Saturday, February 9, 2013

Pheaturing Phile Alum Jim Korkis

Hey, kids, welcome to a Saturday entry of the Phile. How are you? In ten days from now I find out if I will ever be able to move my arm properly again or if I have to have more surgery. I might just have them turn me into a cyborg. So, how are you doing?  People are still trying to figure out why the power went out Sunday at the Super Bowl. Today they found out the reason. Turns out China cut off the electricity for nonpayment of our bill. CBS is now facing a possible fine because Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was overheard dropping the F-bomb on the air. CBS is arguing they could not have foreseen this happening... you know, someone on the Ravens breaking the law who isn't Ray Lewis. They had the Super Bowl blackout and now we're learning that they also lost the Super Bowl trophy. The Lombardi Trophy... they give you that giant silver football, and now it's missing. So that explains the blackout. It was a heist!  You don't know you're old until you try to participate in current culture. I'll give you an example. I'm watching the Super Bowl and the lights go out. Out of force of habit in my own home I try to clap them back on. The power went out for 35 minutes in the Superdome. It was the most highly viewed power outage since Obama's first debate with Romney. Let's make Super Bowl weekend a three-day holiday. Why not? I think Americans will need Monday off to return the kegs.  In Great Britain the bones of King Richard III, who was killed in 1485, have been discovered under a parking lot. And you know how he died? Fighting over a parking space.  According to a new traffic study, it takes longer to get to work in Washington, D.C., than any other city in the country. On the other hand, they don't do any work once they get there, so it’s pretty much a wash.  The Canadians got rid of their penny this week. There are no more one-cent coins in Canada. So now if you're in Canada, and say to someone "a penny for your thoughts," that is now illegal. They will put you in jail. Prison in Canada is probably fun. The prisoners are so polite, they ask you nicely before they stab you, "Where would you like to be stabbed?" Canadians have a one-dollar coin. They call it the loonie. Here in America, the loonie is what we call Mel Gibson. Remember the expression, "Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you'll have good luck?" Well, what are they supposed to do in Canada now? Without the penny, everyone in Canada is now doomed to a luck-free life of clean air, civilized social discourse, and free health insurance.  A French tattoo artist met a young lady and less than 24 hours after they met, she allowed him to tattoo his name on her face. That means she either really loves him or really hates her parents. They say they're planning to get married. Once you get a name tattooed on your face, you might as well give it a shot. On the bright side, if the marriage doesn't work out... Well, actually there is no bright side, so good luck.  The White House is warning North Korea that it will face significant consequences if it moves forward with a new round of nuclear tests. Not only that... it’s also warning South Korea that it will face serious consequences if Psy makes another ad for pistachios.  Pakistan is opening an amusement park and a zoo in the same town where the raid on Osama Bin Laden took place. The zoo is pretty cool, but I’ve heard you won't be able to see the seals until it's too late. The Department of Justice is trying to block Anheuser-Busch from buying Corona. So they did what everyone else does... got their older brother to buy it for them.  In last Monday's entry I mentioned that Bane was the reason for the black out, I even showed a picture of him on the field. I received email saying that did not happen. Really? Really? Then explain this, people.

Now you think it did not happen? As I also mentioned last weekend, to quiet those who have questioned the president’s gun use, the White House released a photo that showed Obama skeet shooting. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words... but in this case, the picture is only telling half the story (so, it’s really only, like, 500 words…600 words max). What was really in Obama's sights? Well, here on the Phile I have the answer.

So, how's the weather up North? Here in Florida it is a nice 78 degrees. Anyway, let's check the weather to see what is going on up in the New York and Boston area.

I am glad they released a blizzard themed inspirational poster. It rocks.

Okay, so, you know the Phile is running a campaign for Kelly Clarkson to be interviewed here on the Phile, right? Well, spread the word by posting this everywhere...

Alright, so, Valentines Day is around the corner, and you might be thinking to yourself what you should get for your loved one. Well, here on the Phile, I like to help. So, here's a new pheature to help you, simply called...

