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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Goofus and Gallant - A Balancing Act

In our entire lives, I would estimate that we make thousands of choices, if not millions.

And, for the most part, I’d like to believe that we are all capable of making mostly good choices.

But then there are times in which we knowingly make choices that are poor.  I’d even go one step further and say that most of us have made some decisions that could best be described as a total goof-up.

I know that I have had my share of really bad decisions in my lifetime.  I reckon that since I started up my Thursday Confessional section earlier this year, I’ve confessed to quite a few lapses in judgement.  But, the question is, can it really be considered a true goof-up if we learn from our mistakes?

I’d like to think so.

We’re all human.  We all make mistakes.  But whatever doesn’t kill us eventually makes us stronger and wiser.  Well, unless you’re one of those people who absolutely refuse to learn from past mistakes, in which case, maybe this blog entry isn’t for you.

Over the course of our lifetime, we’re more or less responsible for our own moral codes and belief system.  Mind you, everyone in the world has their own individual beliefs and moral codes, but I want to believe that most of us in our lifetimes have formulated a basic sense of what is right and what is wrong.

I’d like to think that for most of us, we learned the difference between right and wrong from our parents, siblings, or extended family.  But, some of us may have had a mentor growing up.  Some of us might have had a teacher who supported us and guided us to success.  And in some cases, we might resort to looking towards a higher power to help guide us in our decisions. 

I’ll readily admit that in my case, how I was brought up highly influenced the way that I make decisions in my day-to-day life. 

But, I also had additional influences to add on top of that.

I’m pretty sure that growing up in the 1980s (in which practically every sitcom was family friendly and presented a moral in each episode), I may have been slightly motivated to make choices based on the same ones that my favourite television characters made themselves.  I also credit the many teachers that I had over the years to show me the way (or in the case of teachers who were not as patient or understanding, show me the way NOT to).

But today’s blog subject is about a couple of magazine characters who also influenced my ability to make decisions that would improve my decision making skills and steer me on the road to happiness instead of plummeting down the steep slope of misery.

Have you ever read the magazine known as Highlights for Children?  I’m sure if any of us have been inside the waiting area of a dentist office, free clinic, or the emergency room of a hospital, you might have flipped through the inside pages while waiting to get a filling, or to get in to see a doctor.  Highlights for Children magazine has been around quite a long time.  The first issue was published way back in June 1946, and over the last sixty-five years has since surpassed one billion copies in print!

The magazine was founded by Garry Cleveland Myers and his wife Caroline Clark Myers in Honesdale, Pennsylvania.  Mr. Myers had a degree in psychology from Columbia University, and together with his wife, he would teach illiterate soldiers from the United States Army how to read.  These experiences lead to the pair pioneering the concept known as elementary education.  They also wrote several books together, and Mr. Myers had a column entitled “Parent Problems” that was nationally syndicated.

Having a strong desire to share their knowledge in education, Garry and Caroline began working for a magazine called “Children’s Activities”, which allowed both of them to discover and learn new things, while refining the information that they already knew.  Eventually, the couple would take that knowledge to start up their own publication.  Soon after Highlights for Children became available, the couple eventually bought the very magazine they used to work for and amalgamated it into Highlights for Children.

So now that you know the story behind the creation of Highlights for Children, what does this have to do with making good choices in life?

Well, in 1948, Garry Cleveland Myers created a cartoon strip featuring two little boys.  The artwork for the strip was originally done by Anni Matsick, and the strips always consisted of two panels.  One panel showed one little boy doing something that could be considered very naughty, such as forgetting to take a message from a telephone caller, or cheating on a test.  The other little boy on the right hand side would always do the right thing.  He would take detailed messages if anyone called his house should the person not be there, and he would NEVER cheat on a test.

Truth be told, whenever I would pick up a copy of Highlights for Children, I would always try to find this comic strip, just to see what mischief the troublemaking boy did, and what nice thing the nice boy did.

The comic strip was a feature known as Goofus & Gallant.  Goofus being the bad seed, and Gallant being the goody-two-shoes.

And, yes...I’ll admit it.  Goofus and Gallant were sort of like my kiddy conscience when I was growing up.  Doing things the Goofus way meant that I usually got punished by my parents, or had to stay inside for recess.  But, doing things the Gallant way meant that I got some perks and rewards, or even a simple “good job”.

I’ll admit that in my early childhood, I used to be a real Goofus of a kid.  I would do some of the craziest things humanly possible.  One time, I remember finding a pillow that belonged to my sister and coloured over it with Cadomark brand markers.  You know, the markers that had the funny smell and were one hundred per cent PERMANENT?  Yep.  Goofus moment.

Or, the time that I took all of the puzzles inside my kindergarten classroom, took them apart, and buried all the pieces in the indoor block pit?  Oh yes.  Goofus moment to the extreme.  I still remember the teacher forcing me to put all the puzzles back together.  It took me half of the afternoon to do!  But, I never ever did it again!

And, we won’t be discussing the Goofus moment that involved myself, a flooded sink, and my sister’s cosmetics vanity in the bathroom falling off of the wall, smashing her cosmetics all over the floor and making our bathroom smell like Exclamation perfume for two whole weeks afterwards.  Yeah, that’s a Goofus moment that I would really like to forget.

But, over time, my Goofus ways would eventually give way to the Gallant that I believe happens to be inside of all of us.  By eighth grade, I think that I was ‘Gallant’ enough to get through an entire day without experiencing one Goofus moment. 

I’d say that at the age of nearly 31 years old, I generally live life mostly like Gallant...though admittedly a few Goofus moments pop in there once in a while.  But, that’s perfectly fine with me, because I believe that to have the best possible chance in life, you have to keep your Goofus level in balance with your Gallant level.  I’m not saying that your Goofus and Gallant levels have to be fifty-fifty.  In my case, I think it’s more like seventy-thirty in favour of Gallant.  But trying to be all Goofus or all Gallant isn’t exactly the best way to go.

