– Again, I’ve been sick this week so some of these news clippings may be more stale than usual, but I can’t avoid addressing the news that Richard Thompson is ending his Cul de Sac strip due to escalating difficulties managing his daily deadlines with the daily toll of Parkinson’s disease. I’m glad to see it’s been so widely reported — it’s the kind of art that’s so idiosyncratic and personal that its fans see it as their own private treasure (or at least I did), so it’s nice to see what a big reach it had, and it makes the news a little more bittersweet than devastating to acknowledge how a traditional (as opposed to web) comic became so renowned, popular, and cultishly beloved so long after the medium was pronounced dead. It’s a given that it will be called “the last great comic strip” for a very long time; it’s also sure to join the general pantheon of must-know modern strips alongside Peanuts, The Far Side, and Calvin and Hobbes, whose Bill Watterson famously gained Thompson mountains of readers by breaking media silence to tell everyone how great it is. Checking in with that world every morning is a daily bright spot I’m going to miss a lot, but I imagine Thompson will find some other avenue for his addictive sensibility. He seems to suggest so in his announcement interview with The Washington Post, where he started the strip in 2004 after years of doing his satirical Richard’s Poor Almanac cartoons there. Keep watching Thompson’s entertaining, educational, and oft-updated blog to see where he goes from here. You can also find published collections of the strip and the recent Team Cul de Sac Parkinson’s fundraising book there if you don’t have them already.
– I’m also sad to hear about the death of first-generation Muppeteer Jerry Nelson. If you spend most of your free time researching the Muppets like I do, you build up a pretty intense reverence for Nelson, Frank Oz, Richard Hunt, and Dave Goelz along with Jim Henson, and really start to appreciate the unique touches a puppeteer brings to each of their countless characters. Nelson worked on nearly every Muppet production including decades of timeless work on Sesame Street, only retiring some of his characters in the last 12 or so years after health issues made certain ones particularly difficult. His contributions to pop culture (and all of our childhoods) are ridiculous: The Count, Robin, Mr. Snuffleupagus, Floyd Pepper, Lew Zealand, Uncle Deadly…it goes on forever. The Henson Company (or somebody running their Facebook) compiled a feature-length YouTube playlist showcasing some of his best moments, check it out. I’ve always loved this Muppet Show clip of Henson, Nelson, and Oz’s Muppet selves performing “To Morrow:”
– After several weeks of fanfare, Sight & Sound has posted its full directors’ poll from its Greatest Films of All Time issue to match the critics’ poll from a few weeks ago. The most interesting aspect, though, is that you can now see the top ten picks from all of the individual directors polled, along with their intermittent comments. I refer all the time to specific directors’ lists from the last round of Sight & Sound picks in 2002, so it’s great to have a new batch which includes a great mix of big names, interesting up-and-comers, and international cult favorites — Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, Edgar Wright, Guillermo del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, Greg Mottola, David O. Russell, Gaspar Noe, Richard Ayoade, to name a few. My favorite pick from a glance-through would be Mike Hodges repping the forever-underrated Charley Varrick, or Bela Tarr unexpectedly choosing the fun and insane Frenzy for his token Hitchcock. This may also be remembered as the moment Michael Mann lost his marbles.
– Speaking of movies, this weekend sees several new releases of note. Premium Rush was already an attractive mainstream title to me because of Michael Shannon and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, so I’m glad it seems to be pulling a lot of “better than it has a right to be” type reviews. The indie films Robot & Frank and Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk with Me both look like they could be a lot of fun, and seem to have gotten a pretty generous spread through smaller arthouse markets, and Marjane Satrapi’s Chicken With Plums, which I was just wondering about the status of a couple weeks ago in this space, seems to have started its theater crawl, which is excellent news. If you’ve been eagerly awaiting Killer Joe like I’ve been (loudly and frequently to anyone who will listen), you might check your local listings again — it finally came within a three-hour radius of me Friday.
– Speaking of waiting a long time for movies, director Patrick Johnson is raising funds for the completion of his long, long, long in production 5-25-77, along with a tour of the movie and a documentary on all of the above. If you’re unfamiliar with the project, it’s a semi-autobiographical comedy about a nerd trying to see Star Wars on opening day. I’m a little skeptical of a movie that’s been “almost there” for nearly a decade, but I’ve always thought what little footage that’s made its way online has looked like a good time, and the cast is full of people I really love, including the great Austin Pendleton and a relatively-fresh-off-Freaks and Geeks John Francis Daley. It’s also interesting to realize that it was ahead of the curve on the now popular trend of fan-friendly films like Fanboys and Paul.
– Today in streams and freebies: 1) I think anybody who wants to know already knows that Animal Collective are streaming their highly anticipated new album on their online radio station, along with some pleasant visual acoompaniment, but if not, hop to it. 2) Lightning Love put out an EP earlier this year that I’ve been playing almost nonstop, so I’m excited that they’re streaming their full-length via Soundcloud over at MTV Hive (whatever that is). 3) A while back, members of North Carolina’s Rosebuds and Schooner (the latter a long-standing personal favorite of mine) formed a group called The Flute Flies to record some songs for Cytunes, a cancer research fundraising project named after a friend and fan. The songs were lovely, so I’m glad to hear they’ve recorded a follow-up full-length which is streaming at their Bandcamp page, available for name-your-price purchase which will go to the same fund.