This must be the best book I’ve read on the work of a director. It’s organized just how I’d like, with articles covering all aspects of Tashlin’s work (with little overlap), interviews with Tashlin and with others about Tashlin, excerpts from his cartoons, plenty of photographs, critical write-ups of each film he directed and detailed chronology and filmography of all his work. I read the library copy straight through. Gotta adjust myself to not being able to put it on my shelf of film books since it’s so far out of print… can’t own everything, ya know.

Some edited excerpts:

Jonathan Rosenbaum:

It seems to me that “Tashlinesque” can mean one or more of five different strains in the contemporary cinema which I will list below, with appropriate examples…

A. Graphic expression in shapes, colors, costumes, settings and facial expressions derived from both animated and still cartoons and comic books: The 500 Fingers of Dr. T., I Want To Go Home, Dick Tracy

B. Sexual hysteria – usually (if not invariably) grounded in the combination of male adolescent lust and 1950s’ notions of feminine voluptuousness: Seven Year Itch, The Nutty Professor, Lord Love a Duck, The Man With Two Brains

C. Vulgar modernism: a “popular, ironic, somewhat dehumanized mode reflexively concerned with the specific properties of its medium or the conditions of its making” (Hoberman): Duck Amuck, Hellzapoppin’, Sullivan’s Travels, The Patsy, Real Life, The Purple Rose of Cairo

D. Intertextual film references: Shoot The Piano Player, Zazie dans le metro, Celine & Julie Go Boating, Who Framed Roger Rabbit

E. Contemporary social satire: products, gadgets, fads, trends: Christmas In July, A King in New York, Mon oncle, Tampopo

J. Hoberman

Tashlin’s films ultimately have less to do with the production of cultural forms than with their packaging and consumption. His America is a nation of robotic image junkies whose minds have been colonized by the media. Jerry Lewis’s landlady in Rock-a-Bye Baby does exactly what TV commercials tell her to do, even to the point of dying her hair vermilion; the movie fans in Hollywood or Bust and Rock Hunter are little more than popcorn and fan-mag consuming zombies. The protagonist of The Girl Can’t Help It is made to hallucinate singer Julie London every time he hears one of her records on a jukebox.

Bernard Eisenschitz

Although Truffaut and his colleagues at Cahiers knew little English and even less about contemporary trends in American theater and jazz… they were not caught unawares by The Girl Can’t Help It and Hollywood or Bust. Rivette, Rohmer and Truffaut rated them “masterpieces” in the same month as The Wrong Man and Chikamatsu monogatari. A phantasy view of America to be sure, but no less valid than the recent sociological approach, in which films have little place. Tashlin not only identified and denounced the contradiction of American cinema, but also embodied it, since the ambivalence of his films makes it impossible to say which side he is taking, or to be sure that he is not exploiting the very thing that he is denouncing. The Cahiers group did not only see Tashlin as radically destructive, they also appreciated the sheer beauty of what he showed.

Playing to the French title of Hollywood or Bust, Charles Bitsch wrote, “A true movie nut, Tashlin is the first to have made films for other true movie nuts.”

Tashlin in 1964

Cartoons are a very stimulating medium. For animators, the joke reigns supreme. But it’s also a world of enslavement. The world of an animator, no matter how fertile his ideas may be, is in the end, a confined frame, a tiny glass cel where his creations come to life. It’s as though the whole universe were reduced to a series of postcards. You spend your whole life splicing, flipping through cel sheets, drawing frame by frame. After a few years the whole thing becomes so debilitating that you lose all contact with the real world.

same interview, after he’d quit working at Disney in 1941…

I sought refuge at Leon Schlesinger’s where I worked on the Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons, then went to Screen Gems at Columbia where John Hubley and I developed the “Fox and Crow” series. I became a gagman for Harpo Marx in A Night In Casablanca. The mirror sequence, which I invented specially for him, was a series of variations on an old gag … Then I worked for Eddie Bracken, and later for Bob Hope.

Tashlin in 1962

I really hate television. It’s no experience. You sit at home, you don’t get dressed and go out. It’s free – the audience doesn’t participate – they sit there and turn the dial and be critical. I detest it.

1994 interview with Bill Krohn and Joe Dante:

BK: So much live-action filmmaking today is influenced by cartoons which he was the first to do, but so little of it has any social pertinence.
JD: That’s because he was influenced by better cartoons. The people who are doing cartoons today are basing them on The Flintstones. That was the nadir; cartoons were disappearing as cartoons and becoming radio shows. Doing live-action cartoons – movies like L’il Abner, Popeye – it’s a very tough thing to do. But the Flintstones themselves were so uncartoonlike that it’ll be a little easier to translate them into live action. Whereas to do Bugs Bunny, or to do characters that really are fanciful, you just can’t do that in live action.

Mike Barrier interviews Tashlin in 1971

MB: I understand you worked on the very first development of Lady and the Tramp too.
FT: That’s right, Sam [Cobean] and I did that whole story; I’d forgotten about that.
MB: Were you working from the story that Ward Greene wrote?
FT: I don’t recall the book. Joe Grant had modeled the dog, Lady, and Sam and I did a story. I never saw the film… I think we had rats coming after the baby at the end… did they have that? Then that’s what we did.

MB: You’ve mentioned that when you made your cartoons, you were looking forward to feature work. Now that you’ve been making features for many years, have there been occasions when you’ve looked back to your cartoon work and tried to get a cartoon flavor in some of your films?
FT: Oh I guess quite often, because all the reviewers – Truffaut and Godard and all these people when they were reviewers on Cahiers du Cinema, they always treated my films, my Jerry Lewis films and all, as a cartoon. I did a picture with Tom Ewell and Jayne Mansfield [The Girl Can’t Help It] and as far as they were concerned, that was a Tom and Jerry cartoon, and the fact that his name was Tom and hers was Jerri – which I never thought of – they said, “She is the cat and he is the mouse.”

From the chronology:

1952 – Tashlin spends nearly six months working with Robert Welch on the script for “Sapphire Sal,” later re-titled Red Garters. Tashlin is originally set to direct, but when he checks off the Paramount lot in late August the production is put on hold awaiting the loan-out of Jane Russell from RKO. (Red Garters, not produced until 1954, ultimately stars Rosemary Clooney, with screenplay credit going to Michael Fessier.)

Flight of the Conchords: A Texan Odyssey
Short doc of the duo band at SXSW. Funny! Seen below massaging the feet of Peaches.

Wallace and Gromit in A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008, Nick Park)
This was as fast-paced as the action scenes in the Wallace & Gromit full-length, and packed full of jokes and puns. Our heroes are bakers now, and a former bread company model, now grown fat on breads and pastries, is out for revenge on the bakery world. She gets cozy with Wallace, plotting to murder him with a giant cartoon bomb (among other things) while Gromit and the woman’s terrified pet poodle try to ruin her plans. Lovely movie, probably inspired by the name of cowriter Bob Baker and/or voice actor Peter Sallis’s appearance in the movie Who Is Killing The Great Chefs of Europe. Must check out Nick Park’s series Shaun The Sheep.

Living in a Reversed World
Educational doc. Sadistic Austrian professor, trying to prove a point about perception, gets students to wear special mirror/prism glasses which reverse left/right or up/down and see if they can adjust. They can. He also puts goggles on a chicken, which I don’t think is a good idea.

The Contraption (1977, James Dearden)
Closeups of construction. What’s he building in there? What the hell… is he building in there? Turns out to be a giant mousetrap for our suicidal handyman. Dearden later made Matt Dillon thriller A Kiss Before Dying. Contraption-builder Richard O’Brien had lately been in Rocky Horror, would play Mr. Hand in Dark City. Tied for best short at the Berlin fest… this is pretty neat, but I wouldn’t have thought it an award-winner.

Cameras Take Five (2003, Stephen Woloshen)
Abstract hand-drawn animation set to Dave Brubeck’s Take Five. Liked it, not super busy, didn’t think people were doing stuff like this anymore.

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Double Feature (1966, Hubleys)
John & Faith animate two short musical numbers to Spanish Flea and Tijuana Taxi. Not slick like the Doonesbury short, homemade-looking. Cute pieces though (predictably about a flea and a taxi). Beat out a Pink Panther short and an anti-smoking PSA for the oscar. Rough year for animation, I guess. Lost at Cannes to a documentary on Holland (not by Bert Haanstra).

The Tortoise and the Hare (1935, Wilfred Jackson)
Hare is kinda an asshole – supposedly his character was stolen by Warners as a prototype for Bugs Bunny. This plays like the other Silly Symphonies, not as good as the Three Little Pigs though.

A Perfect Place (2008, Derrick Scocchera)
Sharp b-w cinematography and two very dryly comic actors (Mark Boone Jr. of Memento & Thin Red Line and Bill Moseley of all the Rob Zombie films) make for a good movie. In the first second, MBJ “kills” an acquaintance who was cheating at cards, then they spend the next 25 min trying to dispose of the body. Not the usual over-the-top situations either, movie keeps it cool. I guessed early on that the cheat wasn’t really dead but that didn’t make it less enjoyable. Dig the theme song by Mike Patton.

MANT! (1993, Joe Dante)
Tracigally not a full feature. All the scenes shot for the film-in-a-film of Dante’s awesome Matinee were assembled into this short included with the laserdisc.

Three excellent shorts by Norman McLaren. Fiddle-de-dee (1947, painted to an upbeat fiddle tune), Boogie-Doodle (1948, drawn with pen to a piano boogie) and Serenal (1959, etched and hand-colored to a Trinidadian string quartet number)




Two of my comic/horror heroes, John Landis and Joe Dante, make a Twilight Zone movie alone with Steven “Raiders/E.T.” Spielberg and George “Mad Max” Miller. The result could’ve been a masterpiece, but you know how anthology films always turn out… nobody does their best work, and half the episodes are always weak.

John Landis’s untitled episode has a very unlikeable Vic Morrow getting his supernatural comeuppance, becoming a Jew in nazi germany, a black man at a klan rally, a victim of the vietnam war, then back to germany, after making racist, hateful comments to his buddies (both of whom have been in John Carpenter films). It’s a grimy, unpleasant episode, a bad way to start the series, and of course it’s incomplete due to the untimely decapitation-by-helicopter of the lead actor during shooting. Landis was tried and acquitted for Morrow’s death, as well as an assistant director who Alan Smithee’d himself in the credits. Landis’s intro to the movie almost makes up for the Morrow segment – Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks in a car singing TV theme songs for seven long minutes while the audience wonders if they’re in the wrong theater. If they’d have gone from that part right into the Spielberg, we would’ve had an improved 75-minute movie, and Landis’s longer piece would’ve achieved legendary status. Better that everyone wonders about a possible lost masterpiece than get to see the disappointing reality.

Vic Morrow: last known photo

Spielberg offers nothing but a big name to sell tickets and some Scatman Crothers. Explores the young-again themes he’d later revisit with Hook – Scatman gets some old folks to play kick the can at midnight and they turn young again – most opt to go back the way they were, but the British guy stays young and runs off into the night. Bill Quinn (of Dead & Buried, which I should be watching right now but I’ve stupidly turned on Organ which I don’t think I’ll finish) looks sadly after him wishing he’d gone out to play and turned young instead of being an old grump. Overly saccharine flick, maybe meant as an antidote to the unrelenting hatred of the previous piece, but maybe we’d have been better off with neither. Hmmm, but then we’ve got a great 50-minute movie, too short for theaters.

Murray Matheson in his final role, with the Scatman three years after The Shining

Dante had made The Howling and Piranha, but not yet the creatures-and-cartoons Explorers or Gremlins, so this was a sign of things to come. SFX master Rob Bottin, fresh off John Carpenter’s The Thing, created the ‘toon extravaganza at the end. Dante’s segment has the most sinister ending here – the woman and the kid drive off into the world to unleash unknown havoc. Unlike Spielberg, Dante has actual malice and danger behind the cute TV-and-toon-influenced worlds he creates. Anthony’s sister played by Nancy Cartwright (in her film debut), who would be a saturday morning cartoon regular three years later, followed by a 20+ year stint as Bart Simpson, plays the sister who gets beamed into the television. Kathleen Quinlan (later oscar-nom for Apollo 13) was the teacher, and Jeremy Licht (who spent six years on a Jason Bateman TV show) played Anthony. Dante faves Dick Miller and Kevin McCarthy show up as a scuzzy diner operator and Anthony’s terrified “uncle”.

I wonder what happens to Kevin McCarthy after the kid leaves the house

George Miller tries to go over the top of the Joe Dante piece, and maybe even succeeds, with Nightmare at 20,000 Feet starring John Lithgow. Lightning and wind, loopy camera angles, a plane monster, and an outrageous performance by Lithgow (as good as Raising Cain) keep this one humming. I forgot Lithgow ends up being taken away by an ambulance driven by Dan Aykroyd, ha.

Lithgow, acting sane while the stewardess is watching

I must’ve watched this a whole lot of times on HBO in the 80’s – I remembered almost all of it. DVD quality isn’t great, or maybe the film quality wasn’t all that to begin with. Half the movie looks dingy, slightly under-lit. The sound was nice though, and I cranked it. Good thing the disc has chapter stops – I think next time I’ll go from the intro straight to Good Life and 20,000 Feet – two stories which were also well done on The Simpsons, coincidentally.

