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Saturday, September 11, 2004

My Ebay,
by Peter Dizozza

Ebay provides a recreational auction environment where sellers meet bidding buyers and guarantee their profit by lodging it within the shipping cost. Shipping fifteen pounds across the country costs $1.30 by non-priority USPS mail in a makeshift folded cardboard box. Shipping cost charged? $15.00. There is absolutely no problem with that and is more telling of my jaded tone. Better to get beyond that to the content herein, filtered through my sieve-like brain, as I grasp experiences trickling like sand through my fingers.
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MAY 2006 NOTE: The above suggestion of a mere $1.30 for shipping is a great example of me drawing a conclusion from insufficient data... The $1.30 stamped on the package that I wrote about then was for "insuring" the package, and was in addition to the shipping postage which runs around $10.00. PD
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Ebay listings last 60 days, and those ebay-constructed webpage addresses run for, well, not pages, but for maybe a thousand characters.

(At the computer I can check my statements written longhand. It’s not a thousand…Here’s an address link to a silly page that fails to include as a selling point the redemptive aspect of poor Pasolini’s last film, Salo. http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&rd=1&item=6319579625&ssPageName=STRK:MEWA:IT)

Payments through “Ebay” are easiest made through Paypal. I already established a Paypal account for my CD sales through Amazon. My ebay adventure began when my wife, Diana, asked for Mr. Magoo in Egypt. It lives in her memory although I haven’t found it. “Tut Tut Magoo” it is not.

I browsed Ebay. I understood its concept. Friends used it to sell electronics surplus, Sears catalogues and cigars.

When I clicked “browse” for Magoo, a raincoat attired UPA plastic movable parts Magoo doll appeared, from 1958, my birthyear. Wow, that’s adorable. I’ll bid 20. It sold for 100. OK.

The first Magoo film feature from 1959, Magoo’s Arabian Nights (my shorter title) went to me for 35 dollars plus 15 dollars shipping. Color faded, 16mm, on two spools, ready to spill, sold by kinneman. A cute film, surprisingly involved, he’s Aladdin’s lamp making uncle. The music is subtle and the graphics are unique and pleasingly psychedelic, or rather kaleidoscopic (1959), and not entirely without blue. (Color film loses blue with age. Cold temperature slows the loss. Though silver nitrate film holds color, it is often more valuable melted down. For 50 dollars, no buyer should expect either Magoo’s or Pasolini’s “1001 Arabian Nights” to be a silver nitrate 16mm print.)

Unspooling Magoo, I recalled pre-VHS (pre-1980) private film dissemination, in the form of 16mm optical sound prints. The animated Magoo film must have been shot from cells onto film bearing width of 35 millimeters, about four times the area of the “amateur” format of 16mm film. It ran in theatres at 24 frames per second, as does the smaller 16mm film. US TVs scan 30 frames per second so every few cinema frames are blurred in their TV transfer. Please clarify.

Then consider the phenomenon of optical sound. The sound is etched on the side of the film, often in patterns resembling record grooves. In addition to smoothly flickering frames, the projector lights decode sound.

So for 50 dollars I bought an old rental print of Magoo’s first and only movie screen feature. Magoo was an Academy Awards favorite. Columbia Pictures proudly released his films. I know, he is not a real person. Although the depicting of a man infirm, or challenged, and unapologetically at that, may have fallen into disfavor, his cartoons are benign. Anyone attempting to bring harm upon Magoo brings harm upon himself, and I think we can learn from that.

Ever incongruous, my ebay adventure continues.

Next on Ebay I bought three pruning shears, two for a penny with a cell phone antenna enhancer thrown in, and a third with a special Japanese blade for 15 dollars plus (A "Corona Razor Tooth"). That third one broke sooner, piece by piece until at last the entire blade was gone. I’m referring to mini 7 inch folding saws. I love to prune. During the summer I trimmed expansive hedges that hadn’t been pruned in 30 years and their thick sprouts extended to 10 yards to catch a space of sun. Through long hours of continuous pruning I became physically invigorated, especially from the smell of spruce.

Exploring a midlife career change to that of an arborist resulted in subsequent ebay purchases. I bought a 100-foot spool of white vinyl rope with flecks of gold thrown in, to throw up the trees to climb them and remove their dead branches. Last winter was particularly harsh, but those majestic evergreens refused to die, completely. Actually, pruning is a basic Dizozza issue. I regularly bite my nails and shred my cuticles. In fact, I’m falling behind. Excuse me.

The inevitable result of constant self-pruning is going too bloody far in an attempt to achieve smooth perfection. Did you read my pruning story from the 1980’s. Like the spruce, “I leave to others the job of pruning me.”

An ebay search for army cots began after our visit to the Shabby Chic Shop of Soho. Online, I bought two cots, one useless, the other simply used, plus an army pup tent, which is great, and a hammock tent, which may be missing something to secure it to the trees. I’ve yet to confirm.

