Poster Parodies for the Holidays #9: AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS

The last movie mashup before Christmas, from my friend, Tom Gale . . .

Time is always against us and no time is this more apparent than during the holiday season.  It is ironic that the busiest holiday should fall so close to the shortest day of the year.  What’s up with that?  Wouldn’t it have been so much more sensible to put this time of year into summer when the days are long and there is plenty of extra sunlight around to make holiday preparations so much easier?  And without school in session and people already taking vacations, there would be plenty of time for being together and visiting and traveling and taking the holiday at a leisurely pace.  Someone messed up when they put Christmas on Christmas Day, or rather when they put it all in December and then to make matter worse stuck Thanksgiving right ahead of it, making this four weeks of hustle, bustle, and something else that doesn’t rhyme with either.  Sometimes it would be really nice to posses Kris Kringle’s apparent ability to fold the very fabric of space time to allow the localized black hole that would be scientifically necessary for delivering gifts to all the world’s households in a single night (and that’s assuming that the jolly old elf happens to have a completely accurate census of every corner of the Earth).  Federal bureaucrats take note: save money next census and just buy Santa’s list outright; I’m sure he’d be happy to black out the nice/naughty entries in the interest of protecting the innocent and an additional income source is always helpful even for Santa’s manufacturing and delivery operations.

The bottom line, though, is that the whole Christmas season is chock full of mystery, miracle, and magic.  Whether you are focused on the more secular elements of gift-giving and family and feasting and friendship, or the more religious elements of light in darkness and the birth of a soul savior so long ago and praise for the miracle of life out of death this is after all a fitting time of year for it reminds the heart that despite the long dead winter ahead new life is always waiting for us if we keep our doors open to it.  Such elements  would cease to have meaning in the midst of the long indolent and comfortable summer; they best serve us when we are looking the cold, harsh future square in the face as we do around this time of year.


Poster Parodies for the Holidays #8: CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON

With this Christmas mashup, my pal Tom Gale plays with a movie — and a simply magnificent poster — that I absolutely adore . . . so much so that I even refer to this film’s Amazon boat in the novel I just completed (The Enigma Club, which I’m circulating to agents; so if you’re an agent, “Hi.  Call me.”).  This movie is a certified Universal classic, and I hear it’s slated to be remade and updated for the 21st century ADHD generation.  I liked the new Wolfman, so I hope they make this reboot equally as good — hell, I’ll give it a shot, no matter what.

Here’s Tom:

Had to take a few days off from the series to concentrate on our annual Nutcracker* which took up a few long days and nights, and then try to get our own Christmas dressings from storage so we could finally begin to see some of our own Christmas spirit around the house.  As always seems to happen, we get so busy this time of year producing holiday celebrations for everyone else that sometimes we lose sight of the very thing we are celebrating and succumb to a bit of humbug ourselves.  From the middle of October straight through to Christmas break, we are usually overwhelmed with responsibilities and an array of things we have to do; concerts, recitals, plays, meetings, events we produce and even on nights off, events we turn around and attend.  By now we are feeling a bit out of breath and short of spirit. 

But this year with time and money short again, we resort to what is nearly becoming a tradition, of keeping Christmas itself a low-key, economical, and hopefully family oriented observance.  We keep present giving to a single small gift and numerous inexpensive and often humorous stocking stuffers.  We will attend Christmas Eve service, then drive around the neighborhoods playing Christmas music in the car and looking at all the holiday light displays.  Home to hot chocolate and perhaps a gift, then off to bed for some well deserved sleep.  In the morning it’s time to lounge in our pajamas, drink coffee, eat orange rolls fresh from the oven, and laugh at our stocking gifts; we might even watch a Christmas movie or two.  What will be most important will be that we will be taking time to be together, just the three of us, for a time; to celebrate what it means to have a family (whether large or small) that loves you no matter what else is going on outside the walls of where you call home; be it a bungalow or an apartment, or a manger.

Presents?  Sure, they’re great.  But if there is one thing that Christmas must surely teach us is that a gift from the heart can be nearly anything and usually something that money can’t buy; the smell of fresh baked bread in the air, the feel of a hand-made comforter as you sip your coffee, a story read aloud, the lingering tingle of a special kiss.  In a season full of opening things, perhaps the best thing we can open is our hearts.  Like the Christ Child, such wonderful miracles may come from such a little thing.

Merry Christmas,


PS. Those who know me well have known all along that I would never be able to complete this series without using this poster.  I try not to disappoint.


 *  Tom Gale is the managing director of the Center for the Arts at River Ridge in New Port Richey, Florida.  I urge you to friend the Center on Facebook . . . and support your locals arts organizations.

Poster Parodies for the Holidays #7: THE 39 STEPS

This time, during the Christmas season of the 50th anniversary of Psycho, mi amigo Tom Gale takes a holiday look at the poster for one of Hitchcock’s earlier films . . . 

It’s tough to stay away from Hitchcock films in a project like this because, besides the fact that the films themselves are so good, the poster designs for even his early films are vibrant, dramatic, and well composed; perfect vehicles for a little holiday parodying.  “The 39 Steps” is a particular favorite film of mine in a vein similar to “The Thin Man”; a terrific pairing of leading man and woman with great chemistry amidst a fast-paced and well written script.  The movie introduces one of Hitchcock’s favorite themes, the innocent man on the run, and like “North by Northwest”, the character is “forced” to share his journey of discovery with a beautiful stranger.  Not the stuff of tragedies when you get a look at the companions.  

Still in all, Robert Donat, the hero in “The 39 Steps” certainly doesn’t have an easy time of solving the mystery in order to save his freedom, his life, and the British government as well.  Despite being handcuffed to the beautiful and strong-willed Madeleine Carroll, his quest is fraught with danger and discomfort, although punctuated with just the right amount of humor.  My favorite scene is when Donat runs into a meeting hall to escape the police only to find himself mistaken for the principal speaker and forced to give an impromptu speech of support for a political candidate he doesn’t even know.  The fact that the audience is none the wiser throughout the speech makes for a terrific tongue in cheek poke at provincial politics.

The movie is very loosely based on a book by John Buchan, which I read as part of a hard cover mystery series I bought a forgotten number of years ago, but which still are removed occasionally from their packing boxes for an unhurried and unstrenuous visit.  If the movie doesn’t quite follow the book, it does have the advantage of making Buchan’s tenuous plot a bit more believable by resolving several all too convenient coincidences with some sensible plot development.  Hitchcock was too good a director not too fix some of the novel’s irritating problems.

That said, I heartily recommend “The 39 Steps” for some easy and fun Christmas mystery viewing.  Be careful, though, because a number of DVD releases of this film are taken from inferior film prints with soundtracks that make it harder than need be to understand the dialogue.  I have read that the Criterion restored version is superior in both video and audio quality, although I haven’t had a chance to see that version.  If you want to enjoy this film, don’t settle for less.

Merry Christmas! 


Poster Parodies for the Holidays #6: AN INDIANA JONES XMAS

This time around, my friend, Tom Gale, doesn’t have much to say.  I guess he put it all in the artwork . . . 

Halfway through the 12 Greetings of Christmas.  I may actually make it all the way to twelve this year.

I doubt there is really anything I can add to this greeting other than to say, ” May everyone have a peaceful and meaningful Christmas this year.  And God bless us everyone.”

Merry Christmas.



Poster Parodies for the Holidays #5: The City that Never Sleeps

The fifth in Tom Gale’s series of Adapted-Just-In-Time-for-Christmas movie posters!

What is the city that never sleeps?  Various cities around the world have claimed the title including Las Vegas, Mumbai, Tel Aviv, and Bangkok.  But the one that most Americans know by that title is our own New York City, The Big Apple itself.  Of course a city of any size can realistically lay claim to the idea that it never rolls up the pavements, but NYC is somewhat unique in its wide variety and scope of things to do around the clock.  More than just a corner pharmacy stays open 24 hours in that town.  New York’s insomnia has been referenced in song (Frank Sinatra) and cinema (1924 The City That Never Sleeps directed by Jame Cruze).  Even as early as 1912, the phrase was popularly connected to New York enough to be referenced in a Fort Wayne News article describing the city’s grand new gas plant that would also make it the city that never grew dark.

So it’s a bit of a surprise that the 1953 film of that name, starring Gig Young and Edward Arnold, referred not to NYC but to Chicago.  No other connection between The Windy City and that moniker seems to exist which may suggest that the film wasn’t the biggest box office smash of 1953.  If you are interested, two films tied that year for the biggest box office grosses.  They were The Robe and Peter Pan.  Reviews that I found were not very complimentary, calling it at best “whimsical” and at worst, “hardly more than adequate”.  So it’s not a memorable example of the noir genre of gritty realism, dirty urban settings, and despicable characters.  The story follows a cop who is weary with the world through which he wanders listlessly and planning to make a break to a new life (which the audience immediately knows is an act of shallowness that will haunt him should he act on his impulses).  As luck, or fate, would have it, his intended last night on the job turns out to lead him to self-realization (much like the far more noble George Bailey of It’s a Wonderful Life) and a reaffirmation of the seed of goodness that had been push down deep into his heart.

This season seems to be one time of year, no matter which of the seven major holidays are being celebrated, when redemption and forgiveness are traditionally looked to for the re-invigoration of tired hearts and souls.  That every story of this season has, as its villain, an unrepentant humbug  who must first learn to forgive himself so he can accept the forgiveness of others, shows the remarkable resilience of this theme in western culture and certainly in modern times.  Most of these antagonists are not evil but simply those who have forgotten what is important in life.  It is the nature and indeed the reason for this season to serve as a reminder of just that.  It is no mistake, I think, that the Christmas season begins with Thanksgiving, for how can we truly give and forgive without first understanding how thankful we must be for what we have?  Even George Bailey forgot how much he truly had because he became too wrapped up in what he had “lost”.

City That Never Sleeps may not be a great tale, but even in its mediocrity, it can serve to remind us that redemption is simply a matter of viewing life as a collection of gains rather than as a collection of losses.  Meaning cannot be imposed upon us as Ebeneezer Scrooge discovered; the ghosts of Christmas did nothing but to show him what was already all around him so that he, by his own volition, could discover what was inside.  The dark and gritty landscape of the big city may seem impossible to navigate, but in truth, everywhere you turn is a door behind which is a warm, well-lit room waiting to welcome and forgive.  And the first door, is always your own.

Merry Christmas.


Now go to sleep.


Poster Parodies for the Holidays #4: 2001

So far, this is my favorite of Tom Gale’s Christmas posters, which twists classic movie posters into a little something for the holidays.  In true form, Tom also makes you think — and his comments below have made me think so much, I’ll blog my own comments a little later.

Here’s Tom with a science fiction classic . . .

Somehow I managed to see Star Wars AFTER I saw Close Encounters of a Third Kind.  In fact the only reason I saw Star Wars was because Richard Burton’s Equus was sold out that night and Star Wars, which had been running forever by that time, was in the next theater and I thought, “What the heck.”  OK, so I almost missed being in on the biggest space movie craze of all time; but I had good reasons.  I was still heavily into science fiction at the time and felt, wrongly but honestly, that worthy films in the genre were the strictly serious ones.  It had all began, of course, with “2001: A Space Odyssey” a few years before.  Soon after it was “The Andromeda Strain”  then “Silent Running” sometime in the mid-seventies and finally “Close Encounters” just weeks before I encountered the Star Wars phenomena.  So I was wrong about “Star Wars” and thankful I was dragged in to see it on its first run.  But “2001 A Space Odyssey” still holds a special place in my heart as a uniquely disquieting and utterly beautiful “serious” movie experience.

I admit that Kubrick film, perhaps like my writing and accordion solos, is an acquired taste.  Slow going in many places to the point of torpidity, the film seems to crawl through vast distances of silence to a place that ultimately leaves us pondering the fact that the more we know the less we seem to understand.  I remember many people leaving the theater after “Space Odyssey” either a bit miffed or outright puzzled, “What the heck was THAT all about?”  But I had already read the book, so I went into the theater with an advantage and could settle back to just experience the film without having to make sense of it.  I already knew somewhat where it was going.  And so I settled back to enjoy the piece as spectacle and was simply bowled over.  On the big screen it was staggeringly beautiful and its slow pace was exactly what made it majestic and overwhelming.  Somewhat like “Koyaanisqatsi”, the stunning and somewhat impenetrable film scored by Philip Glass, “2001” is a movie that you sit back and soak up as an experience of sight and sound.  Leave the hustle bustle of life at the door; you can’t hurry through this one.

But if you take the time, “2001” is extremely satisfying.  And if you prefer your movies to have easier answers, then immediately after, watch Peter Hyman’s more accessible and faster paced sequel, “2010: The Year We Make Contact.”   It’s a completely different experience but it does fill in some gaps and has Roy Scheider and Helen Mirren who are always great to watch.

Of course this is a great metaphor for the season.  The holidays are not to be rushed or hurried through, even though that’s exactly what so many of us do.  If we want to get the most out of the season, we need to experience it like “2001”, slowly and thoughtfully, allowing the meaning of our celebration percolate through us and giving us time to savor and absorb.  So try to find some time to slow down this holiday and leave the daily travails outside the door.  Bundle up with your loved ones and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” then stick in “2001 a Space Odyssey.”  You can make a connection between the two if only you remember to keep focused on the stars.

Merry Christmas, 



Poster Parodies for the Holidays #3

I took a film class with Tom Gale back at ODU in the dim, dark ’70s, but I don’t remember seeing this film there.  Nevertheless, Tom has fond memories of it, and has had fun with the poster.  Here’s #3 in Tom’s Christmas poster parodies.

For most of us there are certain movies that you get to see only if you frequent thoughtful repertory movie theaters, happen to be a movie history geek, or take a couple of film appreciation courses at the local community college.  I saw “The Grand Illusion” while at Old Dominion University in the same film class where I saw “The Battleship Potemkin”, Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona”, “Women in Love” and a host of other unforgettable examples film as art.  The very fact that the common term for a film work is the diminutive “movie”, (a way of denigrating the status of something by making it sound childish and unimportant, like “talkie” or “techie”), suggests that on average we look to the cinema for light escapism rather than meaningful contemplation.  Of course there is not a thing wrong with great mindless entertainment as evidenced by the number of action and comedy flicks we have in our home DVD collection.  I like Bruce Willis too!  But it is a good practice every now and again to choose a film for an experience that involves us in the very best that cinema as an art form can achieve; make us ponder a larger reality and teach us something about ourselves.

Renoir’s “Grand Illusion” is a film that not only earns its reputation as serious cinema, but exists in modern form as an example of miraculous restoration luck.  The original negative, long considered lost to the destruction of World War Two, was still missing when Renoir himself helped remaster the film in the 50’s using available prints.  It was not until a film exchange between Russia and France in the mid-60’s did the original finally surface and was available to use for the most current Criterion remastering.  To watch the film in its contemporary format is to see it, as many were not able to, in as close to its original visual condition as possible.  If ever there was an argument for having a large screen TV, this is a great one.  

The poster, by the way, is not one of the few usually associated with the film.  I think it is from an Italian release of the film, but it is, in my opinion, the best of the posters, graphically.  Without this poster version, “The Grand Illusion” might have been overlooked for inclusion in this series.  That would have been a shame.  Please enjoy the review below found on the Rotten Tomatoes film review site where it enjoys a 97% fresh rating from reviewers and a 93% from viewers like you and me.

Perhaps this would make a perfect holiday gift for that special, thoughtful person in your life.  Who says a date movie has to be about romance?

Merry Christmas, 


“Perhaps the greatest anti-war film ever made.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jean Renoir’s (“The Rules of the Game”) subdued masterpiece is perhaps the greatest anti-war film ever made (some might prefer All Quiet on the Western Front). Uncannily, “Illusion” never showed one battle scene as it reflects on the first Great War in Europe. The first foreign film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar is framed around a simple WW1 POW escape narrative, but it suggests a more careful look at how it’s also a pointed study of how upper class backgrounds, even in warring armies, offers a stronger bond of sympathy than even nationality. This is brought out through the deep regard the German commandant, Captain von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim), had for his captive, the senior French officer, Captain de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay), also an aristocrat and career professional military man. 

The film offers a call for universal brotherhood and a plea for sanity in a world that doesn’t know how to settle things without going to war. There never has been a time of a lasting peace. The Grand Illusion title, one that can mean many things, most likely is derived from the illusionary nature of the war’s slogan that this was “The War to End All Wars.” It’s based on a true story of men Renoir knew when he was in the French Resistance, who told him of their escapes. 

Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels considered this film cinematic enemy number one, and tried to destroy all copies. Fortunately he didn’t succeed. The negative was taken during the German occupation of France in WWII and retaken when the Red Army seized Berlin. The Reds stored it in a hidden archive; several prints over the years were released. But it wasn’t until recently that it was put together as it was originally intended by Michel Rocher and Brigitte Dutray, who upgraded it through use of modern technology. Criterion put out a fine version on DVD. The version I saw was the updated one, which was recently on TCM.

In 1916 French pilot Lt. Maréchal (Jean Gabin) is ordered by his superior, Captain de Boeldieu, to fly with him on a reconnaissance mission to get aerial photos. They are shot down and captured by Captain von Rauffenstein and invited by him to a hospitable dinner. They are later transferred to a POW camp for officers in Germany. There they meet Lt. Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio), whose nouveau riche banking family sends him regularly food packages which he graciously shares with the others. The French prisoners are digging a hole for the last few months to escape. For relaxation they are allowed to put on a talent show and wear dresses. When Maréchal announces that the French captured the city of Douaumont, the prisoners take a break from their performances and in a grand patriotic gesture stand at attention and sing with pride “The Marseillaise.” Afterwards Maréchal tries to escape and is brought back to solitary; he’s released in time to be told that all the French officers are being transferred to another camp. When he tries to tell the British replacements about the tunnel, they don’t understand French.

The narrative picks up with Maréchal and Boeldieu, after many escape attempts in different POW camps, transferred to a camp where Rauffenstein is the commandant. He has been severely wounded in battle and can no longer be in the front, but to serve his country he reluctantly takes this new assignment he dismisses in confidence to Boeldieu as being only a policeman’s job. Rauffenstein is so fond of Boeldieu that he rooms him away from the other prisoners in his medieval castle and provides him companionship by also moving in Maréchal and Rosenthal. The later, Rauffenstein says, so they can eat properly. Rauffenstein treats de Boeldieu’s at his word, because he is an aristocrat, but doesn’t have the same respect for the working class auto mechanic Maréchal or the Jew Rosenthal. 

The trio hide a rope and scheme to escape, but Boeldieu tells Maréchal and Rosenthal he will stay behind and cover for them because the plan would not be possible for all three to escape together. During the escape the noble Boeldieu is shot by Rauffenstein, as he offers himself up as a sacrifice so the two could escape. Before he dies Boeldieu forgives Rauffenstein, saying he did his duty and he would have done the same thing if things were reversed. The war is seen as a changing view of the social order where, according to the German aristocrat, the working class man and the dirty Jew return to freedom while the aristocrat will not because he’s a member of a dying breed.

During their escape through the German wintry countryside, the two desperate and hungry men stumble upon an isolated farmhouse of a German war widow, whose hubby was killed in Verdun, Elsa (Dita Parlo) and her young daughter Lotte. Even though they don’t speak the same language Elsa and Maréchal fall in love, and make plans to meet after the war if he survives. The men in the last scene make it to safety in neutral Switzerland by crossing the invisible border in a mountain covered with snow.

REVIEWED ON 4/17/2005        GRADE: A+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”



Poster Parodies for the Holidays #2

From my friend, Tom Gale:

I haven’t actually seen this movie although I have seen a whole bunch of B grade science fiction disaster films in my day.  I grew up with them screening most Saturday afternoons along with The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone.  It was all part of being a generation growing up inside the fear bubble of nuclear war.  I even had dreams of worldwide disaster; I’m sure many of us did.  The whole 50’s and early 60’s craze of science-run-amok films grew out of our fears of nuclear destruction.  Cinema is just a reflection of society’s angst at the moment.  And we had a lot to be afraid of in those days.  Today we have zombie films.  I’d tell you what part of our social consciousness they represent but then I would give away the heart of the doctoral dissertation I’m planning.  I’ll give you a hint though; it started when McDonald’s went global with their first overseas franchise in Australia.

Social comment aside, this movie may actually be worth watching and not just by scyfy freaks (who by the way can’t spell).  The movie review web site, Rotten Tomatoes gives the movie an 83% fresh rating by reviewers and a 70% by regular viewers.  That’s good enough for me to put in an extra dollar for some popcorn.

Read the review below if you want or just enjoy the second entry in this year’s holiday greetings.  Whatever you do DON’T FORGET TO CHECK THE WATER.

Merry Christmas.Tom

The Day the Earth Caught Fire

June 11th, 2004 by Doug Cummings 

I haven’t seen The Day After Tomorrow, and given its scathing reviews, I don’t intend to any time soon, but seeing Rialto’s new print of the original Godzilla (1954) last night (certainly a much smoother, dramatically coherent film than its American makeover), I found myself pondering end-of-the-earth films in general, and one my own favorite entries in the genre, Val Guest’s The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), in particular.

Available as a superb DVD from Anchor Bay (with a beautiful widescreen transfer and Guest commentary), the movie is an unusually literate and thematically nuanced genre film. Peter Stenning (a sardonic Edward Judd) is a reporter for a major London newspaper who tries to work through emotional turmoil as a result of his recent divorce. His fast-talking coworkers, in a milieu not unlike a Hawks picture, critique his new drinking habit and diminishing job performance while quietly cutting him some slack and offering help whenever they can. As Stenning navigates his inner life and begins a new relationship with a sympathetic but independent woman, Jeannie Craig (Janet Monro), the newspaper staff begins to piece together evidence regarding London’s dramatically-shifting weather patterns that point toward nuclear testing and imminent worldwide disaster.

Val Guest co-wrote and directed the film. He was a competent craftsman within the British studio system with his share of successes (the Quatermass series) and flops (When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth), but his early experience working in the London office of the Hollywood Reporter clearly must have inspired the authentic newsroom atmosphere in the film. The award-winning script was co-written by screenwriter/playwright Wolf Mankowitz, and the dialogue is surprisingly witty. When Stenning returns late to his office, his friend, science reporter Maguire (Leo McKern) sarcastically quips, “If you borrow my car at lunch, why bother to hurry back at 6:30?” “I saw my kid today,” Stenning muses. “She lets me see him from time to time, itís my legal right, you know.” Maguire nods, “Sandyís been screaming for you.” “Heís a nice kid, too,” Stenning continues, “remembered me after ten minutes.” Maguire proclaims, “The biggest experimental bang of all time is ten days old, but instead of being proud the public demands we stop it.” “Oh, I donít know,” Stenning shrugs, “the best science man on the street ought to be able to pull off a job like that. Make a trick film, maybe. Yeah, you know, the mushroom goes back into the bomb, the bomb goes back into the plane, which flies backwards over the task force, streaming back into the Antarctic.” “You better start climbing backwards to Sandyís office,” Maguire suggests.

But Guest also manages some visual flair. The film was shot in anamorphic widescreen, and the extended frame is always perfectly balanced with groups of people, city vistas, or detailed settings, whether bustling newsrooms, congested streets, or humid apartments. Although the film’s special effects aren’t particularly noteworthy, matte paintings and the incorporation of real London locations work to good atmospheric advantage (heavy rains buffet the windows; thick, unexpected fog wafts through the city; a raging hurricane crashes into the British coast). Guest also cleverly incorporates stock footage to depict floods and meteorological disasters worldwide. The visual style of the film is straightforward and classical, but each scene is rendered with a great degree of realism and sense of place.

The disaster genre is not generally known for its insights into characters or its clever dialogue, but The Day the Earth Caught Fire is an admirable exception. Its attention to the inner and outer lives of its protagonists makes its physical doom an externalized metaphor for Stenning’s personal life, off-kilter and spinning out of control, both fates equally weighted between hope and despair. My advice for those seeking end-of-the-world entertainment? Skip the multiplex this weekend and rent this intelligent and bittersweet film, fully deserving of a rediscovery.


Poster Parodies for the Holidays #1

Every year around this time, I start getting a series of emails from an old college bud who’s now in Tampa. Tom Gale, theatrical artisitic director non pareil, usually takes classic pieces of art, Photoshops in a Christmas tree, has maniacal fun with Goya or Picasso or Gainsborough, and makes me laugh.

This year, he’s changing things up.  Merry Christmas from Tom and from me.  I’ll be presenting his works as I receive them, and there should be twelve this year, one for each day of Christmas…

So this year will mark a serious departure from the last seven years of Famous Artists Holiday Greetings for a number of reasons.  In no particular order I have very little spare time this year for either imaging or background research.  I have, for reasons of my own, been browsing through books about famous and infamous movies.  This year I’ve spent a lot of time designing posters and fliers both big and small.  And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, my principal source book, The Annotated Mona Lisa, has just about fallen apart and I can’t yet afford a new copy.

So instead of witty, hip, and topical parodies of famous works of art twisted into idiosyncratic and edgy holiday greeting ecards, this year you will be receiving witty, hip, and topical parodies of famous movie posters twisted into idiosyncratic and edgy holiday greeting ecards.  Wow.  Big difference. 

Don’t expect any deeply considered reviews or comparisons with other films or riffs on why the film did or did not make it onto AFI’s top 100 films or Leonard Maltin’s 100 Must See Movies List or really any list at all.  Frankly, as Tommy Lee Jones said so well in The Fugitive, “I don’t care.”  I expect the cards will stand on their own (at least they will if you print them out on heavy card stock and put a crease down the center) and if they make you chuckle or think then great.  If they make you go see the movie in question or rent the DVD, even better.  I am copying these to all the appropriate studios with a self addressed stamped envelope (who else would I get to address my envelope?) so they can send me royalty checks against all increased sales and viewings of these films due to the influence of my greetings.  My business plan is modeled after the current plan for reducing the national debt and lifting the country out of its recession.  I also just told Eric that his allowance won’t go up for the next two years. 

Be that as it may, I hope that these e-greetings will spread a little of the joy, wonder, and bemusement of the season.  The heck with the Christmas Parade in NYC or black Friday in October, this marks the TRUE start of the holiday season.  The best is yet to come.  

Happy Holidays.



A Merry Artistic Christmas!

Last year at this time I presented to you the 2008 Christmas art revisions created by my friend Tom Gale.  Last year was the sixth year he had taken great paintings from art history and modified them, in his own unique and humorous way, to reflect the holidays as he sees them.

Welcome to Year Seven.  Tom has sent out six of this year’s Christmas visions, and I present them to you accordingly, with all of Tom’s notes and observations.

If you didn’t meet him here last year, ladies and gentlemen, please meet Tom.   (And click on the art for a larger look.)

*     *     *


I can hardly believe that we have reached year number 7 in the “grand” tradition of these annual holiday hellos.  And what better way of spreading the holiday cheer than by ripping apart as many famous artists as possible in the days leading up to December 25.  Of course, everyone should know by now that it is the artists I admire the most that are held up to the greatest amount of satire, and that’s as it should be.  But because the art world is so chock full of nuts as well as wonderful talent, it is difficult if not impossible to stay within any sort of artificial boundary as, “only the painters I like”, or “my favorite things”, or “the most famous of all artists”.  So this yearly tribute to both art and the holidays becomes a yearly research project, a labor of some love whereby I usually discover at least another dozen artists that I had not known the year before and whom I find I can admire for skill, talent, vision, or daring.  And inevitably I say, in discovery, “Boy I sure wish I could paint like THAT!”

So here we are for another year and hopefully at least another dozen artists, time permitting.  I have no idea up front which artists might be represented or what any one picture may say or not say; most of that happens after much thought and planning is totally thrown out and I rely finally on the spur of the moment.  If it makes me laugh or think or   perhaps both in the making, it usually finds its way into this collection.

And so we begin with Thomas Eakins’ “The Gross Clinic”.  I like Eakins because he is a super realistic painter from a time when realism was not particularly valued in art.  I like Eakins because he was one of the first artists to make use of the camera as a compositional tool and even to advocate its use in public.  I like Eakins because as an art teacher, he advocated the life study for young artists, insisting that they practice their drawing using live nude models rather than statues or other paintings.  His realistic approach and demand for life-like detail shocked both the art world and society in general at the time, but Eakins was unrelenting.  He flattered no one, not even the wealthy who commissioned him to paint their portraits.  Because of his brutal honesty, his commission work was a fraction of other, more compromising artists, but today his  portraits are seen as in depth character studies, unparalleled in their touch upon the human soul beneath the painted exterior.  Like many masters, Eakins took up the study of anatomy in order to closely study the human form in a scientific manner.  Way ahead of his time, Eakins received little positive support in his life, but was to be hailed as a pioneer of his art after his death.

Thomas Eakins was born in Philadelphia in 1844 and he died in that city in 1916.  Yet one more of Philadelphia’s many contributions to American’s rich culture.


 This is a classic example of why I like creating these greetings every year.  I was scrolling through the works of some of my favorite artists, looking for ideas and possibilities, even though I already have a dozen or more possible painting to Photoshop.  I don’t know why.  Putting these together brings out the student in me and I just seem to start wandering around in my favorite art sites, mostly Mark Harden’s Artchive, among others.  Suddenly, there was this beautiful Matisse painting with which I was wholly unfamiliar but immediately attracted to. I love Matisse.  I designed a set for Lion, Witch and Wardrobe based on Matisse’s cut out panels some years ago.  But this painting was a new discovery for me and that felt really good.

Discovery is part of what this is all about.  To Photoshop and satirize, I first have to wade through hours of art viewing, searching for paintings that can be somehow warped into something marginally funny and obliquely connected to the holiday season.  Most paintings, even ones I like a lot and admire, just don’t fit the bill, so the wandering and collecting of possibilities goes on until I feel strongly enough about a piece that I actually begin work on it.  This Matisse, The Aquarium, engaged me immediately through both artist and content, and by the fact that it was a discovery.  How cool is that?  Almost as cool as my favorite word, serendipity, the act of discovering one thing while looking for something else, or better, while not looking at all.  But one is always looking, really.  Sometimes we search with clear goals in mind, hence the need for and popularity of “search” engines like Yahoo and Google.  Sometimes, with no goals, we simply “surf” or “browse”.  If technology has an obvious upside it is in its ability to allow us to search and browse world wide and at our total convenience.  The world literally at our fingertips.  No where is this more satisfying than in discovering the wonders of the art world.  I do morn the passing of the more old fashioned search engines that also offered chances at serendipity, like the library card catalog.  But I have in certain aspects resigned myself to modernity come to an uneasy but functional truce with “on line research”.

Enough of this.  If you like Matisse as I do, you’ll find a good collection of his works all around the web, particularly in the Artchive listed above.  Matisse was the consummate artist who worked practically well into his later years, altering his style and technique to account for his physical ailments while still producing the works he “saw in his always active mind.  Perhaps it is significant that Matisse died in 1954, the year I was born.  He touched on the periphery of my own world in timeline alone.  in his art, he drew me into his unique and always beautiful universe.

The review of Matisse, the artist, found on Artchive begins with a deft statement about his impact and philosophy that I have scarcely seen better expressed.  I share a part of it below.  For the rest, go to Artchive; the entirety is well worth reading.

“Henri Matisse was born in 1869, the year the /Cutty Sark/ was launched. The year he died, 1954, the first hydrogen bomb exploded at Bikini Atoll. Not only did he live on, literally, from one world into another; he lived through some of the most traumatic political events in recorded history, the worst wars, the greatest slaughters, the most demented rivalries of ideology, without, it seems, turning a hair. Matisse never made a didactic painting or signed a manifesto, and there is scarcely one reference to a political event – let alone an expression of political opinion – to be found anywhere in his writings. Perhaps Matisse did suffer from fear and loathing like the rest of us, but there is no trace of them in his work. His studio was a world within the world: a place of equilibrium that, for sixty continuous years, produced images of comfort, refuge, and balanced satisfaction. Nowhere in Matisse’s work does one feel a trace of the alienation and conflict which modernism, the mirror of our century, has so often reflected. His paintings are the equivalent to that ideal place, scaled away from the assaults and erosions of history, that Baudelaire imagined in his poem /L’Invitation al Voyage/:

Furniture gleaming with the sheen of years would grace our bedroom; the rarest flowers, mingling their odours with vague whiffs of amber, the painted ceilings, the fathomless mirrors, the splendour of the East … all of that would speak, in secret, to our souls, in its gentle language. There, everything is order and beauty, luxury, calm and pleasure.”

Robert Hughes


This year’s entry marks the fourth time Edward Hopper has been represented since this series began in 2003. Hopper has long been a favorite of mine, and there sit at least four additional paintings of his in my file folders of possible greetings. But often, while I work actively on other paintings, Hopper’s oils languish in potential, waiting for me to find something in them that is humorous, affirming, relevant, or just plain off the wall. Still, Hopper’s paintings, like the artist himself, seem to defy definition, which makes them difficult to turn to my own purposes. His empty landscapes, darkly shadowed sun-soaked buildings, lonely and brooding men and women, issue a strong and unwavering voice, but scarcely above a whisper so it is hard to tell just what the voice is saying, if indeed it’s saying anything at all. Hopper shows us buildings that are empty, but not lifeless. What are we to make of that? His men and women are contemplative and posed, but not inactive. It is as if Hopper set out not to capture the active essence of a subject, but rather its potential. He suggests that what is important is not what is painted on the canvas, but what lies just below the surface, as if we could strip the color off the cloth and reveal the true subject lurking just beneath. But, of course, that is not possible and so we are left uneasily wondering what the subject might be or might have been rather than what it is. Hopper keeps us at a point in between with no reference to what might be on either side. That, I think, is his brilliance.

Hopper wanted to be a painter from an early age, but his practical parents pushed him into illustration as a hedge against the vagaries of the fine art world. Hopper became an accomplished advertising illustrator and poster designer. He also produced over 70 etchings, mostly of New York urban scenes. In 1923, Hopper married Josephine Nivison, an artist in her own right, who gave up her career to manage that of her husband’s. It was primarily due to her efforts that Hopper’s paintings began to get the notice they deserved. By the time of the Great Depression, Hopper was selling better than many of his contemporaries and the strength of his marketability continued well into the 40’s and 50’s. These decades were productive times for the artist who produced some of his most recognizable works then, including /Nighthawks, New York Movie/, and later /Morning Sun/. While Jo (as she was known) worked tirelessly to promote Hopper’s career, he was much less giving toward her. She complained often that her own career had stagnated, even as she continued to be Hopper’s principal model. The tensions often brought the couple to angry outbursts, and often, physical abuse. Despite this they were nearly inseparable. Jo died a mere 10 months after her husband.

Looking from the outside, we are often left to wonder what we are to make of the vast gulfs between the creative work of so many artists, and their apparently troubled personal lives. But perhaps there is little to understand. hopper himself wrote that all there was to his paintings was right there on the canvas, and to read anything deeper into his art would be dangerous. He even cautioned Jo about reading too much into his work. Artists are certainly products of their era, environment, upbringing, and personal relationships. They reflect the hands that life deals to them. But equally, they give substance to the life that pushes back at the hand and yearns to make something better of it; or if not better, then at least different. One need not be an artist to understand that.


For those of you who have had the misfortune of receiving these greetings over the years (and who probably mark them immediately as spam) you know that many of the “Famous Artists” showcased here are somehow connected to the curious movement in the mid-1800’s of the Brotherhood of the Pre-Raphaelites, considered by some to be the first “avant-garde” art revolution.  Rebelling against the staid and proper art produced by Academy painters and  the classical poses and mechanical approach attributed to the Mannerists, this group of seven painters began to work with heavily saturated colors in a stylized but naturalistic approach that was both beautiful and passionate.  These paintings were the romance novels of the art world; they told lush stories using scenes of high drama often featuring beautiful women illustrating well known stories from traditional sources.  Their emotional content and lush rendering make them perfect raw material for this series.  And, after all, they are so lovely to look at.

Interestingly, although Ford Madox Brown has often been considered one of this group, and even taught one of its founding members for a time (Gabriel Rossetti), he was never formally connected to the group and did not show with them.  Brown was too idiosyncratic to be tied to a movement and much of his developmental work pre-dates the Brotherhood.  Rossetti and Brown remained friends for life and so the latter continued to be peripherally connected to the Brotherhood simply by association.

Brown was an exasperatingly slow painter due to his ingrained perfectionism.  He reputedly continued to retouch and rework paintings even after they had been sold, and was never completely happy with his products, even though he was greatly admired (Verdi, the great Italian opera composer was the same way, never really trusting  others’ opinions that he was good at what he did).  Because of his perfectionism, Brown’s output was small as compared to his contemporaries, but many of his paintings were highly original and uniquely beautiful.  Two other masterworks by Brown, /Work/, and /The Last of England/, are highly recommended viewing.

Although personally, Brown was characterized as a prickly, ill-tempered man, he was also reputed to be exceedingly generous, helping families and friends in need and supporting fellow artists without a lot of fanfare.  He did not show often because he did not “play the game” as so many artists did in order to exhibit their work in prominent places.  His public notices became fewer and fewer.  Because of this, he turned away from studio painting in later years and worked for William Morris designing stained glass, and produced several large murals commissioned by the city of Manchester.

If you are interested in either Brown’s work or the work of the Brotherhood artists, besides waiting for them to show up here, you can find nice collections of their paintings both at Mark Harden’s Artchive (look up Pre-Raphaelites in the artist list on the left side of the page) and at The Art Renewal Center where the artists are sorted strictly by name.  Enjoy the browse!


Although interest in the Near East and Far East had existed for years in the art world, it was Napoleon’s military occupation of Egypt in 1789 that brought all things Oriental to the forefront of popular European culture.  Even though the French held Egypt for a scant year, the clash of the exotic eastern cultures captured the imaginations of both French and British artists and writers, sending the scurrying around the world looking for new adventures in lush, alien environments.

An entire genre of artists, beginning in the late 1700’s and lasting solidly into the 1900’s, focused on capturing the essence of these new cultural worlds, always seen through a more formal and romanticized European eye.  These works were meant to be thrilling, passionate, vibrant, lush, and utterly captivating to a European audience that had never traveled beyond the comfortable knowledge of its own homelands.  Oriental settings began to appear in books, and travelogues of far away places were serialized in popular magazines.  Operas such as Verdi’s /Aida/ and Mozart’s /Abduction from the Seraglio /appeared at the end of the 1700’s, early examples of the growing interest in the Near East.  The Far East languished until the late 1800’s before becoming a commonplace subject in the arts with Gilbert and Sullivan’s /The Mikado, /Sydney Jones’ /The Geisha/, and on into the early 1900’s with Puccini’s /Madame Butterfly/ and /Turandot/.

In studio art, the Orientalists, as they were known, traveled to these far off places with sketch pads and art supplies in hand, recording the vibrant colors and exotic energy of the various “new” cultures: Arab, Turkish, Moorish, Egyptian, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese.  Always the scenes were rendered in bright and saturated colors, pulsing with energy, and sensual in composition.  Beautiful nudes in harems and slave markets were popular subjects.  Desert tribesmen on camels, cities built in vast wastelands of sand, sumptuous palaces ornamented with tile and intricately carved woodwork,  diaphanous garments of silk and flowing embroidered robes all found their way into the sophisticated drawing rooms of the West on the canvases of these adventurous artists.  And the influence of this popular art movement did not stop at the production of romantic paintings.  You can see the impact of the oriental culture in the works of Tissot, Cassatt, Leighton, Holman Hunt, Dulac, and on to Matisse, Monet, and Degas.

Gerome was an academic painter who began primarily painting religious scenes.  But travels to the East in the mid-1800’s opened his eyes to worlds of new subjects.  He traveled to Constantinople (the seed of Europe’s Renaissance some 400 years earlier).  He visited Turkey and Russia which inspired a number of paintings, but it was his trip to Egypt that seemed to have the most impact on his work thereafter.  He still painted commissions of religious scenes, attempted more formal classical paintings,  and decorated  the houses of the elite, but his Arabian scenes are among his most memorable.  Gerome, as he grew older, turned more and more to sculpture and decorative arts, but his serious canvases remain a solid compendium of the growing cultural awareness of his time, rendered by a sure and steady hand.  We can thank him also for having taught the likes of Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins, and Henry Siddons Mowbray among many others.

The painting used here is entitled, /Michelangelo/ and is also known as /In His Studio/.  Funny how much the great Renaissance master looked like Santa.  More than a coincidence?  I’ll leave that to you to decide.


John Singleton Copley is, with the likes of Gilbert Stuart who was several years younger, one of the foremost painters of the early American art scene.  He is well known for his stunning and realistic portraits of American legends such as Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and John Adams among others.  This is particularly interesting in that Copley was a Loyalist to the end, left the Colonies in 1774, and actually painted a number of his famous American portraits while in London when the portrait subjects came to visit London after the war.

Copley was not, by nature, a political man.  He tried to avoid such entanglements even as the revolutionary conflicts escalated.  His father-in-law was the merchant whose consignment of tea was thrown into Boston Harbor, and his Loyalist leanings made him and his family and in-laws the focus of much revolutionary furor.  Still, his departure from America was more because of his art than his politics.  While he was a skilled portraitist, he was more interested in painting historical work and religious subjects.  Portraiture at that time in America was seen more as a craft than an art, and Copley was far more interested in being a true artist than a craftsman.  In fact, a number of his contemporaries likened him to van Dyck and Rubens.  When Copley left America, it was to tour and study in Italy and elsewhere before settling in London, focused as always on his art.  Copley’s talent was nurtured early by his step father, Peter Pelham, who was himself a fine artist and engraver.  Still in teenage years, Copley was proficient in engraving and basic art techniques even though he was taught primarily by his step-father and by his own initiative.  By his early twenties, his figure drawing showed signs of great attention to lifelike detail and precision.  His earliest portrait was made when he was only 14.

Part of Copley’s gift as a portraitist was his attention to background characterizing detail.  He would not only paint his human subject, but also spend much time and canvas to document the personal environment of his subject, a craftsman’s tools; a reader’s books, a child’s pet, a society woman’s home decor.  Because of this Copley has left to us a rich record of his life and times.  The painting chosen for this greeting is a portrait of Paul Revere who was well known before his famous ride as a skilled and dedicated silversmith.  In the original, Revere holds a silver tea pot in his hand.

Anyone who has been vacationing in the wilderness for the past few weeks and who doesn’t know who Mr. Squiggles is, just do a quick Google search and all your questions shall be answered.  Thank goodness that the United States government itself has declared that Mr. Squiggles is safe for even our innocent children.  Although no mention has been made of the issue at the Copenhagen Climate Summit; one suspects that leading scientists may be hiding something from us.

Have a Merry Christmas anyway.  Just don’t put Mr. Squiggles in your mouth!