Seemed like a good time to watch the season 3 episode of the original Twilight Zone starring Buster Keaton, “Once Upon a Time” from 1961, the final credited work directed by Norman McLeod (who worked with Marx Bros., Lloyd and Keaton), written by Richard Matheson (Nightmare at 20,000 Feet). Keaton, a scientist’s janitor in 1890, tired of noise and inflation, uses a time-helmet to transport to the year 1960, where he meets another scientist (Stanley Adams of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and High School Big Shot) who desperately wants to live in the past, a simpler time. The helmet is stolen, broken and repaired, while Keaton steals some new pants and discovers traffic, television and vacuum cleaners. They both travel to 1890, where the scientist is miserable for lack of transistors and TV dinners. Pretty nice episode, obviously not creepy in any way, but then neither was that Spielberg thing.

His first good role in nine years:

First saw this when I was seven. Mostly memorable for being the only (?) movie I ever watched with aunt Nora. Otherwise I remember it being a pretty cool, very weird space movie which no other kids would discuss with me when I got back home to Texas because no one else had seen it.


Little did I know I was witnessing the feature film debuts by two new stars, Ethan Hawke (left) and River Phoenix (with the glasses).


Also this kid, Jason Presson, who was just as good but never got as far as his costars in the movie world (despite a cameo in Gremlins 2).


And Ethan’s love interest Amanda Peterson, who got her own romantic comedy starring role two years later before disappearing from the screen. She was barely in this movie, the token female character. Ethan kisses her at the end in the above cloud-flying dream-sequence, to show that he has grown up a little bit from his adventures, and to show that despite all this fooling around in basements with his boy friends, he sure ain’t gay. River still might be.


There’s a schoolyard villain, 17-yr-old Bobby Fite, but the coolest character is of course Dick Miller (above) as a helicopter pilot who sees the kids’ spaceship and single-mindedly tracks them down. A villain, perhaps, a stuffy adult authority figure come to put an end to their fun, but when he arrives at the clearing and sees them taking off in the ship, his reaction is unexpectedly sweet… he just smiles and stays behind the trees.


Computer effects by ILM, makeup by Rob Bottin (fresh off The Thing), music by Jerry Goldsmith, with James Cromwell as River’s absentminded father… a respectable crew. Not at all a bad movie, but I have a hard time summoning up much excitement for it… just a cute little journey with a refreshingly unexpected conclusion.


Nerdy German kid River is friends with picked-on dreamer Ethan. They love drive-ins, sci-fi and horror movies (hello, Joe Dante). Both begin to have a shared dream (the circuit board above), so River builds the board to the dream’s specs and has himself a computer-controlled floating forcefield. After teaming up with bully-baiting Jason, a tough loner kid from an unhappy home, they build a ship (called the Thunder Road, using a seat from a tilt-a-whirl) and test it out, surrounding it with the force field and buzzing their town, using alien technology to peep through Amanda’s window. After another dream which reveals the circuitry for a magical oxygen-generation board (?), they head out to infinity and beyond. Some wacky shenanigans with a giant spider aboard the alien craft that captures them, then they meet the aliens, a boy and a girl. Kids first lines: “I’ve waited all my life to say this… we come in peace.” A stunner from the aliens: “ehhh, what’s up doc?” Cartoony sound effects everywhere, kids don’t seem to know what’s going on, layers of TV shows and static all over the screen. Finally the alien craft is captured by a much much huger alien craft piloted by the parents of the TV-addict earth-meddling kid aliens who first met our heroes, and River’s gang returns to earth vaguely disillusioned. But we end on the kissing cloud dream, so it’s alright.

Bad science: “It was airtight – I couldn’t feel myself speed up or slow down.”

“They’re heeeere” reference to Poltergeist, which Goldsmith and ILM also worked on.

“He was dead before he was killed, which medically makes him a zombie.”


Fourth-season Halloween episode of “CSI: New York”. Whoa, I’ve never watched this show. Forgot about The Who theme song and star Gary Sinise. Written by staff writers of this show (also of “24” and “Demolition Man”)


Opens with Bruce Dern telling spooky stories and being attacked by a zombie. Lots of sudden zooms into wounds. The CSI team’s job and hi-tech equipment look fun. There’s a zombie walk, or “zombie flash mob”.


