Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday Night Tomfoolery (6)

Richard Henry Sellers (known as Peter to all and sundry) was born in 1925 and died in 1980. During those 55 years he became one of the Western world's best known comedians. In 2005 he was voted as the 14th top comedian but fellow comedians.

My previous Tomfoolery referred to his work as Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies, however his comedic work extended to radio, live performances and a variety of movie and television roles. I'll be looking at only a few of his works. This is a random selection and you'll note that I have not kept to any chronological (or any other) order. I hope this doesn't serve to confuse.

In the sixties, Peter Sellers produced a number of Beatles songs, covered using various accents, mostly in spoken word. Included in these are Can't Buy Me Love, She Loves You - both Irish and German, but my favourite, and probably the best known is Hard Day's Night, in the style of Laurence Olivier's interpretation of Richard III:

From the Beatles I am jumping forward to one of last works, on The Muppet Show (future Tomfoolery gold in them thar Muppet Shows!). Peter Sellers appeared on the Episode 43 in 1978, as various characters, including Inspector Clouseau, a viking, a gypsy violinist and a hillbilly.

Parts 1 and 3 can be found here and here. Here is the middle section of that show.

In 1969 he teamed up with Ringo Starr in The Magic Christian, a satirical story about how money can indeed buy everything. The movie is noted for the large supporting cast of household names (John Cleese, Spike Milligan, Richard Attenborough, Christopher Lee, Yul Brynner, Raquel Welch, Roman Polanski and Graham Chapman, just to name a few). Here is a scene found on Youtube with John, Peter and Ringo:

In 1958 The Best of Sellers came out as an LP (for all my younger readers please refer to your parents as to what an LP is, or was). Included on this album are the following two tracks: The Trumpet Volunteer - an interview with rock star Tommy Iron, and Party Political Speech - showing that political speeches haven't changed a great deal since 1958.

FUN FACT NO. 1: Peter Sellers was the first male (and one of only 3) to appear on the front cover of Playboy magazine. This was back in April 1964.

Between 1951 and 1960 Peter Sellers, together with Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan and Michael Bentine created and appeared on The Goon Show originally heard on the BBC. A mixture of brilliant nonsensical humour, astonishing accents and bizarre sound effects were the hallmarks of this show. The Goon Show inspired later comedic artists and groups including Peter Cook, Monty Python and, surprisingly, The Beatles.

Here are just a couple of items from the Goon Show. The first is - What's the Time Eccles? - with Sellers as Bluebottle (?) and Milligan as Eccles.

And here is The Yeti - Part 1. Part 2 can be heard here.

Other stories from the Goon Show that can be found on YouTube include King Solomon's Mines, The Siege of Fort Knight, The String Robberies, and Ned's Atomic Dustbin.

There are so many other works that can be included here, including his Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangeglove, the much acclaimed Being There, his last movie The Fiendish Plot of Dr Fu Manchu, or his serious role in Lolita. I will finish tonight with some scenes from one of my favourite Peter Sellers' movies, The Party. There is a very "late sixties" feel to this movie, it involves an elephant and a massive pool party, music by Henry Mancini and Sellers in the role of Hrundi V. Bakshi, "a bungling Indian actor accidentally gets invited to a lavish Hollyood Dinner party and "makes terrible mistakes based upon ignorance of Western ways (from a quote in Wikipedia). The first scene I have is essentially the opening of the movie as Bakshi ruins a large set piece being filmed in the style of Gunga Din:

The second and third are the famous Birdy Num Num scenes (there are a couple):

And the final is the baby elephant in the pool scene. This leads us to next week's Tomfoolery on elephants on Youtube.

Have a good week.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

On The Drum - Political Press Release Dressed Up as Opinion

The Drum is part of the ABC website and features commentary/articles not only from ABC writers and journalists but from the public at large.

A look through the list of contributors show a number of politicians, comedians, amateur bloggers, academics, non-ABC journalists, business leaders, lobbyists and other government types.

The purpose of The Drum is, and I quote “Analysis and views on the issues of the day”. This will mean that people will often write views that will most likely will be in keeping with their political leanings, whether left, right, green, communist, etc.

Now normally this doesn’t bother me too much. The last few weeks, however, you cannot read a media site without falling over at least a dozen articles scathing in their criticism of the Gillard Government with only a small handful of articles actually mentioning, if not discussing, some of their accomplishments.