Flowers die but unicorns are forever, especially plush ones. The Plush Unicorn Bouquet ($49.99) comes with a herd of 11 little plush unicorns in a bouquet wrapping. Each unicorn is on a stem, like a flower except way cooler, and of course they can be detached and placed anywhere you want.

Man, my wife would hate that if I bought it for her. So, all football season I invited my good friend Jeff to the Phile to talk football and have a competition with football picks. I won last year, but I think we all know who won this year. Please welcome Jeff for the last of...

Me: Jeff, welcome back to the last Phootball Talk for the second season. What a great season. What are some of the highlights for you?

Jeff: It's great to be back on the Phile for the last Phootball Talk of the season. There are so many highlights of this season, both good and bad. First, it has to be the great rookie play of some of the Quarterbacks. I am going to say this class of QB's has to be in the top 3 of all time as far as quality and quantity. For this many teams to find franchise QBs is pretty amazing. Luck, Griffin III, Wilson, Tannehill and Foles all can go down as team leaders. Some of the funniest moments of the history of the NFL came this season too, including the Fail Mary and Mark Sanchez running into his own teammate's behind and fumbling the ball, forever to be known as the butt fumble.

Me: Alright, I fell behind with the points from the beginning and never caught up. Where did I go wrong?

Jeff: Your last lead was in week 9 when you went 3-0 and I went 0-2-1. The four weeks that followed you went 2-10. That's where I took over.

Me: Let's talk about the Super Bowl. I think it was good, and exciting, but it proved that not one team can make it all four quarters. When the black out happened what did you do and what did you think?

Jeff: When the blackout occurred, two thoughts popped into my head. I honestly thought Bane was going to come out. There is also a group of wrestlers that attack when the lights go out named the Shield so I thought they were coming for Ray Lewis.

Me: What did you think of the half tine show with Beyonce? I hated it. Not a fan.

Jeff: I agree with you that I wasn't a fan of the Beyonce performance. I just don't know enough of her to listen to enjoy. And some of the special features like many Beyonces was just quite confusing. I read something that asked if she through up a hand signal for the Illuminati. Seriously people?

Me: Yeah, I saw this picture but didn't know what it meant.

Me: Any commercials stuck out for you?

Jeff: There was some pretty good commercials this year. I enjoyed the Rock's Got Milk commercial as well as the Fast and the Furious 6 and Star Trek Into Darkness commercial. Lori and I both enjoyed the NFL Surprise commercial where the NFL Players arrived at fans houses in giant boxes then helped them do yard work.

Me: I liked the Iron Man 3 spot and that Budweiser Clydesdales made me sob like a big fat baby. So, let's get down to business. How did we do with the last pick? You were spot on I think.

Jeff: I wound up winning by eight points. I said Baltimore by three and that was the final margin of the game. You missed it by one point.

Me: Jeff, I declare you the winner. You did a great job, and I thank you for not boasting. We'll do this again next football season for the tiebreaker. Always good talking football with you, Jeff. I'll talk to you soon. Good job.

Jeff: I will talk to you soon. Great season and we shall compete again!

Me: For bragging rights. Jeff Trelewicz, everybody.

The Oscars are a few weeks away and here on the Phile I thought it was fun to give you some Oscar facts... pr phacts, that you can use at your Oscar party. Like this one for example... Actresses go under a lot of stress to choose the right outfit to step into the Red carpet. What's the big deal? The red carpet at the Kodak Theatre, where the ceremony is held, is about 500 feet long and 33 feet wide. In this 500 feet long space there are over 100 photographers and almost 300 TV press members, including camera operators, audio technicians and other crew members.

Today's guest is a Phile Alum and the author of "Who's Afraid of the Song of the South? And Other Forbidden Disney Stories", the 23rd book to be pheatured in the Peverett Phile Book Club. He's a true Disney Legend, kids. Please welcome back to the Phile... Jim Korkis.

Me: Hello, Jim, welcome back to the Phile. So, how have you been, sir?

Jim: I am happy that 2012 is over. I was a little concerned when I saw the poster for the new Peanuts animated special, "It's the Mayan Apocalypse, Charlie Brown!" with the characters running away from an exploding pyramid. However, we all seem to have survived, although I understand you had a little physical speedbump. I hope you are doing better. I also hope that 2013 will be a great year for us all.

Me: Thanks, Jim, yeah, I had an accident. I can only move my arm a little bit and I am still in some pain. Last time I saw you was at that little comic book convention in Orlando, do you remember? Did you get anything good there?

Jim: I did pick up some bargain priced Dell comic books that featured a handful of Disney titles as well. Some of the Disney titles were written and drawn by former Disney Studio employees who had worked on the animated cartoons. Dell really published some outstanding comic books, especially in the Fifties and being able to pick up ten at two bucks a piece meant I had a wonderful afternoon. I am used to Los Angeles where there is at least one convention each week, every week, from comics to movie memoribilia to toy shows, etc. I wish we had more little weekend shows here in Orlando. It seems that MegaCon is the only game in town and that the FX convention has disappeared.

Me: Alright, before we talk about the book, let's talk about a few other Disney related stuff. The first I have to ask, is what is your opinion on Disney purchasing LucasFilm and Disney gonna make 3 new Star Wars movies? I am excited as hell about it.

Jim: Wow, that's the big questions, isn't it? I think most fans feel the last three Star Wars films done by Lucas were disappointing and didn't capture the sense of wonder of the first three. I still watch those first three, even if they pop up on tv, but while I appreciate the craftsmanship in the last three, they just didn't connect with me emotionally. Remember that Disney buying Lucasfilms could also mean an expansion of the Indiana Jones franchise with more films and rides, maybe something from Willow or American Graffiti or who knows? I think everyone will be watching the first Disney produced Star Wars film very closely. If it is only "okay" like many of today's films are and almost instantly forgettable, then it will be tougher to recover. Disney needs to come out with everything it's got. Let the Pixar Story Trust review the script for characterization and story. Really rely on the Lucasfilm alumni like Kennedy. Get input from George (but remember he is not a strong writer but a great idea man). Compared with what Disney paid for other franchises, this franchise was a major bargain. Lucasfilms also had some other things in development like a live action Star Wars TV show and another TV show that would parody Star Wars like it has been done on "Robot Chicken" and "Family Guy" with Seth Green involved in the project. Right now, I guess I would describe myself as "cautiously hopeful". I didn't think that Disney would have missed so big with John Carter which was not a bad film but definitely not the spectacular, franchise building film it could have and should have been. So now they have to be extra careful with their first Star Wars project.

Me: Did you see it coming or were you surprised as the rest of us, Jim?

Jim: I was completely surprised. I think everyone was completely surprised. I think, at best, most people thought there might be more of an expansion of using the Star Wars property, especially with the success of things like Star Wars weekend and the Jedi Training Academy but not that Disney would ante up the money to buy the whole thing or that Lucas would sell.

Me: And what do you think about the New Fantasyland? I take it you've been out there. I heard there's a flying dragon.

Jim: I hope the flying dragon will reappear. I think the Disney Company stumbled by having it only fly once and only the day they invited media and not regular guests. The Disney Company has a long history with dragons that they could tap into to make magic. I think the attention to detail in the New Fantasyland shows once again that when Disney does something right, it really does it right. The land looks beautiful but I wish there were more things to do there and more things for the whole family. Taking a look at the new Seven Dwarfs coaster, I don't think that is something that grandparents and young grandchildren are going to want to ride. I don't know if putting in clowns in Dumbo's Circus area is a good idea. Remember, they were the bad guys in the film and not funny at all. I loved eating lunch at the Be Our Guest restaurant. The food was tasty and reasonably priced. My belief is that the New Fantasyland will get better and better and that it is much, much better than what was originally announced for the expansion.

Me: And have you seen Cars Land out in California yet? Do you think they'll open up a Cars Land here in Florida?

Jim: I know Tokyo Disneyland wants a Cars Land. In the case of Walt Disney World, it always comes down to money. Will the investment significantly impact attendance? I think it would as shown by the huge upsurge at DCA. However, they never ask me. I haven't seen Cars Land personally but from the videos, photos and trip reports from friends, I can't wait to experience it. I wish they did do a version of it out here in Florida.

