A Blog to Keep the Lizards Away. It's about posting and sharing the things I'm into. Hope you enjoy the show!

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Nanjing - City of Life and Death

Historical images of breathtaking yet unspeakable horror you need to see

Nanjing Nanjing - City of Life and Death is a film made in 2009 by director Chuan Lu. It documents the Rape of Nanking in 1937, when the Japanese Imperial Army swept into China wreaking unprecedented atrocities, mutilations and sexual assaults on Chinese civilians. In this masterpiece, director Chuan Lu recreates groundbreaking scenes in a heartbreaking context unlike anything seen in other films of this "holocaust" genre, such as The PianistSchindler's List or Defiance.

The shambolic, cruel and opportunistic Japanese invaders

Shot in black and white, Chuan Lu cleverly adjusts the grain and grading of the film for maximum impact. Sometimes it drifts into sepia for warmth but never colour as if not to glorify the horror.

This is not Chinese propaganda. It is not an account of efficient, organised genocide as perpetrated by the Nazis. Its a factual account of cold, arbitrary murder with a vengeance that could only be mustered after drawing on generations of hate, jealousy and retribution. The Japanese soldiers are portrayed as erratic, unreasonable, undisciplined and mentally unstable. There is no honour in war here.

Xiaodouzi [Bin Lui] the young survivor who keeps us optimistic when all seems lost

Throughout history every nationality, especially the Chinese, have had their own shameful episodes of cruelty they inflicted on their "enemies', but in this case you cannot help but sympathise with the plight of these hapless, helpless peasants and the ferocity of the intent the Japanese have to annihilate them.

Before watching this film I only had high school history exposure to the events that took place in Nanking. But now after seeing it I feel we all should be more aware of this tragedy. Almost like we owe it to those that died and those that survived. Especially the women who were forced to "comfort" Japanese soldiers on an industrial scale. Many of these comfort women were Korean POW's and some are still alive today. Still fighting the Japanese government for recognition and compensation for their suffering.

I see a lot of movies, but rarely have I been so moved and emotionally involved as when I saw Nanjing Nanjing. Full credit to Chuan Lu for his achievement and his contribution. I urge you to seek out this movie on DVD and add it to your collection. It deserves to be there.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Golden Breed's Keep Your Balance

the Golden Breed say
Keep Your Balance

Keep Your Balance was the last Golden Breed poster in the series. It represented a yin and yang approach to the temptations and attractions presented to the youth of the day. The artwork is exquisite and shows our young protagonist stepping from the dark side, wearing his Golden Breed striped polo.

By 1978, the Lizard Feathers consultancy was morphing into sports marketing activities, on behalf of a small group of youth-orientated companies like South Australian sportswear manufacturer Golden Breed. In three years Golden Breed had grown into a major lifestyle brand with an enviable grass-roots image that kids wanted to wear.

Now that Golden Breed had an established image we moved onto creating activities that kids wanted to be a part of. Together we created and sponsored action events like Skateboard Expression Sessions, Junior Surfing contests and Motocross events that wrote the rules of how extreme sports are marketed today.

The Golden Breed posters kept coming but from here were more focussed on promoting the sponsored events.

art by Richard Zaloudek.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Sal Mineo The SwitchBlade Kid

Sal Mineo - "The Switchblade Kid"

Born of Sicilian emigrant parents in Harlem in 1939, Sal Mineo spent his early years running with the local tough Bronx street gangs. By the age of 8 he was thrown out of parochial school, so his mother enrolled him in acting and dancing classes. In 1950 he excelled in his first stage appearance, The Rose Tattoo by Tennessee Williams and starring Maureen Stapleton and Eli Wallach. He also played a young prince opposite Yul Brynner in The King and I, and later, a young boy in Tony Curtis's Six Bridges To Cross.

From the Bronx to Hollywood

After a few lesser films his breakthrough was Rebel Without A Cause [1955], in which he gave an impressive performance as a gay teen smitten with James Dean's character, a role that saw him nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award.

In Rebel Without A Cause, the interaction between Jimmy Dean and sixteen year old Sal Mineo scandalised a homophobic Hollywood. These magic moments set fire to a rumour mill that is still burning 56 years later. They also gave hope and hero-worship to millions of confused misunderstood teens who no longer wanted to live between the straight lines drawn by previous generations.

James Dean's Jim Stark and Sal Mineo's Plato Crawford in Rebel Without A Cause

James Dean and Sal were briefly re-united in Giant [1956], when Sal appeared in a few scenes with Jimmy, Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor. But shortly after James Dean was killed in a car accident. Sal Mineo was devastated and turned to Natalie Wood, another member of their "brat pack," in a very public display of confused sexuality.

Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood

But Natalie, who had also received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her work on Rebel Without A Cause, quickly moved on as she developed into one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the big screens in Hollywood.

