Friday, June 26, 2009
Yesterday I was at Nickelodeon in Burbank picking up some work. While the computer guy was rendering out the animatic I walked over to the kitchen, through a crowd of ten-year-old kids and their stage mommies and daddies sitting nervously in the lounge waiting for an audition for some new show. I was getting myself a diet coke and cursing the pile of domino boxes for their emptiness CNN on the bigscreen announced 'BREAKING NEWS!' Breaking news in LA is usually a brush fire, a shoot-out or a car chase but in this case the announcer went nuclear...Micheal Jackson was dead! The North Koreans are aiming nukes at Hawaii, the Iranian protesters are having their legs broken with lead pipes and their faces slashed with straight-edged razors, the Chinese are demanding an alternative currency to the dollar, a virulent strain of the flu is engulfing the human race and the US government is taking affirmative steps to achieve the same standard of living for its citizens as exists in Jamaica; all this silly trivia was pushed aside in a second as a fleet of helicopters became airborne and began doing large circles between Jacko's rented pad up in the hills and UCLA Med Center down in Westwood.
It brought me back to the late eighties. It was a tough time in the animation biz. Hanna had sold out and Hanna Barbera was closed. The Disney debacle was happening and the hapless Disney family had paid some greenmailer so much money to drop his hostile take-over and 'The Black cauldron', one of the worst animated movies ever made, had lost so much money that they were making drastic staff cuts.
I was working for Filmation and moonlighting by doing special effects on rock videos. I did one very tricky and complicated job for this guy that had a small production house down in Hollywood and he called me in to his pot-smoke filled office one evening and offered me a gig working on Micheal Jackson's movie 'Moonwalker'. It was a substantial raise from being an FX animator on 'He-Man' and working at Filmation was depressing. When I told the head of the FX department I was quitting he went ballistic and screamed I just lost my seniority (a joke) and that I'd never work there again. He was right--Loreal bought the studio and closed it three weeks later, putting the entire 600-person staff out of work with little hope of getting another animation job. That was the first benefit I got by working for Mikey.
My 'boss' was an editor named Dale, a condom advocate in his free time who had his little office plastered with Captain Condom posters. My bigger boss was named Jerry an entertainment lawyer who decided he was a director and had such a strong personality that no one dared to argue with him about it. He and Mikey's manager Frank, a rotund Italian gentleman who looked like the kind of guy who kept a torture chamber in the cellar of his mansion for those carefree moments when he wasnt intimidating poeple in his professional life, were running the show.
This wasnt one of those jobs where you actually had to go there every day and show up at some arbitrary time, two of the worst aspects of any employment in my mind. We would think of stuff we wanted to do and write it down on a legal pad and Dale would get in his bashed-up VW bug and chug over the hill to Mikey's parents pad on Havenhurst in Encino where he was living at the time and Mikey would give the go-ahead or tell Dale to come up with something else. It fried Jerry that Mikey and Dale got on so well.
Jerry grew to hate Mikey with a passion. They would set up a shoot and tell Mikey to do something and he would say no. A director's nightmare and Jerry's own personal hell. He was definitely not used to hearing the word 'no' without 'problem' following it closely. But Mikey had the whip-hand and he used it on mean people who thought he was a wimp who could be bullied. Jerry was a slave to Mikey's quirks. he sat in meetings where twelve year old friends of Mikey (one of them know around the studio as Jimmy Sure-Shot) had more input than executives from Paramount. Jerry was known to smash furniture and throw loud tantrums after these meetings.
I would go over to 'Ultimate', the name of the studio, whenever they phoned me up or when I had something to show them. It was right across from Cedars Sinai in West Hollywood, the part of town with the most screwed-up traffic and legendary for its voracious parking meters. All of the few spaces at Ultimate were assigned but if you parked in a space on the street and got a ticket you could just lay it on the accountant and they would happily pay it. I could go into any art store and buy any art supplies that I needed and be instantly reimbursed in cash with no questions asked. My conscience still rankles at the beautiful set of paintbrushes that I purchased, used on one shot and kept. There were others with less conscience, but they were fools. this is a small town and getting a reputation as a sleaze can cost you a lot more than you can steal from an open-handed employer like Mikey.
On Fridays I would drop by to get my check. The head accountant, an extremely beautiful, elegantly-coiffed gay guy had a gray box full of cash that had 'Micheal' painted on the side. 'Michael' took anyone who wanted to go to lunch. 'Michael' didnt take us to Pinks on Melrose for a sidewalk chili dog, either. One drop of Pink's chili would have caused hundreds of dollars of damage to some of the outfits that were worn so fashionably by the 'Ultimate' staff so we restricted our jaunts to restaurants in Beverly Hills or on the Westside that were a little more upscale. The first time I opened a menu in one of those joints in almost lost control of my sphincter muscles. Appetizers were fifty bucks, and this was in the eighties when prices were 50% lower than they are now.
"I know it makes you nervous but you have to order an appetizer or we'll all be real mad," teased one of the women. When I got home and told my wife I'd just had a $200 lunch she got mad and asked whether I could have just asked for my share of the lunch in cash. No, that would have been uncool and being uncool was the worst thing you could have done. 'Michael' took us to some amazing joints, as Gary, the controller, knew all the best little bistros in downtown BH.
One sunny Sunday my daughter and her friends were playing out front and Katy was hit by a car and rushed to the hospital. I phoned up the office and told them what had happened and that I wouldnt be able to work for at least a week. The accountant phoned me back and said that they had mentioned it to Michael and he had told them just to mail me my checks for the next three weeks and to not worry about working. The next day we were sitting by Katy's hospital bed when a burly guy came in wheeling a gigantic monstrosity of a flower display. There were balloons with teddy bears inside of them peaking out of the exotic flowers. Everyone at Ultimate had signed the card and Dale had run over to Encino and gotten the MJJ scrawl. The hospital staff were suitably impressed.
I would do a lot of my shooting down at a tiny animation camera service down in Hollywood. That left me in a crime-filled part of town at two am, rushing the exposed film from the camera service to CFI to get there before the overnights turned into expensive daylights. The cameraman I worked with was this cat named Chris who would occasionally stop shooting to snort lines of coke off of a grubby mirror. He called it 'go powder'. I had reformed myself by that time but was still in the game enough to spot the tell-tale yellow of methedrine mixed in with the crap he was snorting. He didnt care. We would work all night sometimes. Shooting whatever variations we could think of.
Mikey was doing one of his incognito journeys down to the beach in Venice and found an old wino who had a guitar, a drum on his back attached to a string and a harmonica wired to his face who called himself 'The Amazing One-Man Band'. Michael paid him $100,000 or some vast sum to be in 'Moonwalker'. Jerry went ballistic, screaming that he could have hired this jerk for fifty bucks. Jerry hated when people wasted money without him getting a chunk; it was a kind of focused thriftiness. But he hired several camera crews and a temporary editor and a couple of assistants to deal with the hundreds of feet of film they were shooting down in Venice. Somehow Pepsi donated a huge amount of soda to the shoot. The small offices of Ultimate were filled with cases of Pepsi and Sprite. When I turned up that day they said that I had to take as many cases as my tiny Datsun would hold. My wife cracked up when I turned up back home with thirty cases of soda loaded into my car, the hatchback tied with twine to allow more cases. One of the assistant editors on this sequence was this guy from Texas who would tell tales of wandering around bars in Hollywood with the guy who played 'Data' on the new Star Trek, looking for women. He was Data's wing man. They worked like fury on this for several weeks. Meanwhile Mikey split for a tour in Europe. Jerry cut the sequence together, flew to Rome, rented a movie theater and grabbed Mikey (not easy) to screen 'The Amazing One Man Band' sequence. Michael turned to him and said, "That's really nice Jerry but I dont think it fits." And walked out. We were all ducking Jerry for the next couple of weeks after he got back. He was in a rage.for a week after he got back.
The rap party was a hoot. The band he had toured with, including Cheryl Crow, was there. They rented the posh DGA theater on Wilshire. There was a mountain of shrimp and lobster and a fountain that poured liquid chocolate onto a mountain of strawberries. Moet Chandon flowed like water.
As the production ended Michael's tour played LA, down at the sports arena. there were tons of tickets floating around Ultimate and I went to see him twice. Both times he was fantastic. You shouldnt be allowed to say anything about Mikey if you've never seen him perform live. I've seen James Brown. Bob Marley, Pavarotti, and a million others and Mikey was The King Of Pop! He rocked. the show was wonderful. the crowd responded to every move with hysterical applause and delight. He was the best.
So now he's dead. Everybody is obsessing about what a freak he turned into one more time but there should be a word about the kind side of MJJ. He saved me from a terrible year of unemployment, paid me highly, let me dream up my own projects and, although I never met him personally, sent me some really complimentary messages through Dale. He hated hustlers and bullies and although he didnt have any personal contact with the artists who worked for him he treated us with kindness and respect. He had a horrible life. People who are happy dont shoot up demerol. He had something that the crowd loved and that love killed him. This is the biggest celebrity death since Elvis. I hope his torments are over. Rest In Peace, Mikey.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
In 1945 an ailing president, who never should have been elected to a fourth term, negotiated a treaty at Yalta that betrayed our British allies and turned over to a dictator who was as brutal as Hitler half of a continent. Stalin, who had proven himself a craven coward in his negotiations and alliance with Hitler had no fear of the capitalist democracies. FDR was more concerned about British colonialism than he was about the ten percent of Eastern Europe who would be shipped east into the gaping maw of the Gulag. In fact, FDR and most Democrats at the time saw Stalin as a benign progressive ally. They had the same lack of belief that the Gulag existed as they had about Hitler's death camps. FDR never did one single thing or uttered one word of protest about either. FDR had ignored Stalin's mass murder in the countryside during the collectivization drive of the early thirties, the mass arrests in the cities in the late thirties and the alliance with Hitler.
The Yalta Treaty was a day of national humiliation for a nation that had the only viable economy in the world and was near to testing nuclear weapons. It cost us a half-century of Cold War.
Sixteen years later our country had elected an amphetamine-popping magazine-ad pretty boy
with no experience doing anything substantial because of an impressive PR campaign orchestrated by his gangster father. The first response from Nikita Khrushchev to the election of this hapless effete Harvard weakling was to build a wall between East and West Berlin, an action he wouldnt dare take during Eisenhower's tenure. JFKs response was to fly to Berlin and announce that he was a doughnut. That cringing weakness encouraged the thug Khrushchev, who had been one of the clique of gangsters who had murdered their boss when it looked like he was going to conduct a purge against them, to become more aggressive and build bases for nuclear-tipped missiles ninety miles away from us in Cuba. The Air Force wanted to bomb the sites before they were operational. That was too much for a weakling like JFK. He ordered the Navy to board the missile-carrying ships and turn them around. In the subsequent negotiations he traded the removal of US missiles from Turkey for the Soviet removal of the one's in Cuba. We've been hearing about this humiliating show of weakness for the last half-century, presented as the sole triumph of our fallen Martyr.
But the fallen Martyr was replaced by LBJ, a protege of FDR who dreamed of a new New Deal, The Great Society! The mess the Kennedy brothers had created in Vietnam by conniving in the assassination of the strongman Diem slowly exerted a gravitational pull. Johnson dithered. The NVA and VC didnt respect the borders of Laos and Cambodia but LBJ did. He always shrank from strong measures, thinking he could bribe Ho Chi Minh into a negotiated settlement. When the VC emerged from their ratholes to be slaughtered in the Tet Offensive Johnson ignored his military, who wanted to follow up their victory and end the war, and instead listened to the wimpish sniveling of Walter Cronkite and the rest of the peacenik media and ordered the army to go on the defensive while he dropped out of the presidential race, called a bombing halt and pleaded for negotiations. That speech that he gave that day in March was another national humiliation, unnecessary and unearned, throwing away victory in a storm of self-pity and cowardice fomented by another Democrat.
How can I catalog the humiliations of the Carter Years? There are so many! The Canal given away? The soulful kiss to Brezhnev in Vienna as they signed a Salt II treaty that guaranteed Soviet superiority in Europe? His refusal to stop the Cubans in their invasion of Katanga? His endorsement of the Soviet-run bloodbath in the Horn Of Africa? His cringingly weak response to their seizure of Afghanistan? No, when I think of Jimmy The Jerk I see him cringing, trembling in the White House, cowed by a tenth-rate Middle Eastern country who had violated international law by taking everyone in our embassy there hostage. He could have announced a B-52 strike to level the holy city of Qom in seventy-two hours unless the hostages were released. The mullahs had just purged the Air Force of all their Palevi-oriented pilots (all of them) and had NO defenses of any sort. Instead of demanding the hostages at the point of a gun Jimmy The Jerk decided, after months of hand-wringing, to steal the hostages back from the mullahs. I remember the humiliation that I felt as the sad story of our failed 'rescue mission' was related on the news. It was a humiliation our entire country felt.
You could say that Ford sitting idle while the NVA violated the Paris Peace Accords was such a moment but his hands were tied by a Democrat-dominated Congress determined to hand the South Vietnamese over to slavery and death. Reagan not responding to the attack in Beirut and Bush 41's refusal to destroy the Republican Gaurds, both at the behest of Colin Powell, were equally humiliating but both of those presidents had shown the will and the nerve to stand up for our country's interests in most other areas and Reagan rebuilt the military after the years of Congressional rule under the weaklings Ford and Carter.
With BJ Clinton it was back to the national humiliations we have come to expect of Democrats. These arent misjudgments taken in response to bad advice like those of Reagan and Bush, these are conscious decisions taken because their knowledge of the nature of reality is flawed. The Clintonoids included a top economic adviser who did her doctoral dissertation lauding the economic system of Ceausescu's Romania. Clinton bugged out of Somalia after eighteen Rangers were killed as a result of his trying to conduct that operation on the cheap and in tandem with the incompetent UN. He refused to take custody of Bin Laden when the Sudanese offered to deliver him to US custody. His 'response' to the embassy bombings in East Africa was so ineptly done and was so obviously driven by his need to divert attention from his committing perjury on national television that it enters the list of national humiliations along with BJ and The Little Woman openly taking bribes from the Chicoms. The Great BJ humiliation moment is when he stood in Tienanmen Square, scene of a bloody massacre by the People's Liberation Army of people demanding basic political rights, with his hand over his heart as that same People's Liberation Army marched past.
But then there was Bush. He was forced by events to stand up for his country. His reward from the Democrats was rage. He was compared to Hitler. He was said to have lied to invade a completely innocent nation that was no threat to us or our interests. The Islamonazi opponents of our country were invited to left-wing universities and lauded, even ones who openly admitted oppressing women and executing homosexuals. Even if you take the clownish attempts by Condi to roadmap the blood feud between the Arabs and the Israelis Bush actually had a fairly strong foriegn policy. He refused to participate in the idiocy of Global Warming, an attempt to hobble the industrialized countries and transfer wealth to the developing world.