I gradually discovered that anything one can imagine is available on ebay, and chances are that only an hour is left to bid on it. My wife, Diana, requested a white furby with pink ears. It was something she needed. Through the bidding process I found myself the winner of two. Ah, the serendipity. Two furbies are better than one. To be more life-source-specific, in searching the online animal shelter for a pet, remember to get two. Cats keep each other alert. Two cats are better than one. Two cats together have fun!

However, for security conscious readers choosing between a ferocious watchdog and a Sloman Home Alarm System, I have this to add: A Furby is a sensor motion detector empowered by four batteries, and when all is still, it turns itself off.

In addition to providing guaranteed intruder trepidation, a furby does seem to learn from its awakenings. Furbies develop a rhythm to their response and they will talk with one another. 1999 was their year. I think Hasbro bought them from Tiger (a toy manufacturer from China) just to shut them up. Actually, one hears the mechanics as they move. Can you imagine the next generation, true baby robots that you can even send to school for improvements? “I’d like my furby to become an authority on Home Economics, and I’m willing to pay the cost of tuition.” Little does the mechanical robot’s parent suspect that classes consist of a software download.

Following these uncharacteristically tangible acquisitions, many sending us into the great outdoors, I retreated to the browsing of ebay’s outrageous sales of celluloid.

Home screening received an additional boost when, during the summer, I performed at an open mike at the Player’s Club. One of the fellows there was comedian Bob Greenberg. In describing my “Golf Wars,” I referred to Martin and Lewis and Laurel and Hardy. He said he was one of the Sons of the Desert, a group of aspiring comedians who collectively assist in the appreciation of Laurel and Hardy and other teams like Bud and Lou, the Stooges, the Marx Brothers and the Ritz Brothers. I expressed curiosity about the Ritz Brothers, and the next day he emailed me an invite to see one of their moments in film history, a version of “The Three Musketeers” with Don Ameche. I dropped by the screening location, could not stay, but glimpsed the setting, a residential loft.

I said to the 16mm projectionist/curator, “I’ll bring over Magoo’s Arabian Nights if you’d like.”

He said, “I have it.” He has everything in 16mm. He assembles movie soundtracks; actually symphonic scores, from the discs and tapes or whatever on which they were recorded and from which they were transferred to their films. Complete scores by Max Steiner, Alex North and Alfred Newman, including parts not in the films, he transferred to audio CDs, lovingly packaged.

During the next film night he showed Zanuck’s Wilson, just in time for the Republican National Convention. The following timely political issues arose before us.

No Wilson’s League of Nations membership for the United States. Dispute over a concept that mutated into the United Nations continues. We report to no mortal. I think John S. Hall said it best on Russell Simmons’ Poetry Central. We do what we want “until God or the aliens come along…” John inhabits male thought patterns. I almost miss the joke, and isn’t that what acting is all about, ever since the days of Robert DeNiro and his filmmaking obsessed friend, Martin Scorsese! So here we are, in 2004, unaccountable to anyone but ourselves, because, basically, and here’s that feel good refrain, “America Kicks Ass.”

I blame feel-good movies for securing our need for the addictive feel-good charge.

“Wilson” is a Technicolor film from 1944. The same writer, Lamar Trotti, scripted both it and Zanuck’s Razor’s Edge (in which occur hallucinatory moments between Clifton Webb and Gene Tierney.). Diana was touched by President Wilson’s expressions of love, his willingness to sacrifice career for love. He didn’t have to, reelected for a second term, but he seemed to be so inclined.

The presidential lead actor embodying Woodrow Wilson also played the writer in a Warner Brothers film, “The Sea Wolf.”

And there was much posturing. The “Wilson” cast carried themselves at least as well as did Daryl Zanuck in his day-to-day regimen.

Off to ebay. A bookseller sent for a dollar, three dollars shipping, the Mosley Zanuck Bio book, Hollywood’s Last Tycoon.

I’m enjoying it. It’s used. Its former book owner must have been a heavy smoker, ah, the memories triggered by its imbedded stink, first edition, 1984, stamped “not for resale.” Hm. “Not for Resale?” Perhaps it received that stamp when in England where a first sale doctrine applies, or doesn’t apply. I never remember which. (It doesn’t apply… In England when you resell your copy of the copyrighted item you pay a resale royalty to the copyright owner.)

16mm films for sale on ebay embraces (or does it reject?), the first sale doctrine (Ebay sellers are embracing it!). Bootlegged 16mm was a black market before video proliferation (1980). In 2004 what could be sillier than buying a degenerating color print of Powell/Pressburger’s “The Red Shoes” when you can scan through a vibrant 35mm transfer to DVD that you bought for 20 dollars?

I lost on “The Red Shoes,” always a blessing in disguise, for we are but stewards of what we possess. I took, instead, responsibility for ownership of an old faded “flat” print of a widescreen masterwork entitled “Oliver!”(exclamation point) on four big spools needing to be wound on reels for a savings of five dollars. Spend the five.

As a result of my attention being redrawn toward “Oliver, exclamation point,” a film I enjoy watching over and over again, I learned:

n That director Roman Polanski is refilming the Dickens book.
n That the practice of attractive peers seducing runaways into slavery is timeless, meaning timely, for it is still happens, to a more frightful extent, today.
n That the film’s morality repartee is spot-on ambiguous. (Witness the sublime lunacy level achieved in its last three shots. As Jack Wild’s Artful Dodger does his Lewis-Carroll-Alice-Pose for a crocodile-innocent Ron Moody, the camera turns to catch their infinite dance into the sunset, transitioning into the arrival of a carriage to the white house and the close-up apron strings embrace of Mark Lester by his Uncle’s wife? The End!
n That I am an extoller of the film’s cinema-craft, and
n That the flat cropping of the 2:1 wide screen canvas was actually done with some finesse.

Viewing Oliver! stimulates a concern, a life’s purpose. I see it as an end in itself, an achievement of vision. Musical theatre is a distillation of stories oft told. Musicals go through many stages of development. We begin a hundred years ago with Dicken’s source material. We wind up with exaggerated childish platitudes, “I’d do anything,” sung by children! We get integrated choreography, detailed continuity, plenty of medium shots with evocative detail, long shots with breathtaking detail, the butchers, the elevated train. The song, “consider yourself” is the vehicle for displaying every aspect of 19th century commerce in London. “Oliver!” has, as far as I can tell, two major sets, one of London’s main streets, by the Thames, and through the alley to the other, a spectacular swamp decaying group of tenement buildings. They are visually connected. Every inch of them is used.

The director loves medium and long shots. He gives no close-up for the end of “As Long as He Needs Me.” Carol Reed is a dispassionate observer. He’s a director who shows where things are. He went into the City of Post war Vienna and preserved its squalor in “The Third Man.” Here, in Oliver, he created the city. He also went to a Tavington Square Circle row of white houses for the “Who Will Buy?” segment. It is “the ordered world.” I imagine Sherlock Holms living in one of those town houses, Henry Higgins in another and of course, Oliver Twist’s gentleman uncle a few doors down.

My Michael Douglas Blog is called that because in its first post I thought it worthwhile to observe that Michael Douglas, the actor/producer returned to his family in the film, “Traffic,” but went with one of the other cast members in real life.

I think it also worthwhile to observe that the director of Oliver, which tells the story of a foundling saved by his uncle, is Carol Reed, castmember Oliver Reed’s uncle. Actually such oddities delight and fill me with faith in the serendipitous.

Oliver! is a lesson in filmmaking. Learn from it. Watching it after so many years made me want to see more. The medium was becoming the message, when it is really merely the delivery tool…

In my enthusiasm for 16mm films I ordered what turned out to be another Romulus Production, Moulin Rouge. Black and White. That’s the John Huston film that won best color cinematography. I haven’t seen it but it came, the only good news is that the color didn’t fade to pink. Descriptions don’t necessarily include what’s missing. A Black and White print -- (shhh) of a Technicolor film.

By the way, favorite recent filmmaking is Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, and the Christopher Guest films. They grew from Robert Altman’s Mash.

Looking for another "Oliver!" I saw a few minutes of Little Shop of Horrors on TV. The lyrics, the concept, the creative film directing are great. Howard Ashman revived the musical. We are in his debt. He wrote The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.

My other recent dose of entertainer entertainment was through meeting Spats Donovan, Hooch Houlihan, Dennis, I don’t know his exact name, but he is a spot-on impressionist with a singing voice to match. I played piano for his “Let’s Be Frank” at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre. I subbed for Aya Misoshoru, his amazing pianist, arranger, music director. Patrick Jude did a dead-on older Frank Sinatra impression, Jim Davidson was Dean Martin, everyone is great. They re-enact scenes from Robin and the Seven Hoods.

Oh dear. I wound of bidding a winning a copy of that.

The Laurel and Hardy Bohemian Girl, is a mysterious filming of a light opera. In search of antagonistic lyrics for my song, Living in Freedom (Again) I included the line, “Bohemian girl bring your sunshine to me,” and, yes, I bidded on a copy of that as well.

So a little Ebay goes a long way.

Oh, one of my colleagues here just ordered a fisherman’s spear gun so he can reenact those silent film scenes from the James Bond Horror film, Thunderball. It’s OK. I hear he eats his catch, the creatures from the black lagoon.

"We must bless and not curse."

I hope you enjoyed your glimpse into My Ebay.

Let’s collaborate on creating new treasures!

Peter Dizozza