Buffalo Lithia water came from rich mineral springs during an era where drinking such water was an important part of taking “the cure.”  Contemporaries noted the best way to indulge was to “hold your nose and drink quickly.”

Vin Antimony, presented here in a pharmacy’s reagent bottle, was primarily put to use as a cathartic and emetic...for those with the “urge to purge.”  Also known as the “tartar emetic.”

The Old Indian Medicine Company, makers of Wa-Hoo Bitters, probably had nothing more than a post office box in Battle Creek.  It offered local residents the opportunity to try its concoction at a substantial discount.

Claude C. Jones ran a pharmacy in the old Bijou theatre arcade at 47 West Main (now Michigan) after trying out a location at 115 Calhoun.  When the Battle Creek Retail Druggists’ Association organized in 1928, he was its first president.
Bijou Theater Lobby

Bijou Theater becoming a historic parking lot

E. L. Jones, of 13 East Main, was a “manufacturing chemist” during the 1880s.

M. L. Pierce Palace Pharmacy was a new addition to 53 West Main by 1889.  Short-lived by comparison to most, his store didn’t survive to the turn of the century.  A similar fate met J. F. Halliday and Sons.

Will Phillips, of 38 East Main, then 10 West Main, then 53 West Main, had moved on completely by 1901.

J. E. Weeks, at 250 East Main, had his name on a pharmacy until at least 1916.

The Health Home Pharmacy was a fixture at 222 West Main for the last two decades of the 19th century.

Willard Drugs of 45 East Main remained in business until around World War I.

Larmour’s Drugs, founded by A. Fred Larmour, originated at 201 South Kendall before moving to Urbandale in the 1930s.  It remained the longest operating independent pharmacy in Battle Creek.

The Holton Brothers were doing business at 3 West Main in 1869.  A move to 19 East Main (the “Peninsular block”) came four years later.  They became Willard Drugs after moving to 45 East Main.

Grandine and Hinman (of 1883 vintage), of 6 East Main, changed billing from Andrus and Grandine, with its heritage also dating to at least 1869.  Hinman went off on his own in 1887 to 11 East Main, and the partnership site  went to E. J. Smith in 1889...busy pieces of real estate.

F. H. Boos, brewer of “Milwaukee Beer” found action as bottler of ginger ale during Prohibition.

R. W. Snyder had no local pharmacy, but prepared medical supplies (“Spirits of Camphor”) and through its successor, the Alden Brothers, produced “Orange Cider” and “Wild Cherry Phosphate.”  The labels are suitable for framing.

The Battle Creek Sanitarium Pharmacy was discreetly secreted into the depths of the San’s basement, emphasizing Dr. Kellogg’s philosophy that drugs were unnecessary in the world of “biologic living.”  One San pharmacist, Oscar Speaker, left in 1926 to begin a retail pharmacy at 22 East Main, a site that probably employed every pharmacist in the county at one time or another before it closed in the 1970s.
Bernard Swonk on the right - a longtime pharmaceutical presence in the cereal city

"For Lease" sign in the site of Speaker's Drugs (now demolished - site is "Mill Race" fountain wall)

2001 research for this project by Jim Middleton, one of the few pharmacists in Battle Creek who didn’t work at Speaker’s Drug Store....but nearly everyplace else that no longer exists.

Saturday, July 28, 2018



(ok, it's near you if you get to Grand Rapids, but keep reading!)
last update: Sunday 12:20 am, 12 August 2018

Connecting animators to animators! Celebrating the Art of Animation! Activities for ASIFA members include a hands-on animation workshop, multiple screenings and an animator’s picnic. An evening animation screening will be open to the public.

Events will be held August 11-12Saturday & Sunday, at the Community Media Center, 1110 Wealthy Street, Grand Rapids, MI. You are welcome to come, join, network, and delve into animation.

- We gather Saturday morning at 11:00 am. Brad Yarhouse, ASIFA Central President will then officially welcome folks and open the events. New members welcome! Come and join our group, and stay for the weekend.

- Join the animating workshop, noon - 3:00 pm, where we will have several animating stations to undertake a short joint project. Try your hand at various techniques, such as using sand, silhouette or 2D sketching! (Bring along your favorite supplies, if you wish.)

- From 3:00 - 5:00 pm (or so), it's "Show and Tell" - SEE the wonderful animation YOU helped to create at the workshop! BRING and SHOW your own projects you are working on right now! HEAR the wonderful stories, gasps of appreciation, and praises as we share our techniques and passions! We will Premiere the new ASIFA/Central Ani-Jam, inspired by the International Animation Day poster for 2018! For "Show and Tell" entries contact Jim Middleton at

- Then, it is time for dinner! Wonderful food emporia are located conveniently to the Retreat.

7:00 - 8:30 pm (or so): More animation! Bridging the past to the present, Chuck Wilson will present the amazing silhouette work of Lotte Reiniger, animation pioneer. Following, will be the Best of the Ottawa Animation Festival, celebrating new international animation curated by the top animation festival in North America. This inspiring screening is open to the public, bring a friend.

- Folks are invited to reconvene Sunday morning 11:00 am, for chatting, mingling, and our annual picnic. This event asks for a $5 participation fee to help cover costs. Picnic location will be at the north end of Riverside Park in Grand Rapids, near the Veteran's home on Monroe. The ASIFA Central Retreat then concludes around 2:00 pm.  There may be cake!

Retreat limited to ASIFA and CMC members only. Memberships available on site.

For more information you can reply to this post or contact Steve Leeper at

"Show and Tell" section on August 11 - thus far:

ASIFA CENTRAL “SHOW AND TELL” for August 11, 2018

Time Presenter                 Topic
3:00         Jim Middleton         Photoshopping Anijammery
3:15         Chris DeWitt         New member, new film
3:30         Dylan Shay         New member (the sequel), and film with friend
3:45         Chris Sagovac Drawn Film Project - 16mm analog experience!
4:00         Mackenzie Mayo Something Amazing This Way Comes
4:15         Lindsay Moore Pen Droppings and Inkish Behavior
4:30         Wrap up discussion (buffer time to 4:45 and next retreat production)

Times may be adjusted for content and space, in either direction!

Be ready to answer some questions -
1. Did you have a particular self-imposed restriction on this project (were you only going to use a specific software, this project being your self-grown tutorial)?
2. What technology(ies) did you use?  (Hardware, software, tablets, lighting systems)
3. What turned out to be your biggest challenge in this production (music rights? Software limitations?  Rendering challenges? Post production output decisions based on distribution platforms?)
4. How did you adapt to the needs of the workflow for the project?  (If it was bigger than you expected, how did you cut or create work-arounds?)
5. What turned out to be your most valuable resource?
6. And just what did you learn from all this?

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"Only You" from "I'll Say She Is"

"I'll Say She Is," a 1924 Marx Brothers musical, never made it to the screen, except for a tantalizing routine that promoted their 1931 film, "Monkey Business."  Noah Diamond reconstructed the musical for a 2014 revival, and it was no small task - so many of the elements were missing, so much was pulled from previous Marxian vaudeville shows, and of course, there was profuse adlibbing.  His excellent book, Gimme a Thrill , details the show's origins and his subsequent detective work in rebuilding this lost Marx Brothers musical.

One of the songs, "Only You," by Will Johnstone (author of the musical's "book") and his brother Tom, was set to record in the pre-electric studios of the Victor Talking Machine company, and it showed up in my collection as a B-side to a Fred Waring recording of "June Night." 

It isn't a great tune, but it offers a sample of what was used as a buffer between scenes featuring Harpo, Chico, Groucho, and Zeppo Marx in 1924.

The book by Noah Diamond, Gimme a Thrill, however, is much more fun, and Amazon has it.  It's probably the best Marx Brothers book since Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Sometimes Zeppo by Joe Adamson.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Magic Show for July 13 2018

"Oh Fudge!" with GM and Dr. C (original version, before the only rehearsal revealed it to run far past its alloted 6 minutes, and that most of the visual jokes wouldn't be visible past the first row of the open air stage) (with yr hmbl typst and Dr. Richard Cooper of WMU)

GM comes on stage, with cart.  Cart contains two stands, a wind up portable phonograph, and art supplies – pastel sticks, four cardboard sheets (black on one side, white on the other). 

GM goes off stage to bring in Dr. C.  Dr. C is apprehensive about being on stage.  He helps GM place the stands in front and winds up the phonograph.
(Now this whole bit has been reduced to having the posts already on stage, and GM and Dr. C coming onstage at the same time.  That saved 34 minutes alone.)

GM produces a record from the turntable, which quickly reveals to be broken.  Dr. C plays the turntable, to the surprise of GM and Dr. C.  They take a Ta Daaaa! Credit for the trick. 

Dr. C’s task will be to keep the phonograph running during the presentation.
(The record was hardly visible, so we just went with the odd image of a wind up phonograph - a Birch portable from the 1940s - and a shellac record of a Hawaiian dance.  Ironically, at the end of the performance it was this record that ended up breaking.)

GM pulls up a cardboard sheet, and then a pastel stick.  He hands Dr. C a sheet as well.  They hand sheets back and forth to each other, with increasing speed, making what seems to be random marks on the sheets.

(The sheets are pre-cut to a template.  The first mark being made is along the pre-cut area.  Dr. C. will draw in the blank portion, GM will draw upon the portion with the faintly sketched lines.  We ended up with just GM doing the sketching, and Dr. C mounting the images on the poles.)

As they complete a color and move to another, they put the used stick into a bag. 

First time, it goes through the bottom to the ground.

Second time, it goes through, but they have a metal bowl to catch it.  Ta-daah!

Third time, they flip the bag upside down, and the stick goes into the bag and stays there. Ta-daaaah!
(This whole bit was dropped, since nobody could tell what was going on past 10 feet from the stage, which turned out to be everyone)

GM uses the broken record as a knife to mime cutting the drawings along the pre cut template.
(Nobody could see the record, so we went with an monstrously large orange cutter.  People saw that!)

The drawings are torn apart at the cut, and are mis-arranged on the posts.

They are re-arranged to show Buster Bronco and the WMU logo at the bottom.

Ta Daahhhh!
(And that, was that - 6 minutes!)
(And one more rehearsal would have been ideal, but live and learn! Maybe next time!)

After a considerable amount of editing.... it was trimmed to 6 minutes on stage, with this clip being the sole document, apparently!  Whew! 92 degrees of fun! (note on "sole document" - cue the mysterious audio track to read out... there .... is.... one.... other.... )