I am very disappointed that there was no unexplained supernatural activity in this episode. Guy fakes his own death for insurance, only to be whacked by his wife with a cricket bat after crawling out of the coffin. And family murder/suicide turns out to be just murder, ex-resident returned to the house + whacked ’em all.


Made me more upset/queasy than any episode since “Cigarette Burns”, and includes possibly the worst stabbing scene I’ve ever watched. No sense of humor here, it’s a dark, pure horror, sort of unexpected from the usually jolly Joe Dante. Definitely the most successful movie from this season so far (still got 5 episodes to go), more so than the relatively lighthearted “Right To Die”.


Elliott Gould (of American History X and the Oceans movies) and Jason Priestly 90210 are scientists called in by the military to explain/study a spreading phenomenon of mass murders by men against women, seemingly tied to a hormonal virus similar to that manufactured to exterminate the screwfly. The disease spreads, seen through the eyes of Priestly’s wife Anne, until she’s one of the only surviving women, catching a glimpse in northern Canada of the “angels” that started it all.


Really a dreadful and well-made little apocalyptic movie, a mini masterpiece up there with “Homecoming” and “Cigarette Burns”.


In my 23 years of watching Joe Dante movies (and 3 years of actually knowing who Joe Dante is, heh) I don’t think I’ve seen a better one. Maybe it’s just a dreamy first impression thing, and I’d be saying the same if I’d just watched “The ‘burbs” for the first time. We’ll see. Anyway, great movie.

Set in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis at the height of cold war fever, John Goodman is a monster-movie peddler (based on William Castle of “The Tingler” fame) who’s literally coming up with new ways to shock people. I thought he’d be the movie’s lead, but not really, it’s this kid who just moved into a Florida town with a father (who we never see except in photos) who’s part of the Naval blockade of Cuba and a mom and a little brother and, if he can manage it, a girlfriend at school (a budding leftist). Kid’s new friend is trying to date a girl with a dangerous ex-boyfriend who ends up getting a job running the special effects during the MANT screening and seeing the two of them together. Oh, and the nervous theater manager has a bomb shelter in the basement. Hilarity ensues.

Movie is exciting and funny and intelligent while remaining entirely wholesome (rated PG). It’s all about the love of horror films without ever trying to be a horror film… and about growing up with the movies, the way they can reflect and affect people’s moods.

The great Kevin McCarthy as a general fighting the MANT:

Left: our kid. Right: Dick Miller, whose cohort was played by John Sayles.

Reportedly William Castle and Alfred Hitchcock shared mutual respect… no, really.

MANT escapes from the screen, takes a hostage:

Apocalyptic ending:

One of the very best movies of the eighties (forget that it missed the 80’s by six months). A slightly-too-slow buildup places the action in a state-of-the-art technological office building, brings back Billy and Kate, brings back the Futtermans, closes down the shop where the Gremlins came from and puts Gizmo in the hands of corporate scientist Christopher Lee. Then all fucking hell breaks loose and it’s a hilarious, gonzo 45 minutes of action and comedy and movie references. I love it.

Don & Dan Stanton from Terminator 2 with Christopher Lee:

Zack and Phoebe Cates, who has gotten cuter since part 1:

My favorite gag, again:

Hulk out:

The electric-gremlin death of Christopher Lee:

“I guess they pushed him too far”:

A great movie that does not get enough credit. Completely successful as a comedy, a horror, an action/effects popcorn flick, even a kids movie. I’ve loved it since I was 7.

The dog (“mushroom”) is amazing. In the commentary, Joe Dante says he loved the dog and little Corey Feldman, ’cause they were the only two actors that believed the gremlins were real. Apparently the whole production was a puppeteering nightmare, compounded when Spielberg decided (correctly, you’d think) to NOT kill off Gizmo halfway through the movie… hence little cheats in the second half, like carrying him in Billy’s backpack, and having him ride the toy car.

The black man’s the first one to die, of course. Dante fave Dick Miller plays xenophobic Mr. Futterman, who coins the term gremlins for our beasties. Dante wanted to play the old warner WWII cartoon short about gremlins before the feature, but they wouldn’t let him… too bad. Judge Reinhold has a small part, Chuck Jones has a cameo, Spielberg & Goldsmith & Robbie the Robot get cameos, and Howie Mandel is the voice of Gizmo.

Zach, Corey Feldman, and a lotta mogwai:

When mogwai go bad:

My favorite gag: