The Double-Team Short Form, 02.10-11.06

In Memoriam: Dick Harmon, the only man who could turn my golf swing into something resembling normal. Except for maybe his brother Butch.

Just a little warning: this column is very image-heavy, what with two shows and the Olympic Opening Ceremonies being discussed. So, if you’re on dial-up, you might want to take out the garbage and the dog, make a pot of coffee, take a shower, watch all three Lord of the Rings films…just do something to keep yourself occupied while this loads.

Apparently, every sportswriter in America got their shits and giggles out of the way when Al Michaels was “traded” to NBC for “a cartoon character”. If they knew the history behind this, they’d respect this issue a lot more. Well, of course, I do know the history behind it, and I know that Al Michaels wasn’t just traded for a cartoon character, but for one of the most important cartoon characters in history. And if NBC Universal could have seen the character as it should properly have been seen instead of just as a moribund property, they could have squeezed Disney for everything the Mouse was worth.

How important is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in the history of animation? Incalculable, if you follow the threads. Here’s the story…

In 1926, Walt Disney was already a successful young animator. He’d moved from Kansas City to Hollywood a couple of years before with his brother Roy, and his Alice cartoons were already a success. It was then that he created a new character for his inventive genius, Oswald. Of course, being an independent animator, he needed someone to distribute his films. He was able to sell Carl Laemmele, the founder of Universal, on Oswald’s potential, and Universal agreed to distribute. The first few Oswalds, released in early 1927, were hits with the audience, and Universal wanted more. It was at that point that the Disneys actually read over the contract they’d signed with Universal. Turns out that they’d signed away the rights to the character of Oswald in return for distribution. When Disney tried to get the rights back, he was rebuffed. So Disney completed his contractual obligation for two dozen Oswald films, but at the same time turned to the drawing board. He was going to create a new character, one whose rights he would keep. He gave Oswald a species change and tweaked his mannerisms. Then he was dissuaded from calling the new character “Mortimer Mouse”, and the rest is history. All Disney characters from Mickey on are direct descendents of Oswald.

That alone would be enough to ensure Oswald’s place. But there’s more. Three of the men who worked on Oswald were Hugh Harman, Rudy Ising, and a young animator named Isadore Freleng. After the success of Mickey, all of them would become sick and tired of Walt’s autocratic bent and leave to form their own studio, Harman-Ising Productions; the new company was backed by a man who made movie title cards named Leon Schlesinger. The bulk of Schlesinger’s business was for Warner Brothers. With the success of Mickey (distributed by United Artists, which allowed Disney to keep his character rights), other studios wanted cartoons, but most of the large cartoon studios, like Bray and Van Beuren, were in New York. Warners wanted something a little closer to Hollywood. Schlesinger recommended the relatively unknown Harman-Ising team to Jack and Harry Warner, emphasizing that they’d worked for Disney. Harman and Ising needed to come up with a character, so they took their memories of Oswald to heart and turned him sort-of human, but keeping his insane antics. Thus was born Bosko. All of the legendary pantheon of Warner Brothers characters, down to the present day (yes, even Loonatics), can trace their ancestry directly to Oswald.

And it continues from there. In 1933, Warners decided to take their animation in-house, and Schlesinger agreed to head this effort up. Harman and Ising said no. Friz Freleng saw his chance and said yes, going along with Schlesinger to become a Warners employee, and except for a short period, stayed until Warners closed the studio in 1963 (he then extended his status as God by forming DePatie-Freleng, which did The Pink Panther). Harman and Ising were abandoned to some lean times and had to let a lot of employees go (one they kept, though, was an eager young cel washer and apprentice animator named Bill Hanna). Then, Louis B. Mayer decided to get into the cartoon business. Despite the reluctance of Harman and Ising to get involved with a studio’s in-house efforts, they were broke, and, besides, you didn’t say no to Mayer, period. So Harman and Ising formed the MGM cartoon unit under studio accountant Fred Quimby. Bill Hanna stayed on and became an animator and apprentice director, and was eventually teamed with a newcomer from New York named Joe Barbera. Together, in 1940, they did a cat-and-mouse cartoon that wasn’t well-regarded by Quimby or Ising, who was the producer of record, but was successful with the audience. They definitely didn’t complain when that cat-and-mouse team ended up winning seven Academy Awards. Thus, not only a large part of the MGM legacy (that not created by Tex Avery), but all of the galaxy of Hanna-Barbera stars are progeny of Oswald. That legacy continues down to this day as well, with Hanna-Barbera now part of Cartoon Network Animation.