Looking like a real Sicilian, Sal steps out in Hollywood

Sal Mineo's other stand-out performance was in Exodus [1960], earning him another Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role as Dov Landau, a Jewish holocaust survivor, who wants to join a radical Zionists underground network after the war. He is accepted into the group when Dov finally admits he was a Sonderkommando in Auschwitz and raped by the Nazis.

Sal had a reputation for getting way too close to his movie co-stars including James Dean and director Nicholas Ray in Rebel Without A Cause and Exodus co-star Jill Haworth, who was 15 years old at the time. They went on to have a long affair which confused the gossip media and casting agents.

Even though Sal Mineo appeared in dozens of other films including The Longest Day, Tonka, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Young Don't Cry and Escape from the Planet of the Apes, his behaviour was increasingly becoming out and proud. Not a popular position in Hollywood at the time.

Sal Mineo went on to become a stage director receiving recognition for his work on the internationally successful play Fortune in Men's Eyes.

Outside Sal Mineo's Hollywood apartment, on the night of February 12th, 1976, a neighbour heard Sal calling for help and then found him in the gutter, stabbed to death at the age of 37.

He had not been robbed and a white male with long hair was seen running from the scene. His accused killer, Lionel Ray Williams was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1979. With no apparent motive for the murder, the conviction remains controversial. Williams claims he was innocent and that homophobia impeded the search for Sal's real murderer.

He is buried in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, New York.

With the news James Franco has just acquired the rights to make a biopic called "Sal" to be released in 2013, we about to get a better behind the scenes look at the proud life of Sal Mineo.

I wonder what Sal thinks of all this. Looking down on us, smoking filtered Kool cigarettes and sipping his umpteenth black coffee and sugar.

He famously said in 1975, "I'll never be mistaken for Pat Boone."

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Trapped in Khufu's Great Pyramid

 The Great Pyramid of Giza - King Khufu [2589 - 2566 B.C.]

Forty years ago, entering the Great Pyramid at Giza and making the long, steep ascent up into the King's burial chamber was adventurous and quite difficult. There was no ventilation, the stairs were unstable and the lighting in the burial chamber consisted of one bare light bulb, lying vulnerable on the floor.

Back then, whenever I made the climb up to the pyramid's entrance, the old guard at the outside door would give me a condescending look and a sigh as if to say "not you again" and then begrudgingly pull an electricity cable out from a piece of conduit, expose the two bare wires and twist them together to make a contact and so turn on the light up in the chamber.

Now days its civilised and as a result a lot more tourists make the trek. Not only is the lighting adequate, they now have a security camera to keep an eye on visitors.

Inside the King's Burial Chamber and Sarcophagus 

Back in the Seventies, I was in the habit of getting up early to be at the pyramid before it opened. I would slip the guard a few Egyptian pounds and he would let me up into the King's chamber, where I would sit on the floor and read my book for an hour or so, until the tourists start to arrive.

One morning, as usual, I climbed up into the centre of the Pyramid, reached the burial chamber, looked around the empty room and took up my position on the floor. Just as I reached for my book, the light bulb flickered and went out. The chamber was pitch black. The electricity had failed. [blackouts across Egypt were a part of daily life and still are]

I figured the wise thing to do was just sit there and wait it out. No way could I negotiate my way out of the chamber and back down the Grand Gallery in the dark. It was dangerous enough when you could see where you were going. That's when I heard the heavy breathing!

The Great Pyramid Grand Gallery to the Burial Chamber

There I was, alone in the dark, in the middle of the Great Pyramid, and I can hear somebody breathing and moaning. Now I really panicked. It's amazing what visions flash through your mind. I was scared.

After what seemed like an eternity the light spluttered back on. My eyes adjusted and I looked around. Nobody there. The heavy breathing started again so I got up and walked behind the huge granite sarcophagus and finally saw a guy lying flat, out of sight, behind the sarcophagus. He was pale, gasping for air and pointing to his shirt pocket. Sure enough I found his little tin box of small white pills and put one under his tongue, which he was just about to swallow.

Eventually he recovered enough to tell me he was a Brazilian tourist and the climb up into the Chamber was too strenuous for him. Shortly before I had arrived he started having a heart attack and I had saved his life. That was OK for him. He took ten years off mine!

Its those sorts of experiences that kept me coming back to Egypt. You just never know and everyday is an adventure.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Brandon De Wilde - Not Forgotten

Brandon De Wilde - a magnetic, riveting child prodigy

April 9, 1942, Brandon De Wilde was born into a theatrical family in Brooklyn. Debuting on Broadway at the age of 7, Brandon became a national phenomenon, completing 492 performances of The Member of the Wedding and was considered by experts as a true child prodigy. He later starred in the film version of this play in 1952 and won the Donaldson Award - a special Golden Globe Award for Best Juvenile Talent.

