humour

silent movie, clown, Buster Keaton, Neil Brand

Review: Neil Brand Presents Buster Keaton

Last night, I went to see a Buster Keaton movie, ably accompanied by his musical partner for the evening: Neil Brand.

It was an early Christmas treat for me – and it was terrific in that quiet, enjoyable way of being served a delicious meal, where every course is a delight, but the chef isn’t in the room, waving his hands and being dramatic about it.

Right at the start, Neil introduced us to the public face of the actor – but explained that actually there were quite a few Busters in his own lifetime – and that the relaxed way he is represented in this photo (featured at the top of this post) belies the fact that Buster treated life as something to be attacked with energy.

As the first clip began to roll on the screen, Neil naturally began to play the piano alongside – no big dramatic announcement – it just happened, and was a beautiful, natural segue.

The “Silent Movies” of course weren’t silent when viewed – there would be a pianist, or organist playing – or if it was a posh cinema for the release of a major new film, perhaps sometimes a small orchestra.  The film itself had “titles” where a piece of card with words on it would appear on the screen, interrupting the moving picture – to let us know what was being said.

The first half of the night was introducing Buster the man and some delightful clips of his short films (the one in which he’s changing into swimming togs in a cubicle together with a large, hectoring man, where there is barely space for one skinny man is a particular joy).  It’s viewable on Youtube, but with an unsubtle organ accompaniment which I personally don’t enjoy so much as live piano accompaniment.

The full-length film being shown last night in the second half of the evening was “Steamboat Bill, Jnr“.  This is a classic – it is THE one where he stands, stone-faced, and the front of a house topples over him – his body going through an upstairs window.  It was a genuinely dangerous part of the movie.

This particular film was what began Neil Brand on his accompanist career – it was the first film he played music to.  He’s now able to play along with the film without having a musical score on the piano.  In fact, he teaches other people to accompany silent movies – and gives the same advice as to us the viewers – “Just hang with the main character – hang out with Buster Keaton.”  And then we simply spent the next hour with an ingenious, charming clown who made us laugh, gasp and watch in wonder.

Although I’m a Buster Keaton fan, have read Paul Merton’s books “Silent Clowns” (which features Keaton, among others) and though our family have a DVD of “The General” and watched it many times – this presentation by Neil Brand still had fresh joys to offer.

So – keep an eye out for silent movies with live accompaniment at your local independent cinema – they’re becoming more frequent.  And if Neil Brand is making a presentation – do go out and see it, even if it’s -5 degrees at the bus stop on the way home! (which it was, last night).  It will be worth it.  Here’s a taster introduction by the man himself.

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Humorist, Photographer, Earthling

Terry Border describes himself as “Humorist, Photographer, Earthling” on his website.

As well as the photo series of books with wiry limbs (see featured photo above this article) he is also a punning facial hair model:

moose+stache – this is part of a series if you have a friend with facial hair which you would like to gently mock.

And a series of imaginative reconceptions of Paint Chips – yes, paint chips – that ordinary,

(more…)

How to get your cartoon into the New Yorker magazine

Bob Mankhoff gives a (21 minutes) TED talk on what cartoons are likely to be the accepted 18 out of 1,000 sent in, weekly.  As cartoon editor, he is the man who chooses which few make the cut.

Bob himself was once an aspiring cartoonist who wanted to have his cartoons in the New Yorker – an experience which gave him a great deal of opportunity to experience rejection.

“From 1974 to 1977 I submitted 2,000 cartoons to the New Yorker and got 2,000 cartoons rejected from the New Yorker….” eventually one is accepted, this becomes a pattern and then  “finally in 1980 I received the revered New Yorker contract”.

Interestingly, in the contract there is no mention of cartoons – they are called “idea drawings“.  This is because they require thought not only on the part of the cartoonist, but also the reader.

He shows his most popular, often reproduced cartoon:

Screen shot 2017-10-07 at 12.23.53

Bob Mankhoff cartoon

This illustrates humor

  • our expectations are defied
  • the narrative gets switched
  • there’s an incongruity and a contrast
  • “a cognitive synergy where we mash up these 2 things which don’t go together but temporarily in our minds exist”

In the above cartoon’s case, all of this is between the syntax of politeness (polite speech) and the message being rude.

Where different frames of reference are brought together this is technically called “by association” and need to work for the viewer to get the joke fast, in under a second.  e.g.

Screen shot 2017-10-07 at 12.45.13

New Yorker cartoon

This cartoon, which pushes together the traditional object of the Swiss army knife and a popular description of France as a nation which produces wine and also consumes it.

However, my favourite example of this mixing is a two-picture cartoon which looks at the popular dog film genre of the rescue dog….. reimagined.

 

Screen shot 2017-10-07 at 12.55.04

 

Bob points out that a huge amount of humor generally is just poking fun at an enemy – but the New Yorker wants an insight into people, into ‘us’.  So, for example, he showed this:

Screen shot 2017-10-07 at 12.31.45

New Yorker Cartoon by R Chast

Humour does need a target, Bob Mankhoff says, but the target in the New Yorker is “us”.  In the magazine, the humour is self-reflective and makes us think about our assumptions.  It focuses on our foibles and weaknesses and not someone else’s.

“The New Yorker is also trying in some way, to make cartoons say something besides funny and something about us.”

The talk is enlightening, funny and interesting – a bit of an idea drawing with words. And well illustrated and leavened with cartoons.

If you are a wouldbe cartooner, aiming for the New Yorker market – then this is essential viewing.

TEDtalk: Bob Mankhoff   “Anatomy of a New Yorker Cartoon” (viewable on Youtube)

Want to know more?

There’s a documentary “Very semi-serious: A partially thorough Portrait of New Yorker Cartoonists” – here’s a 45 second trailer:

I have seen the film, it was fun but regretfully I dozed lightly in some parts – this is not a reflection on the film so much as a comment on the fact that on that specific day I needed some extra sleep, and was in a warm, comfortable space.  The bits which I saw were enjoyable.

And Bob Mankhoff did a much longer talk on video (55 mins), about his life story in cartooning – based on his book “How about never: is never good for you?”

The video is called: Bob Mankhoff: a career in cartoons” and you can watch it here.

Writer’s pictures 2

Having a good picture of yourself may seem like a dream a long way off, when you’re starting to send out your work as a writer, and only you and your computer know what you’re about.  But the need for a publicity picture may come sooner than we think.  Are you ready?  I was asked recently to supply a photo as I was leading some workshops and suddenly realised I was one selfie short of a bio.  What do the well-published writers look like?

I blogged about this before, at http://bit.ly/2tI8u3m

But I am reminded of it today with this crop of author pics which you can see above this post, freshly harvested from The Word Factory, (more…)