Entries for March 2006

March 31, 2006

Idea: “Less is.”

The phrase “Less is more” has become ubiquitous enough that, in keeping with the spirit of the expression, I think it should be shortened to simply, “Less is.”

March 29, 2006

Idea: The Ishihara Triptych

The Ishihara Triptych

Remember when you were in third grade and the school nurse gave you that test to see if you’re color blind? The one where she shows you a circle made up of smaller colored circles and asks you what number you see? That test is the Ishihara Test of Color Vision.

I’m fascinated by perception, especially by the uncommon traits that make some people’s perception different than the rest of us — color blindness, tetrachromatism, synesthesia, monocular vision, etc. I also enjoy original art. I decided to combine the two interests by making a triptych out of three Ishihara color vision test plates.

At greater expense than I anticipated, I obtained a set of Ishihara color vision test plates. I picked out three plates that I felt looked good together, and blew them up to a size suitable for framing. The entire finished triptych, seen above, hangs above my bed. I think it makes a compelling piece of art.

It’s titled “57-74-8, or 35-21-3”

Want to make your own? Click each thumbnail below to download a high-res image you can download, print out, and frame.


March 28, 2006

Idea: “What’s your AIM Name?”

Did you know that AOL’s recently launched slogan for AOL Instant Messenger is “I AM”? Aside from being offensive to oversensitive religious people, it’s really, really lame.

I suggest a new slogan: “What’s your AIM Name?”

It’s so easy. It’s simple. It rolls off the tongue. It rhymes. It’s fun to say. It’s a sentence people will find themselves actually using in real life. Imagine a whole ad campaign revolved around “What’s your AIM Name?” Ads can show people meeting each other in bars, at school, in business meetings, etc., asking each other, “What’s your AIM Name?” It works in a million different scenarios. Then the announcer or ad copy can ask the viewer, “What’s your AIM Name?”

What's your AIM Name?People will think of the ad when they’re meeting new people. They’ll swap information. They’ll ask for your phone number and your AIM Name.

It can even be reinforced by the product itself. Logging on to AIM right now, it just asks for your “ScreenName.” But the product itself can ask “What’s your AIM Name?” when you log in.

Now if only I can find a use for all those free AOL CDs…

60 Seconds in the Life of a Staircase

Part 6 in an ongoing series of (approximately) 60 second films.

I almost named this one “60 Seconds in the Life of a Guy in a Sweater Vest”

60 Seconds in the Life of a Skater Boy

Part 5 in an ongoing series of (approximately) 60 second films.

March 27, 2006

Idea: Design for a WTC Monument

I know, designing your own WTC memorial is so 2002. But it’s been years since the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition, and there’s been next to no progress on actually building anything. Last week, some dirt was moved around and people got angry about it. So I’ve been thinking again about my own monument design that I came up with a few years back, but never actually rendered. It’s nice to finally get it out of my head and on paper. Er, pixel.

WTCWhen viewed from one direction, my memorial resembles the original towers. It stands tall and proud. It’s big and bold. Its height depends aesthetically on where it will be placed — in a memorial park, I assume — but I imagine it being really tall, the tallest thing in the park, peaking out above the tallest trees, or (since the tallest trees will eventually grow) in the middle of a clearing. The names of the September 11 victims who lost their lives are engraved in lines on the faces of the towers, like the lines of windows on the buildings.

WTCSo viewed from one direction, it looks like the towers themselves. But when viewed from another direction, the monument becomes an empty shell. It’s a reminder of how fragile the towers were, and of the empty space they used to occupy. It’s very, very simple. Hopefully it’s also poignant.

In my original vision, these were as big as the original towers, becoming part of the city’s skyline in the same way the original towers were. Viewing Manhattan from one side, you’d see the towers’ silhouette and the skyline looks just like it used to. Viewing from another direction you’d just see the outline of where they were. It’s a grandiose vision. But probably not realistic, so I shrunk it down to a size suitable for placement in a park.

To get the best view of the monument, and really convey how it looks, I’ve put together an animated fly-around that shows it from all sides.

