Friday Video: A Letter from a Veteran

In which a pumpkin scarecrow sings a ditty in a graveyard.

I probably could have saved this for Christmas, but this year Veterans Day falls on a Friday. Here’s the superb Peter Capaldi reading a letter home from Captain Reginald John Armes to his wife detailing the remarkable and heartbreaking events of impromptu Christmas Truce of 1914.

The soldiers involved allowed the best portion of their human nature to briefly overwhelm the political circumstances, the hierarchy, and authority that had placed them on opposing sides on that battlefield to find kinship and brotherhood with their enemy. They aspired towards and achieved the state that is often tritely used by people without thought or deeper consideration as “peace on Earth, good will towards man.”

The reason I describe this letter as heartbreaking is that the World War I would continue for nearly another four years. How many of these incredible nameless men who were there that Christmas managed to survive to Armistice Day? And of those survivors, how many were still able to hold in their hearts the equanimity and fineness of spirit that made the Christmas Truce possible? Every man who participated in the Christmas Truce faced a future filled with trauma, injury, disfigurement, death, and horrors beyond our imagining.

If only the Christmas Truce could have prevailed and spread across the battlefields beyond the holiday season, ending The Great War so that all its soldiers could come home alive and intact in body, mind, and spirit to celebrate a veterans day with friends and family every year. Alas, baser souls and smaller imaginations won out over sanity, nobility, and kindness. The war resumed, making future wars possible and more likely.

There’s never been another Christmas Truce since 1914, and millions have died in the many wars since then, including Captain Reginald John Armes who never returned to his wife and family. He died in Mesopotamia on 9 April 1916.

Friday Video: Why Don’t We Call Them Halloween Carols?

In which a pumpkin scarecrow sings a ditty in a graveyard.

Tis the season… for Halloween themed videos.

This one’s short but sweet. It’s a collaboration between singer/songwriter J P Ashkar and animator Nick Shaheen. Shaheen explained to genesis of the project on his Facebook page:

“I challenged JP to write a 1-minute song about Halloween that I could turn into a fun animation and he did not disappoint. The character was sculpted and animated in C4D. All characters were animated with Rokoko motion capture and render in Redshift. Enjoy!!!”

And you will enjoy it. The music and lyrics are the stuff that infections earworms are made off and the playful yet somehow menacingly friendly character and personality of the pumpkin troubadour comes through clearly in spite of the shortness of the video. Ashkar’s vocals and Shaheen’s spooky imagery are a perfect match, and I can’t resist wishing this was the opening of a half hour Halloween television special about this otherworldly singers rambling adventure on Halloween night. Give it a listen and then tell me I’m wrong.

Nick Shaheen has a web site here, and J P Ashkar has a page here where you can be directed to his social media sites and where you can buy more of his music (I did!) A longer version of “Halloween” is available on Spotify, Apple Music, and other online music streamers.

Friday Video: Vintage Toy Fail

Tanks for the memories

If you know me, I’m as big a fan of the early Wham-O toy company from their “ONLY 99 CENTS” pricing strategy to their devil-may-care “let’s just toss any goofy toy concept out on to the shelves and racks of retailers and see what happens” marketing style, but this toy strains and stretches my affection to the limit.


What the hell were they thinking?

Friday Video: Meat Pies & Substitutiary Locomotion

We lost another great one this week.

Angela Lansbury just passed away five days short of her 97th birthday. I got to see her perform live twice. Once in 1981 in Sweeney Todd with George Hearn as Sweeney at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. (I liked Hearn, but I loved Len Cariou on the soundtrack album.)

The second time I saw her live was at the Hollywood Bowl concert for Stephen Sondheim’s 75th birthday on July 8, 2005. They were a little rusty, but I finally got to Lansbury and Cariou as the definitive Mrs. Lovett and the definitive Sweeney Todd performing their definitive version of “A Little Priest” as shown below. Definitely (and definitively) worth the wait.


My first awareness of Angela Lansbury was probably her role as Eglantine Price in Disney’s BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS (1971). I knew that the film was based in part on “The Magic Bed Knob” by Mary Norton, a book that my second grade teacher, Mrs. Young had read to the class. I had been absolutely enthralled by the book and was looking forward to seeing on the big screen. Alas, I missed seeing the film in the movie theaters during its first run.

A few years later, the Seal Beach recreation department had a screening of B&B as part of their children’s summer program. The screening was held on a Saturday afternoon in the Seal Beach city hall council chambers because it was large enough to seat an afternoon crowd of kids.

I remember being trusted enough to supervise my two brothers, probably around age 5 and 7 at the time, after being dropped off with them. I’m happy to report that they were very well-behaved and loved the film. That afternoon is one of my fond and treasured memories of the three of us from our shared childhood.

Over 40 years later I spent too many unpleasant hours in those same council chambers as the history chair during Seal Beach Centennial chair meetings, and I would sometimes imagine Angela Lansbury leading an army of empty suits of medieval armor animated by “substitutiary locomotion” into the room to smite the more obnoxious people at the table.

Sigh. That sound you hear is the ancient creaking door of the Twentieth Century slowly shutting.

Friday Video: David Plunkert

Visit to a David Plunkert

Whenever I get too hung up on nostalgic yearnings for the good ol’ days when I was a young pup, and balance it against all the artistry and culture that’s readily available for free in these days of miracles and wonders.

For example, here’s eight minutes plus of artist David Plunkert on the Criterion Collection’s YouTube channel giving us a tour of his process.

Truly there is no good excuse for being bored.