 The first child actor awarded the Donaldson Award

Hedda Hopper dubbed Brandon The King of Child Actors. His most memorable film role was as young Joey Starrett in the film Shane [1953] where he was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor [he lost to Frank Sinatra in "From Here To Eternity"]. As Shane, with his blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, and playing opposite the strange surly gunman [Alan Ladd], he stole the show.

Brandon appeared on the front cover of Life Magazine on March 10, 1952, for his Broadway play Mrs McThing, and had his own sitcom television series Jamie on ABC [1953-1954]

 "Small for his age and a bit too pretty".

Brandon's most challenging "adult" role was as Paul Newman's 17 year old nephew Lonnie in the Western Hud [1963]. In this story of alienated youth, Brandon holds his own opposite a ruthless Hud Bannon [Newman] who is out for kicks with no consequences. And both actors are well supported by co-star Patricia Neal who won an Academy Best Actress Award for her role.

Critics say Paul Newman's Hud was one of his better performances [along with Cool Hand Luke], but Brandon De Wilde is amazing in this film. His scenes with Newman are magnetic and definitely a match for the charismatic Hud. Brandon's quietly spoken Southern drawl and riveting eye contact, compete for attention in every frame.

During this time, Brandon had become interested in launching a music career. He was in the Bahamas in February 1965, at the same time The Beatles were filming Help! and hung out with the band, who got stoned on the pot De Wilde provided. Brandon sang a few demos and by all accounts was quite good, but a music career never eventuated.

Unfortunately for Brandon, being small for his age and a bit too pretty worked against him in later life. Overlooked for many movie roles he turned to television. Although he had regular work it was not the same. He even spoke of giving up acting and coming back when he was 40 years old, so people would regard him as an adult.

But he did not get the chance. Tragically, on July 6th 1972, while returning from Denver, Colorado where he had visited his wife who was recovering in hospital, Brandon, aged 30, was killed in an automobile accident at Lakewood, a suburb of Denver. Driving a camper van he crashed into a parked construction truck and died of multiple injuries. He was in the Denver area to co-star in a local production of the play "Butterflies are Free". He left behind a small son, Jessie.

The day after his death the New York Times wrote, "The professionals he worked with praised him for an unpretentiousness that many found a surprising quality in one so celebrated from his earliest years".

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Nicholas Brothers - Flash Dance Masters

 "The Greatest Movie Musical Dance Sequence I Have Ever Seen"- Fred Astaire

The Nicholas Brothers were undoubtably the greatest dance team that ever stepped onto a stage.

In an exhilarating hybrid of tap, ballet and acrobatics, sometimes called "flash dancing", no individual group surpassed the effect that the Nicholas Brothers had on audiences and on other dancers.

Their most famous performance was the breathtaking staircase routine from the "Jumpin' Jive" dance finale in the 1943 movie "Stormy Weather" with The Cab Calloway Orchestra. In this spectacular routine the Nicholas Brothers perform a series of fearless leapfrogs and "no-hands" splits down a staircase that has to be seen to be believed. [the clip is on YouTube]

Ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov said they were the most amazing dancers he had ever seen in his life!

Fayard Nicholas was born October 20, 1914 in Alabama and his younger brother Harold was born on March 17, 1921 in North Carolina. The children of pit orchestra musicians, they grew up surrounded by black vaudeville acts and the up-tempo jazz music of Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson.

At the age of three, Fayard was sitting in the front row while his parents worked and by the time he was ten he had seen most of the great vaudeville acts of the time. Backstage, between shows, Fayard and young Harold taught themselves to dance and were coached by the black performers on the same bill.

By 1932, when Fayard was 18 and Harold was 11 they became the feature act at Harlem's Cotton Club, working with orchestra leaders Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington.

Check out the "Lucky Number" dance routine on YouTube. One of the earliest clips of the Nicholas Brothers singing and dancing in impeccable style, a sequence from the 1936 movie, "Stairway to the Stars."

Fayard [18] and Harold [10] Nicholas

By 1940, they were in Hollywood contracted to 20th Century Fox and made six films there. In all, they made over 30 films including "Stormy Weather", their last appearance on film as a routine.

For several decades the Fayard and Harold alternated between movies, nightclubs, concerts, Broadway, television and extensive tours of Latin America, Africa and Europe.

The brothers then taught master classes in tap at Harvard University. Among their known students are Debbie Allen, Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson.

The Magic Is There In Every Movement. 
"Chatanooga Choo Choo" 1941. From the "Sun Valley Serenade" movie with Glenn Miller's Band.

Harold died July 3, 2000 of a heart attack following minor surgery and Fayard died January 24, 2006, aged 91 of pneumonia after having a stroke.