And for those who might be interested, a note about how I created these images and the animation is after the jump.

A note about how I created these images.

I used a program called SketchUp. I loved it enough to heap the following unsolicited praise.

I’d never heard of SketchUp before I read last week that Google acquired them. And neither, apparently, had the Google Toolbar spellchecker, which thinks I’m writing about ketchup.

Anyway, when I came up with this monument idea several years ago, I drew sketches of it, but none of them really did the idea justice the way a 3D rendering could. But I knew nothing about CAD and the learning curve seemed steep. I considered building an actual 3D model, but what would I do with it once I’d made it? I have no room for such a thing in my apartment. But after viewing SketchUp’s demo on their website, I realized I’d found a tool even I could use. SketchUp makes 3D rendering easier than sketching. Seriously. I downloaded the free trial version (fully functional for 8 hours), watched the tutorials for about 15 minutes, and put all this together in about an hour. None of my sketches of this concept ever looked this good. It’s a cool product. I congratulate them on their recent successes.

March 25, 2006

Thanks for the hits

My entry about Pre-Pixelated Clothes generated a lot of traffic this week, thanks especially to links from the following websites: TVGasm, Defamer, MSNBC, USA Today, Wired, Entertainment Weekly, Fark, Digg, Kottke, Consumerist, the Morning News, and about a hundred other blogs.

I didn’t really expect that much attention. Thanks for putting my little blog on the map!

March 24, 2006

Lost in translation

I’ve finally had time to watch the most recent episode of “Lost.” I was shocked to see this in a subtitled scene:

Lost error

“You’re husband… he works for your father.”

Um… I know that the writers sneak all sorts of subtle clues about the show into the dialogue, the scenery, and elsewhere, but I assume this one was a legitimate mistake.

March 23, 2006

Idea: Advertisements on the overhead bins

The overhead bins

Look, I didn’t say it’s a good idea. I admit that it’s ugly as sin. Every bit of empty space in our lives is slowly being taken over by ads, so why would I want even more? Well, have you noticed how expensive your airplane tickets are getting? Airlines are filing for bankruptcy protection, seats are getting less comfortable, and you’re asked to pay $6 for a box of stale crackers on a flight.

I was on a plane yesterday, and I noticed that with all the ads they were showing us on the overhead TVs, and all the ads crammed into the in-flight magazine, there was all this prime advertising real estate overhead that wasn’t being used. You already see overhead ads on the subways, on buses, in taxis, and on trains. Sometimes you’re even glad it’s there so you have something to look at to avoid eye contact with the person sitting across from you. So what’s a little more advertising on another mode of transportation?

I’m not even sure I should file this under “Ideas.” Maybe I need a category called “Predictions.” This seems sort of inevitable to me.

Animated Manhattan: The Simpsons

Part 4 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

SimpsonsDuring their ninth season, The Simpsons came to New York. And many of you will never see that episode again.

The episode, titled “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson,” featured the Simpson family taking a trip to Manhattan to retrieve the family car. Barney had borrowed it, and left it illegally parked in front of the World Trade Center. While Homer goes to the WTC to straighten matters out, the rest of the family goes sightseeing.

SimpsonsThis episode first aired in 1997. At that time, the twin towers were still standing. Much of the episode takes place at the base of the towers, with some funny moments inside, also. But after the attacks of September 11, 2001, would anybody want to see this episode ever again?

SimpsonsNow that several years have passed, some stations are beginning to show the episode again. A San Francisco station only showed it last year for the first time since 9/11. And according to a Wikipedia article about this episode, some stations are airing a version with all references to the WTC removed.

SimpsonsIt’s too bad, too, because there are some truly funny moments in this episode. I loved Homer dancing in a field of toilets, his imagination’s depiction of what Flushing Meadows (a neighborhood in Queens) must be like. Sure, there are some neighborhoods in this town that smell like a toilet, but it’s not that bad.

