Saturday, July 4, 2020

Animaniacs (1995-99): A Retrospective

It all happened a long time ago.  The way it started was more like something out the corner of the eye.  All I knew at first is that I was watching TV.  The channel must have been tuned to one of those old children's television networks such as Nickelodeon, or something like it.  I know that was the station I watched most often back during the year 1994.  I can't remember what show I was watching, however, which probably says something about its quality (or lack thereof), unless it doesn't.  At one point during a commercial break, this very odd cartoon promo pops up.  I remember it was the Warner Bros. logo, and that there something off about it.  It's colors were muted and somewhat distorted.  There was this trio of strange, grinning, black and white animal characters that poked their heads out of the logo.  From there the commercials was a blur of almost surreal looking images.  I saw a series of shots of the characters as they capered around the screen.  I can't recall exactly what those actions were now, except to call them the standard basic tropes you'd associate with a cartoon character.  What I remember most of all is the strange shades of dark reds and blues that the characters and the whole background scenery were drawn in.

I hadn't a clue what I was looking at.  All I was told is that it was a TV spot for a new theatrical short.  It had the simple title of I'm Mad.  I think I also remember the commercial telling me it was produced by Steven Spielberg, or something like that.  Anyway, it came and went.  I was left puzzled for a few brief moments, and that was it.  I never saw it in theaters and it's possible the whole thing would have slipped my memory, except as one of those vague and ill-defined images of some lost event that either may have happened to you, or else you just imagined it.  It occurs to me now that the second run in I had with the figures in that commercial happened perhaps less than a year later.  Enough time had gone by so that it was no longer on my mind.  However, the event was still fresh enough so that when the second encounter happened, there was just enough memory left over to give things an air of familiarity.  It was a sense of, "Oh yeah, I've seen you before.  Who are you again"?

I encountered the figures from I'm Mad for the second time as illustrations decorating a Happy Meal box.  There were the same three figures, still looking as if they'd strolled right out of a 1930s Max Fleischer cartoon.  The difference was that now I slowly began to learn their names.  They were about what could expect from characters drawn the way they were.  In addition to this, I was also shown a number of other characters I hadn't seen before.  There were a duo of mice who claimed they were bent on world domination.  Also I recall a trio of pigeons known as the "Goodfeathers".  The complete and total irony of that discovery means that I knew the parody of a Martin Scorsese film long before I even knew it existed.  Hell, I didn't even know who Scorsese was at this point in my then very young life.  It is just possible I learned about one of the best filmmakers of the modern age from that Happy Meal box.

They say that third time's the charm, and I guess that must have happened in my case.  Because the third encounter I had with these figures was the one that reeled me in.  The theatrical short was the hook, and the Happy Meal was the line.  The sinker came in the form of channel surfing out of pure boredom and running into the same three figures again.  This time they were busy giving the Queen of England a headache as she tried to re-build Windsor Castle.  It sounds like something out of an old Looney Tunes feature and that's pretty much what it was.  These three characters (who I then learned were siblings), all displayed actions that hearkened back to an entire era of filmmaking.  From there, I started to track down where I could watch more of the show they were in.  I got lucky in finding out which channel carried them, and the rest is more or less what I'm here to talk about.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Peter Pan Myth 1: Finding Neverland (2004).

There are some ideas that a critic would like to tackle because of the potential that can, or could, exist in them.  The trouble with these ideas is that if they are left alone, they tend to grow big in the critic's mind.  Sometimes, it seems, if the critic is not careful, the weight of these ideas tends to make them not just grow, but tower long enough to cast a kind of shadow over the mind.  It's what can happen when you know you have a pretty good idea not just for an article, but for an actual series touching on the same subject.  It is possible because sometimes certain books are able to get big enough to warrant such a treatment.  These are the tomes that have become standards.  They're the kind of stories that are familiar even if you've never read them.  They are the texts, in short, that have had a shaping influence on the nature and direction of the culture, even if the great majority are never able to realize it.  The philosophical texts of Aristotle fits into this category; Middle Earth and the tall tales of Mark Twain are another.  I think something Stephen King once said about this kind of work applies here.

He spoke of them while describing a certain category or type of author in his how-to autobiography On Writing.  I'd argue what fits these writers into such a high place on the great chain is precisely their ability to write such definitive texts.  "These are the really good writers," according to King.  They are "the Shakespeares, the Faulkners, the Yeatses, Shaws, and Eudora Weltys.  They are geniuses, divine accidents, gifted in a way which is beyond our ability to understand, let alone attain.  Shit, most geniuses aren't able to understand themselves, and many of them lead miserable lives, realizing (at least on some level) that they are nothing but fortunate freaks...who just happen to...fit the image of an age (136)".

Peter Pan is one text that sometimes gets fitted into that category.  Everyone knows the characters, and the outline of the story, even if they've never read the book, seen the play, or watched a single of its adaptations.  The dirty little secret here is that perhaps not many have paid much more than a tangential form of attention to the whole thing.  The demands of life are too many, and any genuine interest in the arts in general, or the Pan mythos in particular, is too minuscule to be anything other than a coterie affair.  It's the kind of thing only a few nerds tucked away into a corner ever seem to really bother with.  It's awkward, considering literacy is one of the many requirement most folk will need to get on with reality.  You might even make a paradox of it.  You can't earn a living until you learn make-believe, it's history, and its environs.  It's a perfect natural, perhaps inevitable, state between a rock and a hard place.  The rock itself is the same reality that confronts you one day after another, the hard place are all the facts you need to learn to even use the whole damn thing properly.  Perhaps its the tension between these two facts that generates the quality we humans have decided on calling drama.  There seems to have been no other decent enough word lying around, really.

The story of the boy who could fly makes up part of the toolkit most folk will need to get ahead in life.  Like the billboard in The Great Gatsby, its always there, flashing its sign for anyone who cares to pay attention.  Even those who have never stopped to look into the story know its basic outlines.  There's the Darling Family, a pirate ship, Hook, everyone's favorite, Smee, and then there's The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up himself.  Where did they all com from, however?  Even if there is a sense in which story's just emerge out of thin air (though I suppose its proper term is just Imagination) there's always got to be "the person" around in order to make it work.  This "person" can be anything from a conscious inventor to little more than a glorified secretary taking down lists of names and make-believe incidents as they emerge from whatever the imagination is.

In the case of Neverland and its environs, the person was named James Micheal Barrie.  He was the one responsible for penning the story and cast of characters that premiered on the London stage on December 27th, 1904.  The play was enough of a success that the demand for a novelization soon took place.  After a long time of indecision, Barrie wrote and published Peter and Wendy.  Both play and story seem to be the original impetus for everything that most audiences have ever known about the Pan mythos.  The question is how did it all come about?  What were Barrie's inspirations?  Where did he get his ideas?  These are all very good questions, therefore it never occurs to the vast majority of the world to even bother asking them.  However, a few intrepid souls have made the effort to discover where the stories come from.  Some of them, like Alan Knee came away determined to try and dramatize the creative process that led to the birth of the Boy Who Could Fly.

Here's where things get just a bit a complicated.  It's obvious enough that at some point Knee, the original playwright was inspired to write the play that later turned into the film under discussion here.  The trouble I can't find a single scrap of backstage info that would tell anyone how his inspiration came about and what fascinated him about the subject matter in the first place.  I can't even tell whether or not we're talking about inspiration when it comes to the events not just at the heart of this play, but also the story that made it possible.  All I know is that at some point Knee's play was adapted into a movie by Marc Forster with Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet as the two leads.  The film received a critical lauding at the time.  However, the question is whether or not it holds up after all this time?

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Savageland (2017).

There is a kind of minor debate going on, here and there, in the community of Horror fandom.  It all started with The Blair Witch Project.  Ever since making its initial splash back in the last year of the 20th century, it seems to have sparked an ongoing, off-again-on-again, debate.  The whole thing kind of hinges on whether the modern method of the Found Footage, or Mockumentary style of filmmaking is useful as narrative tool for telling a story on film.  The style itself seems to have attracted an equal amount of praise and criticism from the very moment it got launched out of the starting gate.  Those who like it claim that it's able to give cinema a new form of realistic storytelling, while others just claim it's an excuse for poor cameramen to show all their faults without having to take the blame.

My own response has been forever on the fence.  I seem to have found a neat enough place that works out for me.  For the longest time, it has become ever clearer that what counts for me has nothing to with the visual quality of a film.  My approach to it just isn't tactile enough to be interested in how realistic any of it is.  I have no real idea why this should be, except to say that it is the ideas, themes, or concepts underlying a story that really interest me more than how it all looks in the mirror.  The upshot for my film and book intake is that my focus automatically seems to zero in on the narrative itself, rather than on questions of realism in either appearance or acting.  This seems to work out for me, more often than not, for some reason.  It can sometimes be an added bonus for those moments when I'm able to come away saying I was able to find some sort of merit in films or books that don't hold a favorable view with others.  On the converse side, certain artistic products that hold a popular appeal often just leave me puzzled or unsatisfied.  It's a natural circumstance which has sort of left me sliding back and forth among audiences with every turn of the see-saw.  It can be either amusing or disconcerting, depending on how you look t it.

All I know is I don't really need or ask for a certain amount or dosage of realism in anything I watch or read.  I'd also argue that most fiction in general is never, in the strictest sense, all that real to begin with.  This hang-up with whether or not the final artistic product can consider realistic in any shape or form seems to amount to a kind of collective chimera, rather than any objective value.  Besides, in back of all the arguments for realism lies the question, not of reality, so much as the ability to gain a sense of respect.  The real question doesn't amount to "is it natural", but rather, "is it respectable in the eyes of the neighbors"?  This may sound a like a surprising idea to some.  Why should anyone worry about whether a work of fiction is respectable?  It's just make-believe, after all.

I think the answer can be found somewhere in the very statement of the question.  It posits art as a fundamentally second-class citizen.  The kind of element that always takes a backseat to the more essential aspects of living.  The inescapable fact is that most civilizations have regarded the Arts as something of a trifle.  It's there whenever one's spirits need amusing, nothing more.  Stephen King seems to have been on-target when he observed the kind of social status and function that artists like him have in a modern society.

"America has turned the people who entertain it into weird high-class whores, and the media jeers at any "celeb" who dares complain about his or her treatment.  "Quitcha bitchin!" cry the newspapers and the TV gossip shows (the tone is one of mingled triumph and indignation).  "Didja really think we paid ya the big bucks just to sing a song or swing a Louisville Slugger?  Wrong, asshole!  We pay you so we can be amazed when you do it well - whatever 'it' happens to be in your particular case - and also because it's gratifying when you fuck up.  The truth is you're supplies.  If you cease to be amusing, we can always kill you and eat you (422-23)". 

When you have to operate under this kind of social handicap, is it really any wonder that so many artists, and even a good chunk of the audience, is obsessed with making the art look as respectable as possible?  It's a setup that would give even Shakespeare an inferiority complex.  The trouble is I can't get rid of the idea that it all amounts to a form of artistic prostitution.  When the artist lets concerns with respectability override the task of making sure the story gets told right, regardless of form and format, then I don't see how it's any better than caving to a form of prejudice.  Granted, this in itself is a topic that any half-way decent work of art can explore to good symbolist (not literal) effect.

That seems to be the case with Savageland, a 2017 mockumentary co-directed by Phil Giudry, Simon Herbert, and David Whelan.  Like its predecessors in the sub-genre, the format is used to document an event that never happened, all the while filming it in such a way as to lead the audience into believing it did.  In doing so, it tries to raise a number of important topics.  Whether it is any good at delivering these ideas in an entertaining fashion remains to be seen.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019).

Quentin Tarantino can be a difficult artist to talk about.  Not because there's nothing there.  The problem is kind of the exact opposite.  I don't know if it's too much to say guys like Tarantino contain multitudes.  I know anyone who's talked with him in person claim the guy has so much of a mouthful that sometimes you can't keep up.  In a way, that's a good metaphor for the whole problem.  The fact that its drawn from life just gives a bit of needed weight.  With directors like Tarantino, the problem is there can sometimes be so much to talk about that often the critic doesn't even know where to begin.  The worst part is that in a way, the director himself presents very little challenge at this late date.  The real worry in writing about the films of Tarantino is that you have to keep looking over your shoulder in case someone else made your own point for you a long time ago.  There's very little original to be said or unearthed about one of the most successful and defining careers in the history of filmmaking.  In other words, there's a lot to talk about, and its all been said before.  Still, the critic has to report something about his subject if he's to do the job right.