That thread can be followed in an unexpected direction. When the US went to war, Rudy Ising became Major Rudolph Ising, one of the forces in the Army’s in-house cartoon unit, making training films and propaganda shorts for the troops. During that time, he became the mentor to a young would-be animator and artist named Bill Scott. He passed the Oswald legacy to Scott, who had enough of a warped sense of humor to appreciate it. After the war, Scott spent a couple of years at Warner Brothers, absorbing more of Oswald’s legacy. After his time at Warners, Scott eventually met up with another person interested in animation named Jay Ward. Scott brought his touch of Oswald into Ward’s fledgling studio, and ended up being the prime creative force there (in addition to being the voice of Bullwinkle). Thus, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Rocky the Flying Squirrel share a great deal of DNA.

Another bit of dissatisfaction with Disney led to another bit of propagation of the Oswald legacy. John Hubley joined Disney long after the Oswald era, but he picked up Oswald’s legacy in the process. But there was a bitterly divisive strike at Disney in 1941 caused by Walt’s normal behavior. Hubley was sympathetic to the strike and left the studio. When the war started, he was assigned to Ising’s animation unit, which helped to bring out his Inner Oswald. Hubley had always seen the merits of limited animation, as a way to both save money and help extend the artistic potential of cartoons. He hated Disney’s ultra-realistic style. When the war ended, he put his feelings into practice and formed what eventually became UPA, which produced masterpieces of cartoons in the 1950s. Thus, Oswald connects to Mister Magoo and Gerald McBoing-Boing. By the way, Hubley became a victim of the blacklist. It’s always been rumored that Walt ratted him out to HUAC.

(Thanks to Hubley, Oswald’s progeny even extends into alternative rock. Hubley’s daughter Georgia is a member of Yo La Tengo.)

The final thread, though, begins at the basic disagreement between Disney and Universal. Walt wouldn’t do any more Oswald cartoons, but the audience loved them. Universal thus had a popular character, but no one to draw him. They reached out and found a young animator who had worked for Bray back in New York named Walter Lantz. The story, as told by Lantz, went as follows: Laemmele was dissatisfied with the first post-Disney Oswalds, and fired the producers. Lantz, who had worked on those cartoons, said that he could do them better, and to give him a chance; he’d move his fledging studio on to the Universal lot, and they’d become Universal’s in-house team. Laemmele wasn’t convinced. Lantz then put it on the line. He said, one game of poker. If I win, I’m your man. If I lose, I’ll leave. Lantz won that hand and became head of Universal’s cartoon unit. Lantz did Oswald cartoons until 1938, using various actors at Universal for his voice (including a young Mickey Rooney). In the meantime, he was building up a stable of original characters, something that was very important after he became an independent contractor for Universal in 1935. Ending the Oswald cartoons gave him enough creative freedom to come up with his own winning concept in 1940: Woody Woodpecker. Thus, Woody and the Lantz stable are brothers of Oswald.

Oswald is the Kevin Bacon of cartoon characters. Everything comes back to him.

So how is it that a character as important as this, a character that has had an incalculable effect on the history of cartoons, could so completely vanish? There hasn’t been an Oswald cartoon since 1938. That’s not an excuse. Betty Boop hasn’t had a cartoon since 1939, but she’s more popular than ever. Oswald did have his own comic book until 1962, though. The reason for that, though, is pretty simple to figure out. Walt wanted Oswald back, badly. He tried a number of times to get him back from Universal. But Universal kept using the comic book as an excuse not to do it. As long as they were making money from Oswald, they had an excuse not to sell. It was safe to end the comic in 1962, because by that time Disney was concerned with his animated films, his live action films, his theme park, his plans to build another theme park in Florida, and his weekly TV series, not to mention the fact that he was beginning to feel the first symptoms of the cancer that would kill him. Oswald slipped down the priority scale. After Walt’s death, Roy the Elder was too busy trying to keep his brother’s legacy together to try. Ron Miller treated his wife’s request to get her father’s creation back as just another thing the wife said. The late Card Walker was too occupied with Disney going down the tubes. And Eisner was more concerned with his present creations than with history.

But when Bob Iger gained the throne, things changed. He promised Diane Miller that he’d get Oswald back. He knew Disney history, and he knew that a critical part of it was missing. So when he began negotiations with Universal for something Disney had and Universal needed for their TV network, he knew what bargaining chip to use. Dick Ebersol blew it off as saying that it was a fallow asset, that Universal wasn’t making money from Oswald, so nothing was sacrificed (there hasn’t been an Oswald DVD set in the US, for instance, but that might have more to do with complications from the Lantz estate than anything). That may have been true from an economic standpoint, but not from an emotional one. Forty years after his death, Walt can now rest easier.

Sports fans can rejoice because Michaels and Madden are together again. But cartoon fans, and those who have been touched by cartoons in their lives, can rejoice even more. Oswald, after seven and a half decades in the wilderness, is finally home.

