Saturday, December 09, 2023

TEENAGE TUPELO - MIKE MCCARTHY (Book Review) Fantagraphics Underground

Know this right upfront - this is definitely a biased review.

Having written about and worked with Mike McCarthy (AKA John Michael McCarthy, J. Michael McCarthy, JMM, depending at what point in his career you discover him), it's no surprise that I would claim to be an enthusiastic fan of his work.

McCarthy is a Memphis-based artist who first made his name in underground comix and was able to transfer and adapt his style to film. TEENAGE TUPELO, his second feature film, is celebrated - nay, enshrined - in a large-format release (AKA 'coffee-table book') from Fantagraphics Underground. And while it goes into exhaustive detail on the making of the film, it also functions as a celebration of American Pop Culture and a veneration of Family Created.

TT the film - shot on Super-8 film in the early 90s, is McCarthy's fictional (w/elements of semi-autobiography) take on his origin story - the main character, D'Lana Fargo, is knocked-up by has-been local singer, Johnny Tu-Note who's back from an Army stint overseas and wanting to make a comeback and D'Lana's pregnancy is a problem, as well as a problem for D'Lana's mother, who sets up an adoption with a local couple, the McCarthy's. Adrift with no allies, D'Lana falls in with Thee Madd, Madd Man-Haters, a local lesbian trio/gang who are ardent fans of  sexploitation actress Topsy-Turvy, who D'Lana more than resembles. It's a film with many layers - a pastiche of the exploitation dramas of the late 50s/early 60s, also incorporating a Scopitone and nudie-cuties; some side-eyed Elvis history/mythology

As a tagline for the film states - "Everything Revealed! Nothing Explained!" Well, that changes with the book...

Comprised of interviews, articles, reviews and essays (some newly written specifically for the book), it goes into practically every aspect of TT and its creator; the production and post-production - the music by Impala gets close attention with remembrances by band members of the music scene at the time and recording sessions for the film; 'The Gospelvis' and reception of the film at the time as a new release by Something Weird Video.

And pictures. Lots and LOTS of pictures. Even better, lots and lots and LOTS of pictures of the 'starlets' in the film - Dawn Ashcroft (McCarthy's wife at the time), Kristen Hobbs, Sophie Couch and - D'Lana Tunnell! As well as behind-the-scenes pix, candid shots - it's also a good pictorial history of early 90s Memphis cultural scene.


All of that alone would justify the book - cultural history and some 90s cheesecake, and none of it is disappointing - but it's the last third that raises it from just an archive of an obscure cult film into a genuinely affecting affirmation of Family - the one that you originate from and the one you create along the way. Both Tunnell and McCarthy are adopted children and both give their account of growing up, discovering their origins and the aftermaths of discovery...

It has a hefty price - $75 - but the quality of the content and binding makes it more than worth the price.

 If all of this sounds enticing to you, what would be even better would be having the actual film to view! Fortunately, TEENAGE TUPELO is available on blu-ray directly from McCarthy - packed out with a director's commentary, photo galleries, a selection of McCarthy's short films and documentaries. It makes a great introduction to McCarthy, if you're not familiar with his other films like SUPERSTARLET A.D., CIGARETTE GIRL, DAMSELVIS - DAUGHTER OF HELVIS (available on blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome/Saturn's Core) and THE SORE LOSERS (also available directly from McCarthy in a 3-disc blu-ray/DVD/CD edition).

Friday, June 23, 2023

Super 8 film scanning/conversion - FREE at your local library (maybe)!

So, I did a thing today...

FB/Film Festival friend Skizz Cyzyk is responsible, posting over a week ago a photo of loads of 8mm/Super8mm film reels, and how he did it using a machine that he rented for 3 weeks (said machine positioned behind the Wall O' Reels) - a 8mm/Super8mm film digitizer! Checking out the company he rented from ( - $60 for 7 days... not bad!), then looking at other places, then going straight to the source: WOLVERINE, a company that makes image converters. 

More to the point; those Super 8 scanners - the MovieMaker Pro, which can handle up to 9" reels and its slightly-lesser priced brother, Wolverine 8mm and Super 8 converter, which can handle up to 5" reels - make quality film transfer affordable for the DIY artist and family archivist. Both devices do frame-by-frame capture, so it's not a quick process - my first time out, I was able to do 2 400' reels in 8.5 hours - and converts it to MP4 files in 1080p (for the Pro - the 8mm/Super 8 machine will output files in 720p). Basically, if you can thread a 8mm/Super 8 projector, this will be just as easy to operate.


Here's some screen grabs, so you can gauge the quality - the oldest film is from 1985; the most recent is from 1992:


That's pretty good. And when it's running smoothly, it's wonderful - you can leave it to run itself, if you like. Those who know better will stick around, because they know that things NEVER go as smoothly as initially advertised.

You can expect to do several passes; condition of the film, sprocket hole issues may not make this a 'one & done' type of experience. And regarding framing, if you need to make adjustments, you'll need to stop and start, which will create a new file. Same with adjustments of exposure and sharpness, though in those cases, you'll probably just do another pass. So you'll want - nay, NEED - to do some prep on the film (cleaning, checking splices) before doing a scan.

If you're wanting 2K or 4K quality, then you'll want to send it to a professional service. But if you just need it in blu-ray quality and have the time & obsession to oversee it yourself, THIS IS AMAZING!

The rental prices are pretty reasonable - $60 a week (I expect there's also a deposit involved) - and if you have access to a large amount of film to scan, it's worth the purchase price ($400 for Pro, $300 for the 8mm/S8 Converter) -- but you might check your local library first. A good many public libraries have updated their A/V equipment and spaces to use it; mini studio facilities for the Public to use... FREE!

I actually found it by accident; the Topeka library did not have equipment for film/negative scanning (as of yet - that may change in the near future), but the Lawrence library did have a scanner for negatives and that could capture 8mm/Super 8 in .jpgs... lot of work to assemble on the back end, but better than nothing. So while making inquiries, the clerk mentioned that they DID have the Wolverine for film scanning - Even Better! All that was needed - besides a library card - was to go online and reserve a session(s). 

Apparently, it's gotten continual use since it was acquired last summer, which is a good thing. Some libraries also have devices to convert VHS and audio cassettes to digital, available to the Public to use FREE OF CHARGE.


Friday, April 21, 2023

R.I.P. Peter Doty 1963 -2023


Peter Doty was one of my roommates from 1991 - 1993. I had met his other roommate, Sarah Rosenbaum previously at one of Ronn Rosen's parties (a Cacophony Society member) and met Peter shortly thereafter; they were planning an event, The BART Lounge and I spent an afternoon with them in Golden Gate Park when they were rehearsing songs.

We hit it off, apparently - months later, they were looking for a new roommate and I was looking to move from my previous place; things lined up for me to move in, and I spent 2 of the best years of my life there.

Both Peter & Sarah were artists and it was wonderful to finally be in the company of people who had similar sensibilities. They had known each other since the late 80s and found out much, much later that they were distant cousins - I don't think they were aware of that at the time we all roomed together, but I could be wrong on that.

Peter was smart, funny and had the ability to turn what seemed to be an absurd idea into reality... he and Sarah came up with the BART Lounge; the Fantasia Protests came out of going to a screening of FANTASIA and heading back to the bus stop, joking about how the movie would offend so many groups of people at the time - this was when 'political correctness' started becoming a thing. Out of that, came the creation of a bogus organization with subsidiary groups and a bogus newsletter; bogus press releases and Peter convincing people to act as spokespeople for these groups and leading protests. The joke got even funnier when tv and print media came out to cover the protests, taking it all at face value, leading to news coverage in Time Magazine, local news then national news when it was revealed to be bullshit - er, a hoax. Entertainment Tonight sent a small crew out to interview Peter on a piece they were doing on media pranksters (and I wish I was able to find a copy of that segment). 

Peter was able to conceptualize things that were fun & frivolous - like the Penny Parade, where people paraded along the Haight giving spare change out instead of asking for it, singing money-themed songs such as "Pennies From Heaven" -- and events that were fun, but actually had a serious statement at the heart of it, like "Let Them Eat Cake", where he and others, in conjunction with Food Not Bombs dressed as 17th Century aristocrats and gave out cake and other foodstuffs to the homeless.

It's also well documented that Peter was mainly responsible for starting off the concept of Burning Man theme camps; a lot of the 'fun' side of Cacophony were things that Peter brought to it. And yes, there were times when he could be a diva, but he had the ability to mobilize people to actualize the concept, no matter how absurd it seemed - and that is a rare talent that one wouldn't guess he possessed, at first casual glance.

Christmas Card photo shoot. Peter couldn't make it so photos were taken, Xeroxed and hand colored, then pasted. Old school artistry, kids!
There's a FB 'Peter Doty Memorial Group' where people are sharing stories & photos; for those who may not be on FB, there's also a Memorial Blog which shares some of that same info - including a lengthy interview with Peter from ReSearch Publications' PRANKS 2 book about some of those Cacophony events, as well as some selections from the TALES OF THE SAN FRANCISCO CACOPHONY SOCIETY book; both of those give a pretty good overview of his projects at the time.
His obituary, which also has information about Celebration of Life events - one in Albuquerque, NM on 4/23 (also a belated memorial for his mother); one in San Francisco, CA on 5/21 at Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park from 12pm-4pm; and the last in Orono, ME 6/4, Buchanan Alumni House at University of Maine.