Turn On Your Heartlight
Here's a question I'm not even sure how to phrase, and I certainly don't know how to Google it.
In movies and TV shows from the 1960s, or ones that are trying to evoke the '60s, there is always a scene with go-go dancers in a nightclub. They are almost always dancing in front of a big screen, onto which is projected some kind of rapidly moving, multicolored, squishy bubbles.
A couple of examples that spring to mind are in Midnight Cowboy and Godzilla Vs. Hedorah (which, let's face it, are essentially the same movie).
Anyway, what the hell was that thing? Did it have a name? Was it copyrighted? How was it done? What was its origin? Was it used in real swinging nightclubs, or just an invention for movies? Who in the hell decided that was a good thing for chicks in miniskirts to dance in front of? Didn't they see it was kind of gross?
Sean O'Neal is a good thing for chicks in miniskirts to dance in front of:
Not to be a buzzkill, but much like all things "psychedelic," this one can be broken down into a boring old chemical reaction. In this case, the "squishy bubbles" you're referring to came from a liquid light projector, a deceptively simple device that combined regular overhead projectors and Petri dishes—or, in the preferred method, old glass clock faces—filled with water and drops of oil-based dyes. While I couldn't find anyone specific who claims to have invented it, the "liquid light show" originated in San Francisco, where groups like The North-American Ibis Alchemical Co. put them together for The Family Dog's shows at the Fillmore and Avalon, and it soon found favor in nightclubs in Swinging London and everywhere else.
As for who decided it was a good thing for chicks in miniskirts to dance in front of, even though it resembled a Day-Glo mitosis sample, I'd have to defer to anyone in the comments who may have actually been around in the '60s—the same folks who thought fringed buckskin jackets looked good—and remind you that taste, no matter the era, is subjective.
Finally, if any of you out there want to stage a "happening" of your own, there are pretty detailed instructions on how to construct a liquid light projector at this website (if you can withstand the awful tie-dyed background and Grateful Dead MIDI files), or you could go the lazy, yesterday's-hippies-are-today's-yuppies route and simply buy one of these groovy prefabricated models.
Yo Dubba Dubba
It really peeves me when I'm watching a movie from the '50s or '60s and the audio doesn't seem to sync with the actors' lips. This was particularly bothersome when I recently watched Truffaut's Jules & Jim. I've come up with two explanations myself, but I'm not sure of the validity of either. Either 1) all the dialogue was re-recorded after filming wrapped (but without the expertise of, say, looping expert Vinny Chase) or 2) the audio track is simply out of whack (which doesn't explain why they couldn't just sync it back). So what gives? And if #1 is right, why in the world would they re-record everything afterwards?
Noel Murray responds:
It was a matter of necessity, Andy. Sound equipment then wasn't what it is now, especially for low-budget foreign productions, and if filmmakers wanted to shoot on location—as the French New Wave directors most definitely did—they had to use the dialogue recording method known as "post-synch." They shot without worrying about the soundtrack, then post-synchronized the dialogue in a recording studio. The Italian neo-realists were really the post-synch pioneers, embracing the method as a way to use non-professional actors and finesse complex camera moves without losing clarity. It became the standard way of working in Italy, which is why I get a little bemused when purists complain about the English-language tracks provided on the DVDs of '70s Italian cult films, since even the Italian-language tracks are dubbed, and often just as badly.
Hark The Anthropomorphic Squirrels Sing
Last Christmas, I saw one of the strangest holiday specials ever on television, however, I have not been able to figure out the name or any other information about the program. It was an animated feature, seemingly narrated by a woodland creature, who was telling the story of the apparent end of the human race due to a violent war. After a scene showing the death of the last human a bunch of woodland creatures emerged from the darkness. Please help me in figuring out what this program was.
Donna Bowman's heart grew three sizes that day:
We've gotten a couple of questions about this cartoon—or possibly two cartoons. In 1939, MGM released a nine-minute short titled "Peace On Earth," an anti-war plea in the form of a post-apocalyptic history narrated by animals. While director-producer Hugh Harman gave the short an undoubtedly sincere treatment, the earnest subject and lavish style signal a naked grab for the Academy Award for best animated short, an honor for which studios competed fiercely in the Golden Age of moviemaking, when every major studio had its own in-house animation unit cranking out cartoons to fill theatrical bills.
After trudging through a snowy landscape filled with abandoned howitzers and steel helmets turned into animal habitats, Grandpa Squirrel makes the mistake of repeating the phrase "peace on earth, good will to men" to his whippersnapper squirrel relations. Apparently in order to delay their Christmas Eve bedtimes, the kiddies ask him what "men" are. Grandpa relates how humans killed each other off through war after war over trivial differences (like vegetarians vs. meat-eaters). After the last two men on earth exchange violent deaths on the battlefield, the animals huddle in the ruins of a cathedral and look at the Bible laying open on a lectern: "Thou Shalt Not Kill." "Looks like a mighty good book of rules, but I guess them men didn't pay much attention to it," Grandpa editorializes.
The short was indeed nominated for an Oscar, but lost out to the Disney cartoon "Ugly Duckling." MGM later claimed in press materials for "Peace On Earth" that the film was the only animated cartoon ever to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and The New York Times repeated this assertion in its 1982 obituary for Harman. However, the Nobel Peace Prize nomination database contains no mention of Harman or "Peace On Earth," so this might be a bit of puffery from the MGM publicity machine, or a piece of Harman family lore. Yet it's still repeated frequently on the Internet and over the mass media; Ben Mankiewicz, host of TCM's "Cartoon Alley," made the claim when introducing "Peace On Earth" in the show's second episode in 2004.
It's hard to tell from his description whether our correspondent Jesse is talking about the original or the 1955 remake by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, titled "Good Will To Men."
The story's the same, but the horrors-of-war montage gets a little updating—now nuclear weapons are involved in humanity's mass self-extermination, in CinemaScope no less. That version was nominated for an Oscar as well, this time losing to—shudder—"Speedy Gonzales." Whatever you may think of peacenik rodents, being passed over for the statuette in favor of ethnic-stereotype rodents just seems wrong.
Next week: A man in a turtle shell, a woman in a spy ring, and more. Send your questions to email@example.com.