But today our national humiliation is back on track. Our President has made a speech in Cairo that should make everyone stupid enough to have voted for a back-bench do-nothing first term Senator, a radical who spouts the most errant nonsense as though it is revealed truth, to hang their heads in shame. To watch his facile butt-kissing to 'The Muslim World', assalaam alykum, was to burn with shame. Barry mentioned that he was a Christian, a Reverend Jeremiah Wright Christian of course, but then waxed poetic about Islam in a way that should make anyone with any knowledge of history raise an eyebrow. His family comes from a long line of Muslims in East Africa, did they? And who were the Muslims in East Africa? They were slave traders thats who they were. Barry is proud that he comes from a long line of slave traders! It got worse. If you have any friends in Israel phone them up now and tell them how much you care about them...they might not be around much longer. He called for total Hamas control of the West Bank and Gaza; for the Israelis to accept the right of Hamas to shoot missiles across its border without response: for the right of Iran to nuclear power (so it seems our enemies can drill for oil and build nuke plants and we're stuck with a bunch of lousy windmills).
If you voted for this pumpkin-headed 'student of history', every one of whose examples of Islamic achievements were so wrong-headed as to be laughable, then you're as ignorant as he is. This radical clap-trap in the interest of sucking up to what the geniuses in Hillary's state department mistake for some monolithic ethnic interest group,'The Moslem World', but what is in fact a continental-sized, extremely diverse mass of ethnicities, shows how ignorant and misguided the Obamunists are. What is the goal of this nonsense? How does it advance our interests? Do they really think the entire world is going to turn into a larger version of the European Parliament? Isnt that a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature and history?
If his knowledge of history doesnt include any knowledge of the contribution of the Greeks to algebra, the Chinese and Gutenberg's development of printing, and all the rest of the things he got wrong in that passage about 'Muslim contributions' then you have to wonder about the quality of the rest of his thinking. This part of the speech sounded like a manifesto issued by some sophomore in Political Science at Harvard, trying to get a 'B' in his Modern Ethnic Studies class taught by a William Ayres-type dessicated sixties radical by making up phony 'achievements' for a favored ethnic group. Because of the education they received these geniuses have the most screwed-up perspective on the world that its possible to have. They're as ignorant as the Clintonista who praised the Romanian economy in her dissertation and as ignorant as the academics who awarded her a PhD for her efforts. Everything they know is wrong. And you elected them because Barry wasnt that ugly old Bush or that snarling old McLame. He promised something new but he's turned out to be a standard left-wing radical. Hugo Chavez is making jokes that him and Fidel are to the right of Comrade Obama. But its not a joke. Barry is what would have happened if Henry Wallace had been kept as Vice President in 1944. He is what would have happened if Adlai had beat Ike.
One more outrage. Women's Rights. Barry's take on this was that Pakistan, Bangla Desh, and Indonesia all had had women presidents but the US needs to struggle with women's equality! Of course, if it wasnt for him we would be cursed with a woman president, and I still thank him for that; but what did our Secretary Of State think of that passage? But the implication is that we have a lot to learn about Women's Rights from our new Muslim friends.
He made these remarks in a city where young girls routinely have their clitoris removed without anesthetic by the exacto-knife wielding local witch woman so that they wont be able to feel sexual pleasure and disgrace their families in the eyes of God. 'Honor' killings and the killings of young wives for their dowries happen all the time in Cairo. If a wife disagrees with her husband he is within his legal rights to beat her as severly as he feels she needs. He can divorce her in an instant any time he likes and keep 100% of the marital assets and the children, who are his property, if he wants them. Woman are not welcome in many public places without a male relative accompanying them. Is Obama calling this the direction we have to 'struggle' toward?
This speech was a disgrace. Its a disgrace to the people who voted this politically-correct ignoramus and his Ivy League crew of muddle-headed Stalinists into power. The people who cringed at every timid reference by Bush to Christianity are gushing with joy at 'assalaam alykum'-- a wish of Peace given only to fellow Muslims! So today we have another chapter in the national humiliation delivered to our once-proud nation by a series of liberals. They've gotten progressively worse until we have arrived at the bottom with Barry. He praises savagely brutal systems and denigrates freedom in our own country. He has put us under the thumb of the Chicoms by his reckless spending and under the thumb of OPEC by his refusal to consider a rational energy policy and now he's crawling to our enemies in the pathetic hope that they'll 'like us'. I fear for my country.