A compilation from a Comedy Central animated program and the re-issue of a great documentary from the 1980s are the two DVDs featured in this week's column.
The Best of Dr. Katz Professional Therapist
The late animator Chuck Jones was responsible for some of the most memorable Warner Brothers shorts including "One Froggy Evening," What's Opera Doc?" and "Duck Amuck." He also produced and directed the animated "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," which is definitely a holiday classic.
I bring up some of the Jones' credits so when I quote him, you'll have some context. He called limited animation -- specifically television cartoons such as "Yogi Bear" or "The Flintstones" -- "illustrated radio." Jones said a good animated cartoon needs to carry the story and gags thought the visuals instead of through the dialogue.
Dialogue, though, is cheaper than creating the drawings necessary for good animation.
Jones died in 2002 and I don't know if he ever was exposed to "Dr. Katz Professional Therapist." I hope not. As limited as the Hanna-Barbera cartoons were, they are paragons of movement next to "Dr. Katz," which is truly "illustrated radio."
The premise for "Dr. Katz" isn't bad at all. Comedian Jonathan Katz plays a low-key therapist beset with a surly receptionist and a lazy son as well as an assortment of odd patients. His patients are played by other comedians, including Dave Attell, Kathy Griffin, Denis Leary, Richard Lewis and many more.
The animation is done in "squiggle-vision," a computer technique that jiggles the lines of the drawings to give the illusion of movement without there really being any. There is only the most basic animation in the series, such as mouths moving.
I suppose it was much cheaper to do this series in animation than in live action, as there is no artistic reason to use this very limited form, just a financial one.
The show can be quite funny, as clearly the comedians not only used good bits from their acts but also adlibbed with Katz.
The way I watched this disc for review was to close my eyes periodically, and yup, it plays just as well. It is truly radio with pictures.
If you're fan of contemporary stand-up comedians, you might like "Dr. Katz." Just keep your eyes closed.
The Atomic Cafe : Collector's Edition
When I attended second grade at the Greenaway School -- now known as the Freedman School in Springfield, I distinctly remember Civil Defense drills in which we all quickly and orderly went into the hallways and leaned onto the concrete and tile walls covering our head and shielding our eyes.
This was to keep us safe -- or safer -- during a nuclear attack. I'm glad we never had to put it to a test.
Since my dad was an Air Force pilot who flew B-52s out of Westover loaded with A-bombs, the threat of nuclear war was something that was part of my growing up, as it was in varying degrees for the rest of my generation.
That's what "Atomic Cafe " is all about. Using archival footage beginning with the building of the first test bomb and ending in the early 1960s, the film offers a look at how the creation of the bomb, its use, the threat it later posed and how it affected American life.
At times, it is grimly funny -- there's a great scene in which an inventor has developed a lead-lined suit for this son to play in after the bomb was dropped while most of the film presents a history lesson that Boomers might recall and everyone else should see.
There's a sad element to how people deluded themselves that fall-out shelters in their backyards or basements were going to save them contemporary experts interviewed on camera explained the shelters would do little good but it is clear that people felt the need to try to do something in reaction to the possibility of living through the end of the world.
With the events of the last 10 years more sharply in focus for us, it's also interesting to see how people reacted then to a threat and how we've reacted.
A great history lesson in itself, this new edition of "Atomic Caf " features eight uncut government films including the classic "Duck and Cover" and one that urges people not to abandoned their cities in case of an attack.
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