I suppose the best place to start is with the guy himself.  That can also be difficult because there are ways that his life can sound like that of a fictional character who shouldn't even exist.  He was a video store clerk, a rare and by now almost extinct form of retail wildlife that flourished for a brief span of time during the 80s and 90s.  What used to happen is people would actually bother to leave their houses, get in their cars, and go to an actual block of brick and mortar where VHS copies of old films were stored and housed.  They did that because back then it was possible to buy or rent the movie you wanted to watch right there in the store itself.  It was even possible, during this brief span of two decades, when some of these video stores were successful enough to become an actual business chain.  The most famous of these remains Blockbuster Video.  Tarantino never worked at one of these.  His own place of employment was an indie outlet called Video Archives.

This seems to have been the place where Tarantino first cemented a public awareness for himself.  He would sit behind the counter and market with the customers.  This was easy enough and enjoyable because all he had to do was tell anybody who chanced to walk in how much he loved the movies.  He would try and spread the enthusiasm around, get the buyers talking about what they liked, what films they found enjoyable, and what was it about the art-form that even made them want to set foot in establishments like the Archives?  It was a good way to drive up sales.  On personal level, though, it got customers talking not just about the business, but also about a motor-mouth clerk who also seemed like he had something promising in him.  It helped a lot that Quentin was an avid consumer of all things celluloid.  The man has been able to amass an incredible amount of detailed knowledge about movies past and present.  He was already well read, film wise, when he got his start back in the early 90s with Reservoir Dogs.  I don't even know how much more he's been able to accumulate since then.

Just recently Tarantino released his 9th film in theaters.  It's kind of a big deal because some time back he declared that he was going to limit himself to just 10 films under his own banner as a director.  This sort of marketing scheme is interesting for several reasons.  On the one hand, it creates expectation in audiences.  It gives them something to think about in a way that keeps the buzz around your name going.  At the same time, it puts a necessary amount of pressure on the artist to deliver on his promises.  Tarantino knows he has to make every film he releases count.  Any kind of screw-up on his part is going to put a dent in both his reputation and prospects.  That means every film he makes has to be as top quality as he can possibly make it.  The guys must hav a great luck to go along with his natural talents if he wants to succeed.  So far, most of his output has been greeted with popular and critical acclaim.  It's the reason why audiences are now in a heightened state of anticipation because they know his last film has to somehow sum up and account for it all.

According to the director himself, that film is still somewhere on the horizon.  Part of his strategy is to space out his work so that a legend is able to generate around his oeuvre.  It's another bit of his marketing skills.  Right now, his latest film is a bit of a nostalgia piece.  It's called Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and as the penultimate notch in his belt, it seems worth a look to determine just how well it holds up.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Guns Akimbo (2019).

It all started with a meme.  It was a picture of Daniel Radcliffe, the actor forever to be associated with Harry Potter.  In the picture, Radcliffe is seen holding up a pair of guns, looking disheveled and dressed in a style best described as late-stage Arthur Dent.  Like all memes, this one originated online somewhere back in 2018, and it didn't take long for the photo to accumulate its own collection of varying levels of wit.  I'm told the first one out of the gate read something like: I'm telling you Ron, these things are better than magic wands!  Other examples of the kind of humor the image was able to attract were along the lines of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Bullets; Harry Potter and the End of a Vivid (yet prolonged) Hallucination; and, of course, Say hello to my little friends, avada, and kedavra!  It took the release of an actual 2019 trailer to go along the image and place it all in its semi-logical context.  It was a promotion for a movie called Guns Akimbo, and it featured Radcliffe as the star.  The upshot of that clip was that I ran across another meme in the YouTube comments section: Harry Potter and the Stoned Philosopher.