The Great Nicholas Brothers - "We Sing and We Dance."

Friday, 10 June 2011

The Golden Breed Smoke

the Golden Breed say

The adventures of Alice in Wonderland have inspired the imagination of many generations since the novel was written in 1865 by Charles Dogdson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. Adaptations of his novel have resulted in ten movies and hundreds of cartoons, television documentaries and plays.

In one of the earliest examples of fantasy genre, Lewis Carroll created more than twenty memorable characters for his Alice In Wonderland tale. Including the wonderfully wise Caterpillar, sitting on top of a magic mushroom, smoking a strange brew from his hookah. Heady stuff for nearly 150 years ago.

For our Golden Breed client, Lizard Feathers commissioned artist Richard Zaloudek to create his version of the Caterpillar for poster number five in the series. The Caterpillar is wearing a plush Golden Breed velour sweatshirt in keeping with the character.

Art by Richard Zaloudek. circa 1976

The Golden Breed Surf

the Golden Breed say

This Lizard Feathers poster was number two in the series for our Surf-wear client Golden Breed. The artist was Peter Ledger, a brilliant, gregarious character who was preoccupied with girls, guns and comics, in no particular order. The only way to get Ledger to draw was to lock him in the front room of our house and push vast quantities of food and stimulants under the door, until he finished the artwork.

Our space surfer takes off on his favourite chrome mercury break, wearing a Golden Breed Silky hawaiian shirt.

Art by Peter Ledger. circa 1974. 

Do You Believe In Magic?

the Golden Breed say
Do You Believe In Magic?

Another Lizard Feathers Inc. inspired Golden Breed poster, number four in the series. This one recognises magical, mystical, religious symbolism. 

One of the Golden Breed, with a head full of tumbling dice, wears a multi-panel, padded sweatshirt as he straddles the rising new Moons. The Sun is strategically placed as a life force. Ancient astrological symbols decorate dividers that are crested with the Holy Ghost. Jesus is surrounded by the Star signs. Buddah and Confucious look down on side panels of the Garden of Earthly Delights - Heaven and Hellscape, borrowed from Hieronymus Bosch. The Golden Breed logo is supported by Egyptian Gods.

When this poster was released back in the day, Lizard Feathers headquarters received lots of abusive letters from religious zealots of all persuasions wanting to debate the concepts shown. One particularly difficult lady demanded an explanation, so we posted her some seeds in an envelope.

Art by Richard Zaloudek. circa 1976.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Space Is The Place

the Golden Breed say
Space Is The Place

In 1975 the Lizard Feathers Inc. empire consisted of my business partner and I working as freelance advertising and marketing consultants from a home base. We approached an Adelaide-based Surf wear company called Golden Breed, promising to create a promotional campaign that would build the label into a national youth brand.

Lizard Feathers conceived a series of eight posters for display in retail outlets. The posters also doubled as full colour outside back cover advertisements in youth magazines. Each poster was devised to appeal to teen sub-cultures as they existed back then. Bikes. Surf. Skate. Comics. Cosmics. Stoners. 

Space Is The Place is my favourite. Behold the Monster out there alone in space. His head on fire he lets out an almighty scream. Wearing his basic white t-shirt, the Golden Breed hear him loud and clear.

Artwork by Richard Zaloudek.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Stoned On Three Wheels

The World's Fastest Hearse 

Thirty eight years ago I was involved in the production of some stunt riding sequences for the Australian movie "Stone" - a cult Bikers film. The opening sequence of the film depicted a funeral ride up the Sydney to Newcastle Freeway. The deceased biker's coffin, mounted on a motorcycle sidecar, was being transported to the Cemetery escorted by 400 other riders.

It was my job to secure the sidecar for the scene and I managed to borrow a wickedly fast competition racing rig which was powered by a Kawasaki 900cc motor in a special road racing frame. On the morning of the shoot, the bike was delivered to the location and I asked the question, "OK who's going to ride it?" When I looked around everybody had stepped back and left me standing there!

Just to spite them I said, "No problem," and tried to work out how to start it, not daring to admit I had never ridden one of these things before. After all how hard could it be!

The Movie Logo 

Before I got a chance to get nervous the director had shouted, "Action" and we were off. By the time I came to my senses, I realised I was sitting astride this racing beast doing 130 klms per hour up the Freeway, with a coffin on the side. When I looked behind me there were hundreds of rough-looking  bikers, as far as the eye could see, all urging me to go faster and ready to run me over if I faltered.

Somehow I carried it off, pretending afterwards to be an expert!

The Gravediggers Logo Back Patch

Later in the movie I also filled in as a stunt double in some action riding sequences for one of the characters, "Midnight". Including when the lead character "Stone" crashes his bike in a street race with "Midnight", I was on the other bike.