Monthly Archives: April 2013

Glories from THE Frank Thorne


Found this on the SAW web-site today regarding my career as an artist and teacher… from the one and only Frank Thorne:

“…don’t know much about “art,’ even though I’ve been drawing and writing for over 60 years. I always held the belief that “art” cannot be taught. But, looking over the SAW website, methinks that yours is the correct approach. Witness Justine, the very embodiment of the artist’s profile. I’ve known her for many years, and have been a fan from the very beginning. She is extremely gifted, and will be on hand to help your students open the doors of perception.

Give her a hug for me.”


Once again, Frank descends from the heavens (or some other slightly less well-lit and sulfuric place) to heap praise and glories upon little old me! Thank you Frank, and I love you!

Why Jonathan Winters Is Not Even Vaguely Racist


TheWonderfulWorldOfJonathanWinters-AlbumCover I was mildly disheartened by the experience of introducing Jonathan Winters to my students today, but only mildly, and certainly not disparagingly. They’re all great students and amazing people… but they demonstrate some of the inappropriate sensitivity that has been innocently driven into our culture and their generation in particular. It’s something I understand, often agree with, but as is the case with any movement or successful amount of social progress, there is often a reactionary element that obscures the deeper truths and comes across as excessive. One thing I have a huge beef with is that cartoon images of races that are not “white” are automatically dismissed as “racist.” Yep, some are, but most are not. Cartoonists exaggerate. Winters was a cartoonist, but rather than draw, he performed.

Again, cartoonists exaggerate, that’s what they do, in fact, it’s about all they have. Take away a cartoonist’s right to exaggerate and they’ve nothing left but soft doughy drawings of soft doughy white guys (never women, as those cartoons are now “sexist”). If an art form (cartooning) is the art of exaggeration, then by today’s standards, cartooning is dead. Certainly cartoonists (humorists) have in the past poked fun at racial, cultural, and gender stereotypes… but does that make them racist or mean-spirited? No, many people I know from all walks of life, genders, and races certainly act in stereotypical ways, and we seem to have reached a point of over-sensitivity in which playing with these stereotypes is no longer allowed. Of course I also recognize from painful personal experience that cartoons, songs, and routines of that nature can hurt, so there is a paradox and conflict even in myself about all this. But let’s just stick with my point rather than delving into the inner conflict any sensitive or intelligent person must recognize when talking about this stuff. One of the best points I can make in regard to my original argument has to do with Speedy Gonzalez, from Warner Brothers cartoon fame. At some point people (probably over-sensitive white folks) decided that Speedy Gonzalez cartoons were racist, so they were essentially pulled or banned. Here’s the catch, no one thought to ask the Mexicans. They LOVED Speedy and wondered why their favorite character was no longer on TV. Similarly when I watch Rochester on the Jack Benny show I understand why some people might find it offensive, but I think that shows a certain knee-jerkiness and ignorance. Look closer: Jack worked with a “black” actor for years, loyally, and though Rochester was in the servile role officially, he gave Rochester the best lines, always had him come out on top (even on top of the star… Jack Benny himself), and was portrayed as not only intelligent, but popular and extremely quick-witted. To me, the issue is not so clear as many might believe, and if anything shows that Jack Benny was a very forward thinking man, especially for the time. Indeed, even the “offensive” Amos and Andy, if you watch it, portrays those characters in what to my eyes is a far less degrading way than Def Comedy Jam. I simply think these issues are more complicated than they seem.

Similarly with Jonathan Winters. Though my students were hip enough to laugh, to get it, I heard the words “creepy” and heard him described as “vaguely racist.” And while I admire the sensitivity, it comes from a point of view that is distinctly modern. Keep in mind, like any cartoonist, Jonathan Winters exaggerated, and he did so inclusively in an egalitarian way. All of his characters, be they black, white, women, Chinese, children, or Ohio hicks, were treated with the same amount (or lack of) dignity. There was no cynicism, no hate, not even any ignorance. He painted them all with the same beautifully broad brushstrokes as would have any cartoonist or comedian. He played with stereotypes and broadly humorous affectations. No one was singled out as being more or less human. In his eyes, anyone was potential material for comedy… not just any race, but any species–he did great dogs and cats, too. Sad to think that were he still out there working he would ONLY be allowed to perform as white male characters, no women, no blacks, no Chinese, nothing. Nowadays he would have to censor himself to the point of being stale and stagnant, stiff and inoffensive. Boring.

Let’s keep in mind, also, that when Jonathan Winters appeared on the Rosey Grier show his portrayal of a black man on that show was brave, bold, and politically significant not only to both men, but to the country. This was black and white meeting, laughing together on national television that went into the homes of people of all races. This was not racist, this was a victory of the melting pot and a much needed release of pressure during racially tense times. This was not primitive or racist, this was groundbreaking. And as you watch it you can see Mr. Grier laughing as he recognized Mr. Winters playing up stereotypical behaviors and attitudes he was no doubt familiar with the very same way I laugh out loud when he plays up stereotypical behaviors and attitudes of the Ohio hicks and hillbillies I knew, loved, and grew up with. Are we to believe now that Jonathan Winters should have ONLY played up the silliness and stereotypes present in white America? How boring, how deeply racist, and what a shame to rob him of such a wealth of material.

Besides all this there is a personality trait, or aesthetic, that many of us have (and I am assuming that Jonathan Winters was “one of us”) in that many of us love characters. We love people with character, people who are characters, characters, and people with great characteristic features. This is lost in the modern aesthetic. Character actors are all but gone, eccentricity is no longer celebrated in the same way. Watching older films we (those of us who are part of The Cult Of Character) enjoy that there are so many great faces with so many distinctive traits, not like in modern films where a certain even tone seems to dominate the appearance of most actors. We love people who are different, eccentric, and want to celebrate, imitate, and enjoy such natural individuality. We miss Paul Lynde, Fred Gwynne, Ernie Anderson, Minnie Pearl, and other people/actors whose schtick involved characters with distinctive and excessive personality traits. Guys like Jonathan Winters celebrated that world of human experience. And he didn’t just celebrate famous characters, but the characters that populated his daily life, and he did so with joyous affection.

I say there was nothing racist about his routines, nothing even remotely offensive, or creepy, no, with Jonathan there was nothing but good-hearted pure egalitarian joy! And as for me, I’d love to see a lot more of that on TV nowadays.

Punchlines To Jokes That Aren’t Going Anywhere


These are punchlines for stories I’ve already told but forgot to include when I told them, or jokes that I could be wearing out elsewhere:

“Green Emerald Curry Spam.” Spam jokes are cheap, but I was trying to come up with the types of Spams that were in the Spam gift sets we were given for Christmas by the school I worked for in South Korea, and I thought this combination was funny in its absurdity even if Spam jokes are passe. I told this story at the Conch the other night about the Spam gift set (and no matter how weird it is, always assume that if I’m telling a story about South Korea that I did NOT make it up). And other Spams were going to be: Spam infused olive oil, after dinner Spams, and perhaps Buffalo Spam or jerk Spam.

Another beat I regrettably missed at the Conch, actually the freaking punchline to the story of how much I hated Korean food was that while I was living in Korea I was actually called into the office and bitched out for not eating Korean food at lunch with everyone else. I told them they’d hired me to teach, not to eat Korean food.

“Is there a for when you catch a virtual flu from someone on social media?” The last line in a recent Facebook exchange… I had more material here, but chose to stop before people got tired of it.

Jess Franco, No Apologies!



I disagree with almost everyone anymore. I don’t want to, I certainly don’t try to, but I do. We already know that I disagree with everyone on Paul McCartney, he is, was, and always will be a genius. But there is one more person, equally significant in my life, that I also disagree with everyone about… Jess Franco, the greatest filmmaker of all time.

And I meant that. Nope, I don’t buy into the common logic that “his films suck… but…” No, not at all. His films don’t suck, in fact, they are, when he was at his best, some of the most visionary, influential, and enthralling films I have ever seen… and I’ve seen a whole lotta films. So, as you can imagine, I was really struck by Jess Franco’s passing, yeah, he was old, led a great life, accomplished a lot, so I wasn’t sad for him so much as glad for him. Jess Franco led an enviable and remarkable life.

It’s all about the courage to follow your obsessions down whatever rabbit hole they lead you into, no matter how deep or dirty. Jess Franco was not merely a dismissable king of sleaze, no he was a highly personal and uncompromising filmmaker who knew damn well what he was doing. He knew he was zooming in tight, knew he was showing scenes out of focus, knew his films didn’t make a lot of sense linearly. They weren’t meant to be linear, they are dreams, nightmares from the id, reincarnations of the spirit of de Sade. I’ve read numerous laughable complaints about his use of the zoom lens on pubic hair (a practice he explained as merely being “honest”), look closer, Jess Franco zoomed in hard on EVERYTHING, faces, eyes, background elements, even the sun. As for the zooms AND the out of focus moments, well, both elements are also a part of his driving theme, fetish, obsession, and that is that he was a voyeur. He meant to shoot through things, to have objects between his lens and the actors, he meant to zoom in, like any fetishist staring hard, real hard. And out of focus, well, that just added to the documentary feel, the “this is actually happening NOW” vibe that his films have. I’ve seen Franco successfully approach certain films in a more conventional way, the things he did were a conscious choice, not faults or lack of skill. And the things he did, the zooms, the focus, the shakiness, were repeated with such sincerity that it is obvious to anyone who understands the creative process that these elements are repeating themes much more than they are mistakes or flaws.

This is a point I failed to make in my first draft of this thing, and it’s a point a friend of mine reminded me of, and that is… that the reasons most people dislike Franco say more about their limitations as film viewers than it does about Franco as a filmmaker. Franco Made Franco films, and in order to watch them you have to meet him half-way. He did not make films according to Hollywood expectations (or even according to Exploitation expectations), he made films in a lawless and highly personalized way. He knew the rules (and frequently proved it in his more approachable and conventional films) but chose to make films in his own way, and quite by design, I assure you. In order to watch a Franco film, you must first empty your cup, otherwise you simply ain’t gonna get it. I’ve watched people respond to Franco films, they’ll giggle, snicker, and quite erroneously feel smarter and more sophisticated than him… but they’re not, they’re instead, simply brainwashed into limitations they may not even know they have. Open up, empty your cup, let go, and let Jess Franco be Jess Franco.

I admire his courage to dismiss any and all socialization, as a man or as an artist. Franco shot what he wanted, and he didn’t give a damn (or “I don’t give a shit” as he would say) if you understood it or not, well, as for me, I get it. I for one, will miss the hell out of Jess Franco.


Then again, I miss Jean Rollin, I miss the recklessness and carefree attitudes of all the exploitation films. I miss the low budgets, the filmic qualities, the soft focus, the lighting, the eyeliner, the patterns on the clothes, the music, all that damn wicker… everything that made that stuff what it was.

I remember discovering exploitation films when I was younger. I didn’t know anything about these little gems I was finding at the video store. There was no internet to turn to for research. When I discovered exploitation it was a strange world enshrouded in mystery. Who are these people? What the heck is going on? Hey… haven’t I seen that guy before? And one thing I noticed, saw, recognized and felt was what Jess Franco was doing. At the time I didn’t know who Franco was, but as the years passed, as I researched, learned, and viewed these movies again, and this time as an educated viewer, I realized that the spirit of Jess Franco’s movies had haunted me. It was a lot like when I was young and heard Beatle and solo music everywhere, but knew nothing about it, I simply loved those songs more than the others on the radio. I later began digging into the Beatles and other solo stuff and realized that all the songs I loved most were by them. In essence this was what happened to me with Franco, something about his films stuck with me even though I hadn’t realized it until years later. Essentially, just like with the Beatles and their solo stuff, I was a Jess Franco fanatic before I even knew who he was. There was no bias as a fan, his stuff stuck with me, unnerved, challenged, even excited me, well before I knew his name. THAT, my dear friends, is powerful art.

If you’re not convinced, I don’t care, and honestly, neither did Jess Franco.