When I first saw the trailer my initial reaction was to be dismissive.  On first glimpse it looked like just another mindless action flick with the only novelty being that it featured the Boy Who Lived.  What else was there?  What was sort of able to draw me back was that I somehow managed to stop and give the setup of the trailer an actual moment's bit of thought.  I began to wonder about various elements of the what I was shown in the preview, and how they might relate to Radcliffe's most famous character.  I began to see how it was just possible there might be some interesting level of commentary attached to the whole schlocky premise.  Besides which, if there's one thing I've learned as a fan of the Horror genre, it's that Schlock can sometimes have it's place.  More than that, it is even possible for some items of Schlock to achieve their own crude yet genuine level of art.  The question is does the final product live up to all these critical musings?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Joe Hill's Faun (2019).

One of the main goals of this blog is to bring the forgotten pieces of artistic history back from the past, and give them their moment in the spotlight.  At the moment, I don't think the subject of today's post needs that much introduction.  If you mention the name Joe Hill to anyone, chances are there will be a sizable enough number of people that know who you're talking about.  He's managed to carve out a place for himself in the current pop-culture landscape, and emerge as a pretty good example of what modern Horror fiction is capable of producing.  His most famous creation remains the multi-part graphic novel known as Locke and Key, while his 2008 novel, Horns, was recently made into a Daniel Radcliffe vehicle a while back.  His name has received its most recent boost from having his 2013 novel, N0S402, translated into an open-ended TV series adaptation of the same name.

It's an admirable achievement for the most part, and Hill has been able to demonstrate a remarkable sense of talent when it comes to entertaining his audience.  This begins to make a bit more sense when you take the author's family history into account.  In the strictest sense, Joe Hill the writer is a man who doesn't exist, except as a limited number of words that make up a fictional pseudonym.  I suppose it looks good or at least serviceable enough for a book jacket byline.  However, that still doesn't tell readers the whole truth.  His real name is Joseph Hillstrom King, and for whatever reason, he was lucky enough to have the famous Horror author Stephen King as a father.  Once this important fact is kept in mind, the outlines of Hill's creative output begins to perhaps make a bit more sense.

The introduction to his recently published anthology series, Full Throttle, is unique in that it marks the first time Hill has opened up about how the writings of his own Dad have influenced the nature of his career.  "Most sons fall into one of two groups.  There's the boy who looks upon his father and thinks, I hate that son of a bitch, and I swear to God I'm never going to be anything like him.


"Then there's the boy who aspires to be like his father: to be as free, and as kind, and as comfortable in his own skin.  A kid like that isn't afraid he's going to resemble his dad in word and action.  He's afraid he won't measure up.  It seems to me that the first kind of son is the most  truly lost in his father's shadow.  On the surface that probably seems counterintuitive.  After all, here's a dude who looked at Papa and decided to run as far and as fast as he could in the other direction.  How much distance do you have to put between yourself and your old man before you're finally free?

"And yet at every crossroads in his life, our guy finds his father standing right behind him: on the first date, at the  wedding, on the job interview.  Every choice must be weighed against Dad's example, so our guy knows to do the opposite...and in this way a bad relationship goes on and on, even if father and son haven't spoken in years.  All that running and the guy never gets anywhere.

"The second kid, he hears that John Donne quote - We're scare our fathers' shadows cast at noon - and nods and thinks, Ah shit, ain't that the truth?  He's been lucky - terribly, unfairly, stupidly lucky.  He's free to be his own man, because his father was.  The father, in truth, doesn't throw a shadow at all.  He becomes instead a source of illumination, a means to see the territory ahead a little more clearly and find one's particular path.  I try to remember how lucky I've been (2-3)".

Hill doesn't leave it at that, and is kind enough to provide the reader with a kind of map of his own development as a writer.  It kind of helped that both his parents were not just "book people", but were also dedicated to the art and crafting of a good story.  In spite of this, Hill says he was a poor student.  Here again, his parents demonstrated just how much they cared about their son's ambitions.  There big discovery was that Hill was able to remember things better if it came to him from the pages of a book.  It was a copy of Ray Bradbury's Zen and the Art of Writing which began to unlock all the important doors in Hill's career.  The writer also mentions how make-up artist Tom Savini acted as a kind of "second father" and role model for him to look up to.

It was from Savini that Hill inherited the sometimes impish sense of glee the writer demonstrates in bringing some of his wackier and off the wall concepts to fruition.  I can see how some readers might be inclined to turn their noses up at these moments as a kind of sophomoric sensibility that the author allows to get in his way.  In Hill's defense, I'm willing to maintain he is able to pull off such stunts, more often than not.  Even when he doesn't make the jump shot, it's not for a lack of either talent or inspiration.  Instead it seems to a phenomenon I was puzzled about at first, but have since come to realize as those unfortunate, yet genuine moments when the inspiration is there, yet it also somehow manages to remain just out of the artist's reach.  I can't even begin to consider the level of frustration that must bring to someone who is such a perfectionist at his craft as Hill is.  The good news is that he never let it discourage him for long.

With all that in mind, it's refreshing to see Hill is the type of writer who isn't shy or ashamed of the influences on his sleeve.  There are two interesting aspects about Hill's work.  The first is the most obvious in the sense that it's plain as day that he's followed in his own dad's footsteps.  The second and more important is the way his work serves as both an extension and continuation of the type of Gothic tale that helped put Stephen King on the map.  I'll get into that subject in it's proper place.  For the moment its enough to stop and take a quick, close look at one of the stories in Full Throttle.  It's an intriguing sort of yarn in its ability to take old ideas, tropes, concepts, and give them a fresh spin.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Souls of Wit: A Tribute to the Algonquin Round Table.

Does the name sound familiar?  Even if it does, the faces escape us.  That's not too much of a surprise.  The trouble with history is that its what everyone wants to get away from and everybody has to have.  It's a sentiment the knights of the old Round Table would have known and applauded.  They were made of different stuff back then.  Another aspect of history is that it all happened in the past.  What that means is sooner or later everyone has a jigsaw puzzle dropped right in front of them, and its our inglorious task to try and see if the pieces fit together.  Whether any of us learn to warm to this subject depends a great deal on whether its able to capture your interest.  That makes it a very haphazard affair, and even when the past is able to bait the hook, it's still no guarantee that the final picture is correct in every detail.

Very few remember the legends of the Round Table.  Not the one I'm talking about, anyway.  I call them knights, although perhaps a better way is to describe them all as a scrappy lot of literary talents looking for some kind of professional home.  At least, that was how it all started out.  It all happened in New York, not long after the First World War.  A lot of the decommissioned war correspondents made their way back to the Apple and somehow found themselves lounging around the dining are designated as the Rose Room of the Algonquin hotel in between waiting for the next gig.  In that sense they were pointers to a more noticeable facet of today's economy.  Back then, however, their professional credentials just made them third-class citizen of a second-class society.  Still, they were able to keep their heads above water.  Some of them like George S. Kaufman and Robert Benchley were up and coming names in the theater circuit.  Both Kaufman and Benchley were critics reporting on the products of the Great White Way at the time the story started.

They were returning vets in one form or another, and were at New York's Algonquin Hotel to welcome back another fellow ink-stained wretch.  His name was Alexander Woollcott, and it was his strange stuffiness mixed in with a bit of low-lying snobbery that made Benchley and the others decide to play a prank on him.  The nature, meaning, and intent of the prank itself is so small as to be unremarkable.  They erected a welcome back banner for Woollcott with his name deliberately misspelled and they were even considerate enough to add in the byline of a fellow critic that Woollcott despised to the masthead.  The prank itself was a minor thing, however the sense of camaraderie it inspired in the participants, even Woollcott as it turned out, made one of them ask, ""Why don't we do this every day (6-7)".

A better sense of the context of that moment in relation to its own time is I think best provided in the following description.  "The period that followed the end of World War I was one of gaiety and optimism, and it sparked a new era of creativity in American culture. Surely one of the most profound — and outrageous — influences on the times was the group of a dozen or so tastemakers who lunched together at New York City’s Algonquin Hotel. For more than a decade they met daily and came to be known as the Algonquin Round Table. With members such as writers Dorothy Parker, Harold Ross (founder of The New Yorker) and Robert Benchley; columnists Franklin Pierce Adams and Heywood Broun, and Broun’s wife Ruth Hale; critic Alexander Woollcott; comedian Harpo Marx; and playwrights George S. Kaufman, Marc Connelly, Edna Ferber, and Robert Sherwood, the Round Table embodied an era and changed forever the face of American humor.

"It all began with an afternoon roast of the New York Times drama critic, Alexander Wollcott. A number of writers met up at the Algonquin Hotel on 44th street and had such a good time that the event was repeated the next day, and the day after that, until the lunch table at the Algonquin was established as a ritual. The core group of friends was sometimes joined by others who attended for short periods or drifted about the periphery of the group, including such notables as actress Tallulah Bankhead and playwright Noel Coward. The Round Table was made up of people with a shared admiration for each other’s work. Outspoken and outrageous, they would often quote each other freely in their daily columns.

"Round Tabler Edna Ferber, who called them “The Poison Squad,” wrote, “They were actually merciless if they disapproved. I have never encountered a more hard-bitten crew. But if they liked what you had done, they did say so publicly and whole-heartedly.” Their standards were high, their vocabulary fluent, fresh, astringent, and very, very tough. Both casual and incisive, they had a certain terrible integrity about their work and boundless ambition. Some of the most notable members of the Round Table came together to work on significant collaborative projects. George Kaufman teamed up with Edna Ferber and Marc Connelly on some of his best stage comedies, including Dulcy and The Royal Family. Harold Ross of The New Yorker hired both Dorothy Parker as a book reviewer and Robert Benchley as a drama critic (web)".  I think its somewhat telling that another member of the group was named Bill Murray.  As the later comic once observed, "Like you, I am shocked".  I suppose the final ingredient to the mix, the one acts as a decent capper, is the addition of the Brothers of the aforementioned Mr. Marx.

One of the things I've begun to notice is how a lot of the really great artistic accomplishments are either the result of the kind of informal group collaboration like that described above, or else they're at the very least interlinked by what I can only describe as a wave of inspiration that effects the culture of which each artist forms an integral part.  In the case of the Round Table, it seems as if a little bit of both was at work.  I've only begun to dive into this particular artistic group, yet what I've found already is enough to warrant a closer look or two.  As of this writing, I've familiarized myself with the work of four the members, or hangers-on of the the Tablers: Benchley, Kaufman, James Thurber, and  E.B. White.  Right now these four seem to represent to me the core artistic principles that forged a kind of informal bond for the Table.

It's the nature of those principles that I'd like to take a moment to examine.  I think unpacking the toolbox the group used to compose their works can help gain a better understanding of the ideas that drove the collective.  What makes it interesting is that what I've found convinces me that the Round Table as an artistic collective can help throw some interesting light on a forgotten influence on the nature of not just modern fiction, but on the practice of fantasy writing in the twentieth century.  The core principles of the Table that I've been able to discover come down to just three elements.  The first is that I think it helps to see the four knights discussed here as part of the Modernist experiment in world fiction at the time.  While guys like Benchley, Thurber, and White were making a name for themselves at The New Yorker, across the pond, guys like Ezra Pound and James Joyce were also busy mapping out the parameters of what Post-War literature could become.

The second element that was spread out over the work of the entire Table was that of Humor.  This is an arena in which guys like Kaufman and Marx were able to shine.  In particular, a brief look at the collaboration between the two can help to demonstrate the legacy they've left behind for up and coming modern comics.  The third and final element that united the group was their revelatory and unexpected approach to the topic of Myth.  In some ways, this is the biggest surprise I was able to uncover about the group, and the best part is I wasn't even on the lookout for anything.  I just kept going through the bibliography of guys like White and Thurber, or the list of performances made by Benchley, and somehow it finally got through that there was a genuine sense of respect for the kind of storytelling that was frowned upon by all the important taste-makers of the time.  It's the most overlooked aspect of the Round Table, and I think it may also be the one subject I'd like to go through the most.  So, grab a a favorite drink, a chair, put on some proper mood music, and meet some interesting people.