AND SINCE I’M TURNING THIS INTO THE ANIMATION COLUMN ANYWAY…

Jonathan Martin, a frequent writer, has written to me with an animation question. Due to that intro, and due to the fact that I blew him off in a personal mail in favor of wanting to answer him in a column but didn’t, I thought now was a good time. He asks something that’s burning him up:

My wife and I were trying last night to get our 6 year old daughter into the old Popeye cartoons, and she was thoroughly enjoying them, as were my wife and I (both of us are in our late 20’s, so we did not get to see these new, but grew up in households that valued the quality of the older cartoons). One thing her and I both noticed was the lack of the words to the song. In the short about Sindbad, he sings some of it, but hums some of the lines as well. My questions is this, at what point (which cartoon) did the full song first appear. We would like to find the episode to show our daughter, and you being the cartoon buff you are, I figured I would turn to you first.

Damn, I wish my Fleischer knowledge was better. It’s not one of my areas of expertise in cartoons, and most of my concentration in Fleischer has been in Betty Boop rather than Popeye. Going from memory, I do know that the theme we’re familiar with was introduced in Popeye’s first cartoon appearance, in “Popeye the Sailor” in 1933 (technically, it’s a Betty Boop cartoon), but I’m certain the full theme wasn’t sung. I also seem to remember that it was sung in full during one of the first six Popeye cartoons, all from 1933. The thing is, though, the Popeye theme we’re all familiar with wasn’t his theme back then. It was another song called “Strike Up The Band For Popeye The Sailor”, which they did play complete during the opening credits with lyrics (lyrics that, by the way, imply that Popeye is a Merchant Marine instead of in the Navy). It wasn’t used for very long, and it’s a big surprise to people who see the first couple cartoons.

Now I have to consult the Big Cartoon Database’s Fleischer page for more info. The second Popeye, “I Yam What I Yam”, had Bluto singing the theme. The third Popeye, “Blow Me Down”, has the first apperance of “I’m Popeye The Sailor Man” as the main theme (but as I said, it’s sung by Popeye in “Popeye the Sailor”). It’s also really strange to listen to those cartoons, because Mae Questel doesn’t do Olive’s voice. The other three I’m thinking of are “I Eats My Spinach”, “Seasin’s Greetinks”, and “Wild Elephinks”. I’m certain that one of them has the full performance in there, although that might be a trick of memory.

Now, where to get them…the release of Fleischer Popeyes (unlike with the Boops) has been complicated by the fact that Warner Brothers and King Features can’t come to an agreement. That, folks, is what rights problems get you. Let’s face it, the abysmal 1960s Popeyes were released on DVD a couple years ago, but the Fleischers and even the Famous Studio Popeyes haven’t (Time-Warner owns the rights to all Paramount cartoons, in case you’re wondering). So getting these particular ones are impossible. However, Thunderbean Animation recently put out a set of restored later Fleischers recently, and that set includes the three twenty-minute color cartoons (including the full version of the one you mentioned). So, guess you have to wait for them to show up on Boomerang, or find some dodgy public domain tape somewhere.

(Oh, by the way, in answer to your other question, Jonathan, no, I do not consider making predictions so that “creative” will read them and do the exact opposite. That would be dishonest to my readers. Just because they’re amoral scumbags doesn’t mean that I have to be.)

You know, this took long enough that I actually couldn’t watch Smackdown until after the Olympic Opening Ceremonies, despite the fact that I had SD downloaded early Friday afternoon. So how about some reflections on that?

THE ITALIAN JOB

You know, I love shit like the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. It’s the perfect combination of my attraction for the lavishly ceremonial and the truly weird. You always wonder what the f*ck people were on when they came up with this concept. It’s a lot like the feeling I have when I watch Raw or Smackdown, actually. You just know that you can do a better job than that. Besides, Opening Ceremonies only happen every two years, and it’s a long time to jones for such a shot of bizarre.

This year, though, there was a warning before the show that this would be something beyond the pale. The executive producer of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies is named Marco Bacilli. With a name like that, you knew you were in for a sickening experience. And, boy, did this deliver.

That opening number, for instance. It’s like what Busby Berkley would have came up with if he’d been commissioned to do something for Darkseid. I can understand the attraction of a fire on a cold winter’s night. Except for the little fact that we now have something called central heating. I understand that it’s made some inroads into Italy recently. There’s overdoing it, and then there’s REALLY overdoing it. This was the latter.

I’ve heard of lighting farts, but this is ridiculous

Then there were the guys with the alphorns. I didn’t mind them. It was a nice tribute to the Alps and the seven countries it runs through (in case you forgot, that’s France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Austria, Lichtenstein, and Slovenia). But when the cow mannequins came out…oh, you know how I feel about cows.

50 Cent’s going to get them to do a guest shot on his new album

For some reason, the Kid Singing The National Anthem has become almost traditional. Yes, I know, it’s supposed to be symbolic and all that. But who in their right mind would put a kid out there to do that. “Gee, honey, you’re going to be seen by a half billion people!” Yeah, that’s a nice bit of psychological torture. Surprised my father never thought of that one. And that poor nine-year-old girl…damn, you should see that she was attempting not to wet her pants.

Don’t worry, honey. We’ve called Social Services, and they’ll take you away from the mean people who made you do this.

