Tales of the Gold Monkey

Tales of the Gold Monkey is a pulp television series with the sensibility of a Saturday morning cartoon, following a cargo pilot’s adventures set in the 1930s South Pacific. If this sounds like the Disney show TaleSpin, that’s because Gold Monkey was a major influence upon the creator of TaleSpin, Jymn Magon.

There are Nazis! Volcanos! Spies! Samurais! A dog with an eye patch! It must have been an expensive show to produce, and indeed it’s quite striking how much show there is. There are real vintage airplanes, aerial dogfights, large sets, and much of the series appears to be shot in Hawaii. In terms of production scale, this is the Game of Thrones of 1982. The series is the brainchild of Magnum PI creator Donald P. Bellisario.vlcsnap-2013-05-10-20h30m58s209

Many television shows that lasted one season or less have come and gone, but the most similar show that comes to mind is The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Young Indy was undoubtedly better produced, directed, and written, but also ten years later. Contemporaneous to Gold Monkey was Bring ‘Em Back Alive, another WWII-era adventure series set in Singapore. Both were criticized as Raiders of the Lost Ark knockoffs, but it would be more accurate to say that the popularity of Raiders is what allowed Gold Monkey and Bring ‘Em Back Alive to be greenlit during that television season. Bellisario was apparently working on the idea before Raiders was released.

It’s great to see distributors like Netflix giving a second life to the many brief but wonderful television series that have hooked our sense of romance and adventure over the years. If you can still maintain your childlike sense of wonder, you’ll probably enjoy Tales of the Gold Monkey. It’s only available by disc over Netflix, or you can just buy whole the 21-episode run on Amazon for thirty bucks.

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Mad Men Season 6 Poster

Mad Men Season 6 Poster

I’ve been staring at this all day. On one level it’s a simple allusion to the Don Draper / Dick Whitman dynamic, but more broadly it shows Don at the crossroads between domestic stability with his family, and the independent recklessness of his earlier, more hedonistic life style. The retreating Don is wearing a lighter suit, as he did years ago in the early sixties, when he was more of a rogue figure going against the establishment.  Perhaps his domestication requires a certain complacency with the establishment, The Man, the people in charge, that he knows he would have rebelled against in his earlier life. Don is holding Megan’s cut off  hand like as a weighty obligation. He would much rather be the fugitive on the run, beating the system rather than becoming the system.

They even hired an old-school illustrator to do it.

Ha Cha Cha Cha

When I was a kid, sometimes I would pantomime that I had a giant nose and was smoking an imaginary cigar and I’d say “ha cha cha cha!” What a hilarious five year old vaudeville performer I was. I picked that up from some old Chuck Jones cartoons, though I couldn’t tell you which — until a few nights ago when I was watching Tom and Jerry by myself around midnight (… and I’m single, ladies!).

In the 1967 episode Surf-Bored Cat, Tom gets an octopus stuck on his head, and when one of the octopus’s tentacles looks like a big nose, he breaks the fourth wall and hams it up: ha cha cha cha! You can watch it on Dailymotion (the chacha moment occurring at 3:30):

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There are similar impressions in other cartoons of the 50s and 60s. I even knew as a kid that they were referring to some known personality, maybe Groucho, and that adults probably got the joke. I just thought it was funny. But who the hell were the cartoons referring to?

Naturally I googled “ha cha cha cha” and found Jimmy Durante, the Schnozzola himself. Durante was a performer and comedian with a long career in show business and had a number of catch phrases. There’s even a section on his Wikipedia page detailing his presence in animation.

So that’s who I was imitating. Many of those cartoons were rich with jokes and allusions to performers, comedians, and musicians past, and I suppose there were numerous fans of Durante among the animators, including Chuck Jones. If I have kids I’ll definitely make them watch some of the classics. It’s good to start with the fundamentals. Ha cha cha cha!

Attaining Imperfection

Like most people with a modern phone, I like playing with applications that emulate the look of various types old film when taking pictures. Namely:

Hipstamatic:

at the Mexicali/Calexico borderCameraBag:

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And the latest app darling, Instagram:

Transbay terminal
As it happens, I knew one of the founders of Instagram years ago in undergrad, and he was a nice fellow, so I’ve been using the app.

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Is it silly to degrade the quality of a digital image so that it evokes more difficult and more imperfect media? No. So long as you keep copies of the unfiltered photo, of course. Film prints and instant or cheap camera images with light leaks, chromatic aberrations, and other such antiquated ‘imperfections’ evoke the nostalgic sensation of flipping through old family photo albums of birthdays and Christmases past, of ancestors, and lithe parents with newborns. The musk of ancient paper, the crackle of the protective plastic… The experience may not be universal, but the romance of an idealized past, however imaginative and far from facts, can be quite appealing.

As with all art, the associations and emotional connotations that are called forth by an image or sentence or song are more important than the literal representation.

Moreover, applying such effects is an act of discovery, just like making prints in the dim red light of dark room. Actual photo and print development is its own difficult art form and technical exercise, but the digitization and instant gratification of photo apps provide similar satisfaction – without the hard work.

Sorry for my word salad; here are some more pictures. I’ve enjoyed working with 35mm film, but it is a time-consuming and expensive hobby. For reference and contrast from the previous images, here are some of my actual photographs taken on cameras that actually make a clicking sound that isn’t prerecorded:

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Well, to tell the truth, photo apps are popular because they have sex appeal: we see celebrities and rock stars and models represented in such stylized forms of photography on album covers and in movies, and we want to be among them. But reminiscing about photo albums makes for a nicer story.