Me: Okay, let's talk about your book that is part of the Book Club here on the Phile... "Who's Afraid of The Song of the South? And Other Forbidden Disney Stories"? That's a long title, Jim. When did you start to write this book and what made you decide to write a book on the Song of the South movie?

Jim: One of the reasons I write anything is because I want to read something and nobody else has written about it. I like the film and over the years had interviewed some Disney Legends about their participation in it and had found information like about the original live action screenwriter that had never been in print anywhere. For awhile, I had hopes that the Disney Company would re-release the film with all the "extras" but it became more and more apparent that they wanted the film to disappear and for people to stop asking about it. This book is a chance for me to share the "making of" stories for future fans and to examine what is problematic and why. I realized that just doing anything on Song of the South at all would be controversial so I also decided to include other Disney related stories that are touchy subjects. It was important to me not to be tempted to write in a sleazy, tabloid approach but just to set out the facts and let people make up their own minds.

Me: How many times have you seen that movie? I've never saw it, so I don't understand what the big deal is with it, why Disney won't release it. Can you explain?

Jim: I grew up watching Song of the South, both in re-releases theatrically but also on excerpts on the weekly Disney television show. So, I saw the film many different times at different ages and with different audiences. I grew up in a family and a community in Southern California that was about as non-racist as you could get so I never made any connection that the film might be offensive to Black audiences. I just saw it as some entertaining folk tales just like Aesop's Fables or Grimm's Fairy Tales... stories using talking animals to teach a moral lesson. The film itself is just another Disney fantasy even though there are live action actors in most of the film. The story takes place after the Civil War during the period called the Reconstruction so there are no slaves at all, just sharecroppers trying to make a living. However, just like you, many people never saw the film and immediately jumped to the conclusion that the film promoted the "happy. lazy, foolish slave" stereotypes that were in alot of live action Hollywood films from Gone With the Wind to even Shirley Temple films like The Little Colonel.  Over the decades, in the United States in particular, there has been an increase in "political correctness" where people view these films not in the context of the time when they were made but with eyes that are decades older and they see things that they consider uncomfortable. The film is not banned. Disney has just decided not to re-release it theatrically in America since 1986. It has been shown in South America, Europe, the United Kingdom, Japan and just about all over the rest of the world without causing any problems.

Me: So, do you think Disney will ever release the film?

Jim: For the past two decades, Disney has explored ways to release the film in America and came up with several solutions included a very limited, special edition release like the Disney Treasures DVDs but didn't find anything they liked. It makes no sense for the company to release it because the amount of controversy it would cause... even with putting the film in context, even with the support of black authorities who could use the film to spark discussions, even with all the restrictions so it wouldn't get into the hands of unknowing children... would overshadow any financial reward. Disney is a highly visible target and would just be inviting people to rail against the company. The result is that the only way an American can see the film is by stealing Disney intellectual property through illegal bootlegs for the most part.

Me: They cannot be that ashamed about it, they have a ride based on some characters from it, even though the name is Splash Mountain. Is there a Splash Mountain in the movie?

Jim: No Splash Mountain in the movie but there is a Laughing Place and some of the incidents like Brer Rabbit getting caught by Brer Bear and Brer Fox and being thrown into the briar patch are directly from the film. CEO Michael Eisner insisted that Uncle Remus not be in the ride and any narration would be done by Brer Frog, Remus' friend in the film. Yes, the ironic thing is that Disney would like to bury the movie but they have a highly successful ride attraction based on the film and sell a lot of merchandise featuring the characters. I don't think any black activist group has ever in its entire history picketed the ride or complained about the use of the characters. Basically, the ride was created to make use of all the audido-animatronics animals that were being evicted from the Disneyland ride America Sings and to come up with a water flume ride since Knott's Beery Farm just down the block from Disneyland had a successful water flume ride.

Me: And how many times have Disney used that song "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah"? That has to be one of the most popular Disney songs, Jim.

Jim: Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah was a phrase that does not exist in the Uncle Remus books but was coined by Walt himself who also loved the term "Laughing Place". The song won an Oscar for best song and topped the Hit Parade in 1946 as most popular song, recorded by a variety of different singers. Yes, that song appears on many of the Disney sing-a-long videos, sometimes with visuals from the actual film.

Me: When did the movie originally come out?

Jim: The film was released November 1946 and is officially considered Walt's first live action film. Roughly two-thirds of the movie is live action but Walt had to include animation because his film distribution contract with RKO required that they would only release a Disney film that had animation.

Me: And when did Disney decide they better not show or release it?

Jim: On February 25, 1970 the Disney Company announced it was putting the film permanently on the shelf because of possible offense to black audiences. Then Disney re-released it theatrically in 1972 and it was the highest grossing re-release of a Disney film up to that point. The film was released two more times 1980 and 1986 (the 40th anniversary of the film) and then was withdrawn from being shown in the United States. As I said, it has been shown in other countries around the world over the last two decades, even being released in those countries on laserdisc and videotape... just not in America.

Me: Is there anywhere you can buy it?

Jim: There are dozens of dealers on eBay offering the film for sale and there are websites publicizing they will sell you a copy. Most of these are copies of varying quality of the legal versions released in foreign countries on formats like PAL that are not compatible with American systems.

Me: I heard there was an Uncle Remus museum in Georgia. Have you been there, Jim?

Jim: The Wren's Nest was the home of author Joel Chandler Harris who wrote the Uncle Remus stories and today it serves as museum. I have never been there but I am hoping to visit this year. Walt visited there during the premiere of the film that raised money to help the museum.

Me: Was Remus a real person?

Jim: Remus was actually a creation of Joel Chandler Harris based on some of the black storytellers that Harris heard around the Southern plantation of Turnwold in Georgia. He was brought to life on screen by the talented actor James Baskett, who won a special Academy Award for his interpretation of the character.

Me: For the book you got to interview some artists and animators who were part of the film. What was their take on it?

Jim: All the animators and artists and other connected with the film saw the film as some of the best work they had ever done and that it was one of the most fun films to work on. That includes black actor Nick Stewart who supplied the voice of Brer Bear in the film and for the Splash Mountain attraction.

Me: Did they know years later there would be such a controversy about it?

Jim: The controversy took them all by surprise. In fact, Walt had been planning of at least two sequels with different animated stories but with Baskett as Remus. Walt disliked sequels but he was so pleased with Baskett and the animation that he felt he could develop it into a franchise.

Me: Have you heard from anyone at Disney who wanted you to stop writing about the film?

Jim: As I state in the introduction, the book is not written to annoy or embarrass the Disney Company. It is merely to share some great stories and information with people who love the film and get those facts into print for future researchers. The book is without any photos or illustrations because the Disney Company would not allow any of those to be used. I have been told that some people at the company are unhappy that I wrote the book but there were no threats made that they would never let me work for Disney again.

Me: Well, I'll show an illustration here of the movie.

Me: This is the sleeve of the DVD in the UK. I take it the books not available in the Disney theme parks, right? They should sell it at the Splash Mountain gift shop.

Jim: Disney, with very few exceptions like Steve Barrett's "Hidden Mickey's" book, prefers not to sell non-Disney approved books on Disney property. Primarily, it is because they find that guests do not come to the parks to buy books but will buy the book later on Amazon. Not only Splash Mountain but Disney's Port Orleans Resort would be a great place to sell the book... but even that resort underwent name changes from Dixie Landings and changed the "cotton mill" because of political correctness. The costumed Brer Fox and Brer Bear used to wander Dixie Landings and Port Orleans before they became Riverside and French Quarter.

Me: I think it's very cool you got Disney legend Floyd Norman to write the foreward. Tell the readers who Floyd is, Jim.

Jim: As you mentioned, Floyd is a Disney Legend and a long time friend. He was the first black animator and black storyman hired by Walt Disney himself. Floyd noticed no hint of racism in Walt and as a child, fell in love with the film Song of the South. Floyd worked at the Disney Studio under Walt, Card Walker, and Michael Eisner in a variety of departments including Disney publications. He has also been a consultant at Pixar. He is very talented and articulate and I think it makes my book so much better having him write the wonderful foreword. While Floyd is known for his cartooning, he is an outstanding writer.