Then came the bizarre signature moment that every Olympics seems to have, the human ski-jumper. Yes, it was wonderfully choreographed. But when “it” bent down…oh, man, unintended humor galore. A half-billion people thinking at once how often ski jumpers take it up the ass. For some reason, what comes to mind now is that the Finnish language doesn’t have very many words for sexual activities. Is “sodomy” one of them? I’m sorry, but for something that was supposed to be beautiful and showy, I was laughing my ass off too much to pay attention.

I just couldn’t describe it well enough. You needed a picture to understand.

The whole rings setup…very Cirque du Soleil. Interesting to say the least.

Well, we know that the Parade of Nations was sponsored by Clear Channel and their classic rock stations. The parade opened with music by Chic, KC and the Sunshine Band, the Doobies, and Gloria Fuckin’ Gaynor. I don’t know if it’s kitsch or cool. But in Italy, those two do tend to merge on a rather frequent basis. Take the Moschino dresses the sign-bearers wore. Definitely kitschy, but cool in a weird way. Of course, Costas and Williams commented about the music, but it took them until the Rs to do it. And Costas was wrong. It’s wasn’t all Eighties pop music. It was late 70s-early 80s. There is a difference. Ask me or Gloomchen.

What’s up with letting the coach of the Belarus biathlon team carry in the flag? It wasn’t that coaches should be honored in some way, but, shit, this guy just screamed Former Soviet Apparatchik. He had that look to him. Besides, if coaches should carry the flag, Canada should have let Gretzky do it. He needs a little boost after the last week. Yes, yes, I know, the hockey teams won’t be released until Monday, but I couldn’t resist the joke.

NBC did right by the Parade of Nations in one respect. They always focused on the good-looking women. I didn’t know Bulgarian girls were that cute. And the Estonian contingent…you know, both are former communist countries. Both are pretty cheap to vacation in. Everyone there thinks that Americans have money, which is always an aphrodisiac. I’m going to head over to Expedia and Priceline, I think, just to cost it out.

The Belgian team had three plainclothes security guards follow them around because of the Muhammad cartoon riots. No shit. Even we here are taking this issue seriously. Hevia wanted to put one of them into his column last week. So did I, albeit a photomanipped version that I had a concept for. I showed the photomanips in the Super-Secret Writers’ Forum and asked everyone’s opinion, something I would have normally never done, since I’m a damn-the-torpedos type of guy and would just have gone and done it. Well, only one opinion mattered, really, and Wids said no except under certain drastic circumstances. I bowed to his will, of course. These protesters are completely batshit. I’ll do virtually anything, but the one thing I won’t do is harm IP, and this situation has already proven to be harmful around the world. All over a couple of newspaper cartoons. You know what, Muslims? I don’t give a shit whether you think it’s idolatry. You’re giving people ideas about religion being able to manipulate the press. Considering where I live, and the fact that Fred Fucking Phelps is a fifteen-minute drive from the state capitol, I don’t want you giving anyone ideas like that. I don’t want to have some cops banging open my apartment door because I used the words “Jesus Fucking Christ” in a column. Never mind First Amendment Rights; I live in Kansas, a state that constantly attempts to deny that Evolution is fact. They’d pass a law like that, over Governor Hot For Teacher’s veto.

Now, back to Olympics coverage…

From having lived there, I know that Germans tend to be fashion-ignorant. Not to mention the fact that clothes are expensive. I once went shopping on the Zeil in Frankfurt, the land where old department stores go to die, and one place had a pair of truly hideous-looking underwear on display. Out of curiosity, I checked the price tag. Fifty marks. That was about thirty bucks back then. For a pair of skivvies? For some reason, that story came to my mind when I saw what the German team was wearing. “Hideous” sometimes doesn’t cover things quite enough.

And I used to live in this country?

Just in case you thought I faked the first one

They were even worse than the British men, who somehow all decided to come dressed like Neo.

Did the Brits take the blue pill or the red pill?

Lots of other fashion abortions as well, like the New Zealand flagbearer wearing that Maori wrap with his black outfit…

Sean Becker shames his country

Meanwhile, the French shock the world by wearing a tasteful ensemble

Did the Junta give orders to the team to wear the exact opposite of what the French wore?

Memo to the Canadians On Staff: now you know why Americans make fun of you

Meanwhile, the Russian team is so underfunded that they had to borrow outfits from Ringling Brothers

But I’m not going to criticize the Mongolians’ hats. PETA won’t like them, but I think they’re pretty nifty. That should satisfy the ghost of Genghis Khan.

Give credit where credit’s due: the Slovenes had one of the best team outfits of the night with the white ribbed dusters, the green scarves, and the light grey tams (couldn’t find a pic, regrettably). The Fab Five definitely wouldn’t criticize them. On the other hand, the Italians are fair game. The country has the greatest fashion designers in the world, and they decided to wear silver space jackets that went out of style in 1984? Well, maybe they were doing it to fit in with the music.