Now don't get me wrong here. I do not, for one moment, think that this is perfect government, nor do I think the prime minister has been blameless in all this. Areas that have not gone well for the government include:
  •  The asylum seeker debate has been nothing short of atrocious; as each party seeks to outdo the other in how they low they can go. As the son of a refugee (Hungary – 1956) I have a small inkling about the mindset of people fleeing their homeland and what they go through to make their family safe. For those that did not watch it, I highly recommend the recent series on SBS, Go Back To Where You Came From as additional food for thought.
  • The discussion and decisions made in respect of the mining tax ended up as a win for the mining industry. The government should have gone in much harder, and it seems that our current leaders do not have the necessary fortitude to go up against these mining giants. It seems like all you need is a few million dollars to mount a scare campaign and the government backs right down.
  • The carbon tax debate has been poorly executed by the government, at least in terms of how it promotes its message to us, the voting public. This is, however, a “work in progress” and will leave final judgment until the legislation is announced, debated and passed.
These are a few of the biggies, anyway.

Now offsetting this are the achievements that the government has made in the last twelve months:
  •  First of all, it is in government. Yes, it was a piss poor election campaign but at the end of the day it was Julia Gillard that has the support of the independents and not Tony Abbott. Since then there has not been one piece of legislation that has been rejected by parliament. So, for the time being, I believe this to be a success. I certainly doubt that Tony Abbott would have managed it.
  • The Australian economy is still one of the best performing in the world. Yes we have the mining industry to help us there, but the mines do not employ a significant percentage of the overall workforce. Yes, previous government policies (both Howard and Hawke/Keating) have created a good base for our economy. However the decisions made by, first, Rudd, then continuing with Gillard, in respect of cash payouts, the BER program for schools etc has certainly assisted us in avoiding recession. We are still in uncertain times, as the current Greece issue shows, however our country will have a better chance than most in avoiding a significant downturn.
  • The National Broad Band Network will be seen in the future as a significant infrastructure development for the country, in much the same way that the Snowy Hydro Scheme was praised last century. This week the government moved a step closer to ensuring this will happen with agreements with both Telstra and Optus concerning the transfer of existing infrastructure and customers. Many will argue that governments should not own and operate infrastructure of this type. Having seen how private enterprise can stuff up on large scale infrastructure (electrical asset maintenance in Kilmore is one that readily springs to mind) I can only disagree.
So, as you can see, my opinion is some wins, a couple of losses and some work still in progress. Which is why I find it harder and harder to accept some of the commentary being published looking for Gillard’s scalp as she has apparently “failed’ in this last twelve months.

The tipping point for me was an article read on The Drum composed by Kevin Donnelly. Kevin is currently the Director of the Education Standards Institute (actually a private company that likes to think of itself as a "think tank") but was previously known as the former Chief of Staff to Kevin Andrews (former Minister of the Howard Government). Yes, this should have sent alarm bells ringing but I read it anyway.

Having built up a fair head of steam, I then let rip with this response (now published on The Drum):
It is hard to know where to start in finding fault with this article.
It could be the pointless comparisons that are made between all our prime ministers since 1972 (I seriously doubt you could have properly made those observations about any of our prime ministers after they had been in the job for 12 months. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?)
It could be the glossing over of John Howard's reason for longevity as Prime Minister (the misconception of the last 30 years in politics is that you "knew what he stood for" - he was a pragmatist and flip-flopped as much as any other politician has, or will).
It could be the irrelevant inclusion of an observation made about a documentary made "a few years ago" (so empty bookshelves and an inability to find time to cook are pointers to someone not being fit to be prime minister? What rubbish!)
It could be the tired attempt at the suggestion that her choice of career vs kids or married vs unmarried somehow changes her view on a number of policy matters, in an unconstructive way (an example or two would be useful if you want to bring up that hoary old chestnut again).
It could be the incorrect use of the Peter Principle (I cannot see how you can say she has failed or is acting incompetently. You have not provided any examples of failure, just cases of work in progress, or random perceptions.)
It could be the fact that the article fails to discuss or at least acknowledge the successes that the Gillard has had in the last 12 months, and there have been many, not least of which is successfully managing a minority government.
It could be all of these things combined. Or it could just be that the whole article smacks of a Liberal Party press release in order to take advantage of the media hype that is the one year anniversary of this prime minister.

I think this came about because I had been sick in bed with a stomache bug all yesterday. Being incapacitated for such a long period of time means that sooner or later my normally active mind needs to have an outlet to let off steam, and here it was. I felt much better after writing that.

Have a nice day.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday Night Tomfoolery (5)

Tonight we are going to look at the Pink Panther.

Since I was very little I recall the famous Pink Panther in a variety of settings. Movies, music, cartoons, ads; I even have a vague recollection of a Pink Panther show bag at the Royal Melbourne Show, when I was a young lad. In more recent times I have a somewhat hazy image of a stuffed Pink Panther toy, being used as a punching bag (I won't say any more about that one, lest I incriminate some of my old band friends!)

