Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Doll

This spookily realistic Kurt Vonnegut Jr. doll comes with a reproduction of one of his books. From Etsy's UneekDollDesigns, which also offers dolls based on the likenesses of such literary notables as Emily Dickenson, Charles Dickens, Alexander Dumas, John Steinbeck, and Ray Bradbury.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Death Of Clerks (And Civilization As We Know It)

How does the demise of the clerk (video store, bookstore, record store, etc.) lead to the end of civilization? Salon has a really interesting article on the subject, casting the clerk as a vital mediator and disseminator of culture currently endangered by automated systems and the Internet:

"The years following the 2008 market crash have been hard on many people. But due to other transitions in the economy and culture – the continued trickling-up of wealth to the very top, the “storm of innovation” unleashed by the Internet, a growing faux-populist disregard for expertise — certain sectors have been hit harder than others. Shop clerks, however erudite, don’t fit into the most influential definition of “the creative class” – urban scholar Richard Florida considers these folks members of the service class, about which he is not optimistic. But they’ve been, over the decades, important conduits between consumers and culture — and a training ground and meeting spot for some of our best writers, filmmakers and bands."
Bookstores and video rental shops were also places that creative people, in-between jobs and/or trying to find themselves, would flock to. Yeah, it was sort of like a service-job...in an awesome place filled with culture! I worked at a video store my first years in college, and the constant flow of movies -- many of them indie/experimental/foreign -- provided a sort of inspiration/distraction from my more mundane duties. Best of all were the lively discussions me and my co-workers would have with the regular customers, recommending our favorite films and learning about new ones.

Now that many of these types of stores are just about history or struggling to survive, the people who thrived in these jobs turn to the very avenue that has made their occupations irrelevant -- the Internet. The unpaid blogger replaces the culture-savvy clerk, once again becoming Culture Nexus. Only this time, unless they monetize their site in a significant way or a paid gig -- they aren't making their income doing so. Big difference:

"In a world of rapid technological advance, where even some highly trained lawyers and medical pathologists are in trouble, the humble clerk doesn’t stand a chance. The out-of-work video store clerk, blogging in his bedroom for free, may be a kind of canary in the cultural coal mine. We don’t always get warnings before our livelihood – or our lives – suddenly change. But the signs today, of a new kind of creative destruction, are getting harder and harder to ignore."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Time Richard Pryor Was Erased From The Superman III Magazine

I'm a big fan of Superman III --me and Michel Gondry might be the only ones who are. So at a comic book convention several months ago, I was quite stoked to purchase the Superman III Poster Magazine, circa 1983, for around $3 (cover price!).

Interesting thing about this magazine -- produced by the go-to publisher for such things at the time, Starlog -- almost every trace of Richard Pryor being in the movie was omitted.

Pryor was a top-billed actor in the movie (second only to Christopher Reeve), playing computer genius Gus Gorman. This was at the height of Pryor's career, and as a result of Superman III the actor/comedian signed a 5-picture deal with Columbia. (It is said that Pryor got the Superman gig when producer Ilya Salkind saw him on The Tonight Show praising Superman II).

So why "scrub" Pryor from the Superman III magazine? I mean, there is hardly any trace of his character or his name anywhere in this publication, and no picture of the standard movie poster with Reeve carrying Pryor. No images of him in the posters, and, strangest of all, he's simply skipped over in the character profile section.

To give you some perspective on this, imagine if the high-paid "guest star" of a current blockbuster film -- his or her character integral to the plot -- was nowhere to be found in the official movie magazine. It would seem odd, no?

After reading over the magazine several times, I've found three mentions of Pryor/Gorman. The first is this sentence from the "Making Of Superman III" article, referring to the part of Gorman: "The role fell to comedian Richard Pryor, a confessed Superman fan." That's the only mention of Pryor. Then two mentions of Gus Gorman when explaining the poster images, though he is never depicted.

Concept poster art from the Superman III fan site

There can be several reasons for this. First, perhaps Pryor's handlers didn't give permission to use his image, or asked for too much money to use it. That's entirely possible, and similar things have happened in magazines and other licensed product containing the likenesses of actors. But then what was the point of spending so much money on Pryor to co-star in Superman III if he wouldn't approve likenesses for publicity reasons? It seems counter-productive. I mean, he was in the trading cards, on the cover of the novelisation, and in the UK poster magazine.

The infamous giant foam cowboy hat
Another possible reason: backlash against the character himself. Certainly, this role was not the best use of Pryor's considerable talents. In a nutshell: this was a smart, often acerbic and aggressive comedian playing a buffoonish, clown-like character, wearing different funny hats and doing wide-eyed doubletakes at everything. As a Superman fan, Pryor deserved better. And though he did have that 5-picture deal after Superman, most of Pryor's further movie roles only replicated this cartoonish, slapstick template. I guess this whole issue of him and Superman III haunts me to this day for the incredible lack of respect he got through the entire process.

And it almost looks like Gus Gorman was "grafted" onto this plot rather than being an organic part of it (supposedly Gus was was originally going to be Brainiac, and the victim of the infamous robot-transformation scene at the end). Was this done simply to make a buck off of Pryor's fame? Critics and fans alike blamed Pryor's inclusion in the picture for making it overly-campy. To this day, nobody (except maybe Michel Gondry, though I have not asked him) seems to be happy with Gorman (or, let's face it, Superman III).

So did the magazine just minimize his role in the film because he was unpopular?

Perhaps we will never know. It's a pretty small, nitpicky thing, anyway -- though the issue seems to have continued to the present day. Here is the DVD case for the latest edition of Superman III:

Again -- Pryor is gone. Though at this late date, we could simply point at the unpopularity of the Gorman character as being the culprit (Robert Vaughn seems to be the big winner in all this). I mean, almost every aspect of the Superman movies have been reflected on/winked at in the subsequent TV series, movies, and comics such as Smallville. But what about Superman III? It is almost as if, like Pryor's partcipation in the movie, everybody (except that rogue Gondry) just wishes it had never existed at all.

Oh, and in case you are wondering: there are two images of the scary robot-lady in the magazine, though, unfortunately (or fortunately), no posters.

Cool Holiday Gift Ideas I Found Browsing The NBC Store

We are still in the midst of last minute holiday shopping, and one of the places we checked out was the NBC store. They do a really great job merchandising series like Community and Parks and Rec, creating cool swag that organically relates to the shows and their characters:

Troy and Abed in the Morning Mug
This is the gold standard in Community collectables as far as I'm concerned, a must-have for fans of the show:

Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness Poster
Should be required for any office cubicle, fitness room, or food preparation space:

Dundler Mifflin Paper Ream
I'd buy this not to actually use, but to show how ironically hip I am. Though at $9.98 price-point per 500 sheets, it's not terrible if you just want the paper:

Teddy Pierce Holiday Figurine
This just because I'm a fan of Chevy Chase and this is going to be the closest I'm going to get to having an action figure of him. Though it looks like more of one of those "evil teddy bear" collectable figurines:

Kelly Kapoor Bobblehead
...and this is the closest I'm going to get to having a Mindy Kaling action figure:

Greendale Community College "Go Human Beings!" T-Shirt
It's always fun to wear tees of learning institutions that don't exist in real life:

The Many Faces Of Ron Swanson Poster
Swanson-humor never gets old, never gets played-out: