September 23rd, 2014

Doors Open Milwaukee, 2014.

We got out for the 2014 "Doors Open Milwaukee" on Sunday the 21st. Our first target was the frank Lloyd Wright designed house off South 27th Street. Although we got there shortly after opening time, there was already a lengthy line and it was lightly raining, so we decided to give it a pass, and went on to Pevnick Design on North 27th.

Pevnick had a demonstration unit of the "Waterfall Machine" set up, this year with colored lights, which added quite a bit. They were running a portion of the program designed for this year's Toyota Dealer's Meeting, which is quite spectacular.

The great find of this year's tour for us was the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear, located at 839 North 11th Street, north of the Marquette University campus. This charming little museum occupies a house once owned by the late Avram Chudnow, and houses his "extensive and eclectic collection of early 20th Century Americana," much of which was acquired from family members and their various business interests. The collection is particularly rich in ephemera such as candy boxes, food containers and cans, and advertising materials. There are rooms set up as a grocery store, druggist's, barbershop, speakeasy, and doctor's office. Other rooms are dedicated to political history and advertising, and to the activities of the beer industry during prohibition.

From there, we walked over to the Wisconsin Club to view the Belvedere. This garden structure, built by Milwaukee magnate Alexander Mitchell to complement the mansion that became the Club, is a little jewel and well worth seeing. We also got to use it for the pre-banquet reception at our MythCon back in 1987, so there are good memories associated with it for us, as well.

Next, we went to the headquarters of the Milwaukee Ballet, at 5th and National. We got to see the rehearsal spaces, a peek into the Costume Shop, and a close up look at some of the costumes to be used in the upcoming production of "Don Quixote," as well as an informative talk on the Ballet's rehersal, training, and teaching programs.

Finally, we went to South Lenox Avenue to see Milwaukee Makerspace. The commercial building it occupies is nestled into this residential Bayview neighborhood, and is filled with material and equipment for every kind of project, from a hand-made wooden boat to a "molecular still." The idea of having all sorts of equipment from hammers and handsaws up to numerical control machines and 3-D printers fascinates me, but I don't really have projects in mind at present that would require it--. Still, fascinating, and we found in chatting to one of the members that we had a friend in common, engineer Tom Klein.

Doors Open Milwaukee is a fine event, and we hope it will continue in the future.

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“The Last Unicorn” tour; Peter S. Beagle

On Saturday, September 20th, we went to the Times Cinema for a special showing of “The Last Unicorn”. Author Peter S. Beagle, who also wrote the screenplay for the film, acquired the rights to the movie after years of neglect by its producers, and has been touring the US and Canada with a restored print, giving talks and doing signings at the showings.

We came for the later show, and arrived at the theater about 2:30pm. The first show was in progress, and we found Mr. Beagle and his support team in the lobby. With the author pretty much all to ourselves, we had a half-hour’s pleasant chat before many other people arrived. We reminisced about the 1987 MythCon in Milwaukee, to which Beagle had come in order to meet John Bellairs, about Bellairs, books, films, and the interesting influences that Irish writers, such as James Stevens, had had on his work. (In the question and answer session that followed, Beagle also named Lord Dunsany, T.H. White, and James Thurber’s “The White Deer” as influences.)

There was a nice array of Beagle’s books and related items available for sale and signing. Unfortunately, the text version of “The Last Unicorn” was not among them, it being the process of being reprinted. The DVD of the movie was present, as were a couple of editions of a good-looking graphic novel version. I bought one of the latter. (I was pleased to see that sales seemed to do well.)

I was interested to see the movie, since I hadn’t seen it since its original theatrical release, in 1982. I think I liked it better this time. I recall being quite disparaging of the Unicorn’s design, referring to it as “a pretty horsie with a horn.” I still think the Unicorn is too cute, but it didn’t bug me as much. Perhaps my standards have broadened--.

I was impressed by the effort that the much despised Rankin-Bass had put into the film (and that it was a Lord Lew Grade production). Rankin and Bass in this movie pioneered the practice of hiring known (if not, at that time, hugely famous) actors to do the voice acting: Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Tammy Grimes, Robert Klein, Angela Lansbury, Christopher Lee, Keenan Wynn, and Rene Auberjonois all had parts in the piece, as well as “Brother Theodore”, the voice of Gollum in the Rankin-Bass “Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” adaptations. As for the acting, there are reasons why Farrow, Arkin, and Bridges didn’t go on to great careers in animation voice acting: they were all pretty colorless compared with veterans like Lee, Lansbury, Wynn and Auberjonois. That said, they gave it their best and none are offensive, they just aren’t exciting.

R&B also hired the (then) well-known pop group “America” to perform the songs written by Jimmy Webb, which was an unusual step in those days as well. The music supports the plot fairly well, with the first major song being actually pretty good.

A few seconds of the first reel are a little rough looking, but, in the main, the animation and artwork looks very good, especially for the time. During the Q&A we learned that the Japanese animation group, Topcraft, that worked on the film and other projects for Rankin-Bass, was ultimately acquired by Hayao Miyazaki<>, Toshio Suzuki<> and Isao Takahata<>, who changed its name to Studio Ghibli<>. Knowing this, one can easily see a continuity from the flowers, forests, and changing landscapes of “The Last Unicorn,” to Studio Ghibli works that followed.

We also met fannish friends Sari Stiles, Leah Zeldes Smith, and Dick Smith at the showing, and had a good chat with them while waiting for the film to start. All in all, it was an enjoyable afternoon, and a treasured chance to renew an old acquaintance.

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