SimpsonsSometimes when tourists come to New York, they avoid the subway at all costs, even when taking a taxi is the slower, more expensive way of getting around. They’re afraid they won’t be able to manage it, or they’ve heard bad things about it. But not the Simpsons. Bart even tries his hand at panhandling, before realizing that it’s best left to the experts.

SimpsonsThe Simpsons even manage to fit in a horse-drawn carriage ride in Central Park. I would have recommended against the carriage ride, as an overrated and overpriced experience, but I’m glad the episode manages to get the Park in there somehow.

SimpsonsAnd I love this shot of the Chrysler Building Empire State Building (d’oh!). Of all the depictions of New York in the episode, this image has the most architectural detail. It’s one of the city’s most beloved buildings, so it’s fitting that it was given the extra attention.

IMDb Rating: N/A
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 8/10

(My rating is for the episode’s depiction of NYC only)

March 22, 2006

Idea: An album of Misirlou covers

(This entry’s alternate title: What do a surfer, a belly dancer, and a Rabbi all have in common?)

MisirlouIn January, I heard an incredible story on NPR about the song “Misirlou.” You know the one. You heard it during the opening credits of Pulp Fiction. It’s the surf-guitar song by Dick Dale. It goes “Dow di-di-dow-dow dow di-di-dow-dow di-dowwwwww…” Yeah, that one.

Well if you didn’t already know (I sure didn’t) Misirlou is actually even older than Dick Dale (no offense, Dick). It’s been recorded in different manners, with different instruments, and different tempos, by dozens of people over the years. It’s a Rabbinical chant, an old Greek tune, a belly-dancer’s song, and eventually a surfer hit.

You owe it to yourself to listen to the Weekend Edition story and hear snippets of different versions. And you can even hear Dick Dale explain how and why he turned that song into the surfer classic it’s become.

I wanted to hear more. So I put together an iMix in iTunes with every version that wasn’t just like the one before it. So here, for your listening pleasure, an album of Misirslou covers (iTunes required).

March 21, 2006

Idea: A website for reviewing restaurants in airports

I do a fair amount of travelling, and I don’t always have time to eat before I leave for the airport. Sometimes I get stuck in terminals for hours due to layovers or delays. And one thing I’ve learned is that there is an enormous inconsistency in food quality at airport restaurants.

airport cafe
Photo: tspauld / flickr
Most of them are just awful. Everything’s greasy, undercooked, overcooked, or just plain tastes bad. There’s butter slathered on everything. But every now and then I eat at an airport restaurant that’s delicious. I might as well be eating at my favorite restaurant, that’s how delicious it is. I’ve been to airport restaurants that served as test kitchens for famous restaurants. And I never would have known about them if I hadn’t stumbled upon them.

So why doesn’t someone build a website that reviews restaurants in airports? That way when I’m taking advantage of the terminal’s wi-fi connection and I realize I’m getting hungry, I can hop on-line at whatever.com and see what the best restaurant in my terminal is. Or if I know I’ll have a big layover in Chicago, I can look up the restaurants before I go and see what gets the best reviews?

Unfortunately, I really do have air travel to do this week, and I can predict I’ll be in a rush getting to the airport and won’t have time to eat first. Can anybody recommend a good restaurant at Miami International?

Idea: A poster for a dorm room.


No statement about war intended, so don’t read too much into it. He just looks so much like he’s daring me to do it…

March 20, 2006

60 Seconds in the Life of a Taxi Meter

Part 4 in an ongoing series of (approximately) 60 second films.

500 bonus points go to whoever figures out on which street this was shot. No, make it 5,000 bonus points.

Idea: Pre-pixelated clothes for Reality TV shows

Pixelated ClothingI don’t watch much Reality TV, but I’ve seen enough of it to notice an on-going phenomenon: Someone wears a garment with a trademarked logo or artwork on it, and the producers have to pixelate it beyond recognition in post-production. Of course no Reality TV star wants their shirt, which displays their well-chosen article of self-expression, senselessly pixelated so nobody can see it. But no Reality TV producer wants to deal with the headache of removing said article of self-expression to avoid trademark violations. The pixelation process seems like an awful lot of trouble to go through for something that could have been avoided with a little pre-planning.

Pixelated HatSo I’d like to introduce my new line of pre-pixelated clothing for Reality TV shows. If you’re going to be on a Reality TV show, you can buy one of these fine products and save someone a lot of headaches later. In fact, if you live in an area where a reality TV show is taping, you should think about getting one of these shirts in case you get caught in the background of a shot. And if you’re heading to audition for a Reality TV show, maybe you should wear one of these shirts to the audition so they know that you’re really serious about Reality TV.

Available here in these and other fine styles:

Update: Hey, this little post has become popular! So now I get to say, “As seen on: TVGasm, MSNBC, USA Today, Wired, Entertainment Weekly, Defamer, Fark, Digg, Kottke, Consumerist, the Morning News, Boston.com, C|Net, and about a hundred other blogs.” Thanks!

Update: And now I’ve made the New York Magazine Approval Matrix!

March 16, 2006

Animated Manhattan: Sundae in New York

Part 3 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

Sundae in New YorkThe 1983 Academy Award winner for Best Animated Short was a stop-motion claymation film called Sundae in New York directed by Jimmy Picker. It featured a then-mayor Ed Koch character singing “New York, New York” as he makes his way from scenario to scenario throughout the city meeting different people like Frank Sinatra, Rodney Dangerfield, Alfred E. Neuman, Woody Allen, the Statue of Liberty, and more.

Sundae2Starting with a view of the Manhattan skyline, it’s easy to see that there’s not a lot of detail. But it was 1983, and Jimmy Picker didn’t have a huge set to work with. In fact, each shot shows barely anything wider than would be possible to fit on a small tabletop set. The opening, which pans down from the skyline to Central Park, shows more background than in any other scene. In terms of scope, this is clearly no Wallace and Gromit.

Sundae3But the limited set doesn’t detract at all from the short film’s charm. The song is familiar so it hooks you right in. Even someone who isn’t familiar with New York politics will find the Ed Koch character entertaining. And the caricatures of various celebrities and personalities are usually spot on. The scenarios depict different stereotypes from New York life, so while the settings may not be expansive, the characterizations make up for it.

Sundae4I remember back in 1983, Jimmy Picker was on a TV show (I think it might have been the Leonard Nimoy-hosted “Standby… Lights! Camera! Action!” on Nickelodeon, but I may be wrong) and he showed off the various clay characters which he stored in a normal kitchen refrigerator to keep from melting. The fact that it has stuck in my head this long shows how entertained I was by it that I remember it after all these years, diminished only by the fact that I have a sneaking suspicion my memories may have made the whole episode up.

Sundae5So by now you must be wondering how on Earth you can get to see this short film. Well, it was put out on a DVD called The World’s Greatest Animation several years ago, but it’s now out of print. According to Amazon.com, you can purchase a used copy starting at $149.99. And of course you can always try eBay.

Or, you can just head over to YouTube, where it looks like someone has put the movie up for your viewing pleasure.

IMDb Rating: 6.7/10
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 7.5/10

(My rating is for the film’s depiction of NYC only)

Watch “V” on-line for free!

vcover.jpgSo yesterday AOL launched its new free TV On-Demand service called In2TV where you can watch old TV shows from the WB archives on-line. I figured it would be pretty lame. I was imagining episodes of “Friends” or something. But I went and checked it out. Guess what’s there! V! You can watch V for free! 10 episodes!

The show’s description: “A race of aliens called Visitors comes to Earth and announces their peaceful intentions. But what do they really want with us?”

Those of you who remember the show probably have fond memories of Donovan leading the resistance against the alien leader Diana. Those of you who don’t remember the show will wonder what all the fuss was about. For the rest of us, though… pure nostalgia.


The Hall of Fame Hall of Fame

Announcing the first inductees to the Hall of Fame Hall of Fame:

Rock and RollInventorsWomenCountry MusicCowboysCollege FootballCowgirlsRockabillyVolleyballScience FictionBowlingAviationAmerican PoliceRobotsTexas RangersAutomotiveEcologyThoroughbred RacingMotorsportsRadioSongwritersGymnasticsAmateur SoftballAgricultureWrestlingBicyclingClownsHockeyFresh Water FishingHackersUkeleleToysPirate RadioAnagramsComputersTeachersMiningFigure SkatingAd SlogansExplorersMotorcyclesAstronautsQuiltersDanceSnowmobilesPolkaFlight Simulator SceneryHawaiian MusicKites

March 15, 2006

Balabananza, the Convention for Bob Balaban Fans.

BalabananzaThere should be a convention for Bob Balaban fans called Balabananza. Imagine:

People show up dressed as their favorite Bob Balaban character. “Look, I’m dressed like Enid’s Dad from Ghost World!” “Hey, check out that guy who’s dressed like Bob’s character Ted Marcus from that episode of The West Wing that he guest starred in during the 2000 season.” “Woah, that guy has every detail perfect from Bob’s costume in Gosford Park!”

There could be panel discussions with topics like:

  • Warren Littlefield vs. Russell Dalrymple - An examination of how one actor plays two NBC executives

  • The Wallace Shawn Controversy - Was it right for Bob to play William Shawn in Capote, when his own son Wallace Shawn is such an accomplished character actor?

  • My Boyfriend’s Back - What went wrong?

Bob’s costume from Close Encounters on display at Balabananza 2005
Celebrity guests on the panels could include people Bob’s worked with, like Brian Sawyer, director of Tex the Passive-Aggressive Gunslinger and that guy who played Guffman in Waiting for Guffman who I can’t picture for some reason right now (not Paul Benedict).

And there could be a whole area for vendors. You know, companies that sell Bob Balaban merchandise. Vendors like Balabanana Republic — the finest purveyor of octagonal-framed glasses — and Elmerson Entertainment, the video game company whose long-awaited terrorist-hunting game “Balaban vs. Taliban” is scheduled to finally hit stores.

It would be great. I can’t wait to go.

Update: Merchandise from Balabananza ‘96 is now available as part of the “Merchandise from Events that Never Happened” series.

March 14, 2006

Original Wallace and Gromit only worth £6,000. Total.

Remember back in October when a fire destroyed the warehouse where all those Wallace & Gromit props and sets were stored? Well, now the insurance company has paid up. And the value they put on the destroyed Wallace & Gromit characters is surprisingly low. As The Sun reports:

Insurers Norwich Union put a combined price of only £6,000 on the heads of the plasticine duo, who have just scooped their FOURTH Academy Award. They ruled Wallace was worth £4,000 and his hound £2,000.

Apparently Wallace is worth more because he has more moving parts and clothes, and is therefore tougher to recreate.

60 Seconds in the Life of Escalators

Part 3 in an ongoing series of (approximately) 60 second films.

Happy Pi Day

πToday, March 14, is Pi Day. Pi is often approximated as 3.14, so apparently 3/14 is a day to celebrate that famous irrational number. It also happens to be Albert Einstein’s birthday. I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do in celebration, but here is Pi to one million digits.

The Wikipedia entry on Pi Day points out:

The “ultimate” pi moment occurred on March 14, 1592, at 6:53 AM and 58 seconds. When written in American-style date format, this is 3/14/1592 6:53.58, which corresponds to the value of pi to twelve digits: 3.14159265358. However, considering this was well before any kind of standardized world time had been established, and the general public had no concept of π, the occurrence likely went unnoticed.

Animated Manhattan: Antz

Part 2 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

antzcoverThis time, we look at Antz, the computer-animated Dreamworks film about an ant named Z-4165 (called simply “Z” by the other characters) voiced by Woody Allen. Typical of Woody Allen characters, Z is depressed, in therapy, and feels pretty insignificant. This isn’t surprising, considering he’s one in a billion ants living together in a giant ant colony. It’s easy to get lost in the crowd.

The film starts out reminiscent of Woody Allen’s movie “Manhattan,” with a big silhouetted view of the Manhattan skyline:


But a lighting change quickly reveals that we aren’t looking at Manhattan at all, but an extremely close-up view of some blades of grass:


The camera then pans down, through the ground, and we meet our character Z for the first time, talking with his therapist. This begins the story of how one little insignificant ant can rise up, find love, save his colony from destruction, and save the day becoming a big hero.

At the film’s conclusion, Z is surrounded by his new love, and his whole colony, in the aftermath of the great battle that ended the film.


The camera pulls back, showing the size of the crowd…


…and we see again how insignificantly small all those ants are…


…and that they’re even smaller compared to their anthill…


…which, it turns out, is in the middle of a park…


…with trees, grass, a water fountain, and garbage…


…it’s probably Central Park, by the looks of it…


…and finally the camera reveals that the story has been taking place in the middle of Manhattan, showing the skyline in all its glory.


While the movie wasn’t as good as many other cartoons, I loved the conclusion. I thought it was a great way to reinforce the notion that all those little ants are, after all, pretty insignificant compared to the scale of the big city. And living in Manhattan it’s easy to feel like an ant toiling away, and that Manhattan is one giant ant farm.

Of course, the final shot is an impossible depiction of the Manhattan skyline. Looking South from Central Park, the Plaza Hotel is in the right place, and both the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building are in approximately the right places, too. But the former AT&T Building (now called Sony Plaza) is rotated 90 degrees so we can see its Chippendale-style top. And the former Pan Am building (now called the MetLife building) has been transplanted to a front-and-center location where it doesn’t belong. And of course the World Trade Center is really so far downtown that it should not be looming so high above Central Park. But while the details are wrong, the overall feeling is right.

IMDb Rating: 6.9/10
BCDb Rating: 8/10
My Rating: 7.5/10

(My rating is for the film’s depiction of NYC only)

Idea: A commercial for batteries

A commercial I’d love to see, using borrowed footage from the movie “Say Anything…” with new footage integrated. Picture this:

battery adIone Skye is upstairs sleeping in her bedroom. Outside, John Cusack stands below her window with a boombox held up high over his head. He’s blasting “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel. Ione wakes up. “…the light, the heat (your eyes), I am complete (your eyes)…” Where’s that music coming from?

Down below, the batteries die in John’s boombox. He can’t believe it. Now, of all times! The camera pans over to a shorter, geekier guy standing a few feet away, holding a boombox over his head, too. It blasts, “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You” by Glenn Madeiros. We see that it’s powered with [whatever brand] batteries. Ione goes to her window and sees geeky kid down below. His boombox blares. “One thing you can be sure of, I’ll never ask for more than your love…” She swoons.

[Whatever brand] batteries. Nothing lasts longer.

March 12, 2006

60 Seconds in the Life of Steam

Part 2 in an ongoing series of (approximately) 60 second films.

This one is called “60 Seconds in the Life of Steam” and was filmed at 42nd Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan.

Viral Life imitates Bad Art

A few days ago, überblog BoingBoing linked to a “silly short video” of a grandma kicking a baby. I watched it, and they were right. It was silly and short.

But what caught my eye was the still image from the clip that they used for their entry:

It looked so familiar. And then I remembered the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA), the “world’s only museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms.”

The MOBA was founded when a particular oil painting, later dubbed “Lucy in the Field With Flowers,” was pulled from a streetside garbage. The woman in the painting, later identified as Anna Lally Keane, bears a striking resemblance in pose and wardrobe to the woman in the viral video.

And any excuse to tell people about the wonders of the Museum of Bad Art is a good one. So here’s a link to MOBA and here’s a link to the story behind the painting. Check it out.

March 11, 2006

They seemed so much happier as citizens

Seen in Newark International Airport, this advertisement for the Army National Guard:

As soon as I saw it, I had to wonder whether or not it was sending the message it is meant to convey.