I think it’s pretty obvious why it’s not a great idea to attempt to become a perfect Goofus.  Goofus always makes poor decisions, is often self-centered, and is probably not the best role model for anybody.  I certainly can’t see adult Goofus lasting very long in any sort of job.  Heck, Goofus could very well be a high school dropout for all we know.  I doubt we’ll ever find out what Goofus would be like as an adult because Goofus has been eternally ten years old for over sixty years.  But, I doubt that he would ever be regarded as a pillar of the community.

However, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side either.  I don’t think I would be completely happy being one hundred per cent Gallant either.  Sure, he’s always good, and he’s always happy, and he’s always respectful.  But after a while, that can get pretty monotonous.  I think trying to be a Gallant in every aspect of your life can get pretty exhausting, and would inevitably cause more harm than good.

I guess if I had to put together an analogy using pop culture characters in terms of making a Goofus and Gallant comparison, we could take a look at the Simpsons.  As far as a Goofus character goes, Bart Simpson is probably the best example we can come up with.  Although there are some minor instances of Gallant in Bart, he usually doesn’t show it.  He frequently takes stupid dares, makes stupid prank calls, and cheats off of Martin Prince in order to not look as...well, stupid.  He also pulls pranks, he makes fun of the teachers (although some of them deserve it), and as far as respect for his parents and family goes, there’s not a whole lot...especially when it comes to Homer.

Meanwhile, I can’t help but picture Rod and Todd Flanders as perfect Gallant boys.  Those boys are respectful, they play nice games, and they always respect their families.  Too bad they’re also gullible, naive, and get offended and frightened by things way too easily.

When you see it illustrated like that, it’s easy to see why being all Goofus isn’t much better than being all Gallant, and vice versa.

But when you have a little bit of both in you, it’s not so bad.  Balancing is the key.

I mean, if I was in a situation where I was faced with someone who was being incredibly rude to me and would not let up, I’d examine both ways.  The Gallant in me would walk away and ignore them, because I know that they would eventually get bored and move on.  The Goofus in me would punch him in the nose.

I would say that in the above scenario, because I feel that I am more Gallant than Goofus, I would ignore the bully.  But, if the bully was acting like a real Goofus, and started to push me around...well, sometimes the only way to stop a Goofus is by being a Goofus.  Which, I guess if it works could end up being a Gallant moment.

Wow, I’m confusing myself here.  J

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we all make decisions every day.  Some of those decisions require us to put our best face forward and give off the most gallant of impressions, while others can only be resolved through the Goofus method.  But, as long as we can control the balance between our Goofus side and our Gallant side, then I think we’ll all be all right.

I mean, if Goofus and Gallant can live on the same page of a magazine for sixty-four years, certainly they must have that balance, right?

BONUS QUESTION:  Are YOU a Goofus, or a Gallant?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

February 28, 1942

Hello, everybody! It's time for another trip back in time with the Tuesday Timeline! It's February 28th, and three quarters of the time, it is normally the final day of February.

We just happen to be in one of those years that happen to have a February 29th in it!

But, as always, before we get into today's blog subject, we must first take a look back at some other happenings on this date.

So, to begin, let's take a look at some of the celebrities that are celebrating a birthday today. That list of celebrities include Charles Durning, Gavin McLeod, Don Francks, Stephanie Beacham, Bernadette Peters, Gilbert Gottfried, John Turturro, Cindy Wilson (B-52's), Rae Dawn Chong, Robert Sean Leonard, Patrick Monahan (Train), Rory Cochrane, Eric Lindros, Ali Larter, Jason Aldean, Karolina Kurkova, and Fefe Dobson!

That is quite a lot of people!

On the flip side, we also had to say goodbye to a few celebrities on February 28th. We said farewell to Mike Smith of the Dave Clark Five in 2008, legendary radio host Paul Harvey in 2009, and actress Jane Russell in 2011.

And, now for some significant events that happened on February 28th.

1827 – The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad is incorporated, making it the first American railroad to offer commercial transportation of both people and freight.

1844 – A gun explodes on the USS Princeton during a cruise of the Potomac, killing eight people. Of the victims, two were United States Cabinet members.

1854 – The Republican Party of the United States is formed.

1883 – The first vaudeville theater opens up in Boston, Massachusetts.

1885 – AT&T is incorporated in New York State as the subsidiary of American Bell Telephone.

1935 – Nylon is discovered by DuPont scientist Wallace Carothers.

1939 – In one of the biggest mistakes made in a publication, the nonsensical word 'dord' is discovered in Webster's New International Dictionary, Second Edition.

1940 – Basketball is televised for the first time.

1954 – The first colour televisions are offered for sale to the general public.

1958 – In what is often called the worst school bus accident in American history, twenty-six children and the school bus driver are killed after the bus hits a wrecker truck and plunged over an embankment in Kentucky.

1975 – A tube train crash occurs at Moorgate Station, London. Forty-three people are killed.

1986 – Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme is assassinated in Stockholm.

1991 – The Gulf War ends.

1993 – The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents raid the Branch Davidian church in Waco, Texas, armed with a warrant to arrest leader David Koresh. This was the first day of a 51-day standoff, ending on April 19.

1997 – The North Hollywood shootout takes place, killing the perpetrators and injuring 19.

Now, that is a huge laundry list of events, isn't it? And, yet, none of these are the subject for today's blog.

Today we are going back in time seventy years. The date is February 28, 1942. And, as it turns out, there's a lot that happened on that date.

It was seventy years ago today that the USS Houston sank in the Battle of Sunda Strait. 693 crew members lost their lives in the disaster. A second boat, HMAS Perth lost an additional 375 men.

Seventy years ago today, Dutch admiral Karel Doorman, died at the age of 52 during the Battle of the Java Sea.

And, seventy years ago on this date, actor/director Frank Bonner is born. You might remember him best as Herb Tarlek on the sitcom WKRP In Cincinnati.

But for today's look back on February 28, 1942, I thought we would add a little bit of British rock flavour to today's entry. Because February 28, 1942 happens to be the date of birth for one of the founders of one of the most enduring bands that ever came out of the British Invasion. However, his rise to fame and his desire to stand out from the crowd eventually lead him down a bumpy road, and some would say that he paid the ultimate price for it.

Today's blog subject is the late Brian Jones, one of the founding members of The Rolling Stones.

Born Lewis Brian Hopkins Jones seventy years ago, Brian's early childhood was complicated by childhood asthma, which developed after a case of the croup, when Jones was four. He also had to deal with the loss of a sister, who died of leukemia when Brian was only three years old.

But despite these early hardships, Brian had always grown up around music. His mother was a piano teacher, and his father was the leader of the church choir.

When Jones was fifteen, he first heard the music of jazz musician Cannonball Adderley, which prompted an immediate interest in jazz music. He persuaded his parents to buy him a saxophone, and on February 28, 1959 (Brian's 17th birthday), his parents bought him his first acoustic guitar.

Although Jones had always done well in school (his IQ was listed as 135), he often got his grades without working for them, and found the idea of school to be too conformist and rigid for his liking. He had even gotten thrown out of a couple of schools for the hostility he had towards authority figures.

But a scandal in his late teens would have Brian quitting school for good, after he had gotten his fourteen year old girlfriend pregnant. Jones had encouraged her to have an abortion, but instead she carried the child to term, giving him up for adoption.

Throughout the next year, Jones did some travelling through Northern Europe and Scandanavia, but had to return home to England when his finances ran low. He ended up fathering three more children between 1960 and 1964 (he would end up fathering six children total, none of which were raised by him). He tried to get into an art school in 1961, but his application was denied after someone wrote the school outing him as a 'drifter'.

Shortly after that, Jones moved to London, where he befriended several up and coming musicians including Paul Jones from Manfred Mann, Alexis Korner, and future Cream bassist Jack Bruce. Briefly adopting the stage name of Elmo Lewis, Jones became a blues musician, and in May 1962, Jones had placed an ad in Jazz News inviting all musicians interested in forming an R&B group to meet at the Bricklayer's Arms pub. Pianist Ian “Stu” Stewart was the first to respond to the ad. Singer Mick Jagger also responded, and he brought his childhood friend Keith Richards to rehearsals. Richards joined the band shortly afterwards.

According to Keith Richards, it was Jones who had the idea to name themselves “The Rolling Stones”, although in early performances, the 'G' in 'Rolling' was left off. The name originated from a song featured on 'The Best Of Muddy Waters' album.

The foursome of Jones, Jagger, Richards, and Stewart were later joined by drummer Tony Chapman and bass player Dick Taylor, and The Rolling Stones played their very first gig on July 12, 1962.

For about a year, Jagger, Richards, and Jones shared a flat together with future photographer James Phelge, and Jones and Richards would often listen to blues records and play the guitar. Jones reportedly even taught Jagger how to play the harmonica.

Over the next few months, the band eventually found a permanent bassist in the form of Bill Wyman, and a permanent drummer by the name of Charlie Watts.

The group played dozens of gigs at various jazz and blues clubs, garnering the adoration of fans. However, the band was also highly criticized by traditional jazz musicians, who were threatened by their increasing popularity. In the band's earliest days, Jagger was the lead singer, but many felt that Brian Jones was the real leader behind the band. He was the one promoting the band, booking the gigs, and some people even admitted that Jones, with his mod look and huge stage presence was actually a much livelier performer than Mick Jagger!

(Hmmm...I wonder if Maroon 5's song would have worked had it been titled 'Moves Like Jones'?)

But Jones was very instrumental in the band's earliest singles. Quite literally, actually. Jones was most widely known for playing a Harmony Stratotone, and a Gretsch Double Anniversary for a main guitar, but he was also known for playing a variety of other musical instruments as well. He would play slide guitar, sitar, organ, piano, marimba, trumpet, harpsichord, accordion, saxophone, oboe, harmonica, autoharp, and recorder!

In fact, take a listen to this single back in the days when Jones was a member of the band. If you listen closely to the recorder in this #1 hit, that is courtesy of Brian Jones.

ARTIST: The Rolling Stones
SONG: Ruby Tuesday
ALBUM: Between The Buttons
DATE RELEASED: January 13, 1967

Wasn't that beautiful? I'll admit that the only reason that I wanted to include this song was because it happens to be one of my all-time favourite singles from The Rolling Stones, but it also demonstrated just a smidgen of the talent that Jones brought to the band.

But somewhere along the way, Jones began to break away from the band unity and started alienating his bandmates due to some rather poor choices.

The friction started to happen back in the days when Jones acted as the band's business manager. Because of this, Jones would get a higher wage than the rest of the band members. This was the beginning of the resentment between Jones and the rest of the band. But it wasn't until the arrival of Andrew Loog Oldham, who became the manager and producer of the band that Jones really started to drift away from The Rolling Stones.

Oldham came into the band in late 1963, and he was a firm believer in having members of bands write their own songs, because he felt it was financially advantageous. He didn't think that the band's current playlist of blues and jazz standard cover songs would not keep the band fresh. He insisted that the band start writing and composing their own songs, and he specifically wanted to exploit the charisma and stage performance of Jagger as a main focus of the band. As a result, the band steered away from the covers that Jones preferred to play, and started focusing more on original songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

All of these changes took a major toll on Brian Jones. Being physically drained from all the touring, the inability to handle the money and fame, and the feelings of depression caused by his contributions to The Rolling Stones being diminished lead to Jones overindulging in drugs and alcohol.

Nothing was off limits for Jones. He drank heavily, and often used such drugs as cannabis and LSD. The drug and alcohol abuse took its toll on Jones, with his physical health deteriorating. Many accounts also state that Jones' mental health was fragile, as he was often prone to frequent angry outbursts and became quite anti-social. Shortly after “Ruby Tuesday” topped the charts, he was arrested for drug possession in May 1967. But after protesters demanded that Jones be freed, Jones was fined, given probation, and ordered to seek counselling.

But by then, the relationship between Jones and his bandmates was at an all-time low. According to the band, Brian often had two personalities. One was a gentle and kind Brian who would give anyone the shirt off of his back. The other one was a hostile, selfish Brian, who was reportedly cruel and vicious. And, part of the band's frustrations came from the simple fact that they didn't know which Brian they would deal with on any given day.

(Though it probably didn't help matters much when one of Jones' girlfriends ended up leaving him for Keith Richards, which only served to add to the animosity between Richards and Jones specifically.)

A second arrest for drug possession occurred just one year after his first, and his legal troubles, combined with the estrangement from his bandmates and his increasing dependency on drugs were all factors that eventually lead to Jones leaving the band in 1969.

To the general public, it appeared as though Jones had left the band by his own accord, but the real story was that he was visited by Jagger, Richards, and Watts on June 8, 1969, and was informed that the band would be continuing on without him. But the band did tell him that it was his choice on how to break the news to the public, and he said simply in a statement to the media that he no longer saw eye-to-eye with the albums they were cutting. Jones was eventually replaced by Mick Taylor.

So, in mid-1969, Jones had hit rock bottom. His drug abuse was at an all-time high, and he had essentially been thrown out of the very band he helped create. But, Jones was still keen on trying to break back into the music business, and some people noted that he was in the stages to put together a new band.

Sadly, those plans never came to be.

On July 3, 1969, Brian Jones was found dead inside the swimming pool of his home (which was the same residence where Winnie-The-Pooh was written by A.A. Milne). He was 27 years old.

The reported cause of death was “death by misadventure”, and Jones' heart and liver were heavily damaged by drug and alcohol abuse.

Brian Jones was just one of many musicians who fell into the aptly named '27 Club', musicians who died at the age of 27, usually at their own hands. A club which also includes Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse.

Two days after Jones died, The Rolling Stones played a free concert in London's Hyde Park, which was dedicated in memory of their former bandmate. Jones read excerpts of the poem “Adonais”, stagehands released hundreds of white butterflies into the sky, and the band started off their playlist with one of Brian Jones' favourite songs, a Johnny Winters song called “I'm Yours and I'm Hers”.

Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts were the only members of the band to attend Jones' funeral. Mick Jagger was in Australia with Marianne Faithfull to begin filming for the movie 'Ned Kelly', and their contracts prevented either of them from delaying the trip to attend the funeral. Keith Richards, perhaps the one member that Jones clashed with the most, remained at a recording studio.

So, there you have it. Brian Jones. A classic case of living too hard and dying too young.

Many years after Jones was found dead, a journalist from Rolling Stone magazine had asked Mick Jagger if he had felt any sort of guilt over not being able to help Jones before he died. Here was Mick's response.

"No, I don't really. I do feel that I behaved in a very childish way, but we were very young, and in some ways we picked on him. But, unfortunately, he made himself a target for it; he was very, very jealous, very difficult, very manipulative and if you do that in this kind of a group of people, you get back as good as you give, to be honest. I wasn't understanding enough about his drug addiction. No one seemed to know much about drug addiction. Things like LSD were all new. No one knew the harm. People thought cocaine was good for you."

Some final words to ponder as we conclude this look back on February 28, 1942.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain

In all of the Monday Matinees that I have done, I've focused on a lot of different kinds of films. I've featured romantic comedies, gripping dramas, horror films, animated films, film classics, and even films that were based on true stories.

The reason why I wanted to focus on a wide selection of movies on this blog. To give the blog a little bit of variety.

But, looking back, there's one genre of film that in the nine months since I started this blog I've never featured. I've never done a feature on a foreign film.

(And, no, any entry that I have featured on Harry Potter doesn't quite qualify as a foreign film.)

I'm talking about films that are screened at places like the Cannes Film Festival. Films that are often nominated for Academy Awards, but yet you yourself might not have actually seen them (or even heard of them for that matter).

Some of these films are quite brilliant. They tell a wonderful story, have characters you can really believe in, and they don't believe in using explosions or violence to move the story along.

(Well, unless you happen to be watching a foreign film that is SUPPOSED to have explosions and/or violence in them.)

Today's featured film doesn't have explosions or violence in them. It's a brilliant tale of a young woman living in France who makes the selfless decision to try and help improve the lives of everybody around her, from people who have known her all their lives to random strangers. During the course of the film, she also begins to understand why she is the way that she is, and by the end of the film, she makes some definite conclusions about who she is.

I even remember where I was when I saw this film for the first time. I was in Ottawa at the time, and the movie was playing at one of the many specialty movie houses that were in the city during 2001. The movie had come out that November, and I ended up watching it as part of a class that I was taking. Although the movie was entirely in French, it did come with subtitles. And, I know some people hate going to movies where you're forced to read, but for me, I appreciated knowing what was happening. By the end, I was thinking that the movie was a great film, and I left the theater with nothing but positive experiences.

In France, the movie had the title “Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie', but internationally, the film had the simpler title of “Amélie”.

Amélie is a French romantic comedy directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and starred Audrey Tautou (who some of you might remember from her role in “The Da Vinci Code”), as the character of Amélie Poulain, a twenty-three year old waitress in Montmartre, Paris, France. The film was released in France in April 2001, and seven months later screened in America.

The film itself was critically acclaimed, and did very well at the box office. It won Best Film at the European Film Awards, was the winner of four César Awards, won two BAFTA Awards, and was nominated for five Academy Awards.

The film begins as we meet Amélie. She's a beautiful young woman with a whimsical personality and a vibrant imagination. However, Amélie grew up feeling quite lonely. She grew up feeling isolated from other children her age (something this blogger can definitely identify with). The fact that she lost her mother when she was quite young, and her father became increasingly withdrawn as a result certainly didn't help matters much.

But Amélie (much like this blogger) found ways to hide her loneliness through her active imagination. After all, if the world around you isn't the way that you'd like it to be, you can always create your own world to imagine yourself in. It's great therapy, when you look at it that way.

So, Amélie became a young woman who was incredibly shy and who finds pleasure in simple things. She has had some dating experience, but they all ended in disappointment, and Amélie works as a waitress at a French café called Café des 2 Moulins, a place where the staff is just as eccentric as the people who dine there.

Right from the get-go, we find out exactly when this film is set when Amélie discovers the news of Princess Diana's death on television (as you might know, Diana and her companion, Dodi Fayed were killed in a car accident inside a Parisian tunnel on August 31, 1997 following a high speed chase involving members of the paparazzi), and is immediately shocked. At the time, she is holding a bottle cap which she drops. The bottle cap hits a tile in the bathroom wall and loosens it. When Amélie removes the tile that was loosened, she is surprised to find a small metal box hidden behind it. Inside the box is a collection of childhood toys and knick-knacks from a young boy who lived in her apartment years earlier.

Amélie, upon discovering the box, decides that the right thing to do would be to return the box to its rightful owner. Even though the boy was now a man, she resolved to make it happen. At the same time, she issued a promise to herself. If she could successfully track down the owner of the box, and make him happy as a result of returning the box, then she will take it as a sign that she is meant to spend the rest of her life helping bring happiness to others.

She sets about on her quest to return the box. The first person that she happens to meet is her reclusive neighbour, Raymond Dufayel (Serge Merlin). Dufayel is a skilled artist, but his recent work seems to be stuck in a Groundhog Day-esque rut, as he keeps painting the same thing over and over again – a Renoir piece entitled “Luncheon of the Boating Party”. He's also given the nickname of 'The Glass Man', due to a condition he has which caused his bones to become brittle. With his help, Amélie manages to locate the owner of the box...but rather than deliver the box to him face to face, Amélie decides on a different, more whimsical method.

It is within that moment that Amélie realizes that the promise that she made to herself would now have to be honoured. Helping Dominique Bretodeau reach an epiphany within his life has caused our young heroine to have an epiphany of her own.

She resolves to be the guardian angel towards everyone she meets. She wants to help others, but in secret. And, this is where her imaginative streak serves to assist her.

Through various schemes and plots that are intricate and complex, Amélie manages to impact the lives of people around her, which lead to several sub-plots throughout the film.

One of the first things that she does is assists a blind man to the Metro station, and during the course of the walk, she vividly describes the world around them in every possible detail.

She assists her own father when he talks about his dream of seeing the world, but not knowing exactly how he can do it. It is then that Amélie comes up with a plan to encourage her father to follow his dream by doing something incredibly sneaky. She decides to steal a prized possession from her father's garden, a blue cloaked garden gnome. Having a friend who works as an airline stewardess, she persuades her to take the gnome with her to every destination the plane that she works on stops in. Then every so often, photos of the gnome standing in front of world landmarks are sent to her father through the mail.

(Hmmm...I wonder if this film was the source for the popular Travelocity advertisements...)

Amélie also seems to enjoy playing the role of matchmaker, as she sets up a frequent customer at the café she works at with one of her co-workers. She gets to talking with the concierge of the apartment building she lives in and when the concierge reveals that her husband abandoned her, Amélie manages to locate proof that her husband had tried to send a final letter, hoping to reconcile with her before his death. Amélie even helps out a young grocery clerk named Lucien who is bullied by his boss, Mr. Collignon by playing practical jokes on the man. I guess one could also say that Amélie made sure that people got bad karma as well as good karma, but only if they deserved it.

All this is well and good, and Amélie certainly got great joy out of helping other people find happiness.

But, what about Amélie's own happiness? What was she doing to make sure that she was helping herself?

After a series of conversations with Dufayel (including the significance of the young girl drinking the glass of water in the various copies of the paintings Dufayel was working on), Amélie realizes that she has to examine her own life.

You see, during Amélie's quest to make the world a better place, she keeps encountering a man whose hobby seems to be raiding passport photo booths for discarded photographs. A man that Amélie has developed a liking for. Problem is that Amélie seems to lack the confidence and courage to even introduce herself to him. She discovers that the man is named Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz) after he accidentally drops his photo album on the street after bumping into him. The film then tracks Amélie through the streets of Paris, looking for Nino.

So, does she track Nino down? Does she give him back the album? Does she admit her feelings for him? Does she live happily ever after?

You really expect me to tell you? Watch it yourself!

No, seriously, watch Amélie for real. Don't let the idea of the film having subtitles scare you away. It really is a remarkable film to watch, and it will leave you feeling all sorts of wonderful feelings. Well, at least it did for me, anyways.

I can't speak for what other people got out of the film, but I can certainly tell you what I got out of the film. In many ways, I'm like Amélie...only in the male form and without a French accent. Though I do have a French last name, which at the very least is something.

Like Amélie, I was a very lonely child, who didn't really feel like he fit in to a lot of places, and like Amélie I had a wild imagination that I used as an escape from the loneliness. I used to read Archie Comics and wish that I was inside of them because to me, Riverdale was a place where everyone knew everyone and where people were respected for who they were and not for what they looked like. So, I can definitely identify with Amélie in that regard.

But, I can also identify with what Amélie was doing as well. She was so focused on trying to make other people happy that her own happiness kind of got placed on the back burner. Of course, she did get some feeling of satisfaction and joy in helping the people that she did, but she never could find a way to convince herself that she deserved to help herself become happy.

And, you know, I'm a lot like her in that regard.

I think that's the message that I got from Amélie. That you can spread your love to other people all you want and feel good about it...but that you shouldn't overlook yourself in that equation. And, sometimes, you have to take chances and realize that the only person standing in the way of that happiness that you want so much may very well be yourself.

I'm getting better at learning that lesson. Not quite there yet, but I am improving. Who knows? Maybe one day I'll find someone's photo album on the street, and it will lead me to my own destiny. I guess as long as I'm still alive, there's always time.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Controversial Life Of Sinéad O'Connor

Does anyone remember when Sinéad O’Connor was famous for her musical talents and not for the controversy that has followed her in recent years?

Yeah, I know.  Those memories are kind of hazy for me as well.

It’s no wonder though.  Over the last few years, controversy and Sinéad O’Connor have seemingly gone together the same way one would put peanut butter and jelly together in a sandwich.

I mean, yes, let’s give credit where credit is due.  She is a woman who stands by what she believes in, and usually won’t back down from her stances or her beliefs, which is commendable.  Unfortunately, the way that she went about taking a stand has made some to believe that she is nothing more than a troublemaker (a label that O’Connor admits is an appropriate one for her).

The latest bit of controversy surrounding Sinéad O’Connor dates back only a couple of months.  On December 9, 2011 (just one day after her 45th birthday), O’Connor had gotten married to her fourth husband, Barry Herridge, an Irish therapist.  Less than three weeks later, O’Connor filed for divorce.

You know your marriage must have been bad if it didn’t even last longer than the Kardashian train wreck.

O’Connor issued a statement on her official website shortly after the marriage was called off, with her explaining that the marriage was over, making a point to mention that they had only lived together for only seven days total.  Because, I’m sure that everyone who has gotten married has suffered from the seven-day itch.

To make the story even more bizarre, just a week after the marriage was called off, Sinéad O’Connor made people wag their tongues even more when she posted a series of announcements online announcing her reconciliation with Herridge.  So, at this point, I’m not sure exactly what to believe.

And this latest incident isn’t even the most shocking or controversial thing she has ever done in her lifetime!  But, we’ll get to that a bit later.

I figure that since it’s the Sunday Jukebox entry, we might as well talk about the thing that initially made Sinéad O’Connor a star in the first place.

Right from childhood, Sinéad O’Connor had a bit of a rebellious streak in her.  She and her siblings were often abused by their mother (as O’Connor has claimed in several interviews) when they were younger, and Sinéad often acted out as a direct result of it.  At the age of 15, she had already been caught shoplifting, and often skipped school.  It got so bad that she was placed in a building known as a Magdalene asylum (a place where girls who were seen as having poor moral character were sent).  Although O’Connor had some instances in which she hated being there, she did later say that being there helped her develop some essential skills.

Most notably, it helped her become a better writer, and helped her hone into her musical talents. 

By 1983, when O’Connor was sixteen, her father had placed her in a school which was far less restrictive than the one she had previously been enrolled at, and it was here that she was encouraged by her Irish language teacher, Joseph Falvey, to record a demo tape.

The following year, O’Connor met a man named Columb Farrelly after he answered an ad that she had placed in ‘Hot Press’ magazine.  Together, the formed the band ‘Ton Ton Macoute’ (the band name was inspired by the Haitian zombie culture).  She dropped out of school to pursue a career with the band, and many of their performances in Dublin garnered a positive buzz.  Many people who enjoyed the concerts specifically singled out O’Connor’s vocals and stage presence as being the best thing about the band.

In 1985, O’Connor suffered a shock when her mother was killed in a car accident.  Despite the volatility towards her mother, Sinéad was left devastated by the loss.  Months later, she would leave Ton Ton Macoute to embark on a solo career in London, England.

Luckily, upon her arrival in London, people already had an idea of who she was based on her work with the band.  Within a few months of arriving in London, she had gotten signed to recording label Ensign Records.  One of her first jobs with the studio was recording a single called “Heroine” for the motion picture soundtrack for “Captive”.  It was co-written by O’Connor, and The Edge, guitarist for Irish band U2.

Shortly thereafter, Sinéad began work on her debut album, “The Lion And The Cobra”, which was released in 1987.  But the making of the album wasn’t without its problems.  The original producer of the album, Mick Glossop, clashed with O’Connor on multiple occasions, as each of them had different opinions as to how O’Connor’s debut album should sound.  The fallout led to over four months worth of work of recordings being scrapped entirely.  To add to the stress, O’Connor had gotten pregnant with her first child by her session drummer, John Reynolds.  At seven months pregnant, and just twenty years old, Sinéad’s manager, Fachtna O’Ceallaigh, convinced the record execs to let O’Connor produce her debut album herself.

“The Lion And The Cobra” was released in November 1987, and spurned three hit singles.  The album wasn’t a huge commercial success in the United States, but her songs did get a lot of airplay on college radio stations throughout 1988 and 1989. 

And then in 1990, Sinéad O’Connor released her second album “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got”.  And from that second album came the song that would get her noticed by the American public, and became a huge worldwide success.

ARTIST:  Sinéad O’Connor
SONG:  Nothing Compares 2 U
ALBUM:  I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
DATE RELEASED:  January 8, 1990

Originally, the song “Nothing Compares 2 U” was a Prince composition, meant for a side project that he was working on.  But when O’Connor teamed up with producer Nellee Hooper to record the song for her 1990 album, nobody knew just how much of a hit it would become.

For the hard life that O’Connor experienced in her teenage years, and her rebellious streak, the music video for the single was surprisingly calm and serene.   It was a simplistic video that featured an extreme close-up of O’Connor’s head as she sang throughout most of the song.  The shots that did not involve the close-up showed O’Connor walking through a park in Paris, France.

TRIVIA:  When O’Connor sings the lyrics “all the flowers that you planted, mama, in the backyard, all died when you went away”, you can see a tear stream down her face.  O’Connor explained that this was not accidental.  It described the complicated relationship that she had with her mother when she was still alive, and how raw her emotions were upon singing that very lyric.

The music video was largely responsible for the song’s success.  It won three awards at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards, including the award for Video of the Year (the first time that a female artist had won the honour).

Sinéad O’Connor’s second album sold extremely well as a result of “Nothing Compares 2 U”.  Coupled with the success of another single, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, the album put Sinéad O’Connor on the map, and she had quickly become one of the most sought after entertainers of 1990.

However with the success came the controversy, and for O’Connor, it all began to take place just months after “Nothing Compares 2 U” became a worldwide smash.

In August 1990, O’Connor had a concert booked at the Garden State Arts Center in the city of Holmdel, New Jersey.  One of the practices of the venue at that time was to play a recording of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ before each concert began...a practice that conflicted with Sinéad’s own beliefs.  Because she had felt that most of the anthems were written during times of war, and therefore in her opinion promoted nationalist tirades. 

I’m just writing what I read.  Formulate your own opinions.

The venue did accommodate O’Connor’s request, and the concert went on as planned without the anthem, but the general opinion wasn’t exactly kind.  It was widely reported in tabloids, and some radio stations pulled O’Connor’s songs from their playlists.

And then came the fateful Saturday Night Live appearance.

On October 3, 1992, Sinéad O’Connor was the musical guest featured on Saturday Night Live, singing an a cappella version of Bob Marley’s “War”.  O’Connor specifically chose the song herself to make a statement against the sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church.  Everything went according to plan and without incident, until she pulled out a photograph of Pope John Paul II while singing the word “evil”.  She then did something that would have people talking for weeks afterwards, and caused a national backlash as a result.

She took the photo of the Pope, tore it into dozens of pieces, and urged the viewing audience to “fight the real enemy” before throwing the pieces of the photo towards the camera.

The reaction from the studio audience was pure silence.  Just moments before, they were laughing at the various sketches put on by the cast of Saturday Night Live, but after O’Connor’s performance, many audience members weren’t sure how to react.  And, who can blame them, really?  It was an incredibly shocking thing to witness.

Reportedly, the producers of Saturday Night Live were just as blown away as the viewing audience, as they had no idea that O’Connor was planning on doing such a thing (they had seen her tearing up a different photo altogether during the rehearsal).  Executive producer Lorne Michaels had described the situation as “on a certain level, a betrayal”, but also noted that it was also “an expression of serious belief”.

At any rate, the damage was done.  Luckily for NBC, the network didn’t face any fines for O’Connor’s performance, as blasphemy was not regulated by the FCC.  But NBC had gotten a total of over four thousand complaints from angry viewers, wondering how the network could have allowed such a thing to happen.  Of course, the show was done live, and not even the executives and producers knew what O’Connor was planning, so very little could have been done to stop it from going on.

Of course, O’Connor was vilified by the press, as well as the public.  Two weeks after the Saturday Night Live appearance, she was set to perform at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary tribute concert, and when she took to the stage, the people in the audience were largely opposed to seeing her, and they booed her quite loudly.  At first, O’Connor was set to ignore the naysayers, but eventually she had to leave the stage, as the crowd was getting restless.  While I don’t doubt that it must have been a hard pill to swallow for her, the general opinion was that she had brought it on herself. 

But, did she care?  Not at all.  She revealed in a 2002 interview that she had absolutely no regrets about what she did, and she’d do it over again exactly the same way.  So, I guess if there is something positive to say about this incident, it’s that she still stands true to her beliefs after all this time.  I guess in that sense, you have to give her props for not being wishy-washy, even if her opinion wasn’t one that was popular.

But, in 1992, O’Connor’s popularity in the United States was at an all time low.  The host of Saturday Night Live the week after O’Connor’s fateful appearance was actor Joe Pesci, who poked fun at the incident, and later explained in an interview that had this happened when he was the host, he probably would have decked her one. 

Madonna was also a huge critic of O’Connor’s action, and constantly took pot shots at O’Connor through the media.  But, O’Connor struck right back, accusing Madonna of being a poor role model for women, given the fact that she had publicly slagged her off as an entertainer, and personally insulted her before the incident had taken place.

IRONIC TRIVIA:  The song that dethroned Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” was Madonna’s “Vogue”, which hit the #1 spot the weekend of May 18, 1990.  Even more ironic, May 18 was also the birthdate of Pope John Paul II!

And, of course, O’Connor’s sales of her music plummeted in late 1992.  Although O’Connor had released six albums since the Saturday Night Live appearance, none of them matched the success of her earlier albums.

During the late 1990s and 2000s, O’Connor tried to focus on other things, and ended up having a lot of highs and lows.  Throughout her life, she had four marriages, and had four children.  She was ordained as a priest by Bishop Michael Cox, which caused controversy, as the belief of the Roman Catholic Church stated that women could not be ordained priests.

O’Connor was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2003, and she confessed on the Oprah Winfrey show that she had attempted suicide on her 33rd birthday in 1999. 

But, Sinéad O’Connor survived all that, and she is now moving ahead with her life (even if the state of her current marriage is unknown).

Despite all the scandal and all the controversy that she has gotten involved in through the years, there’re two things that I can point out as being positive.  I already talked about one earlier, about how O’Connor has stood by her beliefs no matter how unpopular they were.

But when you can tune out the controversy and really listen to her songs the way they were meant to be listened to, they really are beautiful and soulful.  It’s unknown as to whether or not O’Connor will be able to rise above the controversy and just focus on the music again, but I suppose as long as she is still alive, there’s a very slim possibility.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Merrie Melodies With Sylvester And Tweety

In all likelihood, many of us have never been in the situation that I am about to describe, and for a good many of us, we likely will not ever be in such a situation.

But, have any of you ever felt uneasiness around another person, or even an animal?  As if you think that the minute your back is turned, they’ll strike with full force?

I’ll admit that I’ve felt that way at times.  In all cases though, I was worried over nothing.  In most cases, I imagine that for a lot of people, their worries end up amounting to nothing. 

Well, unless you happen to suffer from extreme paranoia, and you believe that everybody in the world is out to make your life a living hell.  But, that’s a rarity.

What happens though when your fears happen to be one hundred per cent real?

Just picture yourself in this situation.  You’re trying to go about your daily business the best way you know how, but yet you’re always looking over your shoulder.  You have the sinking feeling that someone is watching your every move, waiting for you to let your guard down.  And when the right opportunity presents itself, they strike for the kill.  Or, at least attempt to.

(And, this blog entry is quickly turning into a page that one might find in a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book!)

The point is that for a select few of us, having to keep an eye out for danger is a scary reality.  Some have to deal with being stalked and watched each and every day...especially if you happen to be a celebrity.

Fortunately, there are ways in which we can protect ourselves from unsavoury characters that exist solely to cause us to be fearful of our surroundings.  We can take self-defence classes to protect ourselves from being attacked or hurt by strangers and would-be robbers.  We can seek out restraining orders to keep any would-be stalkers at bay.

Or, if you happen to be a little yellow bird, you can take your enemy’s bag of tricks and successfully use them against him.

While I definitely don’t want to downplay the seriousness of having to deal with someone who creeps somebody else out, today’s blog topic deals with a couple of cartoon characters who have had to live through that scenario for sixty-five years.

Today’s blog topic examines the intricate, dysfunctional relationship of Sylvester and Tweety from Looney Tunes cartoons.

Unless you’ve lived under a rock, or don’t believe in watching television (in which case I doubt you would even be reading this blog right now), I’m sure that most of you have seen at least one cartoon featuring Sylvester and Tweety.  If you haven’t, fear not.  I’ve enclosed links to four cartoons featuring the pair, and if you click on the episode titles below, you can watch them!

I Taw A Putty Tat – 1948

I figured that I would post at least one example from a different decade, just so all of you could see how far Sylvester and Tweety evolved over the years.

But, do you know which character appeared first?

That honour goes to Tweety, who made his debut on November 21, 1942.  Though, he didn’t exactly resemble the Tweety that we all knew and loved right away.

Tweety made his first appearance in a cartoon short called “A Tale Of Two Kitties”.  He was created by animator Bob Clampett.  And, apparently his original name was slated to be ‘Orson’, if you can believe it.  Anyway, in Tweety’s first cartoon, he was pitted against two feline antagonists named Babbit and Catsello (an obvious spoof of Abbott and Costello). 

And, in this cartoon, Tweety looked a lot different.  Take a look at this screenshot below this paragraph.

Notice that Tweety’s signature yellow colouring isn’t present anywhere on his body whatsoever?  He looks a little bit pink, wouldn’t you say?  As it turned out, Tweety wasn’t initially designed to be the golden yellow domesticated canary we all grew up with.  Instead, he was more of a free spirit, a real wild child, if you will.

Certainly, the Tweety of yore was incredibly aggressive and saucy in comparison to the more watered down version we would be used to.  And, given how cunning and sly Tweety ended up, I reckon that old Tweety would have been a sight to behold!

Tweety, like most Bugs Bunny characters, was voiced by legendary voice artist Mel Blanc.  And like many characters voiced by Blanc, each one had a distinctive speech pattern.  In Tweety’s case, Blanc decided to give him a similar speech pattern as Elmer Fudd, where “L” and “R” sounds were changed to “W” sounds, and where the phrase “I thought I saw a pussy cat” was translated to “I tawt I taw a putty tat!”

For three years, Tweety was a solo act.  But around 1945, Clampett began work on a new short, which saw Tweety taking on a black and white cat, designed by fellow animator Friz Freleng.  The cat didn’t have a name at the time, and the only distinctive feature that he had was a severe lisp that caused him to spray saliva each time he said any word containing the letter S.

However, before the short could be made, Clampett left the studios, leaving Freleng as the sole animator of the project.  Freleng took on the challenge, but he made a few changes to the Tweety character.  He was the one who gave Tweety two trademarks that are still associated with him today.  He gave Tweety his big blue eyes, and his bright yellow feathers.  The cat was further developed into an anthropomorphic tuxedo cat.  He was also given the name of Sylvester.

And the first cartoon that they ended up starring in together was 1947’s Tweetie Pie.

Tweetie Pie proved to be a huge hit with fans, and the cartoon short was solely responsible for Warner Brothers earning their very first Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons).

Sylvester and Tweety made a great pair, despite the fact that in almost every short that the duo starred in, Sylvester tried to have Tweety for dinner.

Literally, Sylvester spent a lot of energy trying to turn Tweety into the ultimate gourmet cuisine, right down to the last feather.

But, somehow, Tweety was always at least one step ahead of Sylvester.  Every time Sylvester reached into his arsenal of weapons, tricks, and booby traps, courtesy of the Acme Corporation, Tweety would somehow come out on top.  He would purposely get the attention of nearby dogs to chase after Sylvester.  Sometimes, Tweety would take Sylvester’s props and use them against him.  Sometimes, Tweety would have some items of his own to defend himself against Sylvester.

Most of the time, Sylvester was dumb enough to screw up his schemes all on his own without any influence from Tweety altogether.  Sylvester wasn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer.  I mean, if you look at Sylvester’s track record, anyone he’s ever tangled with has almost always come up on top.  Porky Pig seemed to have more bravery than Sylvester did.  Sylvester’s own son, Sylvester Jr, was almost ashamed to admit that he was related to the big oaf of a cat.  And, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Sylvester would always happen to get a nervous breakdown each and every time he tangled with that baby kangaroo from Australia.

Over the years, Sylvester and Tweety have entertained generations of children, who in turn have shared the cartoons with their own children.  Sylvester and Tweety would end up sharing the stage in their own cartoon, ‘The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries’, which aired between 1995 and 2001.  The duo also appeared in the 1996 film ‘Space Jam’, starring basketball player Michael Jordan. 

Tweety even appeared in a public service announcement regarding parents being mindful of the temperature of their child’s bath water back in the early 1980s.  You can watch it by clicking here.

Yes, it’s true.  Sylvester doesn’t exactly come off in such a good light when it comes to the way he goes after Tweety...but somehow knowing that Tweety always seems to outsmart Sylvester kind of makes it all worth it in the end. 

Besides, Sylvester has at least proven that the idea of cats having nine lives is true...heck, in Sylvester’s case, he must be on his nine hundredth life at the time of this blog posting.

Um...make that 901...