The first actual reference to the Pink Panther occurred in the first of the PP movies, in 1963. Titled The Pink Panther, it starred David Niven, Robert Wagner and Peter Sellers (one of the best comic actors of all time), as the bumbling French police inspector Jacques Clouseau. This comedy centres on the theft of Pink Panther, the largest diamond in the world, so called because a) it's pink colour, and b) a tiny flaw in the diamond resembling a leaping panther.

Here are the opening credits of the 1963 movie, introducing not only the movie but a) the animated pink panther character and b) the very well known title piece, composed by legendary Henry Mancini.

(I do apologise for not embedding this Youtube into my blog. For the very first time I have come across a video where the embed function has been disabled. Anyway, follow my link, as its worth a look).

After this initial movie Peter Sellers fronted up as Jacques for another 5 movies, with one more movie made after his death, using previously unused material.

The names of those movies were:
A Shot in the Dark (1964)
The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)
The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)
Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) and
Trail of the Pink Panther (1982) with David Niven returning as Sir Carles Litton

I recall seeing most, if not all of these of television when I was young. Whilst I haven't seen these in recent years my recollection of these movies are they were harmless comedies, without much violence (if you exclude the slapstick scenes in all the movies, and without much of a love interest, which is good when you are under 13.

In addition to the above movies there have been another 5 produced. The first one was actually made in 1968 and titled Inspector Clouseau, and did not have either David Niven, Peter Sellers or Henry Mancini involved with the film.

The second movie was Curse of the Pink Panther and was made in 1983. This movie was an attempt to reprise the Inspector Clouseau role, with it played by Roger "007" Moore. It failed.

The Son of the Pink Panther came out in 1993. The less about this one the better, although it did have an interesting take on the traditional movie theme (more on that later).

It was unfortunate that in recent years some studio exec thought that it woud be good to reprise the Pink Panther "franchise". Steve Martin played Clouseau in both the 2006 and 2009 movies, but I think it was not a wise move for him to be involved (and I think Jean Remo must have been paid a lot of money to appear - in both movies!).

OK, so that's the movies.

Henry Mancini's music credits include are too long to mention here (and no doubt will form the basis of a future Sunday Night Tom Foolery). The Pink Panther movie music is probably his best known work, and The American Film Institute rank the music Number 20 on their list of the greatest film scores. Here is a video of the theme, with Henry Mancini himself playing piano. (Embedding once again disabled)

This music has been arranged to be played by many different ensembles. Apart from the trombone choir (shown last Sunday) here are a couple of other enjoyable ones. Firstly played on the Baritone Saxaphone:

Bobby McFerrin recorded an arranagement of the theme which was then used for the 1993 movie, Son of Pink Panther. Here it is for your enjoyment:

And just because I can, a heavy metal version:

As mentioned earlier the opening credits of the original movie were with an animated pink panther. This animated cat then developed a life of its own, spinning off to its own cartoon series, The Pink Panther Show. Directed by Friz Freleng (of Looney Tunes fame) this series ran for 11 years.

The Pink Panther was also appropriated by ACI in Australia (and Owens Corning, it seems, in the USA) to sell Pink Batts (home insulation). It seems they are still running ads using the panther, as can be seen on their website.

Well that's my trip down memory lane tonight. I'll leave you all with this scene from the first Pink Panther movie, with Peter Sellers (our topic for next week) at his best.

Have a good week.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday Night Tomfoolery (4)

Tonight, we look at one of the most versatile instruments in the world, and how groups of them together sound good.

That instrument is the trombone:

Trombone, in Italian, means large trumpet, which is sort of true. A member of the brass family of musical instruments, trombones can be found in a wide variety of musical groups, including classical orchestras, big bands, brass and concert bands, rock groups, blues, jazz and everything in between.

Having played the trombone since I was 13, I am a bit biased in saying that the trombone is a wonderful instrument to play and to listen to. The concept of playing this is rather straight forward to understand, if somewhat difficult to master.

First learn to buzz with you lips. Then make that same buzzing sound into the mouthpiece (the small end of the trombone) and a sound will eminate from the bell (the large end of the trombone). Changing the pitch of that sound is achieved through a combination of moving the slide of the trombone in and out and by changing the type of buzzing that your lips are making. See, pretty simple.  There are heaps of Youtube videos if you want to learn more about how the trombone works, like here, here, here and here.

Whilst trombones are normally seen playing with other instruments it is not all that common to hear trombones playing together, either in groups of 4 (quartets), groups of 5 (quintets) or more (trombone choirs). Thankfully the second best invention of the last 100 years, (Youtube) allows us to find and experience music played by nothing but trombones.

First of all we go to a young group of 4 musicians calling themselves Maniacal 4 Trombone Quartet playing the Super Mario Theme (what is it with this music, it appears everywhere!)

Next is the Pugh/Taylor project, with David Taylor, Bruce Eidem, Eijiro Nakagawa and James Pugh, with a funky piece being the last movement of 1822: Rossini's visit to Beethoven.

Now moving up to 5 trombones. Based in Yokohama, Japan, here is a quintet playing Rossini's William Tell Overture (the fast bit).

A few years ago, when I was playing with Box Hill City Band, this piece featured heavily in our repertoire. Called Buglers' Holiday, it was not originally composed as a trombone piece. However this trombone quintet makes a pretty good fist of it (though it does get just a little rough towards the end).

Moving up to 24 trombones now and here is Jack Quinby and "Coro trombones de la Americas" playing Scarborough Fair:

The last couple of pieces are from the CD The London Trombone Sound. The group was created by getting together 16 trombone players from the top 7 orchestras in London. Read here for a review of the CD

I really enjoy listeninng to the CD. I do have a couple of favourites which I shall leave you with (not much to see here, it's more enjoyable listening).

The first is a piece that I have been fortunate enough to have played with Footscray-Yarraville Brass Band. It is a brilliant arrangement of a classic song from Eric Clapton, called Layla:

The second is from the same album, but with an added 60 players, making it 76 trombones playing 76 Trombones (I really like the opening homage to pretty much all the standard trombone solos in classic music):

Back to 16 trombones, and the final piece (and our link to next week) is the Theme from the Pink Panther movie:

Have a good week.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sunday Night Tomfoolery (3)

Tonight, a celebration of music.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750). A gifted instrumentalist (harpsichord, organ, viola and violin) and one of the best known composers of the Baroque period of music (1600 - 1750).

Bach in 1748.  Cool wig.

Bach wrote an absolute truckload of music during his time. The Brandenburg Concertos, The Well-Tempered Clavier, and (if you were [un]lucky enough to have studied Music B in VCE in 1988 - I did) the Christmas Oratorio are just a few of his many, many, works that are both well known and still performed today.  But perhaps the one piece that is instantly recognisable by everyone above all others is his Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (which, for ease of typing, we'll shorten to just "T&F").

Now T&F was orginally composed for organ, but my guess is that for most people this is not how they would have first come in contact with this piece.

Anyone who is a Disney fan, and has seen Fantasia (the original one created in 1940, not the 2000 version) will have heard this piece arranged for orchestra (conducted by the great Leopold Stokowski), and accompanied by graphics in a way that only Disney could.

At the other end of the spectrum, is the synthed up version arranged and performed by the 70s/80s music group Sky (a future tomfoolery topic I think). Yes, I am a fan of Sky and have all their CDs. However I originally remember hearing this piece played as backing music for a video of some sort of speed-boat trip along a river (does anyone else remember this?) which was used on many occassions during early morning cartoon television on Channel 7, as a 3 minute filler before the next Hanna-Barbera cartoon came on.

This piece was on their album Sky 2 (yes, they had very imaginative titles for their albums; see Sky, Sky 3 and Sky 4 for other brilliant titles), and was the only single of theirs to have had any sort of chart success. Here is their orginal music video of T&F:

Some of you music purists out there are now saying "but what about it being played as it was originally intended?". Before I further insult your music senses, here it is being played on an organ (and quite a nice organ it is too).

Now T&F has dozens and dozens of versions on it on YouTube, from the brilliant to the ridiculous. I thought I would now include a couple of truely question-inspiring performances.

Here is a performance on floor-piano, an excellent way of combining exercise with music performance. I think this is recorded somewhere in the USA, given the way the crowd whoops and tries, unsuccessfully, to clap in time.

Here is T&F being played on something described as a glass harp. This appears to be a lot of different wine glasses, all pitched differently using varying amounts of water, being played by rubbing the rim of each glass. Listening to it, it does get quite annoying after a while (but it might just be because I have a blocked ear at the moment).

Canadian Brass, recently judged (somewhere) as one of the best (and probably one of the most famous) brass quintets in the world, has an arrangement of T&F. Here is it, played live as found on the DVD, 3 Nights With Canadian Brass.

The last two for your viewing pleasure.

The first is T&F being played by California Guitar Trio, one of the best Guitar trios going around at the moment:

The final piece (and a clue as to what next week's Tomfoolery will be on) is T&F performed by Extreme Trombone Quartet. Such sounds! Such virtuosity!