I mean, I can’t help but think that they seemed so much happier as citizens than soldiers. Look at those happy smiling faces. They’re relaxed. Enjoying life. And now look at them when they’re soldiers.

One girl even seems to have a look on her face as though to say, “Please help me. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I want to come home.”

Update: I just noticed the following in my visitor log (IP address redacted by me):


It looks like someone’s paying attention.

March 6, 2006

Lou Costello’s 100th Birthday

whosonfirst.jpgToday is the 100th birthday of Lou Costello, the shorter, funnier half of the comedy duo Abbott & Costello. As far as I can tell, there isn’t much attention being paid in the media, but I think Lou Costello’s centennial is worth celebrating. As a kid, I used to wake up on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons, and then I’d change the channel to our local non-network-affiliated station for “Abbott & Costello Theater.” They would show a classic movie or TV special, usually featuring an Abbott & Costello routine like their famous “Who’s on First?” or “Susquehanna Hat Company” bits.

I assume most people have at least heard of them. But if you’ve never actually heard an Abbott & Costello routine, do yourself a favor and give it a listen.

If you have more time, I also recommend these full episodes of their classic radio show, and a visit to the Official Abbott & Costello Website hosted by their families and featuring extensive audio clips in the “media” section. You can also watch a couple of their full-length films on-line for free: Africa Screams and Jack and the Beanstalk. Finally, visit the official fan club for the latest news and info.

March 1, 2006

Animated Manhattan: Fritz the Cat

This is the first entry in a continuing series examining New York City as depicted in animation. I have a long list of animated films — features, shorts, hand-drawn, made with clay, made with computers, popular, and obscure — that take place at least partly in Manhattan. I’ll be sharing some images and examining how New York City is portrayed in each film.

Kicking things off: 1972’s “Fritz the Cat,” directed by Ralph Bakshi and based on the comic books by Robert Crumb.

This movie, the first x-rated cartoon, follows Fritz the Cat on his drug-filled sex romp in search of love in Manhattan. The movie begins with a gloomy view of Times Square, and eventually takes our hero from his NYU haunts downtown, all the way up to Harlem on his adventures. Here is how the movie is described in the Fritz the Cat entry in Wikipedia:

The animated film is a satire on college life of the 1960s: while Fritz doesn’t attend any classes during the movie, he participates in major social upheavals based around the popular college protest movement of the time. Fritz invites several girls to his “pad” for an orgy, does a lot of drugs, escapes when the place is raided by the police, takes part in organizing an angry, violent mob that riots against “authority” (without actually figuring out what the target of its anger is), is briefly associated with a protest group similar to the Black Panthers, and apparently “dies” at the film’s climax (before coming back for one final roll in the hay with his nubile girlfriends).

Crumb has famously stated that he detested Bakshi’s film — so much so that he killed off the character in his comics, by having an ostrich-woman stab him in the head with an ice pick.

Most of the movie takes place in lower Manhattan in the 1960s, in and around Greenwich Village. When we first meet Fritz, he’s hanging out with a hip crowd in Washington Square Park.

Even today, Washington Square is home to folk singers and other musicians. In the 1960s, it was especially so. As a college student in Greenwich Village in the 60s, it’s not surprising to find Fritz hanging out with musicians in the park.

Occasionally the movie gives us broad, sweeping views of Manhattan as establishing shots for upcoming scenes. This overview of lower Manhattan shows off the gloomy monochromatic pallette with which much of the film is painted:

Under the closing credits, actual photographs of locations around Manhattan are shown, real-life versions of the neighborhoods Fritz hung out in. The last photo depicts the same view of Times Square that we see as the opening shot. Here is a side-by-side comparison:

I have to say, I didn’t love this movie. But its depiction of New York City was okay. Manhattan can be shown sparkly clean or dingy and dirty. It can be colorful or gray, cheerful or gloomy. Fritz’s life in this movie consists of just a lot of meaningless sex and drugs. The mostly subdued colors and monochromatic depiction of Manhattan presents an adequate background for his adventure.

IMDb Rating: 5.9/10
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 6/10