Honestly, I think I owned a jacket like that back in high school

So, what’s funnier, Iran’s team entering to “Funkytown” or Israel’s to “I Feel Love”?

You think that there’s a deal going on here? If Serbia-Montenegro got “YMCA” for their entrance music, they’d promise to definitely split up?

And what was playing as the Americans entered? ARETHA! Fuck you, Super Bowl. Let’s hope the Olympic organizers did that on purpose.

The Italian flagbearer, nineteen-year-old figure skater Carolina Koestner? Oh, I’d do her in an instant. What a piece of ass she is. She’s my early favorite for the Kari Traa of these games. By the way, her official website is here. And speaking of Kari, she followed up her Salt Lake gold with a silver on Saturday. Congrats, and you’re still hot too.

You can blow something else too if you don’t mind

No reason, I just wanted to put up a picture of Carolina in her glory

His Serene Highness Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco, Duke of Valentinois, Marquis of Baux, Count of Carlades, Count of Polignac, Baron of Calvinet, Baron of Buis, Lord of Saint-Remy, Sire of Matignon, Count of Torigni, Baron of Saint-Lo, Baron of La Luthumiere, Baron of Hambye, Duke of Estouteville, Duke of Mazarin, Duke of Mayenne, Prince of Chateau-Porcien, Count of Ferrette, Count of Belfort, Count of Thann, Count of Rosemont, Baron of Altkirch, Lord of Isenheim, Marquis of Chilly, Count of Longjumeau, Baron of Massy, and Marquis of Guiscard, a five-time Olympian and head of the Monaco Olympic Committee, makes all Monegasques proud by showing due respect for the Games.

(Diacriticals for all place names edited out because they ended up getting raped by my editor and by our auto-submit system.)

Then after the athletes entered, the weirdness began again. The Ren Faire bullshit with the synchronized flag juggling, the balloons with the faces on them, the Botticelli reconstruction (I wish they’d gone totally authentic; I prefer to see my supermodels buck nekkid, thank you), the ballet dancer dressed like Pulcinella who strips down to a bodysuit and a Mohawk wig, the Formula One car doing donuts…oh, hey, I get it! It’s a tribute to Fellini!

(Oh, Jesus Christ, stories on si.com, nbcolympics.com, and Reuters also mentioned Fellini. Shit, I was hoping that no one else would make that connection, but it was just so obvious…)

Apparently Peter Gabriel brought over one of his old Slipper Man outfits. Or, if you prefer, man, is Bowie pissed that he never thought of this one.

You can’t get Czech Supermodels On The Half-Shell at Wal-Mart. I checked.

The American snowboarders must have brought over some really good acid

This one’s for the men in the audience. Raise your hand if you wouldn’t do Sophia Loren. All of those with your hands raised, you’re f*cking liars. She may be 71 years old, but she’s still smoking hot. Hell, gay men would turn straight for a day just to do Sophia Loren. Susan Sarandon, on the other hand, shouldn’t allow her hands to get anywhere near an Olympic flag ever again. She even embarasses liberals like me.

Come to think of it, I’d do Isabelle Allende too

Oh, not Yoko…ironically, right now, I’m reading Tony Bramwell’s book Magical Mystery Tours, in which one of the ultimate Beatle insiders does not have one good word to say about Yoko, essentially delegating all the blame for the break-up on her and painting her the equivalent of a demon. Ironically the second, I was reading a passage from it dealing with her as she walked out on stage. Oh, life provides some good moments sometimes.

Couldn’t we have made a deal with all the terrorist groups in the world? Like, “If we let you nail her, will you never disturb another Olympics again?”

On second thought, forget Yoko. Go for the three of them. And do in Sarandon while you’re at it, just to keep it fair.

Please release Peter Gabriel’s cover of “Imagine” as a single. I don’t like the song, but I love Gabriel. And aren’t we all glad that Yoko didn’t sing it?

Every torch-lighting since the surprise at Barcelona has been an anti-climax. The obvious exception that proves the rule is Atlanta; the sight of the world’s best-known athlete, visibly suffering the effects of his sport, lighting the torch will stay with me and everyone who watched it forever. Stefania Belmondo was a popular choice as torch-lighter; most of the speculators had it down to her or Tomba, and after the all-out media blitz placed on Tomba over the weekend in anticipation that he’d light the torch, I’m glad it was Belmondo. But the way it was done, with the entire stadium erupting in flame by stages, does set a standard for Beijing, Vancouver, and London to meet. I just wouldn’t want to pay the gas bill for that stunt.

Stefania Belmondo demonstrates the new Italian anti-personnel weapon designated for use in Iraq

And now I have to transition from the perfection on numerous levels of Pavarotti doing Puccini to Smackdown. Life does tend to present you with nauseating transitions, doesn’t it?

Luca’s cape will be donated to charity and used to make tents for five villages of Pakistani earthquake refugees

THE SMACKDOWN SHORT FORM

Match Results:

Our Lord and Savior over High-Quality Speaker Boy, Matt Hardy, and Orlando Jordan, Fatal Four-Way Number One Contender’s Match (Submission, Hardy submits to Benoit, crossface): This match leaves more questions than answers. Here are some of the questions I thought to myself during the extended time that this match was given:

Why is High-Quality Speaker Boy in this match? So we can all quote Sesame Street about one thing being not like the others? Doesn’t he have issues with someone else right now? And did he actually go up to the second rope at one point during this match? Has whatever infected Carly lately also infected him?

Is all three other men in this match hitting suplexes on Benoit a worse form of sacrilege than Muhammad cartoons?

Given his position as Booker’s proxy last week, why isn’t Fit Finlay in this match? Oh, yeah, he had a run-in to do later on.

Have Hardy or Jordan done anything recently to justify being in a position to be a contender to a title, even a secondary one?

Could they have telegraphed the winner more blatantly? They did that with just the participants in this match. I’m shocked they didn’t go for Benoit getting the crossface on Jordan (as the finish, not the one attempt during the match). After all, it’s been months since we had that jammed down our throats.

And as much as I love Benoit and Booker, when will this interminable angle end?

There’s a nice little eleven-letter word that describes this: clusterf*ck

The superplex took Benoit longer to set up than most of his matches against Jordan last year took

Joey Mercury and Johnny Nitro over Paul London and Brian Kendrick, Non-Title Match As Cole Emphasized About Ten Times (Pinfall, Nitro pins Kendrick, Snapshot): This has sort of snuck up on me over about the past month or so, but now that the evidence is staring me right in the face, I can’t deny it any longer: MNM has turned into a very good tag team. They’ve proven that they can make a match against a pair of lummoxes better than it has any right to be. Now they’ve proven successfully that they can keep up with X Division-style skippy-yippy. Remember this match carefully when you watch That Phil Collins Song and see what AMW does against Sabin and Dutt. That will be a very similar match to this one. If MNM look as good in this as AMW, who are superior wrestlers in every way to Mercury and Nitro, will in that match, then we can definitely declare MNM a success. Of course, the same comparison can be made between London and Kendrick on this side and Sabin and Dutt on the other.

By the way, I got the Aussie feed again, and this was the match where Cole decided to be the Butcher of “Brisbane”. But I’ve commented on that far too much. The trauma will be over in a few weeks anyway.

Mercury tries to do something about London’s teeth still being in his mouth

And just when I was starting to get to like them…you know, there has to be a bukkake joke in here somewhere…

Novocaine Helms over Nunzio, Cruiserweight Title Match (Pinfall, Shining Wizard): Between this week’s match and next week’s match, I think we can safely say that ethos no longer matters in the cruiser division. Nunzio’s been positioned as a heel lately, so has Kash, and so has Helms. So, we can add “cruiserweight faces” to the list of things they haven’t developed very well. Of course, they did waste the two that have some audience popularity on a non-title tag match earlier in the show. Also, we can weep for opportunities lost. Yeah, it would have been a hot-swap of the belt, but a Kash/Nunzio match would have been something to mildly drool over, if they decided to go ECW on us.

Nunzio isn’t the first guy to have Helms…oh, I’ve used that one too many times

Mascarita Sagrada and Tzuki versus Pequeno Violencia and Octagoncito, Juniors Division Spectacle (ND, Finlay-ference): Oh, come on, Fit, did you really need a foreign object to handle four midgets? And why did he interrupt a match with Mascarita Sagrada involved? He’s the exception to the rule I have about midgets.

Tzuki miscalculates just a bit

The Undertaker over Mark Henry (DQ, MNM-ference): Here’s the deal: I had one of my cases of insomnia on Friday night. Didn’t get one wink of sleep. So, it’s about nine in the morning on Saturday as I watched this. I just wanted to stay awake long enough to just finish off Smackdown, then I didn’t care what happened. So they just had to have this one on. And they gave it over ten minutes. Oh, was it a struggle to stay awake. Who needs Ambien when you have shit like this? I’m not even going to comment on the obviously abysmal quality of the match. Hell, it was the same UT Main Event Match that he’s been wrestling for ten years plus. I realize now that the only reason I watched it was to get the screen cap.

It’s also no surprise that UT and Henry have never met. This is a head-on collision between two of Vince’s long-standing policies: 1) When UT has a title push, feed everyone possible to him and 2) Protect Mark Henry at all costs. That, of course, dictated the interference ending. Yay for us. Now we get a tag match with the two of them next week. Henry will drag MNM down, and Angle will have to carry all four of the others. Yeah, that’s a joyous prospect. Please tell me how they’re trying to sell this PPV.

By far the most exciting moment of the match

Angle Developments:

Necromania: When Rey-Rey won the Rumble match, there was a discussion in the Super-Secret Writers’ Forum about it, even before the PPV ended (all right, I started it, but still…). I took the point then, mere minutes after the match ended, that the only reason Rey-Rey won was because Eddy had died, and their exploitation of Eddy had just reached new levels of bad taste. At that point, some of the other writers defended the decision to have Rey-Rey win, saying that WWE would keep it in bounds as a proper tribute. In fact, the only person to really agree with me was Neeley. Those defenders have melted away since that time. Now, the final proof of my rather rash proposition is in place, with Vicki and the kids supposedly coming to No Way Out to be Rey-Rey’s cheering squad.

Damn, I sometimes hate to tell you that I’m right, but, let’s face it, I always am. With the plans coming out about Orton getting the automatic title shot and this, there is now no defense for Rey-Rey’s Rumble win, no way to get around the fact that it was because of Eddy dying; the possibility of casting this as tribute (which is still mildly distasteful) is now impossible. It’s exploitation of the most blatant form, and it’s exploitation of the dead, one of the most tasteless acts that someone can perform. They’re not only going to dash everyone’s hopes in regard to Rey-Rey (the marks’ hopes, that is), they’re going to do it in front of the widow. I thought that I couldn’t be surprised about this business anymore, not after over two decades of regular viewing and more cynicism than one man should be able to muster in a lifetime. But this does legitimately surprise me. I mean, I relish in bad taste (look above and see me wish death upon the wives of two of the most important heads of government in the world), but I know where the line’s drawn. And this line’s definitely been crossed. I’m just so sensitive to it that the act of giving the Rumble match to Rey-Rey set off the alarm bells. And I tried to warn everyone what was going to happen. But I’m the Cassandra of the IWC. Everyone ignores my predictions of doom until they actually happen. Then they all go rushing to me and apologizing as the disaster unfolds before their very eyes.

Word has it that the boys are getting pissed off about this. The Observer revealed this week that the writers are getting pissed off about this as well. According to that semi-anonymous mail (and wouldn’t it be hysterical if the writer misstated his position on purpose and is actually Dave Lagana?), they got Lagana to throw out the lines about Eddy during the writing conference, only to have Steph demand they be put back in (obviously with Vince’s approval). Now, suddenly, eyes are opening in the locker room. They’re suddenly seeing what was behind Christian’s departure. Obviously, Christian couched it in purely personal terms (“Don’t burn bridges” is a lesson that wrestlers learn quickly, especially when it comes to the only other company in North America where you can make a living wage through the business). But there was a rationale behind it that went beyond the purely personal into the abstract, a situation that caused the personal stuff. Now that’s being exposed, and too many people have had the blinders ripped off.

Yes, it’s all coming from Vince. But why is it coming from Vince? As someone who’s a little older than most of the readership, I think I have an inkling about it. Vince recently hit the Big 6-0. As the first number starts to get larger and larger, you start feeling the Cold Hand start creeping a little bit more. And it’s an exponential progression. Combine this with the realization Vince must have about what the ‘roids he took must have done to his internal organs, and the still-uncertain prospects of successful transplants if necessary (and you still can’t transplant a brain, which is what killed Lyle Alzado), and he must be regarding Death as a familiar presence. He seems to be accelerating Steph’s grooming process in order for her to take over from him as soon as possible, pregnancy or not. He’s determined that one way to stave the inevitable off is defiance, which explains the morbidity of this angle and the Tim White material. He hasn’t proceeded to acceptance yet. If he had, this shit wouldn’t be happening.

Josh Pearse has a fantasy scenario regarding No Way Out which I find rather attractive:

I want them all to no-show, or strike a massive live protest. I want Benoit to win the US Title, then come out with Kurt and lay their respective titles in the ring. Benoit, Angle, Rey and probably even Orton are all going to walk out and send the big f*ck you to Vince, and Vince is going to be f*cked when his WM main event walks out the door.

Of course, that won’t happen. Remember the reaction to Montreal, which some in the business might claim is worse than this? Only Foley pulled a no-show for Raw the next night. I definitely don’t see Orton doing it, not because he’s accepting this idea, but because both Bobs taught him to be a pragmatist about the business; any push is a good push. Like a typical Marine (which he was), he just sucks up his reservations, obeys orders, and tries to gain an advantage out of the situation, ignoring his personal feelings in the process. If it’s a no-win scenario, too bad, orders are orders. The others, though? Angle might walk, but he’d cache it inside of statements that his body’s too injured to continue at the level he’s accustomed to wrestling at. Then he heals up as much as possible and comes back in a couple years. Benoit…now that’s a possibility. His contract’s up soon, but there hasn’t been any more word about whether they’re still low-balling him on an extension/renewal. He’s walked once before to get out of a dicey personal situation, and he did it from a greater position of strength than he has now. Also, he’s one of the few guys around who might justify Dixie opening up the checkbook and giving Sting money to (which would piss off Jericho to no end). He’d be the most likely to make a statement. Rey-Rey? I dunno. Obviously this is eating him up. But he’s also been around long enough to be pragmatic about this like Orton is. He’s getting the best push of his career, even though it’s over the dead body of one of his closest friends. And where else is he going to go? TNA won’t pay out for him because they have a dozen younger and cheaper guys who can do the stuff he does. He’s really caught in a bind. If it’s a choice between making his feelings known yet staying and making good money, and wrestling in TJ for Pena or Alonso for nowhere near the money he’s getting now, it’s no choice (I don’t see NJPW as a possibility).

In other words, No Way Out is not only the name of a PPV, it’s the future of this whole angle. And, regrettably, it won’t be blown off any time soon.

Trying to explain the inexplicable

Well, High-Quality Speaker Boy has the “you my bitch now” look down

Man, you’ve got your work cut out, honey

If he gives himself a new last name that relates in any way to ornithology, I’m going on a rampage

THE IMPACT SHORT FORM

Match Results:

Chris Sabin and Sonjay Dutt over Austin Aries and Roderick Strong, Number One Contender’s Tournament Finals (Pinfall, Sabin pins Aries, Cradle Shock): My ideas for the short-term future of all four of these guys are in the Round Table. Let’s just say that I see a rather bright future just ahead. I wrote that stuff before seeing this match, and nothing in this match has dissuaded me from sticking to my words. An action-packed just-under ten minutes that shows everyone that TNA is absolutely loaded with must-be-seen talents. That said, there was a little too much concentration on Sabin and Dutt, probably to pump them up a bit in the audience’s mind as a pair that can take on AMW and be creditable. A minor sin, easily absolved.

I’ve decided to turn this set of caps into my Tribute To Michelle Kwan, who ended her brilliant amateur career the worst way an amateur could. Let’s hope this provides her with a bit of solace…

Under the new figure skating judging rules, Sabin would earn a lot of points for this move

Dutt, though, knows that a great entrance to your program really impresses the judges

The first rule of pairs is that your moves have to be in perfect synch

New system or old, decreasing the difficulty of a move is a deduction

The new judging system places heavy emphasis on footwork

Showboating is only rewarded if you execute the move perfectly. Dutt demonstrates how to do that.

The ex-Buh Buh Ray Dudley and the ex-D-Von Dudley versus Elix Skipper and David Young (ND, schmozz): You know, the Diamonds shouldn’t be stuck being JTTSes and excuses for cutting a promo during a match (so why exactly didn’t they jump the ex-Dudleys while they were on the f*cking mic yapping with AMW?). Maybe someone else holding the tag belts will get them a push. And if my statements in the Round Table come true, they might just get their chance.

A rare sight: David Young getting offense in

Samoa Joe over Jay Lethal and Chaysn Rantz (?), Handicap Match Masquerading As Three-Way (Submission, Rantz (?) submits to Joe, Kokina Clutch): Pure squash, not worthy of comment. But thank you, Chasyn, for having your first name (and apparently your religious affiliation) printed on your trunks. It helps poor scribes like me. Well, at least Lethal has a PPV match now. It was a last-minute addition, and it’s a four-way, but at least it’s a match.

Lethal pretends this is ROH. At least there he’d have a chance.

Monty Brown and Abyss over Rhiyno and Ron Killings (Pinfall, Brown pins Killings, Pounce): Less a match than an alchemical experiment. Can the Grievous Bodily Harm Division and the main event scene be blended? The answer is yes and no. They set up the experiment, yet failed to pull the trigger, like what would have happened if the Gillette guys put the blue container in the chamber but not the orange one. A large portion of the match was pure Tag Team Formula, with Killings playing Ricky Morton. Then, there was separation as Rhiyno and Abyss felt it necessary to pimp their PPV match and left the ringside area, leaving Killings and Brown to play out the denoument (which, for some reason, minorly involved f*cking Konnan). Neither Brown nor Killings have a match at That Phil Collins Show. They’re currently set up with seven matches (the six you know about and the X Division Four-Way that’s been added at the last moment). That’s still a little light, even if you consider that they’re probably going to give Joe/Daniels/Styles at least twenty-five. Maybe an eighth match between Brown and Killings? It could only help.

Just to show you what a proper dropkick should look like

Thanks to the awareness of civil rights issues due to Mrs. King’s death, TNA felt that African-Americans should have their own version of Brokeback Mountain

Angle Developments:

Everything for That Phil Collins Show was set weeks ago. It was only minor extensions and tweaks (like Shelley showing up with the tape).

Okay, since this is a PPV weekend, we’ve got a Round Table coming up (if anyone other than me participates). And in the meantime, I’ll be watching people freeze in Italy while I stay toasty warm inside. As I said, I may not do something for Tuesday, but next week, it’s the return of the Triple Threat Short Form, with Raw, Smackdown, and Impact. Until whenever, I’ll see you.

Tags: ,