Me: Did you approach him to write the foreward? Man, I'd love to interview him.

Jim: As I said, I have known Floyd for many years since my days in LA. I first met him when he was working at Hanna-Barbera animation studios with Scott Shaw on one of his "breaks" from Disney. He even had his own small animation studio for awhile. I am sure he would love to be interviewed by you. I'll put the two of you in touch.

Me: Apart from Song of the South you write about some other Disney stories. What else do you write about, Jim?

Jim: As I said, I felt there were a lot of other topics that have been controversial over the years and this was my chance to get most of them out of my system. I talk about the little black centaurette in Fantasia who has been removed from all official prints. I talk about Walt Disney coming up with an idea for Mickey Mouse to try to commit suicide in the newspaper strip and why he thought it was a good idea. I talk about the problems the Disney Company had with the character of Jessica Rabbit, how Disney almost produced a film about UFOs done by Ward Kimball, the health education films the company produced like the animated one on menstruation, why Walt became a conservative Republican and many more for a total of 17 additional stories to the long tale of Song of the South.

Me: And what's this J. Edgar Hoover had a file on Disney? Why?

Jim: Just like Walt, Hoover liked to be in control of everything. Walt started doing films like Moon Pilot and That Darn Cat with the FBI is semi-comedic roles and Hoover hit the roof at such disrepect. Walt didn't portray the FBI as fools, just sometimes a bit clueless when dealing with out of the ordinary situations like a cute female space alien or a curious cat. Walt was just using the age old device of having people in authority not being able to deal with the lovable and eccentric heroes. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, I got documents from the FBI where Hoover was sending outraged memos about the situation.

Me: He had a file on John Lennon as well, didn't he?

Jim: Hoover had secret files on everyone, including Martin Luther King Jr. It was the way that Hoover was able to remain in power for so many different presidential adminstrations. He claimed it was all being done for national security. One of the memos indicates that he thinks that Walt's studio has been infiltrated by communists because Walt is making these types of movies... which were obviously light comedies.

Me: If you had a TARDIS and could go back in time to meet Disney, what would you say to him and ask him, Jim?

Jim: Ask Walt or J. Edgar? I'd probably ask J. Edgar where his secret files are and whether I could take a peek. I've often thought about what I would ask Walt if I ever got a chance. There are just too many things. I can't come up with one. He remains a man of so many mysteries. What would you ask?

Me: Why a mouse? I would try and convince him that Mickey Monkey would be better. LOL. Alright, before I let you go I am asking random questions to my guests thanks to a game called Tabletopics. So, here is yours... if you could have any view from your back porch what would it be? I am guessing you are going to say Disneyland, am I right?

Jim: I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and lived there untl the age of four. At the age of five, the family moved to Glendale, California and I consider it my hometown. However, I still have dreams at night about being on the back porch of our home in Tulsa and looking out at a massively huge backyard and the hills in the distance where you could see a silhouette at dusk of a car or a truck going up and down. It was a peaceful time and a time where all things were possible and the backyard was my kingdom. We had a pony, some chickens, a big black and white cocker spaniel. So, believe it or not, if today I were given the chance for one view from my back porch, it would be that image and all the emotions that it evoked.

Me: Nice answer. Jim, thanks again for being back on the Phile. Please come back when your next book comes out. Go ahead and tell the readers where they can purchase it. All the best, sir, and I hope to see you around.

Jim: I do also have a revised edition of "Vault of Walt" out there at a reduced price. Both books are available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble so far. Always a joy to spend time talking with you. I hope your readers had fun. And, yes, I am working on another different kind of Disney book right now that I hope to have ready before Summer. That one is a secret right now.

Me: Cool, I'll have you back here then. Thanks again, Jim.

Man, that was a great interview. Thanks to my guests Jeff Trelewicz and of course Jim Korkis. The Phile will be back tomorrow with British TV legend Roland Rat and on Monday it's entertainer Uncle Devin from The Uncle Devin Show. So, spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye. Strawberry Blondes Forever!

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